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….

BEER_TENT_WORDS

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life begins at 40 – A Tribute to Bohemian Rhapsody

First of all, I haven’t forgotten about the rest of the Don’t Stop Them Now tour, or that Adam has been out and about doing solo work, but real life is seriously getting in the way at the moment. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will try to catch up with everything soon, and also hopefully include some material from other contributors who were lucky enough to go to South America.

There has been a very important music anniversary this weekend, as on 31st October 1975 this happened:

(video from Queen Official’s YouTube uploads)

This extraordinary song, which by right shouldn’t have been a single release at all, has managed to be the third best seller ever (behind Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and the “Diana” version of Candle In The Wind). It’s even been number one twice in an identical version, the only song ever to manage this feat.

How the hell did Bo Rhap happen? Do we have any idea why it’s captured the imagination the way it has for four decades? What makes it unique? And is it really a rhapsody?

Pic credit: Queen Official

Pic credit: Queen Official

There have been masses of column inches written about this song over the last 40 years; there is a very detailed entry about it on Wikipedia and there have been all sorts of analyses done of it, including how it’s put together musically and various theories about what the words mean.  So I’m not going to go over stuff that already exists, but instead give you my take on why I think it’s become an iconic piece of music.

At the time Queen recorded Bo Rhap, they were very much at a crossroads.  Locked in a legal battle about finances, the band had hit records, but were broke – in rock star terms, at least.  They needed something massive, but record company executives were very doubtful about a six-minute song getting the radio play that would make it a hit.

Enter an anarchic DJ called Kenny Everett.

Pic credit: Wikipedia

Pic credit: Wikipedia

Everett had a completely eccentric broadcasting style which gave him considerable notoriety. He pushed the boundaries a little too far for the BBC’s tastes at the time, and got himself sacked from Radio 1 in 1970.  He moved over to Capital Radio and whilst there worked hard to champion the bands that he believed in.  One of them was Queen and he was the first DJ to air Bo Rhap on the radio – in fact, he managed to get it played no less than fourteen times on that first weekend. He utterly believed it was a record that was going to blow everyone away.

(video from QueenMuseum.com’s YouTube uploads)

Once Bo Rhap had made it on to the airwaves, the public imagination was captured and as they say, the rest is history.  It spent an unprecedented nine weeks at number 1 in the UK in 1975-76.  It also spawned what is acknowledged to be the first “real” pop video.  Queen were never keen on Top of The Pops; in any case they were touring at the time the song was number 1 and it would have looked pretty ridiculous to attempt to mime a song of that complexity.

Its second spell at number 1 came after Freddie’s death in 1991 and it became the first song to be number 1 twice in the same version, and also the first song to be number 1 twice at Christmas.  It has won many music industry awards and has also been voted high in many polls of favourite songs and influential songs. In 1992, it featured in the film Wayne’s World and even won an MTV Video Music Award for this appearance.

Pic credit:www.leetergesen.com

Pic credit:www.leetergesen.com

Bo Rhap has also managed to transfer into many different mediums.  It has been covered by artists as diverse as Elaine Paige, Montserrat Caballe and Kanye West (although the less said about that, the better).  It’s been played on fairground organs, by symphony orchestras, in carillons (that is, on bells), and sung by cats, choirs and even the Muppets.  This is a particularly fab version by a girls’ choir – wait and see what they do with the headbanging section!

(video from Katie Lee’s YouTube uploads)

I think that the song’s sheer versatility is the reason why it’s captured the imagination and also why it’s so unique.  I must have heard it thousands of times over the 40 years it’s been around, but it simply reaches the places that so many other songs don’t because of the way it’s been put together.  It’s almost impossible to classify; is it a ballad? Opera? Hard rock? It’s actually all of these things and more.

One of the most striking things about Bo Rhap is that is doesn’t have a chorus; it is composed of a number of very different sections, with very few of the thematic ideas repeated.  Most pop songs are written to a format that is:

Introduction – verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge (or middle 8) – chorus – conclusion (musos like to call this a coda)

There are some variants to this, but most of the time there are a number of verses, a chorus and a bridge section.  This form of songwriting isn’t new at all and there are similar “verse and chorus” song structures that go back hundreds of years.

But in the late 60s, prog rock moved away from this style and into structures that were much more associated with classical music.  There were even a number of experiments at putting prog rock and classical music together, such as Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which was recorded in 1969. Many other prog rock bands used these experimental styles and some early Queen songs, such as My Fairy King and The March Of The Black Queen were clearly influenced by them.

Pic credit: Lex van Rossen

Pic credit: Lex van Rossen

In addition to the prog rock influences, there is the “opera” factor.  Multi-layered vocals in pop songs had been used before; they were beloved of the Beach Boys and just a few months earlier in May 1975, 10cc released I’m Not In Love which used massed vocal effects.  But as ever, Queen used the “too much is never enough” principle and recorded 180 voices (Freddie, Brian and Roger x 60; John Deacon didn’t sing) to build the central section of the song.  It isn’t just lots of voices; it has hints of Mozart and Verdi and at the time, sounded simply outrageous.

There is a recording of the vocals and guitar solos isolated; this is well worth listening to as you can hear how the vocals have been constructed.  The thing that jumps out at me immediately is how accurate everything is, both from the point of view of timing and also the tuning; these are three guys with untrained voices (except for Roger’s choirboy training) and they are precise as some professional choralists. It’s also very interesting to hear the rasp of the guitar strings in this stripped-down version, as that’s often covered up by the sound engineering processes.

(Video from NetMusic.com Presents: ‘Vocals Only’ Videos YouTube uploads)

And what about the lyrics? There have been pages of discussion about these; are they Freddie working out his issues with relationships, even expressing his homosexuality? The opera section has been taken apart word by word, and although there are many theories, there is no definitive version and Freddie himself wrote it off as “nonsense that rhymed”.  If the band know the real mearning of it, they’re not saying.  From the point of view of someone who has spent the last 30+ years around opera, I think it’s a pretty good pastiche of what you would expect opera to sound like.  Is the “Galileo” reference about Brian’s background in astronomy? Scaramouche is a character in Commedia dell’Arte, which Freddie was fond of, and Figaro definitely appears in a couple of popular operas. Make your own choices on all this…

My view about Bo Rhap is that a piece of music with so many different thematic ideas shouldn’t work; in most hands a composition like this would be disjointed – overloaded even.  But I think it shows the touch of genius that the song moves seamlessly from section to section and from style to style.  Between the four of them, and steered by Freddie’s overview of the song that he had in his head, they managed to stitch this together in just the right way.

And – is it a rhapsody? According to the wonderful Wikipedia, in music a rhapsody is defined as “a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality”. So… yes, I reckon it is.  It ticks all of those boxes and bought together rock and opera in a way that nobody else has done before or since.

Many happy returns, Bo Rhap – I tweeted a couple of days ago that people will still be listening to it in 2075.  I doubt I’ll be around then, but if someone could have a seance and let me know, I’d be very grateful.

Pic credit: Queen Official

Pic credit: Queen Official

A Tale Of Two Cities – Rio and Porto Alegre

Continuing on with their rapid fire tour of South America, QAL played at the legendary Rock in Rio festival and then travelled south to Porto Alegre. It must have been an amazing experience for all of them, for different reasons.  For Brian and Roger, it was the return, 30 years after the first festival when together with John and Freddie, they blew the place away.  I’m sure they could never have imagined getting the chance to be there for a second time. For Adam, it was a debut at one of the biggest festivals in the world. No pressure then.

QAL south america

Pic credit: @linyoliveira

After a really solid performance at Sao Paulo, Rio was a considerable step up for everyone.  Not only was there the issue of that enormous crowd, but there were logistical challenges – which I think did have an effect on the overall show.  Of course for Porto Alegre they were back to their usual arrangements.  For this reason, rather than do a straight review, I think I’m going to make a few comparisons between the two gigs as there are some points of interest that I’ve seen talked about on Twitter.

OK, the most obvious difference is that for Rio, QAL were part of a much, much larger show and for Porto Alegre they were the reason for the show itself. But – the buzz on Twitter about Rio was that QAL were one of the most eagerly anticipated and talked about bands.  They have been huge on this continent for decades and the fans have never forgotten.  Of course, that sort of expectation adds its own stress to the situation.

rock in rio

Pic credit: therealrobv (Instagram)

As it was, Rio – although an amazing gig, wasn’t entirely trouble free.  First of all, the band were dealing with a rather different stage space.  This sounds an odd thing, but when you are used to working with a familiar stage set, it can be very off-putting dealing with a strange one.  Your journeys around the stage are different and this can be a vital factor; injuries from falls can be very unpleasant (remember what happened to Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters earlier this year?).  Sight lines to your fellow players are altered, lighting states will vary and some lighting cues may work differently (or not at all). And with Rio being a festival involving many other performers, rehearsal time is limited and detailed run throughs are generally not possible.  Therefore you have to get on stage and get on with it – and hope that you don’t get too distracted.  Even the most seasoned performers can slip up under these conditions.

There were definitely some technical issues; these included mic failures – this was particularly noticeable during Save Me when Adam had to be rescued by some very quick work from Rufus, as you can see in this clip:

(video from MegaEverton81’s YouTube uploads)

There were also a few bits of unfathomable lighting and I noticed one or two tuning problems for Brian – I’m guessing that this was down to the heat and humidity, as guitar strings don’t like being subjected to this sort of thing and I think the onstage temperature would have been in the high 90s, even at midnight. Adam also mixed up one or two vocal lines; a couple of bits of Don’t Stop Me Now were in the wrong order, but this time he absolutely nailed The Show Must Go On, which is one of the songs that he’s slipped up in before now.

(video from Queen + Adam Lambert Live (unofficial)’s YouTube uploads)

So, before I move on to Porto Alegre, this whole thing about performance errors.  It’s caused a few bits of furious debate on social media.  Of course, the Adam haters have picked up on his slips and don’t approve; in fact some of the QAL disapprovers have also hinted that other errors are a sign that the rest of the band ought to give up and draw their pensions. Reasonable criticisms? Not in my universe, I’m afraid, although anyone who disagrees is quite at liberty to create their own parallel universe and live happily in it.

At the other end of the scale, I’ve also noticed a few of Adam’s fans getting very upset at the implication that he could get lyrics wrong. Here’s a thing; if you perform live, things can and will go wrong – and this happens to absolutely everyone. I’ve never met a professional performer in my life who hasn’t made an error at some point. I’ve done some beauties, and I can honestly say that there is nothing compares with the utter terror of forgetting your words. Having your teeth out or doing a bungee jump just doesn’t compare; your brain turns to soup and everyone knows you’ve fucked up. That’s how it feels, but actually what happens is that your professional training takes over and you cover it up.  Most of the time your audience don’t realise a thing.

But – there are people who notice errors; I notice them, but that’s because I spent years at music college learning how to notice them…. and criticise them,,, and obsess about them.  And years later I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of the time, it can spoil your enjoyment of the music.  Errors happen because it’s live and dangerous – and that’s the way Queen have always done it.  They could take the easy way out with tapes and all sorts of other devices to relieve the stress of performance and make everything safer, but that’s not what they want.  They want that risk; they want to dive off Niagara Falls every time they perform and if there are little slips, who cares? Nobody dies and the music is still amazing.

porto alegre

Pic credit: @linyoliveira

Now I’ve had my little rant about that, let’s move on to Porto Alegre. This was different again from Sao Paulo and Rio. and the word on Twitter was that this was easily the best yet. As I have to try and earn a living by working during the day, I couldn’t stay up half of the UK night to watch this one, so had to catch up later with social media and the material on YouTube. it’s been more difficult to find clips with a high sound quality as the TV stream for Rio was excellent and there wasn’t anything comparable to watch.

The standout thing about Porto Alegre was the joy. I think in many ways, Rio was quite a tough gig; it would have been very emotional for all of them, for different reasons and sometimes that can get in the way.  But when you can stand there and perform for the love of it, we all get that love too. Don’t Stop Me Now shows this beautifully, although the sound on this clip is a bit patchy, I’m afraid.

(video from vanglam76’s YouTube uploads)

By all accounts, Porto Alegre sounded incredible. I’m hoping that when some of the other guys I know get back home, I’ll be able to get some reviews from them to post on here. With a bit of luck, more clips will be uploaded on to YouTube to give us a better idea of how good it all sounded. The important thing is that the guys were obviously able to really relax into this performance and it just demonstrated how well they work together.

Today there have been some more encouraging sounds about more QAL in 2016.  When interviewed about his feature-length 3D film project, Dr Brian was also asked about the possibility of more music being on the agenda.  The article from Billboard is here:

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/6707893/brian-may-diableries-film-queen

And in any case, if they are enjoying themselves so much performing, Don’t Stop Them Now?

QAL – The Return: Sao Paulo

After what has seemed like an unbearable wait, they’re back.  South America is rocking to QAL and they are sounding as good as ever.  Since the last echoes faded away in Sheffield, there have been thousands of fans waiting for this and the anticipation has been almost unbearable for everyone.

The excitement was further built up by Brian tweeting that there would be “at least ONE big surprise”, so there was plenty of speculation as to what this could be.  Ideas ranged from John Deacon returning to play a couple of songs, to a whole host of new songs – including Lucy. There was a further hint from the Queen tour blog that there was some unfamiliar material in the setlist.

The early birds queueing up outside the Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo were able to hear snatches of the sound check and there was a rush of excited tweets yesterday afternoon that Keep Yourself Alive and Great King Rat had been heard – and also Ghost Town. But this didn’t seem to sound anything like the recorded version and a couple of tiny snippets of it posted on YouTube had a distinctly “hard rock” edge to them. Nobody reported hearing Lucy in the sound check, but there were rumours of it being included in the set somewhere.

Over here in the UK, keeping up with concerts in South America requires more than a touch of insomnia and not inconsiderable stamina. Sao Paulo kicked off just after 2.00 a.m.in my part of the world and the strains of One Vision from the audio stream woke me up. I think I must be attuned to those opening chords.

Pic credit: @scubadan21

Pic credit: @scubadan21

We’d already been warned on Twitter that getting reliable audio or video streams out of the arena was going to be difficult as the Wi-Fi signal was poor and even the crew were having to use 3G.  There must have been a lot of crossed fingers worldwide, but I managed to pick up most of last night’s action through a patchy Mixlr stream and some intrepid souls who were trying to broadcast through Periscope.  Great efforts in difficult circumstances guys!

Today (in between feeling like one of the living dead), I’ve managed to catch up on some of the YouTube footage as the sound quality from last night was a bit variable and it was difficult to get an accurate idea of how things really were in the arena.

So, how was it for me?

It completely exceeded expectations. Brian, Roger and Adam had only a few days to rehearse but everything sounded as tight as ever.  Queen have always worked on the premise of trying to get their live performances as perfect as possible; sound, lights, pyrotechnics – it all has to be just right and they have always put a lot of energy into putting on a great show for their audience. “Too much is never enough” applies at all times.

South America have always loved Queen; they were the first major rock band to tour Latin America and they broke attendance records by filling massive arenas. The setlist for Sao Paulo was immense – twenty-eight songs; all the regulars from the UK/Europe tour plus some of the “occasional” numbers such as Days Of Our Lives, Don’t Stop Me Now and The Show Must Go On.  And Ghost Town; the sound check wasn’t just a red herring.

Pic credit: Queen Official

Pic credit: Queen Official

I’m far too sleep-deprived to work my way through the whole set, and in any case there are a number of other tour dates to talk about before the end of September. So, in the order they appeared in the setlist, these are my highlights from Wednesday night:

  • Love Of My Life – Brian’s tribute to Freddie that never fails to bring a tear to the eye. This is one of the songs that the South American audiences really made their own in the 80s and they were in amazingly good voice.  This is so worth a listen:

(video from vanglam76’s YouTube uploads)

  • Somebody To Love – this is always one of my favourites and Adam’s voice was at its bodacious best for all that ornamentation and killer high notes. Freddie’s homage to Aretha Franklin is such a great showpiece for Adam’s voice and the crowd were clearly loving it
  • Ghost Town – this has become something completely different.  While the original is a lonely, dusty place on the edge of Hollywood, populated by tumbleweed and pale spectres, the new QAL version is dark and brooding; Transylvania with Dracula and a demon guitarist.  Transformed into hard rock, I thought this was tremendous and for me, it made complete sense of a song that I’ve struggled with.  It’s also great to see that Brian and Roger’s backing of Adam is so steadfast and including one of his own songs in the set is another demonstration of this

(video from MFranklin1910’s YouTube uploads)

  • Who Wants To Live Forever – this has been a QAL favourite since the iHeart Radio gig and Adam nailed it yet again. His vocals are so impressive on this incredibly difficult song and whenever they perform it, you are aware that an audience of thousands are holding their breath
Adam sao paulo 1

Pic credit: @scubandan21

  • I Want It All – this is another song that is a fantastic blend of voice and guitar. It’s one of Queen’s powerhouse numbers and is a huge crowd pleaser.  As usual, Adam and Brian started it with the “riffing” improvisation that became so popular during the UK and Europe gigs earlier this year. This is one of those spectacular songs that you can listen to again and again
  • We Will Rock You – I’ve picked this out as one of my highlights because I think there had been a conscious decision to give another reminder of Rio 30 years ago.  Adam reappeared bedecked in the Brazilian flag and the crowd went absolutely wild. And this is such a brilliant pic!
Pic credit: I don't know! Photographer please identify yourself...

Pic credit: I don’t know! Photographer please identify yourself…

Those were a selection of the best bits for me, but there were many, many more that I could pick up on; the crowd reaction to Killer Queen, more beautiful singing from the audience during Save Me, Brian’s guitar solo (I haven’t found this on YouTube yet, but look out for it as it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard him do), the roars of approval at Bohemian Rhapsody.  it was all there and it was all good and it was almost as though they had never been apart.

The audience reactions were great; the place sounded as though it was absolutely rocking and I think they would happily have stayed there all night to listen to more.  This was been a triumphant return for Brian and Roger and an amazing introduction to South American for Adam.  They just seem to win wherever they go, and once again it was heartwarming to see the two “originals” from Queen enjoying their music so much. This tour has been called “Dont Stop Them Now” and I feel sure that they are going to want to do more in 2016, particularly as next year sees a number of very significant Queen anniversaries.

I suspect Rio will be even better than this and I’m off to get some sleep in preparation for another very late night tomorrow.

The Original Highlights

I’ve just realised it’s just over three weeks since I last did an entry – it doesn’t seem that long! It’s not just abject laziness or a QAL-deprived coma, there are a number of reasons. I have honestly been waiting for The Original High to arrive so that I could listen to it and write about it here; I’ve another major writing project in the pot at the moment away from this blog and sometimes, life just gets in the way.

Pic credit: Warner Bros

Pic credit: Warner Bros

Enough already – I’m sure you’ve all been immersed in interviews, catching up with TV appearances and listening out for Adam on the radio, so I bet you’ve not missed my ramblings at all.

I’ve noticed that there have been a number of reviews of TOH already, so I’m not going to go for the classic track-by-track format as that’s probably overkill in terms of the word count and I’ll end up saying the same things that everyone else has. As the album has only just been released, there are a huge amount of interviews online about it, so there is no shortage of information!  So, as I like to be different, I’ve decided to write about my Original High-lights and why these particular tracks have appealed to me, in terms of the songs themselves and how Adam uses his voice on them.

Adam has told us himself that this album is about the pursuit of happiness and indeed, what happiness is.  That’s a very human quest and it would be difficult to find many people out there who aren’t also looking for it.  I know I’ve spent a lot of time on this particular quest during my life and although I’ve run into it a few times, it’s elusive and hard to hold on to. It must be an even more difficult pursuit when you have lived several years in the public eye and although there are all the glamorous things – the concerts in front of adoring audiences, the red carpet events, the parties; the flip side of it can be an intensely lonely life in a place where it can be hard to find and keep relationships going.  Happiness can be found, but it’s often when we are least looking for it.

Certainly a lot of the lyrics are about lost love and soul-searching, the result of Adam spending time alone in Sweden when he was working on the songwriting. All the previews of the album have majored on the songs being darker than both For Your Entertainment and Trespassing, and I do agree with that.  There is a lot more loneliness in there which surely reflects the place he was in at the time.

Pic credit: iHeart Radio

Pic credit: iHeart Radio

Now, I’m the first to confess that a lot of the styles on TOH are not really that familiar to me; the great majority of what I listen to is classic rock, indie, Britpop and a lot of classical music, some of which would probably make you want to run away screaming. Electropop is not a thing in my music collection and other than when I used to hang around in gay clubs in the early-mid 80s, I’ve never been a disco bunny (my terminology!).  So a lot of this is unfamiliar territory for me and so I’m working mainly on my gut reaction to the songs and whether I like the overall feel of them.

So, which ones have jumped out at me? I think these are my top five in reverse order:

5: Underground – a dark song that belies its heavy dance beat; to me, the lyrics are about being trapped and entangled by love – hints of 50 Shades of Grey maybe? I have to say I was slightly taken aback at “velcro” popping into the rhyming scheme when I first heard it, but the thing we Brits always say about English is that it’s a constantly evolving language. I realise some of this might be a touch of Scandinavian humour creeping in too. Aside from that, the whole song is very melancholic and quite raw; Adam uses a combination of his lower middle voice for the verses and then flips over into his trademark high, belted head voice for the hook, with quite a bit of double tracking to add more high harmonies. It’s all underpinned by a heavy, rather gothic bass line that I find quite hypnotic. Touches of snare drum are added for drama for the second verse onwards.

4: The Original High –  this is about that first hit of something, whether it’s love, drugs, drink or fast cars – and the quest to find it again.  Remember the blog a little while ago about addiction; the dopamine rush that sends you into thrills and chills, then sends you into desperate withdrawal until you get lucky again?  This is what this song is all about. In comparison to Underground, the album’s title track is an injection of Californian summer; it has more than a hint of the surf sound to my ears.  I may well be associating Adam’s use of his falsetto voice with the sound of the Beach Boys, who have long been one of my favourite sounds of the 1960s.  Again, it’s using the vocal devices of lower notes for the verses and up into the stratosphere for the hook, with additional double tracking to add intensity to the higher sections. It’s uplifting and danceable – even for someone like me with two left feet (let’s just say you’re never going to see me on Dancing With The Stars, even when I have written my best sellers).

3: Ghost Town – this is the song that we’ve heard the most; the first one to drop from the album, so it’s become quite familiar over the last few weeks.  The to this lyrics are more obscure with shades of songs like American Pie; there are twists about the artifice of life in Hollywood and being abandoned  with an empty heart.  Despite the dance beat the song is ultimately lonely and has a multiple personality; there are three different styles for the verse, hook and bridge and there’s a sort of irony to the house feel of the song that I’m sure won’t have escaped listeners.  Just tonight I have been sent an extremely interesting version of Adam’s performance on the Jimmy Fallon Show (from one of my wonderful German Glambert friends). This is one of those “vocal isolation” tracks where the backing has been cleverly edited out, leaving the voice exposed.  This enables us to hear Adam’s voice raw and almost naked (his voice, not the rest of him – control yourselves!)  What is incredibly interesting about this is that you can hear his technique working; the relationship between speaking voice and singing voice are very easy to pick out.  Other things that stand out for me are his ability to sing through vocal phrases with an even intensity, which is one of the reasons why Adam’s voice always sounds so smooth and easy on the ear.  It’s also easy to hear the little bits of technical finesse like the emotional cracks in his voice – this is well worth listening to; do it quickly in case it gets taken down!

(Video from adamlambert_pics Vimeo uploads)

2: Another Lonely Night – despite the feel of the song, this is another one with shades of loneliness and about trying to let go of a lost love. But this is another song with a distinct summer feel to it and for some reason reminds me of ABBA; they’re my “guilty pleasure” pop group from the 1970s and I think they turned out some really excellent songs. ALN has a lot of forward movement and I like that; songs with drive are always attractive to me.  Now, I do have to admit to being just a tiny bit convulsed when I first heard it, because of THAT noise. Is it a moo? OK, I know some Glamberts are getting a bit irritated about this now, but hey, I’m a Brit and I have a Brit’s silly sense of humour, so just forgive me on this one.  Whether or not it’s a moo, it’s a good song and this is why it’s number two on my list. It’s very singable and it shows off Adam’s lovely high head voice very well.

And so it’s time for number one.  You know what it is, don’t you? If you’ve been following this blog since I started rabbiting on about Adam, Queen and singing, you will have come to understand my musical tastes by now.

Pic credit: Derbyshire Times

Pic credit: Derbyshire Times

1: Lucy – I’m sorry guys, I’m so predictable. Give me the intensity of music that’s based around electric guitars and I’m a happy girl.  This is the song I’ve been waiting to hear since the track list was announced (to some epic flailing on Twitter!) and it’s fulfilled everything I wanted.  Adam, Brian and the Red Special – the Holy Trinity of eargasms.  Right from those first, insistent guitar chirps, you know this is going to be great.  It’s dark, brooding and is a cautionary tale about getting too deep in the wrong situations. Adam’s beguiling voice blends perfectly with Brian’s irresistible guitar sound – as we all knew it would after hearing  all those QAL performances; they produce a real power between them that comes across so well.  Brian’s solo section is spine-chilling (and yes, I wish there was more of it!); the first few times I tried to listen to the album in entirety, I physically couldn’t get past Lucy as it fried my brains. This is a beautiful piece of music; it’s got the X-factor and for me it stands out as the supreme track on TOH. I guarantee I will be a fangirl mess if this gets performed live and I’m desperate for it to be a single release; it’s a real chance to engage Brian’s/Queen fans and if anyone from Warner is reading this, think about it guys. This is a killer, and if this is an indication of the sort of music Adam and Brian could produce together. there’s going to be an enormous queue of us waiting to buy it. Lambert and the Riff Lord – what a match made in Heaven that would be!

(Video from Adam Lambert Official YouTube uploads)

Freddie’s Legacy

I’ve been meaning to write this blog entry for some time, and I think while all the hardcore Glamberts are recovering from the surprise appearance of Underground last night, it might be a good moment (I will be catching up on all matters Adam in the near future though, don’t worry).

However, I’m aware that a lot of Adam’s fans either were Queenies to start with (like me), or have become Queen fans as a result of the QAL experience.  Of course Freddie remains one of the biggest rock icons ever, certainly on my side of the Atlantic. Hopefully this post will help pass the time.

Adam himself made the point beautifully about Freddie’s legacy on every night of the QAL tour – that none of us would be here if it wasn’t for him – wonderful, incomparable Freddie.  And he’s right – the boy born in exotic Zanzibar made a musical impact on the world that we are still talking about nearly 25 years after his very untimely death.

Pic credit: reddit.com

Pic credit: reddit.com

This isn’t going to be a biography of Freddie; that’s been done before by far better writers than me, but I wanted to talk about the things that I think he has left to us.  There is of course the physical legacy in the shape of the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which raises money to benefit education and awareness projects in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.  Founded by Brian May, Roger Taylor and Jim Beach, it has distributed over $15m to a wide range of projects, often at a grass roots level.

When talking about himself, Freddie was utterly self-deprecating, describing himself as the “Carmen Miranda of rock ‘n’ roll” and once stating that music was the only possible career for him, as “if I didn’t do this well, I just wouldn’t have anything to do…I can’t cook, and I’d be a terrible housewife“.

First and foremost, he thought up the name Queen for the band that had been Smile; he convinced Brian and Roger to carry on with the music after Tim Stafell left.  Also, as a graphic designer he came up with that distinctive logo that is such a big part of the Queen image. The long-term fans will be well aware that this was made up of their four zodiac signs (with Virgo converted to two fairies), plus the phoenix above them all.  The phoenix symbolises immortality and being able to rise from the ashes of destruction; back in 1971 nobody could have realised that this would be something of a prophecy decades later.

Pic credit: imgsoup.com

Pic credit: imgsoup.com

One of the largest parts of Freddie’s legacy is the songs; with Brian, he was one of Queen’s principal songwriters, producing over 60 songs which were used either by the band or in his solo career.  The sheer range of songs he produced was incredible, in terms of the musical styles he covered, the melodic lines and the wordplay. He could be anything from totally extravagant to camp, through to desolate and heartfelt.

My top ten Freddie songs are, in no particular order:

* We Are The Champions – the anthem created alongside We Will Rock You to give the fans something to sing along to, this is a long-term Queen encore and has become the theme tune for sporting events worldwide. It’s most definitely not Queen’s most technically demanding piece of music, but it represents everything about their “more is more” philosophy.

* Is This The World We Created – inspired by poverty in Africa, it was performed as an encore at Live Aid. It’s a simple acoustic song, but Freddie’s words are so heartfelt.

* Love Kills – originally one of Freddie’s solo songs, this track was rearranged for the Queen Forever album and used in the US leg of the QAL tour. This picks up Freddie’s ongoing unhappiness about not being able to find love; in his own words, he said that he would “go out looking for someone who will love me, even if it’s just for a one-night stand. I fall in love far too quickly, and I end up getting hurt and scarred. It seems I just can’t win“. Of course, this song also became associated with his illness and was one that Brian found was a painful reminder of that time.

* Death on Two Legs – probably the most vicious and effective hate song ever written, Freddie poured out his fury on Norman Sheffield’s (mis)management of the band in their early years.  And it’s still a great song despite its rather unsavoury subject matter.

* Mother Love – Freddie’s last goodbye; this is the song that he wasn’t able to finish as his illness was overrunning him. The words are heartbreaking and it’s astonishing that he was able to sing at all in the end stages of HIV/AIDS. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Brian to sing the final lines knowing that Freddie would never step in the studio again.

(Video from Queen Official Youtube uploads)

* Love Of My Life – most long-term Queen fans will know that this song was written for Mary Austin, Freddie’s long-term girlfriend in the 70s. He said of her that he “couldn’t fall in love with a man the same way as I have with Mary” and that other lovers frequently asked why they could never replace her.  LOML has very much turned into an anthem to remember Freddie by; Brian has performed it many times in solo concerts, dedicating it to him, and it was an integral part of the QAL sets, with Freddie appearing in the video footage which accompanied it.

Pic credit: thatssoabby.com

Pic credit: thatssoabby.com

* I Was Born To Love You – another one of Freddie’s solo songs which has been rearranged by Queen and was used on the Made in Heaven album.  This is the most delightful song; sweet and joyful, Freddie had a modest amount of chart success with it as a single and it was also performed by Roger and Brian when they toured with Paul Rodgers in 2005.  Because of its popularity in Japan, it was part of the QAL setlist there and in South Korea, where it had an ecstatic reception.

* It’s A Hard Life – this is Freddie in his most expansive and operatic style. It opens with a famous line from Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci and displays itself as another of Freddie’s songs about wanting to find love.  This song has a most extraordinary video in the Comedia Dell’Arte style which the rest of the band were considerably less enamoured of than Freddie was.  It was filmed over three frantic days in Munich and Roger Taylor summed it up by quoting the Queen ethos of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing“. But I love it because it encapsulates all the things I love about Queen. It’s utterly Freddie, even if the other guys did find it all a bit of a trial.

* Somebody To Love – Queen’s excursion into “white gospel” has been acknowledged by Brian as one of Freddie’s finest creations.  This incredible song was the first single from Day at the Races, and a massive amount of multitracking was employed to get the effect of an enormous gospel choir. It’s one of the songs that have followed Queen through their journey with and without Freddie and it has also been covered by numerous artists. It’s exuberant and completely irresistible.

(Video from Queen Official YouTube uploads)

* Bohemian Rhapsody – simply the most extraordinary pop/rock song ever written, and it was Freddie’s creation. Spliced together from ideas for three separate songs, it is a true rhapsody in construction and at the time of its release in 1975 it was the most expensive single ever made, with a ground-breaking video. Bo Rhap has consistently turned up at the top of “best song ever” polls and has been performed in almost ever conceivable set of circumstances.  It has turned up in films, been performed by choirs, opera singers, cartoon cats and even the Muppets.

Freddie’s stage persona was an integral part of the way that Queen operated on the live stage – he was riveting; he controlled those massive arena crowds effortlessly and so many other pop and rock frontmen have aspired to be like him.  He stepped on stage and projected a huge aura which could take in every person in the biggest environment. He strutted, pouted, skipped around with his famous cut-off mic stand and had panache in boatloads.  He wasn’t graceful, but he filled a stage utterly; it was almost impossible not to watch him.  He was an advocate of Queen’s “do it all and do it big” philosophy and was often the driving force behind their video storyboards as for him it was an extension of their live performances.

His finest hour was undoubtedly Live Aid in 1985; advised against singing by his doctor because of throat problems, he carried on regardless and delivered what has been feted as the greatest rock performance of all time.  Facing an audience of 70,000+ fans in Wembley stadium and countless others via the TV links, they leapt into the palm of his hand and became Queen fans within seconds.

Pic credit: thoughtcatalogue.com

Pic credit: thoughtcatalogue.com

Even a generation after his death, Freddie is still held in the highest esteem by his fans, as we saw at the QAL gigs when his image appeared on the big screens. He seems to never have left our hearts, not even for an instant.  He had an ongoing love affair with the fans and his view on performing was, “I like to enjoy myself and what better way to do it than on stage in front of 300,000 people?

I can’t help but think that he was very aware of his bond with the fans and deliberately chose to say goodbye with the video of Those Were The Days Of Our Lives with that final, whispered “I still love you“, knowing that would be his last chance.

Pic credit: wikipedia.org

Pic credit: wikipedia.org

Freddie seemed to live with the knowledge that his star would burnt out quickly, even when he was fit and well. On a number of occasions he alluded to life being short and that he was determined to squeeze every drop out of it, saying, “the most important thing, darling, is to live a fabulous life. As long as it’s fabulous, I don’t care how long it is“.  Some time before he was diagnosed with HIV, he was asked about life in the future and tossed away the question saying, “what will I be doing in twenty years’ time? I’ll be dead, darling! Are you crazy?

Brian’s epitaph on Freddie’s statue in Montreux summed him up simply as “lover of life and singer of songs“.  We have the songs and so much more.

Pic credit: ultimate-guitar.com

Pic credit: ultimate-guitar.com

Lucy on the Eve of Ghost Town

(Apologies for the title – it scans with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and it amused my tiny mind when I thought about it)

A significant portion of the world seems to be waiting for the arrival of Ghost Town, which will finally be released in the early morning over here for me in the UK.  I will be asleep!  I am not a bad fan, just an exhausted one trying to recover from a chest infection, and also one that has to get up for work in the morning.  The song will still be there when I get up, so I’m sure it won’t be long before I hear it.

It’s been an extremely busy 24 hours for Adam’s hardcore fans; the artwork for the album cover was released overnight, showing the pared down, “less is more” look that now seems to be his new image.

TOH

Pic credit: Warner Bros

There have been days of snippets about Ghost Town, which to be honest I’ve not taken a huge amount of notice of; I’d much rather wait and hear the whole thing, then I can have a proper idea of what it’s like.

I prefer real surprises, and I got one; there was something of a Twitterquake around midday UK time.

My poor phone, it’s taken so much punishment since the beginning of this year when I started on this mad journey. I picked it up to silence a sudden flood of alerts and found a bunch of fairly incoherent (but extremely funny) tweets from QAL fans that I follow.  It was mostly about people who thought they were dying, so I hope they’ve recovered over the last few hours.  I shan’t name the guilty, but you know who you are! J

Amongst all this mayhem, there was a link to a list of tracks on The Original High which had been published on iTunes New Zealand.  And three words against a track called Lucy: “featuring Brian May.”  At almost the same time, Queen Online delivered the news of a tour date in Chile.

Pic credit: Steph Teague

Pic credit: Icanhazcheezburger.com

Well, he’s gone and done it.  Brian is on Adam’s new album and QAL fans nearly broke the internet.  I’d really been hoping for this, had even had a strong feeling that this would happen, particularly since seeing Adam’s reaction to one of the red carpet reviews at the Brit Awards in January.  When asked if there was any collaboration with Queen on the new album, he couldn’t resist a giggle.

To say there has been an outpouring of joy is putting it mildly, but this is the best sort of vindication for everyone.  It certainly made the day of this hard-hearted old Queenie.

First of all, Brian has well and truly put his money where his mouth is; since QAL came into being (and before) his support of Adam has been constant.  While the haters might have been horrified at him labelling Adam a “gift from God” and other such terrible compliments, the collaboration has brought delight to both sets of fans and we’re more than happy to accept Brian’s view of the situation.

Brian’s opinions of Adam are always candid and heartwarming; in a November 2014 interview from Team Rock, he stated that he thought that Queen’s “arena” days were over, but has been delighted through QAL to discover that they’re not.  And if he’s delighted, so are we.

https://www.teamrock.com/news/2014-11-07/brian-may-queen-arena-shows-behind-them

Taking part in Adam’s new album is another step on that journey, and what an exciting, tantalising one it is for us.

It also justifies our own opinions as fans; we’ve watched this incredible bond developing and now it’s being cemented into recording.  Now we’re all hoping that this is the start of something more.

Pic credit: Getty Images

Pic credit: Getty Images

For Adam’s long-term fans (as I am a mere newbie), this is a vindication of nearly six years of faithful support.  I salute you guys; you put yourselves into this for the long haul, whereas I merely tripped over Adam due to the genius of someone at the BBC.

So, to the song:  Lucy.

Will it be performed at Rock in Rio?  Elsewhere on the South American tour, so temptingly called “Don’t Stop Them Now”?  Will there be a possibility that the set will contain any more of Adam’s new songs?  Too many questions.

All we know at the moment is that one, tiny piece of information, that Brian has had input into this song.  We don’t know whether he’s going to be playing, singing, or both, or indeed whether he’s co-written it with Adam.  Hopefully all will be revealed soon.  The only tiny piece of information we do know is that Brian took a trip to LA in November 2014 and there was a bit of a hoo-haa as the Red Special had its own plane seat.  This might have been when a recording was laid down.

It will be intriguing to know about the style of the song; neither Queen nor Adam seem to have written or recorded much in the way of songs that feature names so this is a departure on both sides.

In an extremely old track by Brian called The Night Comes Down (from their first album), there is the line “Lucy was high and so was I”.  This song was written only a few years after the likes of Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds and its overt references to drug use. There is almost a hint of the Beatles at the start of it before it morphs into prog rock.

(video from Queen Official’s Youtube uploads)

Of course, this could be a complete red herring, but it’s an interesting thought that a line from decades ago might feature again somehow. The style of the song is going to remain a mystery for a while yet; will it be a power ballad in the style of WWTLF? A rock classic like Hammer to Fall? Or something else?

In the meantime, Ghost Town will break the internet overnight, I will wake up to thousands of alerts and Twitter will be littered with dead Glamberts.  I hope enough people survive for me to chat about it tomorrow.  I’m going to be dreaming of my favourite astrophysicist guitar god who has done something tremendous for a great singer.  Night all.

Pic credit: Hiddenfifths.blogspot

Pic credit: Hiddenfifths.blogspot