In late September, Bob Geldof was in no mood to reminisce about “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the November 1984 charity single raising money for the victims of Ethiopian famine. “I do the Africa stuff every day of the week,” the 63-year-old singer explained while discussing his main band, the Boomtown Rats. “The only thing that actually stimulates me is music.”
When the topic inevitably turned to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” Geldof turned cranky: “I associate it with the meat counter at my local supermarket. Every time I arrive to buy the fucking turkey, I hear [mockingly hums the song’s intro]. The butcher looks at me with a little smile and I go, ‘Yeah, yeah. Give me the fucking turkey, dude.'”
Six weeks later, it was announced that there would be a Band Aid 30 – a “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” update to be recorded on November 15 with One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Adele and Ellie Goulding singing alongside returning artists like Bono and Chris Martin, who were a part of Darfur benefit Band Aid 20. If Geldof can barely stomach hearing the song, why would he want to spearhead a fourth recording of it?
“It was the hideous synchronicity of the ebola crisis and the way it’s escalated, and the fact that we had this 30th anniversary coming up that everybody was asking us about,” says Midge Ure, Geldof’s longtime Band Aid partner and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” co-writer, speaking early Friday morning. “A month ago, this wasn’t in the cards. Then Bob got a call from the U.N. saying, ‘Can you do it again?'”
After receiving the call, Geldof phoned Ure and opened with an apology. “We talked about who we would have on board and how we could change it, because the song is very geared toward hunger and there are references to the burning sun and no water – ‘no rain or rivers flow’ – which isn’t true,” says the Ultravox singer. “Africa’s changed a lot over the last 30 years.”
The music business has changed as well, and Ure has found this Band Aid to be the most hectic ever, especially because once again every musician is recording in the same room: “The first time around, we didn’t really speak to managers; this time, we’re dealing with managers and labels. The artists are great, but there’s a whole lot of middle men trying to cross the t’s and dot the i’s.”
Once the tune is recorded, however, fans will have to do something very 1984 and buy a copy of the new song, either as a 99-cent download (which will be available starting Monday) or on CD (which is set to go on sale in three weeks). Streaming services like Spotify will not have access to it until after the new year.
According to Ure, the money raised will keep Band Aid functioning as a “draw-down facility” – essentially a bank used to fund other aid agencies. Ure points to their relationship with the Mary’s Meals organization of an example of how this can work: “We just got an email the other day from Mary’s Meals when [Band Aid 30] was announced, saying ‘Absolutely fantastic, because we are feeding 80,000 children right now in Liberia.'”
Geldof and Ure are also hoping to spur world leaders to do more to help ebola victims and curb the spread of the disease. “I presume governments are incredibly aware of what’s going on,” Ure says. “But maybe they’re just slow, lumbering machines. Whereas, you get people in the entertainment industry to start rattling cages and it’s media-worthy. It embarrasses politicians to think that masses of people can be moved into action because of a bunch of pop stars.
“All we can do is hope that Ed Sheeran and One Direction and everyone else plead with the fans not to stream this, not to download this for free,” he continues, admitting this is “probably” going to be the final Band Aid fundraiser. “These kids know this song because they’ve heard it blasting out of radios every Christmas since they were born. What they now have to learn is why the song was done in the first place and why it’s being done this time – for slightly different but equally valid reasons.”