I’ve always loved science, particularly astronomy (bear with me, there’s a point to this!). One of my earliest memories was being taken into the garden as a babe-in-arms to look at the Harvest Moon. It seemed to fill the whole sky; a great, golden orb, and I was captivated. I was barely a year old then, so it’s a stand-out moment. When I was about four, my engineer older brother stood me on a box so that I could look at the phases of Venus through his telescope, and I was hooked. Rockets, space missions, men on the moon – I took it all in. It’s a shame really that I couldn’t get my head around maths and physics well enough, or today I would be searching for life on other planets rather than playing with words.
As a teenager, it was particularly fab to discover that Brian May was an astrophysicist as well as a rock god – I mean, how cool was that? My guitar hero studied the stars as well as being one. And now, as an older man with grey hair, Brian bears a little resemblance to Sir Issac Newton, one of my all-time scientific heroes. Not only did he figure out gravity, he invented the cat flap.
Sir Isaac Newton is also credited with the profound quote “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. This comes from a much older (12th century) reference, but these are great words and ones which I have thought of many times. It expresses discovering truth by building on other discoveries, or the knowledge/experience of others.
And surely, this is what we have seen going on with the QAL experience? Brian and Roger have provided their shoulders for Adam to stand on and grow his career in the way he deserves.
I’ve already talked about the whole talent show thing and how it just doesn’t guarantee a lifelong career in music, but what about someone with a truly special gift? Surely they deserve to find some shoulders to stand on?
I’m convinced that this is a big part of the reason for QAL. It’s so obvious that Brian and Roger saw Adam’s talent as soon as they worked with him on AI; we saw that all over their faces in the final. They had it in their power to give him the sort of experience that he couldn’t possibly have got through AI alone; as Queen they are one of the biggest selling artists in the world, they’ve sold countless millions of albums and have performed to massive audiences worldwide. Despite not having toured in their original format since 1986, they still have a massive following. Also, their fanbase is wide-ranging; there are people I’ve chatted to online who are Queen fans despite never having seen them live; they were either little kids in the 80s, or some were even born after Freddie died. That’s an enviable resource of fans to draw on.
Brian and Roger knew they could help Adam develop even more as an artist, they knew he could sing those incredibly difficult songs and nail them. When they made the initial approach to Adam, I gather he thought about it for a long time; he’s obviously very careful about the choices he makes and would have wanted to make the right decision.
(Video from version510’s uploads)
The first appearance was at the MTV awards in 2011 and Adam’s “true solo” appearance with Queen was to sing the incredibly difficult The Show Must Go On. The range required is massive – I’ve said elsewhere on the blog that this song is an operatic aria and I really can’t think of another way to describe it. It was a rather different Adam that stood on the stage; the look was quite severe, almost shades of Gary Numan from the 1980s and his voice sounded somehow purer, but I think this is probably that his voice is continuing to develop into its peak state (usually mid-late 30s for singers with trained voices). Nevertheless, he nailed the performance.
It’s true that he took a little while to grow into the frontman role with them. I’ve watched some of the footage of the Kiev gig and I think it’s the only time I’ve seen him look or sound even slightly nervous. Just walking on a stage in front of 300,000 people would kill most of us, let alone singing. The only trace of this was just the slightest hint of a quaver in his voice at the start of the gig. The first thing that nerves affect is your breathing; you tend to breather higher in your lungs and it makes the sound shake a little. He managed it though and I don’t suspect anyone in the audience would have seen a thing.
Through the QAL experience from the MTV awards to now, Adam has undergone the most incredible transformation. His talent is still what his long-term fans have seen for several years, but it’s been honed, polished and decorated with a jewelled coronet. He’s now utterly confident when he stands and delivers those songs; he plays with them and every performance is slightly different; he’s not just following the recipe. He’s taken this astonishingly difficult repertoire and made it his own in a sensitive and respectful way. QAL is about Queen’s music and Adam’s voice and interpretation, and what all of them do together as a team. They work fantastically well; they seem to have developed a symbiotic connection, which has probably been demonstrated best in the astounding riffing between Brian and Adam at the start of I Want It All.
(video from cwn1224afl’s uploads)
One person can improvise over a known harmonic structure; you need a sense of what’s going on in the music underneath you. This is an inherent thing and is actually genetically controlled. If you have this gut reaction to harmony – musicians often call it relative pitch, i.e. you can “feel” where you are in the key of a song, then you can learn how to improvise by listening and practising. Improvising with another person who is also improvising is something else; it requires an incredible rapport – you have to know instinctively where the other person is going next harmonically and be able to respond to that instantly. You cannot learn this and it just shows what a special relationship Adam has built with the rest of the band, particularly Roger and Brian.
The relationships between them are what make QAL so, so special. I’ve already spoken about how much joy it has bought me to see Brian and Roger play with smiles on their faces, and I really believe that Adam has helped both of them work through their grief over the death of Freddie. Brian and Roger seem so relaxed in Adam’s company; they laugh with him, hug him and everyone in the audience can feel the connection between them. There are some wonderful photos and videos from the tour of their interactions; Brian and Roger smiling as Adam touches the vocal sky in STL, and Roger kissing Adam’s hand at the end of Under Pressure. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see them like that. For me as a member of the audience, it looks like they really love each other; they’re obviously captivated with each other’s musical abilities and they’re having a complete blast performing together.
For Adam, as well as the obvious benefits of his close relationship with Brian and Roger, he has received intense masterclass training from the best in the business; he could have no finer mentors and it shows. Every performance improves by some nuance or other; Adam is obviously a perfectionist and wants to do it better every time, and working with them will allow him to do this as they are always striving for more too.
I believe that Brian and Roger have given Adam this opportunity because they truly believe in him; they have great shoulders for him to stand on and I’m sure they’re hoping that QAL helps to give him the career he truly deserves.