Passion in Padua

I’ve had problems finding the words for this blog.  Normally when I’ve seen a show I write about it within a day or two, but I ended up in Padua as a result of some strange and painful circumstances which are not for sharing here.  So I’m very late with this; please forgive me.

This last gig was never on my itinerary; Barcelona and the Isle of Wight were my “ration” this time, so I never thought I would be getting up at 4.00 a.m. on Saturday 25th June to fly out  to Venice.  It was all pretty unreal; early morning flight, figure out the Venetian bus system, figure out how to buy train tickets (and buy the wrong one), sneak on to a train and hope the guard didn’t find me and throw me off, meet the amazing Laura in Padua and get straight on another bus to Piazzola sul Brenta.  It was early afternoon by then and killingly hot.  The fans were already gathering outside the entrance, trying to keep out of the heat.

By the time we were let into the venue, it was early evening and lightning was flickering across the sky, reminiscent of Queen’s manufactured thunderstorm over Montreal in 1981. Some of us were praying for rain to relieve the heat by that time, but none came.

What an amazing place the venue was; a baroque palazzo a few miles away from the ancient city of Padua.

piazzola

Pic credit: Nicky Marinucci

The central courtyard was huge and easily able to accommodate the stage rig and thousands of people.  I was lucky enough to be in the Golden Circle, so was fairly near the front of this crowd.

piazzola 1

Pic credit: Nicky Marinucci

And appropriately enough, the guys started with Flash and Hero, as they had done in Barcelona. I don’t know whether that was a last minute change from One Vision, but it certainly suited the weather conditions.

As ever, it was another stunning show. For me, the real highlights of it were:

  • The crowd. I really have never been in a crowd like this. They were beyond fervent; amazing. Most of them were of an age to never have seen Queen perform with Freddie, but they were note perfect, word perfect. They loved the music with true Italian passion.
  • Fat Bottomed Girls – they really went for this; it was excellent. And on this video you’ll be able to hear a few snippets of the crowd singing

  • Somebody To Love – it’s always amazing, but it was full of “last night of the tour” extras from everyone.
  • A Kind of Magic – we got the “dad dancing” routine from Brian and Roger again. I never thought I’d see them enjoying the music so much
  • Who Wants To Live Forever –  I don’t know whether they will ever be able to do a set again that doesn’t include this song. They have honed it into something beyond a power ballad. It’s the most amazing song given a live treatment that it unlike pretty much anything else I’ve ever heard
  • Brian’s solo – with a bit of O Sole Mio incorporated in it. There have been quite a few “spot the tune” moments in his solos on this tour, and they have always gone down well with the crowd

This has been an incredible tour. I thought I was only going to see two shows so it was something completely unexpected to be here on the last night, even though I spent 22 hours awake on that day.  The quality of the music has been astounding; once again, QAL have produced the goods – and more.  They are complete performers; no detail is left to chance, every part of the set is carefully crafted and then know how to carry an audience through every second.

And again, this break is going to be just a pause; they are back in the Far East in just a few months’ time (although I somehow don’t think I will be flitting off to Hong Kong in September).

QAL padua WWTLF

Pic credit: Nicky Marinucci

And this time it wasn’t only about QAL; it was about Italy; a place I’ve always wanted to visit but had never got to before. I was there for just under two days but wished I could have stayed longer. I could quite happily have never gone home.

In that short time, I met four wonderful Italian girls who looked after me and treated me as one of their own. Through you, I felt love and comfort – and learnt a few Italian swear words! I will be forever grateful to you, as you picked me up when I had fallen. Miei amici del cuore – Laura, Mary, Anna and Licia – casa mia e casa tua.

QAL padua tickets

 

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Queen reign supreme at the Isle of Wight

It was a first for me – and them.  Although Queen had played at a number of one-day festivals, they had never done one of the big extended events, like Glastonbury or the Isle of Wight.  As it happens, neither had I.  I went along with more than a bit of trepidation; would there be mud? Would there be loads of fights? Would my long-suffering husband be able to cope with four days of continuous music, let alone a fourth QAL gig in less than 18 months?

But wait – there was Adam Ant, Status Quo and other help at hand….

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To pass the time until Sunday night, I caught up with a number of other bands, some of whom have been on my bucket list for a while. These were:

  • Status Quo – Thursday night in the Big Top. I’m not sure why they weren’t on the main stage, as the venue was completely overcrowded. They were great fun and I think I knew every song they played
  • The Stereophonics – Friday night, main stage.  These are a band that have seeped into my consciousness over the years, as I didn’t realise how many of their songs I knew. Really good set, despite the rain towards the end of it
  • The Who – Saturday night, main stage. One for the bucket list. Only Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend are left of the original four, but they played their greatest hits and it was fantastic to hear songs like Substitute and My Generation live
  • Twin Atlantic – Sunday afternoon, main stage.  Had never come across these guys but I thought they were pretty OK
  • Mike and the Mechanics – Sunday afternoon, main stage. Another one for the bucket list as I saw Genesis twice years ago, once with Peter Gabriel and once with Phil Collins.  As I’d never heard Land Of Confusion and The Living Years live, this was a real treat. My only complaint was that their set was too short! What an exquisite guitar sound Mike Rutherford makes; it was a joy to listen to him
  • Ocean Colour Scene – Sunday night, main stage. They’re from Birmingham, just like me and again, this was another band whose music has seeped into my brain over the years. Good set and they were well supported by the crowd
mike rutherford

Pic credit: Rolling Stone

And finally, after all that waiting, it was time for the main event.  A black backdrop was taken away to reveal the new, eye-shaped Queen rig and the logo was dropped in front of the stage.

Then it started raining. Oh joy.  All those jokes you hear about the British festival season coinciding with terrible weather? Yep.  The thousands in the audience bravely put on their kagoules and rain ponchos, and got themselves another beer. We’re Brits, don’t forget.

In the last 15 minutes before the start, the excitement in the crowd was palpable.  I got chatting to some of the people around me, most of whom hadn’t seen QAL in the flesh before.  As the introduction to One Vision started, they were jumping and there was an enormous roar as the curtain was whipped away. There was an explosion of red and white – and that sound that can only ever be Queen; towering, brilliant and precise.

They moved quickly into Hammer To Fall and Seven Seas of Rhye, the song which started my love affair with Queen all those years ago.  This was followed by the rapid fire of Stone Cold Crazy (and no, I don’t know how Adam gets the words out).

As ever, this was a beautifully crafted setlist; they always seem to have put their programmes together with the sort of precision that you would expect of a classical recital artist, but this technique works – it means that the audience are engaged throughout and eager for what’s coming next.

The first section was finished off with Another One Bites The Dust and Fat Bottomed Girls, which had the entire audience roaring along with it.  Adam made his exit to change and we were treated to a rocking guitar interlude from Brian. There aren’t that many videos available on YouTube yet, but I’m sure this one from CarlaRose will give you an idea of the fantastic performance quality.

Play The Game has been a new addition to the set for the 2016 dates and it suits Adam brilliantly; you get to hear little touches of his excellent falsetto and it’s such a beautifully crafted song.  From this it was into Killer Queen, which has become a real showpiece. After that, everyone was up and dancing for Don’t Stop Me Now (even my husband!).

As ever, Somebody To Love was stunning – it’s one of those songs that was made for Adam (even though I love the Freddie original, this live version is almost another song these days).  He solidly hits a high F at the end (same note that I’m happy to sing as a mezzo soprano).

There was a well-earned break for Adam after this while Brian encouraged the crowd to sing along with Love Of My Life (admittedly, they didn’t need encouraging and as usual, everyone seemed to know the words).  Roger joined him after this, presenting him with the Red Special and the two of them performed A Kind Of Magic.  Roger still has a pretty reasonable voice considering he’s sung for most of his life and smoked for years.  We also saw the extraordinary sight of the two of them indulging in a bit of “dad dancing”, which was picked up on the big screens. These two guys who have known each other for nearly 50 years have an amazing rapport and I think my heart burst into a million pieces.

After the father and son drum battle, Adam was back on stage for Under Pressure and there was a huge roar from the crowd at the picture of David Bowie on the screen.  Crazy Little Thing Called Love has become a semi-acoustic number for this tour, and it works well, but we were taken swiftly back to full powered Queen with I Want To Break Free, which again had the audience dancing.  Earlier in the day, I’d spotted a number of people in suitable fancy dress for this, including toy vacuum cleaners!  I’m not sure how they managed amongst the enormous crowd though.

IOW drone shot

I Want It All has also become a standard item in QAL sets; it’s loaded with typical Queen bombast, punctuated with smoke guns and massive guitar riffs.  In sharp contrast to this, Who Wants To Live Forever became a moment of comparative stillness, marked out as a tribute to the deaths in Orlando, Florida the previous night.  Always stunning, it seemed to move to a new level here on the Isle of Wight. The lasers seared into the darkening sky and the crowd were rapt.

(Video from GlamBecks becksie1’s YouTube uploads)

Again, that superb setlist planning came into play as Brian’s guitar solo began in that same reflective mood, moving through Last Horizon before it exploded into the very familiar sequences of Brighton Rock.

We were nearly at the end; they’d been on stage for the best part of two hours and into the final sequence of the main set. We rushed through Tie Your Mother Down and into Bohemian Rhapsody, and I swear that every single person in the crowd sang along – even the ones who weren’t regular Queenies.  For music fans though, it’s become a universal anthem over the last 40 years.  If you don’t know it, you’ve obviously lived on another planet since 1976.

Radio Ga Ga has moved into the final slot, with the fans at the barrier getting an opportunity to greet Adam as he jumps down from the main stage.  The lasers showered the night sky again as the audience clapped along.  There was a brief break, then everyone was back on stage for the standard encores of We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.  The gold confetti exploded everywhere, we heard Brian’s version of God Save The Queen – and then it was over.

adam helen bovill

Pic credit: the extremely talented Helen Bovill!

Two hours of amazing music had sped by; they were as breathtaking as ever and they seem to find ways of improving on every single gig.

I talked in the Barcelona review about Queen producing “total music” and this is just what they do.  No aspect is neglected; everything is picture perfect and planned down to the finest detail – and it shows in the finished product, the performance.

In all of their incarnations, Queen have always strived to be bigger, better than everyone else around.  They were truly head and shoulders above anyone else on the Isle of Wight festival lineup, and I heard “regulars” saying that they were the best they had seen in the 10+ years since the revived festival started in 2002.  The people who were Queen newbies were blown away and I overheard many conversations on the long, long walk back to the car park.

Once again, QAL have conquered and they’ve done it with the music, and the love of the music.  The joy travels all the way from the front row to the people at the back and it’s impossible not to be caught up in it.  The only problem is dealing with the addiction, the desire to experience it all again.

brian and roger helen bovill

Pic credit: Helen Bovill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona – la musica vibro

It’s been a while.  Sorry, this crazy little thing called life keeps getting in the way, but QAL are back, so how could I not write about them?

Queen in their various incarnations have repeatedly been one of the best concert experiences for so, so many people over the years.  There are the oldies like me, who’ve been around almost since the beginning, ranging all the way through to the younger fans, some of whom don’t even remember Freddie being alive.  The QAL experience must be particularly special for them, plus of course, all the Glamberts who were either Queen fans in the past, or have picked up on this fandom as well.

If you’re a football (soccer) fan, you may well have come across the expression “total football”. Ironically, it’s most often been applied to FC Barcelona, who are probably the finest club team in the world.  They don’t just play football; they live it, working towards the perfect application of the game.  By the same token, Queen do “total music.”  I’ve seen them more than I’ve seen any other band and every experience of them has been different.  Each time seems to surpass the last, for one reason or another, and there is something irresistible about this music; it keeps drawing us back for more as each time they head out of tour, it gives us yet another chance to live it all again.

Not only was this near the start of the “third age” of QAL, but it was also my first venture into the world of gigs on the European mainland. Surprised? It’s a long story, but this blog is about the gig, not me.  It somehow seemed appropriate to go and see them in Barcelona, a place I’ve always wanted to visit, as well as a name that Freddie immortalised in song with Montserrat Caballe.

barcelona

Pic credit: from official video

The Palau Sant Jordi is at the top of a very steep hill, next door to the Olympic Stadium;  what a great place for a concert, looking down on the huge city spread out around us. It rained unexpectedly during the afternoon so those in the queue got a soaking for their trouble, as well as it being rather unseasonably cold for Spain.  A couple of hundred hardy souls had been there since the morning, but despite not getting there until rather later, I had a good sight line on the floor at the right hand side. It made a nice change not to have a bunch of giants obscuring my vision; the curse of the small(ish) person.

And what a night it was.  Queen have always used the maxim “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing” and as ever, they were completely true to their words.  This was two hours of total music – and total sensory overload.

We had been promised some changes, and we got them. The opening sequence has been reworked; the “Flash” theme and The Hero, rapidly followed by Hammer To Fall, one of my all-time favourites.  There aren’t that many videos online yet from Barcelona, but thanks to Marc Valiente for uploading this one:

The visuals have also had a makeover; the “Q” is new, improved and lighter for easier transportation.  Lasers have been added to the already impressive lighting rig to show off QAL in all their impressive glory.

But, let’s cut to the chase.  This isn’t just about the details, it’s about the big picture; why people keep flocking to see this remarkable liaison between old-time rock n’ rollers and a guy who started off in music theatre and then ran into them on a US talent show.  The opening show in Lisbon on 20th May was exactly seven years to the day that Adam sang with Brian and Roger for the first time; what a fine coincidence, and what a huge distance has been travelled since then.

adam KQ

Pic credit: Me!

Brian has said many times that they weren’t actively seeking a new singer, but Adam happened and there they were, QAL unexpectedly rising from the ashes. Now utterly seasoned at working together, the shows are well-planned, slick, produce music of an impossibly high quality and take the audience through every mood that music can induce. They are masters at constructing a setlist; Queen’s output encompasses a huge variety of styles, which admittedly helps, but it’s obvious that a huge amount of thought goes into putting a programme together.

It’s difficult to pick out the best moments because the standard these guys produce is so consistently high, but for me, the highlights were:

  1.  Hammer to Fall – it would have been even better to hear the full-length version, but it’s one of the songs that I really wanted to hear Adam sing with Brian and Roger – and they didn’t disappoint.  It was classic Queen – that overwhelming, all-encompassing sound
  2. Somebody To Love – Adam was born to sing this – it’s stunning every time I hear it, and I love the “live” arrangement of it, which is quite different to the original recording. It’s got gospel; it’s got pzazz; it’s got top notes and it’s got a great melody lines.  One of Freddie’s all-time classics
  3. Who Wants To Live Forever – if anything, I think this has got even better since the UK/Europe tour last year.  The visual impact of the song has been reworked and the whole thing is breathtaking.  As I’ve said before, this isn’t just a power ballad, it’s an operatic aria; it’s difficult musically and emotionally and they nail it every single time
  4. Brian’s guitar solo (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you 😘). OK, this is about instinctive musicianship. When you stand up to do a guitar solo like that, you might have a rough framework in your head, but not every single note, and if you’re a fan, you’ll know that each one is slightly different.  As I expected, there was a little snatch of Barcelona worked into it, as well as the more usual themes from Lost Horizon and Brighton Rock.  Brian’s solos contain elements of rock, jazz and modern classical music, and it takes the “instinctive” music gene plus an amazing mind to play like that.  During the solo, he was whisked into the heavens among some stunning astrophotography
  5. I Want It All – this is another song that seems to have improved with live performance.  Of course, this is one of the post-1986 songs that Freddie never got to perform live, but it’s a fans’ favourite and a real Queen anthem.  It suits Adam’s voice to a tee; there’s plenty of opportunities for drama and there is that magic moment for “it ain’t much I’m asking” that everyone seems to love

Thanks again to Marc Valiente for uploading this:

There were many, many other magical moments during the set; the appearance of Freddie during Love Of My Life and Bohemian Rhapsody and Adam’s utterly cheeky rendition of Killer Queen, where he has progressed from a chaise longue to a throne.  There was a deafening cheer at the start of Under Pressure when a photo of David Bowie flashed up on the screens and a lovely moment when Roger solemnly presented Brian with the Red Special just before the start of These Are The Days Of Our Lives.  Roger also proudly introduced “his boy Rufus” at the end of the drum battle and we were treated to an updated, acoustic version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love.  There’s also a particularly honourable mention for the inclusion of Play The Game, which worked beautifully.

Even two hours was too short and time flashed by to We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, the inevitable end, the post-gig heartache and the craving for more.  The smoke guns fired and we were showered with gold foil.  It snaked and circled down among us, probably imprinted with traces of the music that we’d been bombarded with.  There’s some in my handbag to keep the memory alive.

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Pic credit: Sergio Cayuela

At least it’s the start of the tour and there are more live streams to come – and of course the Isle of Wight festival for those of us in the UK. Queen are alive and well – Don’t Stop Them Now.

bri getty

Pic credit: Getty

 

The tracks of our tears – and why celebrity deaths can matter to us

Since last Christmas, there seems to have been an ever longer and depressing list of celebrities who have passed away.  It started on December 28th with Lemmy of Motorhead and since then the bad news has come thick and fast; David Bowie, actor Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson and now Prince.  Even BBC News published an article today about how many celebrity deaths there have been this year.

Their logic is that time is simply starting to run out for the Baby Boomers – those who were born after the end of the Second World War.  As the risk of death starts to rise slowly after the age of 50, some of them (even in these days of better medicine) have reached their allotted span.  Not a comfortable thought, but time passes for all of us, no matter how much we may try to cheat it. Celebrities are not immune, indeed some of them have lived fast and died young.  An untimely death always seems doubly cruel; that individual is snatched away in the prime of life when there is so much more they could have done.

But why is there these outpouring of grief following a celebrity death? Are they the actions of sensible, rational people?

It’s been summed up beautifully by @nadiaakatherine, who wrote this:

.celebrity

These reactions aren’t new; they’ve been happening for nearly a century now.  The first really notable outburst at a celebrity’s death was the mass hysteria following the untimely passing of actor Rudolph Valentino at the age of 31 in 1926.  An estimated 80,000 people attended his funeral and a number of women committed suicide as a result of their grief.

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Mass hysteria?

Naive, childish overreaction?

That’s the quick, dispassionate answer, but it’s much more complicated than that. First of all we need to go back to when celebrity began and look at how media has changed the world around us.

It could be argued that the age of celebrity started much more than a hundred years ago; there were 18th century opera singers who led the life of today’s rock stars and were feted wherever they went, but they were limited by the audience they were able to reach.  There was no mass media of any sort until we had movies and recordings.  These innovations made celebrity a much bigger deal and meant that artists could reach an impossibly larger world with their talents.  And that larger world was closer to us than ever before; it wasn’t just a matter of a once-in-a-lifetime experience seeing someone on a stage and trying to hold that in memory. Artists became stars; fans could queue to see a film again and again, and recorded music was available in bars, cafes and eventually their own homes as gramophones became more affordable.

Add TV and radio to this later in the 20th century, and celebrities were in our homes every day. Music seems to have an even greater grip on most of us than film and TV; songs worm their way into our brains and become the soundtrack of our lives.  Often our earliest memories include music; listening to a car radio going to school, playing a radio or records while doing homework, dancing at the school disco, going to concerts and festivals. Music becomes part of makeups, breakups, weddings; the good times, bad times and sad times.

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This soundtrack becomes ever-present; we could all write lists of songs that we associate with certain times and events.  When I saw QAL twice last year, the most affecting number for me was Days Of Our Lives, as it was accompanied by a video of Queen through the years, and I’d been with them for all of that time. It was my life I was watching too, and that’s an emotional thing.

Because music gets woven into the fabric of our existence, it’s inevitable that it touches us when “our” artists die.  I remember one of my schoolfriends being utterly heartbroken at the death of Marc Bolan, my own disbelief at the murder of John Lennon, and of course, the profound sadness at the tragic and very sudden death of Freddie in 1991. We become close to artists through their art and when they leave us, there is a hole in our lives where they once were. The soundtrack gets broken and someone who has been with us is torn away.

Yet, they leave their music and their talent behind and with that, they are frozen in time for us, forever perfect.  We can listen to the recordings whenever we want, watch the videos – as long as we can bear the thought that they are no longer with us.  They have helped us feel happy so many times, that if we let them go, that happiness will be gone forever.  The grief process can be the same as losing a family member, and take years to recover from.

Freddie DOOL

Pic credit: wikipedia.org

In the last few years, the new age of social media have changed the dynamics of grief again News is instant; on platforms such as Twitter, we are all broadcasters and our thoughts and reactions are out in the world instantly.  We can see a story develop in front of us, share it and add to it.  Importantly, we can join with like-minded people and know that we are not alone in feeling the way we do.

I think the important thing here is to acknowledge that grieving for something or someone that has touched our lives is not unnatural.  We need these connections in our lives to help us make sense of everything, to make us fully human.  The philosopher Erich Fromm said “To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness.”

Therefore, as in many other parts of life, there is no gain without pain.  If we reach out into the world, it is inevitable that there are things that will hurt us, even if that something is a person we have never met.  We need heroes; we need role models as they give us something to aspire to. But it hurts when they die.

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David Bowie 1947-2016 – a tribute

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Pic credit: ppcorn.com

Tonight, there’s a new Starman in the sky.  I woke up very early this morning to the BBC informing me that David Bowie had passed away, just a few days after his 69th birthday and the release of his album Black Star.  Needless to say it was a shock; he’d been ill with cancer for 18 months but very few people outside his immediate family and friends seemed to know about it.  It was obviously the way he wanted things to be, and it’s a mark of the extraordinary man that he was.

Born David Jones in London, he studied art, music and design at school, and became interested in acting early on.  In fact, he performed as an actor before he made a breakthrough as a musician. His musical career spanned over 50 years and in that time he moved through a staggering number of musical styles.  I knew him best from the days of Hunky Dory and the Ziggy Stardust period, when he moved from that super-androgynous figure from the album cover to one of the creators of glam rock.

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Pic credit: RCA Records

For me, the masterpiece from this album and still my favourite Bowie track ever is Life on Mars.  It has puzzling, bizarre words, but the thing that grabbed me were the arresting harmonies.  Bowie had a strange but very distinctive voice – you couldn’t ever say that he had the awesome pipes of some of the rock frontmen, but he had a large range and his vocal tone was instantly recognisable; after all, that is what will make a musician stand out from all the others.

(video from AllTheLoveGoneBlack’s YouTube uploads)

As Ziggy, he admitted later to being completely taken over by the character and used to give interviews in his stage persona.  After Ziggy came the Thin White Duke and an altogether more disturbing image.  But Bowie moved on, from style to style, through glam to funk, pop, dance and experimental music in the “Berlin” period that wouldn’t have been out of place with some of the avant-garde classical music of that time.

He rode the changes of the New Wave and moved into more straightforward pop music.  In 1981 the Queenies will know well that a chance encounter led to Under Pressure, a number one hit and that amazing video which cut together explosions, silent movies and newsreel clips of the Wall Street Crash

(Video from TVC15’s YouTube uploads)

He also experimented with electronic music, releasing five albums between 1992 and 1999. His musical output dropped just after the start of the 21st century when he took an extended period off following heart surgery.  Almost out of the blue, he released an album in 2013 and then a mere two days before his death, BlackStar appeared with its dark and arresting themes, none more so than the shockingly beautiful Lazarus, his final goodbye.

(Video from DavidBowieVEVO uploads)

And Bowie wasn’t “just” a singer.  He collaborated with many other musicians, including that Christmas hit version of Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby, probably one of his most surprising offerings.  He was also a songwriter,  played several instruments, an arranger and producer.  He had a substantial acting career, appearing in more than twenty films.  He’s probably best known for The Man Who Fell To Earth and Labyrinth, but he also played the role of Pontius Pilate as The Last Temptation of Christ.  His talents didn’t stop there; he was an accomplished painter and also collected post-modern and impressionist art.

He won awards for music and acting, and even one for being “Best Dressed Man”, but turned down a CBE and a knighthood. from the British government, stating “It’s not what I spent my life working for.”

David Bowie was an innovator, a ground-breaker.  He pushed the boundaries of music, dramatisation, gender and sexuality.  He was unique and we will probably never see his like again.

The stars look very different today.

When Worlds Collide

Pic credit: DaveMorrowPhotography.com

 

 

It’s Late

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.

QAL 1

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.

insomnia

Pic credit: gallery4share.com

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.

Sao Paulo opener

Pic credit: @scubadan21

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.

QAL Krissy 1

Pic credit: @IamjustMissy (with thanks!)

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.

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Pic credit: imgsoup.com

 

Freddie – never forgotten

The 24th of November is upon us and social media has been full of tributes to Freddie today, the 24th anniversary of his untimely death.  There have been so many column inches written about him over the years that it’s difficult to think of something new to say.

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Pic credit: reddit.com

 

All these years later we are still here celebrating his life with joy, or looking back upon it with deep sadness that he left us too soon.  Seeing the reactions on Twitter and Facebook today, I’m left in no doubt that Freddie is still loved by millions and the sense of his loss must be even more acute to those who were close to him.

He was a gigantic stage presence and left a remarkable musical legacy behind him in the music he wrote for Queen, his solo songs and the collaboration with Monserrat Caballe.

But that isn’t all, by any means. A few months ago I wrote about why performance is the final piece of the jigsaw and Freddie is the perfect example of how a good performer becomes an incredible one.  When he stepped out on to a stage, he owned it and it was almost impossible to look at anyone else. Even in an arena packed with over 100,000 people he reached everyone and made them feel part of the show.

live aid 1

Pic credit: rsvlts.com

Live Aid was an outstanding example of the way Freddie could work a crowd.  The audience on this day weren’t even a “Queen” crowd and the band had wondered  what the reaction would be to their set.  Brian referred to him as their secret weapon and he wasn’t wrong; the response was immediate and overwhelming.

(video from My Fairy King’s YouTube uploads)

And of course, Freddie had that unique voice, that enormous range with the capability to produce a strong falsetto register too.  There have been many great rock singers since the 1960s but there are few who could cover so many different styles of music in the way that he did.  Queen’s music often defied  categorisation; was it rock, pop – or something else? From the high camp of Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon to the classical structure of Innuendo, every album is packed with a range of musical styles and it was the sheer versatility of Freddie’s voice that made it possible.

I’ve watched the Wembley tribute concert many times and it never ceases to amaze me how other world-class singers found themselves doing battle with those vocal lines. Queen songs are difficult for many reasons; as well as the obvious challenge of the range, there are those shifts in style and often a harmonic complexity that you wouldn’t normally associate with rock music.  And of course, you have to say something with the song; to just stand there and sing the words would be a travesty. This is the art of the frontman and Freddie had nailed this from early on in his career with Queen.

The whole frontman thing is an interesting subject on its own and a band can live or die on the quality of the man (or indeed, woman) who is the one with the microphone.  Before Queen, particularly in the world of rock music, there wasn’t an awful lot of engagement with the audience at all, but they seemed to invent a whole new experience with their “more is more” philosophy.  Freddie was their driving force, the channel for the music, and he stepped on stage as a larger-than-life character who was born to entertain.

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Pic credit: Queen Official

Freddie the man was much more of an enigma; his partying lifestyle was legendary and ultimately the cause of his death, but behind all this was someone who was reserved and often self-deprecating.  He also seemed to have a sense of his own mortality; during an interview some time before he contracted HIV/AIDS, he was asked what he would be doing in 20 years’ time.  His immediate reply was, “I’ll be dead, darling;”  he couldn’t have known at the time how prophetic these words were.

This sad day has come round again and next year it will be a quarter of a century since his passing. Freddie’s voice and performances are perfectly frozen in time for us by the technologies of recorded music and video.  His spirit is still with us in this way even though he is long gone.

But Queen – and the music – still survive.  Not long before Freddie died, he said “you can do what you want with my music, but don’t make me boring”.  I think Brian and Roger have taken him at his word; the songs are still performed today, by Queen, covered by countless others and of course, they were woven into the We Will Rock You story.  Queen will never be boring; the music is too vibrant, too varied for that.  And the man who once laughed himself off as a “musical prostitute” was at the heart of it all.

RIP Freddie.

(Video from Queen Official’s YouTube uploads)