- 17 May 22
36 years ago today, the unemployment benefit concert Self Aid was held in Dublin. Taking place less than a year after Live Aid, the event featured performances from the likes of U2, Christy Moore, Thin Lizzy (with Gary Moore on lead vocals, following Philip Lynott's death four months before), In Tua Nua, Van Morrison, Chris Rea, The Pogues, Clannad, Elvis Costello, Rory Gallagher, The Boomtown Rats (famously their final performance before reforming in 2013), and more. To mark the occasion we're revisiting some memories from Self Aid, taken from a variety of interviews and features in the Hot Press Archives...
Speaking in 1987:
There was a very interesting reaction afterwards. The people who believe in U2 are very ordinary people, working-class people. The only flak we get for being in a privileged position is from the middle-class. I felt how can I write a song about being unemployed when I am fully employed, how can I stand on stage at an unemployed benefit when I know U2 are not short of cash?
But one guy came up to me afterwards and said: 'I'm really pissed off about what you said on stage.' And I said what do you mean? And he said: 'You said you don't know what it's like to be unemployed. We didn't want to hear that - because we know you know what it's like, even if you don't.' It was amazing, the last thing I expected to hear. And then I heard all these stories about people singing 'Maggie's Farm' [which U2 famously performed at the concert] on the dole queue on the Monday morning, which I found funny. I don't know whether they were slagging us off or just enjoying the song.
"If you are paid by the people, you'd better look after those people. So treat 'em nice on Monday morning" - Bono at Self Aid, 1986 pic.twitter.com/l9895truw0
— U2 Three Chords (@U2ThreeChords) October 5, 2020
Speaking in 1995:
I went there when I was younger, to the Self Aid concert. I was interested to see that. I used to travel around a lot to see bands when I was younger and I managed to get to Ireland at that point. I wanted to see Boomtown Rats, U2, Van Morrison. It was a miserable day and I'd had quite a long trek of a journey to get there so that kinda spoiled it a little bit – but I enjoyed the music.
Speaking as part of a tribute marking what would've been Philip Lynott's 50th birthday, in 1999:
[Bob Geldof joined the reformed Thin Lizzy at Self Aid to sing 'Cowboy Song']
I sang it ’cos I just thought it was a lovely tune, y’know, ‘The starry night/The campfire light’. I just like that whole ending, it’s so imminent in my mind, the last pay-off line: ‘The cowboy’s life/Is the life for me’.
And maybe more than anything on that day it reminded me of him, there was a certain pathos with the slow opening, and the panoramic view.
Speaking in 1989:
I've spent a lot of time in Ireland, I like it here, but I don't think there can be anything more nauseating than a cod-anything. I do notice that I tend to be Irish in the eyes of the press when it suits them now. I was on Self Aid, me and Chris Rea were the only non-Irish. Chris Rea got on it because he called his album Shamrock Diaries! (laughs) That's a tenuous connection isn't it?!
— RTÉ Archives (@RTEArchives) May 17, 2017
Moving Hearts (percussion), speaking in 2007:
Playing at Self Aid in 1986 was a great memory – coming on just as it was getting dark, with a full moon, and we did about fifteen minutes straight.
Commercial Manager of the RDS, speaking in 2019:
Self Aid was an epic thing. There was such an incredible amount of goodwill, such a feelgood factor around the whole thing. It was an enormous success. People thought they were really making a difference. I don’t know if you’d get that feeling nowadays. It’s hard to imagine something succeeding to that degree again. Even the audience were on board – everyone felt that they were contributing. It was a phenomenal movement at the time.
From the Hot Press Critics Roundup in 1986:
If nothing else 1986 will be remembered as the year of Self Aid, a day of good will and good music, that encouraged us all to focus on the harsh realities that face the country. Cosmetic it may have been but every little bit helps.
Speaking in 2017:
We went to the Self Aid concert, the year after Live Aid. We got talking to The Pogues when we were leaving and they were going to the after-show party. I think I was only 15 – but we managed to get in backstage to the party and met loads of people.
Damn I wish I still had those boots!😍 The Pogues May 17th 1986, “backstage” at the RDS for the big Self Aid show 35 years ago this week. I’m guessing this shot was taken before we hit the stage cos we’re looking fairly unrumpled! 💚 Pic by RTÉ’s Mary Lee #1980s pic.twitter.com/Y6GbMWF8dM
— Cáit O'Riordan (@rockyoriordan) May 18, 2021
Listen to Live For Ireland – an album of live performances from Self Aid – below: