It’s very easy and fashionable to put down celebrity “do gooders” – indeed, when U2’s Bono or Coldplay’s Chris Martin are involved (which, let’s face it, they often are) it’s practically become a main stream sport thinking of insults to hurl across social media as they try to change the world for the better.
With this in mind, the idea of Band Aid 30 seemed like it could be open season for the cynics. “Piss off Bono… no one cares what you think anymore” they will shout whilst in the same breath raging “I’ve never heard of any of these kids on the new record, where’s Spandau Ballet and that bloke from Heaven 17?”
And indeed, much of this did happen as the angry people of the internet whipped themselves into a frenzy about how charity records are rubbish, One Direction are rubbish, U2 albums and iTunes are rubbish, Band Aid is nothing but an advert for loom bands these days, Britain has gone to pot, immigration is out of control, bring back hanging etc.
But rising above all this was one man – a man who last night stepped out onto the biggest musical stage on British television (like it or not, that’s true) and once again proved he has a gift for populism that is unquantifiable.
If you’re not going to listen to the frontmen of U2 and Coldplay, why would you care what a Boomtown Rat has to say three decades after his last big hit? But when this scruffy old man shuffled onto the X Factor stage on Sunday night to a standing ovation, he commanded the attention of his audience in a way that very few people half his age and twice his fame manage.
No longer shouting, “give me your money” and swearing, a much more thoughtful Geldof shrouded by his mop of silver hair addressed what he called “X Factor Nation.” His very public frustration and uncontrollable energy that we saw in 1984 – and to an extent again more than 20 years later for Live 8 – has been replaced by a calm, statesman-like demeanour. Sir Bob no longer needs to shout, because when he speaks, you now know it’s probably important.
Yes, in some ways he is self-righteous – and still he says things that get peoples’ backs up – but that is the Geldof brand that has got things done since 1984.
The fact that Simon Cowell allows this firebrand on a live entertainment show on commercial television is testament to the respect he has earned in the past 30 years. And that George Osborne waived the VAT on the Band Aid single, and iTunes took no cut of profits, shows that Geldof and the charity machine that he has created are not only a popular force to be reckoned with – but something that the establishment know they must also support.
It’s easy to knock Bob, and Band Aid. But it’s not easy to have made the public aware of the issues in Africa that the Band Aid movement has highlighted over three decades. That has meant to an extent that Bob has had to use his celebrity status, and it has also meant that the project has had to move with the times to remain relevant to people under 40 (see One Direction/ Ellie Goulding et al for details). There are very few 63-year-olds (apart from Louis Walsh, very soon) who could speak to “X Factor Nation” and make them listen both to his words, and to his song.
Bob’s populist secret (the x factor, if you will) is still not quite clear to me. Trading on nostalgia? Well-connected friends? Persistence? A public empathy with his own life beset by tragedy? A catchy track? Everyone loves an underdog? Simply a genuinely good cause? Perhaps we’ll never know the exact combination…
His latest effort compelled me to buy Do They Know It’s Christmas? again this year and donate a quid to help fight ebola – and hopefully had the same effect on myriad fans of the new generation of popsters performing on the track. This, beyond all the bluster and mocking, is surely a good thing as West Africa continues to be ravaged by a terrible disease.
So, to paraphrase the Band Aid man, I leave you with this message:
“Don’t buy another f***king latte this lunchtime. Buy the f***king record!”