Elvis Costello has always been a man of values. Born from the furious and inflammatory embers of punk, Costello soon made his name as a songsmith above all else and transformed from punk upstart to pop superstar with aplomb. But Costello never turned his back on the morals which guided his songwriting and this notion came to a head when he was offered the chance to perform at Live Aid in 1985.
The Live Aid concert was a benefit gig arranged by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure as a way to try and engage with the youth of the first world about the worsening famine in Ethiopia. The charity is still providing for those affected by poverty in the third world and continues to be a bastion of the good the power of music can achieve.
The event was largely known as the “global jukebox”, as on 13th July, 1985, a concert was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, with attendances at 72,000 and 100,000 people respectively.
On the same day, a whole host of other concerts inspired by the Live Aid initiative happened in other countries. Nations like the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany all held events. At the time, it was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time. There was an astonishing estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watching the broadcast. Let us put that into perspective as nearly 40% of the world’s population.
While many debate the effectiveness of ending famine in Ethiopia, it is hard to deny that this event put the issues of poverty in the developing world to the forefront of the collective consciousness—and all through music. Geldof once stated: “We took an issue that was nowhere on the political agenda and, through the lingua franca of the planet – which is not English but rock ‘n’ roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus.”
With this in mind, along with the sheer power of publicity driving the Live Aid concert ever further into legendary status, the line-up became increasingly bold. Queen would go on to steal the show, but there were also spots for U2, The Who, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, at the Wembley event. The line-up for Philadelphia was equally as star-studded with Madonna, Tom Petty, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan all making time for a worthwhile cause.
One performance that goes somewhat under the radar when talking about Live Aid is that of Elvis Costello and, most notably, his rendition of The Beatles’ classic ‘All You Need is Love’. Costello, humble in front of 72,000 screaming fans, has a small set-up — the performance preferring to use only his voice and his guitar — and proceeds to incorporate the ‘modern bard’ persona he’d begun to craft.
That notion is even more firmly set in play when Costello, deciding to move away from his well-known repertoire of grooving new-wave boppers, decides to sing a special ‘folk’ song. He begins by asking the crowd: “I want you to help me sing this old English Northern folk song” before beginning to play the first notes of ‘All You Need Is Love’ to rapturous applause and glee.
The song rings through the Wembley stadium, greedily gobbled up by the adoring crowd, and continued the warming sentiment of the day. The subject matter of the track is obviously intrinsic to the performance and Costello’s simplified and stripped back performance only adds to it. The remaining feeling of the day is that with love and care we can look after everyone.
Watch Elvis Costello cover The Beatles’ iconic track ‘All You Need Is Love’ at Live Aid in 1985 below.