By Robin Pomeroy
ROME, June 30 (Reuters) - Many of Italy's biggest pop stars have shaken off their initial scepticism about Live 8 and agreed to perform on the Rome stage of the international anti-poverty rock extravaganza on Saturday.
Bob Geldof, who publicly chided Italian stars for their reluctance to appear, has even persuaded Zucchero, one of the few Italians to have a Top 10 hit in Britain, to perform in Rome as well as Paris where he was first scheduled to play.
By playing at Rome's Circus Maximus and then flying to the Paris gig at Versailles, Zucchero will be doing a mini-version of Phil Collins' feat when he flew Concorde to play both the London and Philadelphia shows of the original Live Aid in 1985.
"The distance is shorter, but it's more or less the same concept," Zucchero told Reuters in an interview.
Zucchero's no-frills jet-setting is not a publicity stunt, rather an attempt by Geldof to beef up the bill in Rome where many local stars had been reluctant to play, fearing being outshone by the higher-profile events elsewhere.
"At the start I asked to play Paris because I was already there working on my new album. Geldof called me last Friday and said: 'Rome has a few problems, I need you in Rome'."
While the Live 8 concert in London is receiving massive media attention, the Italy gig has barely been mentioned on TV and many Romans have no idea why the big stage and lighting rigs are being erected in the ancient chariot racing track.
Britain's 1980s popsters Duran Duran and U.S. country star Faith Hill will represent the English-speaking world, but most of the acts are home-grown.
Whereas many British and American superstars jumped at the chance to appear in what Geldof touted as an epoch-defining moment for pop, Italian stars have been harder to convince.
Vasco Rossi, who like Zucchero has a gravelly rock voice and massive box-office appeal in Italy, pulled out and has so far ignored Geldof's pleas to return. Zucchero put the general reluctance down to the parochialism of Italian rock stars.
"I think there's a problem of insecurity. Before taking a decision, Italian artists wait to see what the others are doing," he said. Many local heroes have now confirmed, including Jovanotti, Laura Pausini and Claudio Baglioni.
Zucchero -- "Sugar" in Italian, his real name is Adelmo Fornaciari -- hit the British charts in 1991 with a partly translated version of his song "Senza una Donna", duetting with Paul Young.
He has also performed and recorded with Eric Clapton, Sting, Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker and last year filled London's Albert Hall duetting with a roster of international stars.
He said British and American musicians are readier to work together than Italians. "Here in Italy, we never talk to other artists. There's always a sort of provincialism, a sort of closedness. They're a bit like our politicians, they can never make a decision."
And it is the politicians in Italy who are partly to blame for Live 8's low profile, he added.
"I haven't seen much of a reaction (from the Italian government), while (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair will meet journalists and the stars, here in Italy (Prime Minister Silvio) Berlusconi has not said anything about this yet."
Berlusconi is one of the eight leaders the event is aimed at, as Geldof hopes the publicity will persuade the G8 club of rich nations to take action to help the poor at its meeting in Scotland on July 6-8.
Zucchero said he did not think Berlusconi would turn up for the concert on Saturday. "I don't think he'll be there. It might be because the crowd would not be very happy to see him."