ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Ferry aid

What really happened? Why is Boy George singing along to an old Beatles single? Why has “horny” Nick Kamen joined Bananarama? What have the very dubious Sun “news”paper got to do with all of this? And who is Stephanie Lawrence??…

The Bizarre office inside The Sun building at Wapping is the place where a group of “journalists” sit around day in day out cobbling together a mixture of scandal and rumours for The Suns daily “pop” column. It isnt exactly the first place youd expect to find charitable thoughts of any kind. Over the years theyve fought hard to earn a reputation for printing the most unscrupulous, unfactual and often hurtful pop music stories in Britain but on the afternoon of March 11 they had an idea that, for once, might do much more good than bad.

The previous Friday night, the ferry Herald Of Free Enterprise, leaving Zeebrugge port in Belgium, had overturned, killing nearly 200 people. Some of those were people taking advantage of a special offer in The Sun allowing them to make the crossing for just £1. Why not, suggested one journalist, organise a benefit record? Another — Garry Bushell — decided “Let It Be” would be the most appropriate song to record “just because it was anthem-like — ‘times of trouble and all that”. Producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman (responsible for Mel & Kim, Princess, Dead Or Alive, Bananaramas “Venus” and so on) agreed to produce it and donate their recording studio free of charge. All they needed now were some pop stars…

The only problem here was that The Sun arent exactly on the best of terms with many pop stars. “By Thursday night,” whispered one of those involved, “they hadnt got anything together. They were hopeless. They had Chas And Dave and a couple of other people. They said to me ‘we can definitely guarantee Stephanie Lawrence. Who is Stephanie Lawrence?”

Exactly. Luckily a few other people chipped in. Boy George was persuaded through his brother David, a Fleet Street photographer. The producers got people like Bananarama and Mel & Kim, while Music Box, the European Cable TV station joined forces and roped in most of the other big stars who eventually turned up.

More and more people gradually agreed to get involved, even though it proved a bad move printing a phone number for celebrities to phone in and announce their participation.

Within hours theyd had “Eddie” Bon Jovi phoning reverse charge from Southend and someone with a Brummie accent saying they were “Prince”. Neither, strangely enough turned up…


On Saturday morning its all quiet outside PWL Studios in South London. The one smart fib in The Sun reports over the last couple of days had been to suggest that all the recording would happen that Sunday. Consequently theres only a couple of fans hanging about as most of the main stars come and go. Level 42s Mark King is first, shooting over to thwack his bass and sing a bit directly after Saturday Superstore, before most people are even out of their slippers. Hes supposed to be followed by Boy George but, as usual, hes late. Or, fret all the people from The Sun starting to look a bit despondent, maybe hes not coming at all. Instead Mike Peters from The Alarm arrives, followed by Keren and Sarah from Bananarama (Siobhan is in Japan with Dave Stewart), and then Taffy and Nick Kamen. But still no George…

Finally he swans in at around three oclock, to massive sighs of relief. “I was sleeping,” he laughs, “and anyway I didnt think I was supposed to be here until three.” He smiles cheerily when its pointed out that people have been nagging him on the phone all day.

“Er, well — I had to get ready. Also there were all these people outside my house and I had to explain where this was and how to get here.”

Quite. While he “readies” himself Nick Kamen is nominated as the third member of Bananarama and they swoop in to sing their bit. “It was really strange,” observes Sarah, “because weve never sung with a bloke before. Hes really pleasant though and we all had the same uniform on — black tops and Levis and black boots.”

Nick Kamen meanwhile scrounges a toffee off someone (who then proceeds to swoon around delighted at the thought that shed selflessly given her “last toffee to Nick Kamen”) and only looks slightly embarrassed when reminded that Boy George keeps going on about how “horny” he is. “Why not?” Nick smiles. “Were good friends. Ive known George for a long time.”

By now George is in the studio singing a huge long chunk of the first verse (hes actually singing along to Paul McCartneys original version — the actual record is slung in the corner of the studio). Theres people and cameras everywhere and even in the singing booth theres a whole crowd of people surrounding George as he sings. It doesnt matter — Georges voice is still spellbindingly brilliant, at least 1000 times better than on his recent single.

I attempt to ask him a question but it all goes horribly wrong. “What, pray, does he think of the song?” is what I ask, but somehow he thinks Ive said “what do you think of The Sun?” — not a very tactful question as several million Sun journalists are within earshot. He mutters “nothing”, they all burst out laughing and he suddenly realises what the question was.

“I thought you said The Sun,” he cackles. “I wrap my fish and chips in The Sun! The song is really nice. I like Aretha Franklins version best. I was trying to put a bit more dirt into it than The Beatles version.”

And with that he goes downstairs and does an interview with Music Box in which he says what he really thinks about the “news”paper who announced about six months ago that he had eight weeks to live.

“Even this week,” he explains, “they did a story on me four times saying ‘back from the dead which just made me so upset. I was horrified. They cant help themselves… theyre just nasty about everybody. Even when Id come out of the house feeling really good theyd say ‘George is looking haggard and ill. You cant win.”

George obviously isnt alone in feeling this way about The Sun.

Everyone has been persuaded to go round wearing badges with ‘FERRY AID — THE SUN on but by Saturday night at least half the badges simply say ‘FERRY AID and theres just a white splodge where the words The Sun used to be.

The last person to turn up tonight is Ben from Curiosity Killed The Cat. After complaining that the song is “too high — not my range” and pointing out that he prefers singing with “rather less lights”(?), he sings his bit in a very tuneful laid-back groan that surprises nearly everybody in the studio. “I love the huskiness in your voice, dear,” says Mike Stock from behind the recording desk. “Natch,” says Ben. “It comes natch… whisky and cigarettes.” Hmm. Still, even he seems quite pleased with how “mellow” the end result is — though sadly the really mellow bit, where he goes “let it be yeaaahhhhhhh”, eventually gets left off the record.


Sunday morning and the crowds are out in force. Most of them are there for Boy George — certainly when Erasures Andy Bell turns up they dont even recognise him. Inside he shuffles round very shyly and uneasily — partly because he is shy and partly because he quite clearly loathes The Sun. Even when someone asks to take a snap of him for themselves he says seriously “as long as its not for The Sun“.

Soul singer Edwin Starr turns up to whoop and holler over one of Bens lines. Pepsi And Shirlie sing over some of what Andy Bells just sung while Jaki Graham bubbles round doing her bit, calling everyone “baby” all the time and making dreadful jokes with the cameraman as she sips her cuppa: “‘Let It Tea ha ha ha”.

Soon theres a motley crew of people whove arrived early for the six oclock chorus and The Christians utterly ruin their “sour” reputation by leading people like Ruby Turner, Julie Roberts (from Working Week), Hazel OConnor, “Drum” Theatre and so on through gospel singalong versions of “Lean On Me” and “Let It Be”.

From here on, its complete and utter chaos. Not only do most of the main stars reappear (Boy George is standing outside the mens toilet being interviewed by Simon Bates and explaining that he exercises by “jogging round my gold discs”) but theres an almost unbelievably “odd” selection of people — some of whom stretch the term “celebrity” to breaking point. Theres Cutting Crew, all of The Alarm, Mike Read (who arrives late, tut tut), The Tubes Felix Howard, Gloria Hunniford, various members of EastEnders, Grange Hill and Hi-De-Hi, including Su Pollard in the most spookgusting mini-skirt ever, Alvin Stardust, Lizzie Tear, Maxi Priest, Nik Kershaw, Richard Drummie from Go West, Steve Strange, Imagination, far far too many “Page” “Three” “Girls” and a great many people so not-famous that no one seems to know who they are. Mark OToole stands round drinking orange juice rather self consciously. “Im driving,” he “apologises”. “I think Id better fill up a Carlsberg can with orange juice, walk round with that and pretend to look drunk.”

Eventually the downstairs basement is ready and everyone is led in and positioned on a platform just as if it was a school photograph being taken.

Suddenly theyre off and running through chorus after chorus conducted by producer Pete Waterman. Doubtless because hes the most famous person there, the moving film camera above their heads keeps swooping in on Boy George, to his obvious annoyance. A couple of times he gestures very rudely indeed in its direction — the cheeky V sign in the final video is only what he does after hes exhausted the more obscene possibilities.

Everyone runs through their parts a few more times, the B-side is made up on the spot thanks to some improvised “gospel” singing, and then the producers decide to call a halt to what has been a very long day.


Arriving back in the studios on Monday afternoon everything is quiet again. Gone are the crowds of minor celebrities, the sandwiches and bagels, the empty beer cans and cigarettes, the singing in the corridors. This morning everyone has shot over to another studio in London where Mark Knopfler has been recording his guitar solo (he refused to be at the original recording). After all that trouble people seem a bit disappointed by the result — the word “boring” is muttered more than once.

Indeed, everyone seems much fonder of the squealiness which Gary Moore has just dribbled all over the song. Theres only three more singers to come now. Paul King is coming this evening and will, rather unfortunately, cover up half of Boy Georges part. Mel & Kim are just about to whip up a few harmonies but first in is Kate Bush.

Everyone had given up hope that shed ever appear but she phoned that morning and explained the only reason she hadnt been there earlier was because shed been ill over the weekend. Its obviously rather an ordeal for someone like her — a perfectionist who typically takes several centuries to make an album — to zip quickly into a studio and sing something. Because of that shes the first person to have the studio cleared and she also refuses all interview requests. “Its for the cause — its not what Ive got to say,” she explains reasonably enough.

Later that afternoon everyone sits round in the TV room discussing what to do with the record. No one from The Sun is there and consequently they come in for quite a lot of stick. The sleeve, for one thing, has been announced in The Sun as a picture of the overturned Ferry with The Sun Zeebrugge Fund written in huge letters beneath and its with great relief that everyone now hears that the producers have persuaded them to change it. “Next week,” says one of them, “now The Sun has shot its bolt, it wont be The Suns Ferry Aid — itll just be Ferry Aid.”

And so, over the next few days, it slowly turns out.

The finished version is played on Tuesday. The video, including Paul McCartneys contribution which he filmed on his own £30,000 camera at home, is finished by Saturday and by Monday the records are in the shops. The next Tuesday “Let It Be” by Ferry Aid enters the charts at Number One.

Mark OToole (Frankie Goes To Hollywood):

“Its important because it could have been anybodys friends on the ferry. Weve just finished a tour and all our crew have come across on the ferry so its close at heart. The only reason ‘Let It Be is a good song is because everyone knows it and everybody will buy it. And because its the only song I can play on the piano. I dont think it says much about what went on though.”

Gary Moore:

“I think the record can raise a lot of money but its not going to bring anyone back. I do half the solo — I think Mark Knopfler does the rest. It took me about 10 minutes. My only reservation about doing it is the same as most peoples — The Sun — but Im not letting that get in my way. Its more important to do it than to hold a grudge against some silly newspaper.”

Mel & Kim:

“We cancelled a TV show in Frankfurt to be here. Its a tragedy and the least people could do with is a bit of support to get back on their feet financial-wise. The songs the perfect song — its got a kind of free feeling. I cant imagine anything else being sung for it.”

Nick Kamen:

“I flew back from Stockholm last night to be here. This cant make up for what happened but if we can raise money then at least that might do something for the people involved. Singing with Bananarama? It was nice.”

Ben (Curiosity Killed The Cat):

“I think its worth doing the record if its going to make anybody more alert in their jobs and not be so blasé, do you know what I mean? It might be boring closing the doors as they leave port — if I was working there Im sure Id have done the same — but its a bit out of order when youre dealing with so many lives.”

Pepsi & Shirlie:

Pepsi: “We heard about it while we were on holiday together in Marbella — we were so horrified.”

Shirlie: “I suppose itll give some compensation and I hope the people affected will feel some warmth from it, from the fact that all these people are helping them. Money can be very cold at times.”

Boy George:

“I watched the disaster on Breakfast Time — I was up so early because it was when I went to number one. I just think its sad. Really horrible. When I was in Australia we went to do some photos on this island and on the way back the boat went haywire and everyone was terrified — I can remember lying clutching to a bed vomiting — so I can imagine what it must be like to go over in a boat.”

Mike Peters:

“I think everyone feels they could have been on the ferry — especially being in a band. Weve travelled on that ferry when we toured Europe. Its stupid that it happened. You dont hear of a jet plane taking off with the doors open, do you? It just shows what an upside down kind of world we live in. Its a tragedy — thats all you can say.”

Kim Wilde:

“I didnt think, when I heard, that this was a good thing to do. Making a record wasnt the first thing that sprang to mind. I was very upset by what happened and I didnt think it was appropriate to sing about it. Im doing it because Ive been told the families need the money but I feel very strange about it.”