Almost a year ago to the hour, this happened:
(video from queen + adam lambert unofficial’s YouTube uploads)
I think for a lot of Queen fans in the UK, this represented a massive moment in keeping the band alive. Although Brian and Roger had been working with Adam since the MTV music awards appearance in 2011, the collaboration wasn’t well-known over here – and Adam Lambert certainly wasn’t. Some UK fan club members and others got to see the 2012 London gigs, but these were more like experimental performances to see if QAL could work on a bigger scale. Other than that, Queen in the UK had been fairly quiet for some time, so the 2015 dates came as a big surprise.
I suspect that a lot of us had bought tickets on trust, or out of curiosity – or as in my case, without thinking to check out YouTube. There were also a lot of us who hadn’t seen QAL’s brief appearance on X Factor a few weeks previously, so NYE was something of a revelation and it set off a mad roller coaster ride that has lasted for 365 days and is going on into 2016.
What a year it’s been for me – for all sorts of reasons. Rewind to 31st December 2014 and this blog didn’t exist – I’d been thinking about blogging again for a while (I did it a few years ago), but it was going to be an anonymous autobiography and nothing to do with music at all.
Then QAL happened in January and February and I ended up colliding with Queenies and Glamberts in a big way, first of all on Twitter and then on Facebook and various fan forums. Very soon after, I started writing and found I had to learn quickly – you guys are knowledgeable and sharp-eyed and I knew immediately that there was no way I could rely on BS to get me through. I needed to know what I was talking about and make sure I’d done my research carefully.
So I’ve read, listened, watched hours of YouTube footage, analysed Adam’s vocal technique and compared the way that trained and untrained voices work. I’ve dissected performance skills and also watched – very carefully – how fandom works. What a fascinating lot you are. This has involved many, many late night chats, watching fan reactions on Twitter (special mention to Alex Morner, the Crown Prince of Flail for causing my phone to explode a number of times), chasing around on the internet for online streams of gigs and being awake at 4.30 a.m. to make sure I didn’t miss out on Rock In Rio.
A year down the line, I’m still an insomniac, I’m most of the way through a novel and I’m hopefully going to be embarking on a PhD in Fandom and Fan Culture in the not too distant future.
I’ve also met some truly amazing people – online and in real life too. I’ve rubbed shoulders with superfans, the barrier boys and girls who will queue from the early hours for one of those elusive front row places. I’ve also come across “fan experts” who know more details of their idol’s life than they do themselves (big shout out to @mmadamimadamm for her encyclopaedic knowledge). I’ve seen what an amazing thing fan solidarity can be, but on the other side of the coin I’ve seen more than a few fan battles.
But it’s all fascinating and one of the reasons that I’ve decided to make it a study. Why have the actions of the two remaining active members of Queen caused such a storm amongst a section of their fans? Is it because Freddie died rather than decided to retire? Is it because our brains are hardwired by recorded music and another voice just sounds “wrong”? Or on a more basic level, is it because some of us are more willing to accept change? These are some of the questions I’m hoping to look at as part of my research, and of course I’m going to be looking for people to help me out with this.
As well as raising all these questions (and more!) in my mind, during 2015 I’ve also seen and heard some truly astounding music and I’m one of the many Queenies who is incredibly grateful that I’m still able to do this. For me, there is no substitute for live music; even the most perfect recording doesn’t have that special something.
And the show is scheduled to go on – for next year at least. So far a number of festival and one-off arena gigs have been announced for QAL and I suspect there may be more. 2016 would have been Freddie’s 70th birthday, it’s 40 years since Hyde Park and 30 years since Knebworth. That’s a lot of anniversaries to be marked. I’m off to the Isle of Wight festival in June and I’m going to do my darnedest to see if I can get to one of the other arena gigs as well – all in the object of research, of course.
Even all these years down the line, Queen (with Adam Lambert) have proved that they can still pull in crowds. One of the things that has amazed me this year is the realisation that Queenies aren’t just the old-timers like me; the band have been around for such a long time that there are plenty of fans who were born after they stopped touring in 1986, and even after Freddie died in 1991. I’ve also discovered that some of the Glamberts were Queen fans as well, while others have got into the music through Adam.
I’m sure that while the fans are still there, Brian and Roger will want to carry on performing for as long as they’re able. One of a musician’s most basic drives is to stand up there and perform; often it’s more about this than about the ideas of fame and fortune. You feel you have something to say musically, so you get on and say it as well as you can. Also, because of the quality of Queen’s catalogue of songs, they don’t have to be restricted to a “greatest hits” set; there is so much more that they could look at using and it will be interesting to see if there is a new setlist for 2016.
I’ve looked back and now I’m looking forward. I’m hoping it’s going to be a great year.