Sunday, 17 February 2013

GLOBAL JUKEBOX: The day the Wal basses changed the world...


 The day the Wal basses changed the world...

13 July 1985 was a landmark day for millions of people of my generation - our "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?".  "Live Aid" was the "day the music changed the world", it was the biggest and best gig that any of us had ever seen, it was a day when millions of real people made a difference for millions of real people suffering in Ethiopia and other countries around Africa.  And the Wal bass was there - you could even say it was "instrumental" in the events that led up to the day.

The previous November rock and pop stars of the day gathered in a London studio for an unprecedented recording session - the only logical response of an Irish rock star to a disturbing and moving news item by the BBC journalist, Michael Buerk.  He must have hoped that his news report on the terrible famine in Ethiopia and the Sudan would have raised awareness of the plight of the people there.  He could never have guest just how much and what it would lead to.  At the behest of  Boomtown Rats singer, Bob Geldof, and Ultravox singer/guitarist Midge Ure the coolest, trendiest and some of the uncoolest stars in the UK checked their egos at the door and gave their time freely for charity.  The stellar line up included the likes of Duran Duran, Boy George, Paul Weller, Status Quo, Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Paul Young, Sting, George Michael, Bono...  The resulting single, Band Aid's "Do they know it's Christmas" became one of the biggest and most influential singles of all time - raising money for the Ethiopian famine victims and inspiring other projects like the US "We are the World" single.  "Do they know it's Christmas" had its bass line powered by the fingers of John Taylor and a Wal bass.
 John Taylor of Duran Duran playing a Mk 1 Wal on Band Aid, "Do they know it's Christmas"
Legend has it that Ian and Pete, hearing about the project on their muso contact grapevine and keen to help out in some way, dropped off a recently finished Wal at the studio the day before the video shoot and celeb recording was due. At the time Midge was busy putting together the basic backing tracks and the Wal was used for the initial guide tracks and the following day for the recordings.

When the "Live Aid" concert arrived the following summer, Wal basses again graced the event with their presence.  A total of three Wals appeared on stage at the Wembley Stadium end of the trans-Atlantic concert.  Two were being played by Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet and John Illsley of Dire Straits.  A third was rather more ignominious in its Live Aid appearance.  Those with eagle eyes will have spotted another Wal bass leaning up against the drum riser as bassist Dennis Smith's spare during Nik Kershaw's performance. A regular player of both Wals and Jaydees, he chose to favour the Jaydee that day.

Martin Kemp playing his maple topped Mk 1 Wal at Live Aid with Spandau Ballet (note custom thumb rest)
John Illsley of Dire Straits playing a black poly-gloss Mk 1 Wal at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium

A 4-DVD set of the LIVE AID concert is available with all proceeds going to further work combating hunger and depravation in the Sudan, Ethiopia and around the world.  As the tag line says "This DVD saves lives" - buy the DVD, buy the single and support Band Aid, the work it does and the other aid initiatives it spawned like Comic Relief.

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