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Good Vibrations - Music and Charity in Harmony

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Pop music and charity go together like Lennon and McCartney. Rick Pearson from Charity Choice got out the history books to find out more.


The recent Teenage Cancer Trust shows, which saw the likes of Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn perform at the Royal Albert Hall, were just the latest chapter in music’s long-lasting relationship with charity.

Back in 1971, George Harrison and sitar sensation Ravi Shankar organised one of the first pop shows for charity, in the form of the Concert for Bangladesh. The two benefit shows, both held on 1 August at Madison Square Garden, featured a host of A-list musicians including Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. In total, the concerts raised closed to (US)$250,000. This money was administered by UNICEF to help the people of Bangladesh, who were struggling in the aftermath of the Bangladesh Liberation War. By 1985, thanks to revenue raised through sales of the Concert for Bangladesh album and film, as estimated (US)$12m had been sent to Bangladesh in relief.

The next decade hosted the mother of all benefit concerts: Live Aid. Organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the Ethiopian famine, the dual-venue concert was held in Wembley Stadium, London, and John F Kennedy Stadium, Philadelphia, on 13 July, 1985. Artists such as U2, David Bowie, Queen and Sir Paul McCartney were all on the bill, and it’s estimated that £150m has been raised for famine relief as a direct result of Live Aid.

Twenty years later, Live Aid was reprised in the form of Live 8. The string of concerts took place on 2 July, 2005, in the run-up to the G8 conference, in which political leaders subsequently decided to double the levels of aid to poor nations. Geldof was again involved, this time teaming up with fellow countryman Bono. Pink Floyd put their personal grievances aside to perform together for the first time in 24 years. Unfortunately, Pete Doherty’s cover of T. Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The charity concert is still alive and well today. Oxfam runs Oxjam, a month-long series of in-store concerts every October, while MENCAP’s Little Noise Sessions have seen the likes of Coldplay and Bono (him again) play acoustic shows in London’s Union Chapel. A few months ago, rock giants Muse headlined War Child’s show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

And that’s without even mentioning the phenomenon of the charity single. From Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas?’ to Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’, there’s a rich history of not-for-profit pop songs (check out our top ten best and worst charity singles here). Admittedly, there are also a fair amount of songs in which the quality of music doesn’t quite match worthiness of the cause (see The X Factor’s take on REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ for details) but they all help to raise vital funds for people around the world.

Speaking of The X Factor, the ITV talent show is proof that music and charity don’t always see eye to eye. Back in 2011, Simon Cowell and co became embroiled in a legal battle with the Brighton-based music charity Rhythmix, after they’d tried to call one of the girl bands by the same name. Legal proceedings ensued and, thankfully, The X Factor was forced to back down and rename the group LittleMix. And the rest, as they say, is history.