‘It feels like Live Aid’: all-star Concert for Ukraine joins war relief effort

Ed Sheeran and Camila Cabello are among the stars performing at the ITV-screened event, rushed together in just two weeks. The organisers explain how it was done

The organiser of next week’s televised Concert for Ukraine has described the event as “comparable to Live Aid”.

“The scale is obviously different – Live Aid was transatlantic,” said Guy Freeman, MD of the production company Livewire Pictures. “But it is comparable in terms of people coming together very quickly in the face of an emergency.”

The event, being broadcast live by ITV and STV on Tuesday, will feature Ed Sheeran, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Camila Cabello, Manic Street Preachers, Snow Patrol, Emeli Sandé and more, and was mobilised in just two weeks after Freeman was horrified by the “relentless” news and wanted to help.

He first contacted ITV before approaching venues. “NEC Group were amazing. They said: ‘We’ve got space at these times at [Birmingham’s] Resorts World Arena.’” Three booking agents volunteered to start contacting touring acts who were able to perform at such short notice.

Tom Odell, who has had four UK top five albums since his chart-topping debut Long Way Down in 2013, is one of them. “I’ve played in Kyiv a bunch of times so when I saw the first bombs being dropped it was heartbreaking,” he said. “I said yes [to performing] immediately.”

Tom Odell in Bucharest, Romania, on 11 March.
Tom Odell in Bucharest, Romania, on 11 March. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Reuters

Freeman said: “Obviously I’m mindful that the industry is just getting back on its feet after Covid so it’s a tricky time to be asking people to interrupt a tour, but such is the strength of feeling that people just went: I’m in.” When Odell was called, he had just performed at a charity concert for Ukraine in Bucharest; he had seen Ukrainian refugees getting help at the train station and wanted to do more. The Concert for Ukraine organisers and performers alike are giving their services for free, as is a vast infrastructure network including staging and sound crew.

“The number of companies helping is amazing,” said Freeman. “I’ve never known anything like it. Some of the British acts were in the US, so British Airways offered us free flights to bring them back. Others have provided everything from hotel rooms to trains.”

Katie Rawcliffe, ITV’s head of entertainment, said that the broadcaster instantly said yes because “it was just the right thing to do. Normally, casting and budgeting for this sort of thing can take months, but we were ready to press go within 24 hours.” ITV is donating all its advertising revenue – around £3m – from the 8pm-10pm broadcast, and the vast majority of the £52 ticket price is also going to Ukraine (with the government waiving the VAT).

“It’s a big logistical operation,” said Rawcliffe, “but there’s been so much goodwill. It does feel like Live Aid in the respect that once people started to get onboard the whole thing snowballed.” Other artists on the bill include Gregory Porter, Becky Hill and the Kingdom Choir, with more names being added this weekend.

“It’s amazing how the public are getting galvanised too,” Rawcliffe continued. “I’ve been talking as a mum to other mums about what they are doing in their area, and what is happening in local schools. I’ve never known anything like it.”

Numerous other concerts have been staged to benefit Ukraine, including one in New Orleans by Canadian alt-rockers Arcade Fire earlier this month, and another in New York featuring the cream of the American avant garde such as Laurie Anderson and John Zorn. Record labels including Ninja Tune and Sub Pop, and artists such as Belle and Sebastian, have donated proceeds from the sale of music, and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja has raised money via limited edition art prints.

Arcade Fire, who recently performed a Ukraine benefit concert.
Arcade Fire, who recently performed a Ukraine benefit concert. Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

During a rooftop performance in Los Angeles on 17 March, Duran Duran played Ordinary World with the colours of the Ukrainian flag projected on to the nearby Capitol Records building.

On 3 April, the London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform at Glyndebourne with various opera singers to benefit the Disasters Emergency Committee’s (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, which funds charities including British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children.

Proceeds from ITV’s Concert for Ukraine will also go to the DEC appeal. “This is the second biggest appeal in our history, second only to the Boxing Day tsunami appeal in 2004,” said DEC’s chief executive, Saleh Saeed. “The outpouring of support, from the public to artists to corporates, is just phenomenal.”

DEC hopes Concert for Ukraine will considerably bolster donations, which have already reached £200m and are funnelled towards shelter, sanitation and medical care. “The UN is estimating that 10 million people are being displaced [from] their homes, most just taking what they can carry,” said Saeed. “This appeal is so important to keep supply lines going and keep people protected. There are children who were playing games a month ago and now need urgent counselling. People will be suffering and will need assistance for years to come, and it’s important that we help rebuild people’s lives. We’re extremely grateful to everyone involved in the concert.”

Every artist at the Concert for Ukraine will perform one or two songs, each chosen for their supportive messaging. Odell said: “I will be trying my hardest to keep the audience entertained, but the most important thing is that we raise lots of money and keep the conversation [going] on the conflict.”

• Concert for Ukraine broadcasts live on ITV and STV from 8pm on Tuesday 29 March. To donate to the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, visit its website


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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