An American in London: Jody Watley Remembers Band Aid

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·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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photo: Steve Hurrell/Redferns

Three decades ago, on Nov. 25, 1984, the British pop elite gathered at Notting Hill’s Sarm West Studios, at the request of the Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof, to record the history-making charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” as the super-est of supergroups, Band Aid. But among the U.K megastars was one then-rising American artist, Shalamar’s Jody Watley. She soon went on to great solo success in the mid-’80s… and even ended up dating one of new wave’s most eligible bachelors as a result of the Band Aid recording session. 

Related: Ranking All Four ‘Do They Know It’s Christmases’

On the 30th anniversary of Band Aid, Watley dishes with Yahoo Music about tensions (and flirtations!) on the set, and what it felt like to be a Yank among the Brits.

YAHOO MUSIC: You’re not British. So how did an R&B singer from Chicago end up on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” alongside members of Spandau Ballet and Culture Club?

JODY WATLEY: I was living in London at the time. My group Shalamar, which I’d left in July of 1983, at the time were huge in the U.K. The publicist Mariella Frostrup of the label Phonogram, which was keen to sign me to a solo deal, was also the label that was releasing the Band Aid single. Mariella said I needed to be a part of a recording that was happening. She indicated there’d be loads of British artists — it wasn’t until I got there that I saw who. I couldn’t believe it. To say it was “awe-inspiring” would be an understatement.

So you realized then that you were part of something historical?

None of the artists at the time had any idea it would be as monumental as it was, but everyone wanted it to be a success. We all just turned up to the recording studio of producer Trevor Horn. It was cool, because we all looked like ordinary people with a bit of scruff, not like superstar artists — no one was thinking about camera crews or looking polished. The fact that it went straight to No. 1, and was frontpage news and one of the biggest charity singles  — it was just the byproduct of some of the biggest stars in pop and rock coming together on an early Sunday morning not fully knowing the magnitude that would become a part of music history. I was glad, however, that I did put on a bit of lipgloss and eyeliner!

How did it feel to be one of the few U.S. artists participating in Band Aid?

It was an honor for me, and remains so, to represent America and to be amidst the biggest stars in music of the time, from U2’s Bono, George Michael, Duran Duran, Boy George, Phil Collins, Paul Young, and so on. Kool & The Gang from America were there touring and were also asked.

What are your strongest memories of the day?

It was a great day. If there were cell phones back then, we’d probably have some of the greatest selfies of all time! I asked George Michael that day if he’d sing a duet with me if I got signed, and he said yes; he kept his word, and appears on my solo debut in America. I also went on a few dates after the recording with John Taylor from Duran Duran — he was very flirtatious that day! — including a royal premiere that featured their theme from a Bond movie. It was a crazy experience going out with John, with tons of young girls always camped out in front of his flat screaming and showing their love for him. 

Any other memories of encounters with the artists there?

I saw Siobhan [Fahey] from Bananarama recently while out dancing. They weren’t that friendly to me that day. I had not seen her since. I told her I just remember them blowing cigarette smoke my way; everyone else was nice and had a lot of fun. She said it was because they were hungover and had come straight to the studio after being out all night! We had a laugh about it.

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