On the 25th of November 1984, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure began a project that would inspire many to follow. Band Aid recorded Do They Know It’s Christmas? with over 30 artists in 24 hours and released the song within a week.
The song entered the charts at number 1 on December 9, and sold over a million copies in the first week. The Christmas spirit drummed up so much noise that U.S.A. for Africa launched a similar project shortly after, with We Are The World.
The Band Aid charity went on to launch the hugely successful Live Aid concerts the following year, and would later re-record the Christmas anthem in 1989, 2004, and 2014.
Recording Do They Know It’s Christmas? with Band Aid
The song was recorded at Trevor Horn’s Sarm West Studios in Basing Street, Notting Hill, London.
Collaborating artists and groups included Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Kool & the Gang, U2, Sting, The Boomtown Rats, Phil Collins, Ultravox, Bananarama, Culture Club, Heaven 17, Status Quo, and many more.
Over the years the studio hosted artists like Iron Maiden, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Grace Jones, George Michael, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Gorillaz, and many others.
Let’s take a look at some of the instruments used in the making of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?
At the time, the DX7 was only recently introduced (1983) and was still “that hot new sound”. This made it one of the first instruments any songwriter or producer would reach for, and Midge Ure was no different.
The Tubular Bells patch he selected was the obvious choice for a Christmas anthem and provided the idyllic atmosphere for the festive cheer that still rings true all these years later.
If you can’t get hold of a DX7, the Yamama Reface DX is a compact and accessible modern recreation.
Yamaha Reface DX
The PPG Wave is a digital wavetable synth with an analogue filter, first introduced in 1981. Like the Emulator II sampler, the combination of analogue and digital created a distinctive-sounding instrument with plenty of range.
You can hear it used on the whimsically naive melodic lead part right before the breakdown section in the song. Alone, it might seem rudimentary, but from a songwriting standpoint, it’s a crucial element leading the listener between stanzas.
E-mu Emulator II
Although the Emulator II was released in 1984, it’s unclear whether Midge Ure was yet a user at this point in time. He could have also used a Fairlight, Synclavier, or the first Emulator sampling keyboard.
What is known is that the initial demo was built around a Tears For Fears sample. This was the spark of inspiration that helped Ure realize the song in such a limited timeframe.
If you can’t find a vintage Emulator II, the Elektron Digitakt has an intuitive sampling interface, in a far more compact size.
Introduced in 1967, the U87 is easily one of the most sought-after microphones in recorded music and is widely known for its warmth and pleasing high-frequency range.
Many U87 mics were used at Sarm during the Band Aid session, including XY configurations on the vocal groups. This is a simple stereo mic technique that can be useful where space is limited.
Vintage Neumann mics aren’t easy to find, but you can still get the modern version in the form of the U87 Ai.
Neumann U87 Ai Studio Set ni
SSL SL 4000 E Series Console
Trevor Horn’s Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill was equipped with the revered E-series console, renowned for its warmth and natural saturation capabilities.
Stuart Bruce was the engineer running the console throughout the recording session and he personally delivered the tape reels for mastering with Steve Angel at Utopia Studios the following morning.
SSL Big SiX
Feeling generous this holiday season? You can still donate to the cause that Band Aid stands for, even today:
- The Band Aid Charitable Trust – 292199
- UN World Feeding Program
More about Band Aid:
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