Backstage With Paul: Live Aid… No One Knew What To Expect
Now while it may be true that you need talent and timing to make it in this business of rock n’ roll, it also helps to have some friends in high places. Today, Paul Natkin has friends of all types of status all over the world… I’ve witnessed greetings from rock stars, management, club owners, restaurant owners, security guards… you name it, Paul knows someone everywhere he goes. I still make sure he’s on the band’s guest list when we go to local shows, but he rarely ever needs my credentials and is typically backstage before I even arrive. Back in 1985, Paul called in a favor and got much more than he bargained for…
“In early 1985, Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, started putting together a large charity concert to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. The event was to take place on two continents, in two cities: London and Philadelphia. I knew I had to be there. So I started making calls to publicists asking for access, and was turned down immediately by the main publicist for the event. So, not giving up, I called many of the publicists that I knew asking them if they had any artists on the bill. One of them, Paul Wasserman, had some fairly famous clients playing the show: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood.
I asked if I could get in as their photographer. “No problem,” he said.
So, off to Philadelphia I went on July 12, 1985. I checked into the hotel in the early afternoon, and met up with a who’s who of New York photographers for lunch. None of us had any idea of what to expect the next day, but we all had brought plenty of film and were ready to rock.
The day of the concert dawned bright and sunny as we made our way down the street to JFK Stadium (since torn down). Once on site, we were escorted to the platform that we would call home for the next 14 hours. That is when we found out that we were blocking the view of the fans who had slept outside all night to get front row seats. We asked the promoter if he could lower the platform, but he said no. So for the next 14 hours, we were pelted with chunks of dirt, articles of clothing, food and the occasional shoe.
No matter, the music was great! The day started out slowly with the Hooters (local Philly band), proceeded to Rick Springfield and right into Black Sabbath! As the day went on, we photographed Run-DMC, Ashford and Simpson and Teddy Pendergrass, Thompson Twins with special guest Madonna, The Pretenders, Tom Petty, Duran Duran, Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon, Hall and Oates with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin from the Temptations, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Bo Diddley with George Thorogood, Patti Labelle and Simple Minds.
And then the big acts started… A Led Zeppelin Reunion with Phil Collins (who took the Concorde in from London, where he had just performed on the London Stage), Eric Clapton, Santana, Judas Priest, and Neil Young. The finale started off with Mick Jagger singing with Tina Turner followed by Bob Dylan on acoustic guitar, flanked by Keith Richards and Ron Wood.
All in all a great day of music and photography, although I was too tired to remember much of it, except going backstage to use the facilities and running into Tom Petty and Robert Plant. While talking to them, an older gentleman yelled at me to get away from the front of the TV. He was trying to watch the live broadcast of the concert. It wasn’t until the Led Zeppelin reunion later that night that I realized the older gentleman was John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.”
About Paul Natkin
Paul Natkin learned photography in the trenches, working with his father, the team photographer of the Chicago Bulls. He shot sports in the Chicago area for five years before he discovered music photography in 1976.
Since then, he has photographed most of the major music stars of the last half of the 20th century, shooting album covers for artists such as Ozzy Osbourne and Johnny Winter and magazine covers for Newsweek (Bruce Springsteen), Ebony (Tina Turner), People (Prince), and music magazines around the world. See his work online at natkin.net.