This piece started life as a fairly short review on the QAL Fans United Facebook group (check them out, they’re great!). That post has since dropped way too low down the lists to retrieve it, so this is an expanded rewrite of the original. Hopefully I’ve remembered the best bits of what I wrote before. * * * * * * *
We were into the last two weeks of the tour; the guys seemed to have recovered from the flu that had hit them and were getting better and better. I listened to every live stream that I could, but the gigs flew by like a bobsleigh run through a winter’s night; Herning, Prague, Zurich, Krakow. Then they were back in the UK for the final leg; Wembley, Liverpool and Sheffield.
In the meantime, I’d had a complete stress about my tickets; I was due to move house 10 days before the gig and I had visions of them turning up to an empty house and being lost forever. I don’t think I’ve ever had nightmares before about a pair of bloody tickets, but I did. When they were delivered, they went everywhere in my bag with me.
I was looking forward to Sheffield, but at the same time I was dreading it, as this would be the end. The end of QAL; what a heartbreaking thought.
It wasn’t just me either; the atmosphere on Twitter was full of the same feeling, that this crazy, emotional, tremendous tour was nearly over, and that would be it. The thought of all of them going their separate ways was physically painful.
It felt like being with your perfect lover, your soulmate, knowing that you would have one last, wonderful night together and then he (or she) would emigrate to the other side of the world and you would never see them again. You’d want that night to start and never end.
I listened to the stream of the Wembley gig – to my ears it sounded incredible, although Brian later posted on his website that he was very emotional and he felt it had affected his playing. None of us would have known, but I can understand why Wembley had tugged at his heartstrings; it was the scene of Queen’s greatest triumph with Freddie.
Then there was a day’s break before Liverpool, and Adam went off to tread the red carpet at the Brits Awards. Endearing as ever in his interviews, we all got that tiny piece of news we’d been praying for – Sheffield wasn’t going to be the end of QAL. Instead, they were all thinking of it as “hitting the pause button”. Twitter was instantly alive with rumours – Rock in Rio and Argentina were amongst them and we were all searching for bits of proof that this was actually going to happen.
The live stream of Liverpool flashed by – I could swear that time passed more quickly when you were in the grip of QAL. Then it was Friday, and Sheffield.
I had a journey north to get there; the motorway traffic was terrible and I could feel myself stressing about getting there late. It was a blessed relief to squash myself on a very crowded tram to the Motorpoint Arena. It was packed with fans; most of the ones near to me hadn’t been before, although some of them were going on the strength of that concert on New Year’s Eve. I found myself holding court, wedged in amongst them, telling them they were in for the experience of a lifetime. In retrospect, I do hope they agreed with me!
I was supposed to be one of the “streamers” for the concert, much to the husband’s alarm as I think he had visions of me being arrested and dragged away by security. The soundcheck was done, and I tried to get as far forward as I could, without getting stuck in front of someone a foot taller than me. (In the event, I was far too close to the bass speakers, so despite experimenting with a variety of sound muffling techniques, from stuffing the phone down my t-shirt(!) to the bottom of my handbag, I couldn’t get a balanced sound.)
The entire hall was gripped with an atmosphere I’ve never felt before in any live concert, anywhere, for any type of music – rock, classical; you name it. The air was crackling with excitement and emotion and my Twitter feed was buzzing, from people in the hall and all over the world. I knew there were lots of people there who’d been to many QAL gigs, and who’d got to know each other well. One of the truly amazing things about this tour has been the fellowship that has built up between people who hadn’t met each other until comparatively recently. This is a brilliant example of how music and social media brings people together – but also how this music has bought people together in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
Purple light bathed the “Q” logo and the heartstopping introduction to One Vision began. Those immense guitar chords cut through the air and the crowd were bouncing. The silhouette of Brian appeared behind the curtains in classical “rock god guitarist” stance, then the lights exploded into red and white and the curtain flew out like a giant parachute. Brian walked down the runway playing and we were into our incredible journey.
One Vision is a great opening number – it’s the “shock and awe” sound that is perfectly Queen. This video from kinkykiedis captures the atmosphere perfectly.
The setlist for Sheffield was almost the same as for Birmingham, but with the addition of Don’t Stop Me Now in the “glam rock” section with Killer Queen and Somebody To Love. I think this part was about as good as I’d heard it on the audio streams I’d listened to since the end of January. It was completely over the top, both in terms of what the guys were doing musically and the performance elements. STL was stunning – the rework they have done of this song is now the version of it that I hear in my head when I think of.
STL was said to be Freddie’s favourite song, and the original was a masterpiece; complex, “white gospel”, but the new QAL version was the original overlaid with rock. I’m sure Adam was channelling Aretha Franklin in Sheffield; his final cadenza reached notes that a lot of sopranos would be proud of.
(video from kinkykiedis’ YouTube uploads)
We were all swept along from one mood to another; where Adam flirted with just about everyone, including Brian.
Then there was the abrupt change into Brian’s section. He walked down the runway alone, the light catching on his silver hair and began by telling us that it was the happiest, most enjoyable tour he’d ever done in his life. As he wiped away a tear, I think half the hall wiped one away too. Love of My Life was unbearably poignant; it felt as though we were carrying Brian through the song. There were more tears at the end – his and ours.
We’d barely recovered from this before Days of Our Lives. Roger sang it beautifully; there was no trace of the croakiness that he’d had at Wembley. Because of the already heightened feelings from everyone, I think this was a real tearjerker for a lot of us. Again, the song transmitted that collective feeling of the decades we’ve followed Queen, so it was the days of our lives we were watching as well as theirs. That sort of connection is so very powerful when thousands of people “get it” at the same time.
After Neil’s beautiful bass solo and the drum battle, the full band were back together for Under Pressure, sung magnificently by Adam and Roger. Then it was time for the emotional climax of the gig with Save Me and Who Wants To Live Forever. There was a very rare tuning error from Adam at the start of Save Me – listening back to the video, one interval in the starting phrase was not quite accurate, but he adjusted himself back in very quickly with his good musicianship. I suspect a lot of the audience wouldn’t have noticed, but my singer’s ears spot that sort of thing.
WWTLF was stunning though; as in Birmingham, it felt as though everyone was holding their breath. It was one of those moments that are frozen in time; bathed in the white light and the stars from the glitter ball, Adam and Brian became two ghosts making unworldly music.
Brian’s guitar solo was as beautiful as ever and got a fantastic ovation, but we were into the final section; time was running away with us. One of the high spots was the riffing leading into IWIA; the sound engineers had added plenty of reverberation, but it was amazing to hear how closely Adam and Brian could match the sounds of voice and guitar.
Before Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Brian did his by now customary acknowledgement of Adam, except this time he was no longer referred to as the “new guy” – instead we were all asked if he was a keeper. The response was tumultuous.
(video from kinkykiedis’ YouTube uploads)
Incidentally, if you want to hear some beautiful audience singing, watch the videos of Bo Rhap from Sheffield; everyone was in wonderful voice. Then it was the encores and we just about sang ourselves hoarse, and swayed in unison to We Are The Champions.
(video from erotic sludge’s YouTube uploads)
There was a really touching exchange at around 3’10” where Adam kneels at Brian’s feet, with his reaction being “please, you don’t have to do that”; another example of the wonderful bond that has grown between these guys. The golden confetti rained down from the ceiling and they took their bows to God Save the Queen while we in the hall cheered, stamped and screamed.
What a tour it has been; for me as a long-time Queenie I have had the incredible of seeing Brian and Roger play with unbridled joy; Brian has skipped about the stage like a man 20 years younger. To me, it feels as though they have found themselves again through Adam. And in the meantime Adam has grown into an utterly confident rock superstar. Using his own words, he has “crawled into” the music and not only made it his own, but he has excelled in this and won over many people (like me), who had either never heard of him, or had doubts whether he could step out of Freddie’ very forbidding shadow. He has more than passed the test; he has become the Crown Prince of Queen and absolutely won the right to wear that glittering crown.
And the best thing of all is that it’s not the end. It’s the pause button.