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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Call to the Kremlin, and Live 8 Goes East

APIrish rock star Sir Bob Geldof
When U2, Madonna and REM take to the Live 8 stage in London on Saturday, in Moscow the Pet Shop Boys will add their voices to the calls for an end to poverty in Africa -- thanks to an old acquaintance of rock star Sir Bob Geldof and a telephone call to the Kremlin.

As workers put up scaffolding on Thursday for the stage on Vasilyevsky Spusk, the fact that the Red Square concert was going ahead at all seemed a minor miracle, given that Live 8 organizers first suggested it less than two weeks ago.

And the Pet Shop Boys, who will headline the Moscow concert, were signed up only due to a chance meeting in London with Richard Curtis, the organizer of the series of concerts aimed at relieving poverty in Africa.

The Live 8 concerts, which will take place in every Group of Eight nation and in South Africa, have been masterminded by Geldof, a 1980s rock star, as part of a campaign to get the world's richest nations to cancel debts, increase aid to developing countries and promote fair trade.

Yet it was only in mid-June that organizers noticed belatedly there was something awry: One of the countries was missing. Russia, the eternal poorer bridesmaid of the G8, did not figure in the list of concerts.

The Live 8 organizers, who have had some experience of setting up concerts ad hoc and at great speed, got in contact with Moscow music critic Artyom Troitsky, an old acquaintance of Geldof, the man behind the original Live Aid concerts.

"The whole thing is organized by friends of mine," Troitsky said. "So I knew about Live 8 a long time ago, but for whatever reason ... they didn't tell me about a Moscow concert until June 20."

Troitsky said his initial response was, "Unless there's a miracle, it's impossible to do it in two weeks."

He set the ball in motion by contacting SAV Entertainments, which organized Paul McCartney's concert on Red Square in 2003. They in turn got in touch with television presenter Vladimir Pozner, who put in a word with the Kremlin to help get the concert up and running.

"The only thing I can do is telephone people upstairs," Pozner said. "I'm not going to give you names, but very high up."

Pozner explained to a top Kremlin official that the concert is "going to be aimed at the G8, and Russia is not going to be involved" unless the authorities helped out. In response, the official said that Russia should "absolutely" have its own concert.

It was a political decision, Pozner said, but it made the concert possible. "My role was to get the information to the people who were decision-makers," he said.

The Pet Shop Boys were recruited for the concert after Richard Curtis, the director and scriptwriter of hit British comedy films "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Love, Actually," bumped into them at a party in London, Troitsky said.

Prior to Saturday's concert, the Pet Shop Boys' most well-known connection to Russia was their 1993 hit, a cover of the Village People's "Go West," which featured a series of young men marching in a parody of Soviet-style propaganda art.

Other Western bands, including the B-52s, were keen to come and play for free in Moscow, but there was not enough in the concert's budget to pay for their transportation and accommodation costs.

Russian bands proved harder to sign up at the height of the touring season, whilst others refused to play for free, the condition under which all the bands playing at the 10 concerts around the world are performing.

Moralny Kodeks, Agata Kristi and the Red Elvises are among the Russian bands that have agreed to play.

With only two days left before the concert, the final lineup was still being finalized Thursday, and some music insiders expressed worries at how successful the concert would be. The Pet Shop Boys were set to fly in late Thursday.

Unlike in the West, where the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia in 1985 raised millions of dollars in relief aid for Africa and became a cultural milestone for a generation, Russia lacks the same memory.

Twenty years ago, the likes of Madonna and U2 were never going to be shown on Soviet television and the Live Aid concerts remained a mystery to Soviet viewers. One Russian group, Avtograf, did play at the concert via a satellite linkup from the Ostankino television center.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had only recently come to power and the decision to allow Avtograf to play was one of the first signals of the openness he was to introduce. The group, which was on vacation at the time, was located and flown to Moscow on government orders, said Alexander Kushnir, a rock historian who once worked with the band.

Alleviating poverty in Africa in a country hardly rich itself has not previously been a high priority for Russian politicians, or for the general public. Russian audiences are mostly unaware of the anti-poverty campaign led by Geldof and U2 singer Bono. Russia, like all the other G8 countries, is owed billions of dollars by African countries. Although Bono is well-known in Russia, very few Russians have even heard of Geldof.

"The reason they know so little about it is that there has been no information," Pozner said. "I don't know why the organizers of Live Aid never thought of asking Russia to take part. If the people don't know, it's not their fault."

Troitsky said the concert would be a good opportunity to inform Russians about the campaign against poverty in Africa and said he would speak to the crowd from the stage and encourage them to get involved.

"For Russia, this whole subject is slightly different from in Western countries, as we are in the position of being both a creditor and a poor country. We are not exactly like the G7 countries."

"I can understand why people would say, 'Why should we write off debt?' when we are poor ourselves, with 70 percent living below the poverty line."

"Of course there is some logic in this argument, but I don't think that means we should not help those who are poorer than ourselves."

Moscow's Live 8 concert will take place on Vasilyevsky Spusk, starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Entrance is free, while there will be live coverage on Channel One television. The Pet Shop Boys are expected to take the stage at 8 p.m.