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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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.

Adam at Fusion – a Review

It’s a looooong time since I last went to a music festival of any sort; I don’t normally “do” them, let alone pop festivals, so just for you this poor old bird braved the Fusion Festival in Birmingham today to go and see Adam perform live as a soloist, so that I could write a review.  It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.  Seriously though, as I’m a latecomer to the wonderful world of Glamberts, I’d never seen Adam perform live as a solo artist, so I was curious to see how he handled himself – and also how he sounded doing his own music.

Pic credit: Carole Humphreys

Pic credit: Carole Humphreys

For readers elsewhere in the world, I need to explain a little bit about the Fusion Festival.  It’s held in my home city but is a comparative newbie, having only started in 2013.  It’s billed as a “family-friendly” festival and is pop-orientated.  So, it ain’t no Glastonbury, or Reading, or Download; it’s aimed at an entirely different audience. The three-day event was originally going to be headlined by Justin Bieber, but he was replaced by McBusted after withdrawing a little while ago. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of Justin Bieber’s music, so I will tactfully refrain from any further comment…

Adam was a late addition to the festival lineup, much to the delight of the UK Glamberts as I think many of them had felt that they had missed out on seeing Adam do much in the way of live performance when he was over here in June doing promo for Ghost Town.  This was therefore a great opportunity to catch him live, particularly as there still isn’t any information forthcoming about The Original High being toured in this part of the world (or any other QAL dates, cough….)

So, it was off to Cofton Park on the south-western edge of Birmingham earlier today.  I have to say that I wasn’t one of the die-hards who got there at impossible o’clock this morning, like the ladies below.

Pic credit: Diane White

Pic credit: Diane White

I arrived mid-afternoon during the set by an Irish band called Hometown; I gathered from my Glambert mate Rachel that I was fortunate to have missed out on garage duo Gorgon City (hmm).  Hometown were followed by X-factor alumna Karen Harding and then a most curious interlude led by a DJ dressed as a frog, accompanied by some giant inflatable green and purple fruit that looked rather like boobs (at least, they did to my warped little mind).  This was followed by an R&B/pop artist called Conor Maynard.

I’m sorry guys, I don’t get R&B – it just jangles around in my brain and falls out of my ears. So, moving swiftly on from my issues with this type of music, the next artists to appear were a boy band called Union J.  Again, this outfit have come through the X-factor system and were evidently semi-finalists a few years ago. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. They looked OK, sang in tune, managed good harmonies and also did a very nice rendition of I Can’t Make You Love Me.

Finally, Adam was next up; one or two of the Glamberts had come very well prepared:

Pic credit: mine! (I'm a crap photographer so this is an achievement)

Pic credit: mine! (I’m a crap photographer so this is an achievement)

Adam launched into a very slick, five-song set. In order, the songs he performed were Evil In The Night, The Original High, Another Lonely Night, a quick trip into his older material with Whadya Want From Me and finishing with Ghost Town.  If you haven’t seen any footage yet, because I’m writing so soon after the event there isn’t much on YouTube apart from the event’s own Periscope recording, which you can check out here:

(Video from adamlambert_pic’s YouTube uploads)

I’m sure there will be more fan videos available soon, so keep watching out for links on Facebook groups and Twitter – and of course through the many Adam-related fan sites. There are also tons and tons of pictures online and I wish I had the time and space to go through everyone’s and give you all a shout out, but Adam was captured beautifully here by Helen Bovill just as he was setting up to sing:

Pic credit: Helen Bovill

Pic credit: Helen Bovill

Adam has had one hell of a schedule in the last couple of months; last night he was in Poland and I’d be surprised if this isn’t catching up with him a bit; I think he looked tremendous (if a wee bit tired).  I like the “less is more” look and he has gone back to black in the hair department in the last few days, possibly for the QAL South America tour which is coming up soon.

Vocally he most definitely didn’t disappoint.  In some ways, it’s a shame Adam has to do recordings as there is simply no comparison with hearing his voice live.  As I’ve said before, there are so many more colours and facets to it that recording equipment doesn’t capture.  He also plays with the vocal lines more in live performances, usually by adding extra top notes which allow us to hear that incredible vibrancy he has up there.

He sings and performs with great ease and because he has that trained singer’s knack of knowing that you have to think through each phrase, it’s very easy to get the sense of the words and because of that, when he sings a song it hangs together well.  (Thinking through phrases: this is a “singer” thing and I know it sounds mad, but if you think of a song in whole sentences rather than as a bunch of individual words, it makes a huge difference to the overall performance).

For me, it was also very interesting to hear Adam in direct comparison with a bunch of other singers, quite a few of whom had come through the talent show structure as he had.  He has an outstanding voice; that eye-popping upper range and the ability (and nerve) to take his head voice into those stratospheric regions where many other male singers dare not go. He also showed us the full extent of his range across the 18-minute set; Evil In The Night has plenty of lower notes that we don’t often hear from Adam and of course, The Original High unusually features a lot of his falsetto register.

Pic: credit: Rachel Jones

Pic: credit: Rachel Jones

So what didn’t work? Vocally Adam’s set was was great and I think that as usual he put plenty of himself into the overall performance, but I don’t really get the need for the dancers in Ghost Town; for me, they’re a bit of a distraction and his voice doesn’t need anything to disguise it.  Neat Adam is fine; I don’t think we even need Adam on the Rocks, if you know what I mean.

The song I enjoyed most was Another Lonely Night; Adam really gave this his all.  It was the central song of the set and he went for it; plenty of high notes and great energy; it’s one of my favourite songs from the new album and even makes an old fart like me want to dance.  He also gave a really sensitive performance of Whadya Want From Me; it was good to hear him sing something from his older repertoire.  I would have loved to have heard the mashup of Trespassing and Another One Bites The Dust, as I think a British audience would have reacted really well to it; even though there were a lot of young people in the audience, Queen spread themselves far and wide.

And talking of Queen (you knew I’d get them in somewhere!), I do wonder if Adam has taken a little leaf out of Queen’s book in the way he performed today’s set.  Music festivals are a bit odd – they’re totally unlike “real” gigs; your time is limited and you have to be able to get in, do the job and then get out again ready for the next band or artist to set up.  You therefore have to be a bit of a ninja and make your mark quickly.  When I was watching this afternoon, I was initially slightly surprised that Adam didn’t chat with the audience as much as some of the other performers did.  But in doing that, he would have taken the time away from the music, which after all is what he was there for.  He chose to perform his short set in a very “seamless” way, just as Queen did in their landmark set at Live Aid 30 years ago.  They had a restricted time frame and wanted – needed – to make the biggest impact they could.  So they packed in as much music as possible and their performance is still feted as one of the best ever under those conditions.

I think we’ll have to wait and see if today’s appearance at Fusion has broken some more ground for Adam in the UK – as I said at the start of this, it’s not a massive festival, but it’s got him out to an audience who might be new, or who might have watched that New Year’s Eve concert on the BBC and needed another reminder of his talent.

The only guest missing from today’s party was Lucy; such a shame she wasn’t able to show up as I think it would have been a huge surprise for the audience.  Maybe she’ll make an appearance in South America, but I guess that Dr Brian is a bit busy with the rest of his many interests at the moment.

It’s less than three weeks to Rock In Rio; how I wish I had a teleporter (and a ticket!). I think it could be awesome.

Meeting a Hero Part 2 – Shar’s Story

Sorry guys, it’s been a little while since I last got here.  I’m up to my eyes with other writing at the moment, but I haven’t forgotten about the people who call in here for a read.  I am going to be writing a lot about fandom in the fairly near future, but for now there is a follow up to my tale of meeting Dr Brian – and this is about a hardcore fan’s very special adventure.  This is a long read, so get the wine, or the chocolate, or the cookies.

Shar is one of my fellow admins from the QAL Fans United 2 group on Facebook.   We’ve never “met” in real life as I’m a Brit and Shar lives in New South Wales in Australia.  However, we have got to know each other over the last few months and our small group of admins have managed to egg each other on to achieve our dreams.  We also very enjoyed living through each others’ experiences.

Like me, Shar is a long-time Queenie and was a huge fan of Freddie, and also like me, she was devastated when he died. How could we go on? This is her amazing story, in her words, with a few little comments from me.

Pic credit: liveaid.free.fr

Pic credit: liveaid.free.fr

“Having loved Queen from a wee age, and absolutely adoring Freddie throughout my life,  it seemed when Freddie died, the music didn’t; but I never really “fangirled” anyone since that horrible day in November when we lost Freddie. To me, the whole era with Paul Rodgers just didn’t exist, as to me he did not fit in with the rock royalty that are Queen. So I skipped that phase completely.
 
I never really got into  American Idol thing at the time, so I think it was fate that I just happened to flick through the channels when there was nothing else on TV.  I saw this young guy; black hair, quite plain, about to sing for the judges. Adam Lambert was his name. He seemed a little cute, and hoped to God he could sing.  Then there was “that” question, “what are you going to sing for us?” To which he replied “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  I thought, oh Hell, please don’t make a mockery of it like so many had before!!
 
He had me at “Mama”….. This guy was good.  Poor Freddie could rest easy as he didn’t have to start spinning in his grave.

adam audition
 
I watched. Week after week that spunky young guy come onto the stage and give it his all. I didn’t care that he came second; he sang We Are The Champions with Queen and made a great job of it.  He was always a winner to me.

Out came his first song, his first album… He did his Glam Nation tour which came to Australia.  I painfully slept out overnight to get tickets, only for the third person in front of me to be the last one to get them before they sold out!!! I could have died right there and then!
 
I followed Adam, his music, what he was doing, who he was doing… (even!).  I came across other Glamberts who kept telling me that he was an amazing and awesome guy.

Then it happened; Adam began appearing with Queen, here a little, there a little. I was totally blown away how much he just fitted in with Brian and Roger, and of course, doing the Queen catalogue which had only ever been done before by our Freddie!! I hoped and prayed that this could be the start of something Amazing! AND IT WAS!!! Queen + Adam Lambert began touring together. America, Asia, and OMG…..

On the 5th May 2014, The announcement was made that Queen + Adam were heading Down Under!!  My phone and Facebook had never seen so many text messages or notifications as that day, because everyone I knew, who knew me, wanted to tell me it was happening!
 
I GOT MY TICKET, I was in Heaven; this, was what euphoria felt like – my idols, with my idol, and I was going!  I think I cried through half of the concert, seeing Brian and Roger, seeing Adam, and seeing my first love, Freddie, on the big screen. And boy, Adam certainly made that Queen catalogue come alive.
 
For 3 weeks after the concert, I cried. I was so emotional. I’d actually seen Queen, and Adam.”

Pic credit: masslive.com

Pic credit: masslive.com

My path must have crossed with Shar’s a little while after this, as I turned up on the Facebook group while QAL were touring Europe.  We’d obviously been hooked by those live performances in exactly the same way and thought that the combination of Adam with our old Queen heroes Brian and Roger were a match made in Heaven.  Extraordinary things started to happen…

“I think a whole new meaning of fangirl happened right there, as I was hooked on Adam so much more having seen him live, sing Freddie’s songs; I was just head over heels for the guy.  I was 45 years old and acting worse than I probably ever did in my teens. I still fangirled over Freddie, but my spark had ignited and became a flame for this Adam Lambert!

Fast forward a year, and life really hasn’t been the same.  Adam finished the QAL tour, for now and then there was the excitement that something new was coming?  This was answered when The Original High was released on 17th April 2015 – a different, more mature Adam (but he still sounded like sex on a stick).  Of course, this new album had to be promoted; whispers became promo events, which became appearances and this is when my life changed forever.”

This is where our Admin brotherhood moved up a gear; Adam was coming to Australia and there were opportunities – golden ones – for Shar to meet her new hero.  It was time for a bit of encouragement and enabling…

“MEETING ADAM….

The internet is a wonderful thing; there are Glamberts all around the world and they’re a mine of information about Adam’s activities; every radio interview, every TV appearance.  I saw some of my online friends meeting him for real;  I wasn’t jealous – maybe just a little bit envious, but I wanted so badly to meet him for myself and was terrified I would never get the chance.

Then, a Sydney Radio Station held a competition, Adam Lambert was appearing at the Red Room  there.  A fellow Glambert, (Granbert??) and I had made a pact. If she won, I went, and vice versa. So for two whole weeks, we rang and rang and rang to no avail. But I didn’t give up. Adam was going to be in Sydney, I was going to stay in Sydney and find him, just to hug him, no matter what.

And more than this, I wanted Adam to sign my arm, so I could run to the nearest tattoo studio and get it tattooed over. That was  number one on my bucket list! I sent an email to Nova FM, the guys running the competition, and asked if Adam would be doing any interviews for the Red Room, as I told them my dream to have Adam’s autograph on my arm to have it tattooed.

I never got a response.”

Pic credit: pantip.com

Pic credit: pantip.com

“But then, the unimaginable happened. Nova, the radio station, was giving away more tickets, just for the Adam Lambert show in Sydney. This was it – my opportunity was not dead yet.    At 9am sharp the lines were open and the first caller got the Golden ticket.. I felt like Charlie trying to get into Willy Wonkas factory!

I dialled the number as quick as I could, and it rang.  The voice on the other end asked who they were speaking to? I couldn’t even get my name out properly, before stuttering, “Have I won?” The DJ told me I was the first caller, and I began hyperventilating; I screamed at my hubby that I had won, and I was going to see Adam – OMG!!

Suddenly, a diary of Adam’s appearances in Sydney came up; he was going to be everywhere in Sydney.  With my trusty laptop, I began an endless barrage of emails to everywhere Adam was going to appear. Can I see him, can I get audience tickets? In each and every one of those emails, I explained I wanted this tattoo so bad, but not ONE of those people replied.  So, where to go from here? I had the encouragement of people in my
Facebook group, telling me never to give up, go get my dream. I have them to thank for a LOT (True, Kym!)

I began to call the television stations. Can I get tickets to the audience? Then, a lovely girl at one of the stations obliged, and I got tickets to Adam’s appearance on the morning show.  Result!

Just three days before I headed to Sydney, I hear that I’m going to see Adam at the Red Room, AND in the studio of channel 10 for the morning show. My God, my head was spinning. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. Then, while I was in the car park at the local shops I got a call from a guy claiming to be PR for Nova, the radio station where I had won the tickets. He asked me if it true that I wanted Adam’s autograph on my arm to get it tattooed? I said of course and he asked if I would come into the studio to talk to Fitzy and Wippa (the DJ’s) about how Adam crazy I was, and if they could arrange the autograph, would I get it done live on air in the studio?

I was absolutely up for this but I started asking if this was a prank, or whether he was for real? He said it was all above board and to come in at 9am on the Thursday morning.  At that point he told me that the autograph would be on a piece of paper, signed by Adam. Me, being me, said I wanted proof it was his. He asked me to TRUST them, and said it would all be above board.

Hello insomnia – my mind could not turn off the fact I was getting Adam’s name on my arm.

Pic credit: gallery4share.com

Pic credit: gallery4share.com

Thursday morning came; Maureen and I made our way to the studio. We were led into their boardroom, where we sat for what seemed to be at least an hour. Ben, the PR guy came and said he had to shut the door as Fitzy and Wippa were on air, and any noise from outside could affect the taping.. To which I turned to Maureen and said that’s shit, don’t they have soundproof glass? 

Eventually, Ben came in, asked how I pronounced my name, and handed me a mic. Maureen was led down the corridor a little, and I was directed into the studio with Fitzy and Wippa.  As he opened the door, I looked up, and THERE HE WAS!  My dream had been handed to me on a plate and I felt like the luckiest person in this whole wide world.

‘Hi Sharlene’ he said – and with those words everything bad in my life was null and void.  There was Adam Lambert looking directly at me, with this beaming smile that could melt a zillion hearts… I “think” I said OH MY GODDDDDDDDD…. Before my knees buckled and I fell flat on my arse!! Everyone in the studio oohed and aahed, we all laughed and Fitzy picked me up off the floor.  Did I faint; I’ve no idea.”

(video from Fitzy and Wippa’s YouTube uploads)

Adam got off his chair, came over to me and asked if I was ok? He then put his arms out, as I was still in shock, covering my mouth, trying so hard not to cry. As he hugged me, and wow, did he hug me; I placed my hand around his neck, so I could feel how soft his beard was for Marianne (another one of the QAL2 admins – we were on a mission!), trying to smell him (as that’s what everyone says? What does he smell like?) kissed him on the cheek, and then hugged him so tight.. He smelt fresh, like a summer breeze fresh?

He then pulled the chair out for me, and as I sat down, he touched my shoulder and asked again if I was OK. I  was just about able to tell him I was fine. 

We were on air now; Fitzy and Wippa welcomed me to the studio, and asked what it was about Adam I loved so much? I said that for every moment in my life, there is an Adam song.  When hubby and I argue, its  “Waddaya want from me?” and when I walk down the street and I’m feeling great, its “Strut”; he thought that was sweet. I just couldn’t get my head around what was going on  in that radio studio – but my smile still stayed on…

Fitzy pointed out that I already had a tattoo which says “anyway the wind blows”.  Adam thought this was cool and gave me a high five. I told him I had loved Queen all my life, and when Freddie died, the music wasn’t the same until he had come along to sing with Brian and Roger as QAL.  At this, he reached over, touched my arm and thanked me.  All the time I was sitting there, he just kept smiling!

The DJs also asked about my Adam mementos; I have pillows, photos and posters; my hubby refuses to have these above the bed because his name is Andrew, and he’s threatened to kick me out of bed if I say the wrong name during an intimate moment.  He laughed really hard at this.

Pic credit: Fitzy and Wippa

Pic credit: Fitzy and Wippa

Then Fitzy asked if I wanted Adam to sign something, and I pointed to my arm.  They handed him a pen and he gently and slowly signed his name on my arm. Wippa (the other DJ) and Adam had a chat about him being asked to sign other strange requests to sign other parts of fans bodies…

There were two other guys in the studio; I assumed that they were maybe members of Adam’s band, but they were introduced to me as people from Bondi Ink, a famous tattoo shop in Sydney. I was asked if I was ready to be inked and he gave me another high five.

Adam led me over to the corner and I sat down with him beside me on a stool as the tattoo artist go to work.  I sat there staring in complete disbelief.  Then he got his phone out and took a photo of me getting the tattoo – so somewhere, I’m on Adam’s phone – me! While the tattoo was being done, he asked several time if I was OK and whether it was hurting.  It honestly wasn’t; I think he’s the best anaesthetic I’ve ever had in my life.

We also chatted about the QAL Fans United 2 Facebook page (great plug Shar!), the people on there who inspired me to never give up on meeting Adam.  The group is also where I had met Maureen; she was brought into the studio and just kept hugging him! So I dubbed her the Granny grab, and everyone, including Adam had a good laugh at this.

When the tattoo was over, he said it was nice work and asked if I liked it? I told him I had dreamt about this for so long; he touched my arm again and said I was too sweet!

Maureen and I were asked if we could wait outside while they did a bit more of the interview, and Adam said he would come out for some photos as soon as he was done. I hugged everyone in the studio, and thanked them from the bottom of my heart for giving me this unbelievable
once in a lifetime dream.

Pic credit: Fitzy and Wippa

Pic credit: Fitzy and Wippa

“Waiting outside the studio, I was shaking my head in disbelief.  How on earth had I been lucky enough to have this experience? I think Maureen was in shock  too as she was stressing about her hair. The people at Nova kept asking to see the tattoo, saying that I must really LOVE Adam! 

The interviews finished; Maureen asked Adam to sign her CD, and I asked someone if they could take a pic of me with him. I was sure I was about to go into cardiac arrest standing next to him.  We chatted about the Red Room and The Original High; I told him I had one unopened copy and the one from iTunes. He laughed at this and said I was dedicated.

I joked that I was really glad I hadn’t had to resort to buying chloroform so that I could kidnap him to meet him; he had a cheeky grin at this and said he was very grateful.  

It was time for Adam to move on; he thanked me for being a fan and said he would see me later at the gig and again in January with the TOH tour.  I said I would make it to as many of the gigs as I could.  I got another huge hug and started to cry . When we got to the foyer, Adam was in the lift, and before the doors shut, he said “Bye Bye Sharlene” and waved to me…..

I don’t know how the hell I made it outside, or into the taxi to go back to the motel.  I rang my hubby, and he was so happy for me, saying I deserved this moment, and to take it all in.

That night, at the Red Room, during Adam singing, Waddaya Want From Me” he came and stood in front of me and sang, “thanks for loving me, coz you’re doing it perfectly”….. Right then and there, I cried my eyes out! Here he was, Adam Lambert, singing to me.

It didn’t end there though…

The next day at Studio 10, sitting in the audience, the interviewer said to Adam, we saw this morning that an Aussie fan had your autograph tattooed on her arm? Adam explained what had happened and some of my fellow Glamberts who had been at the Red Room pointed out to him that I was there.  He came straight over and spoke to me, then I was asked if I would continue liking Adam, or whether it was just as phase (as if!).  I said that I would always love him.”

(Recording edited by @mmadamimadamm)

“Since then, I heard an interview Adam had done after my day in the studio with him, and he was asked was it true that a fan was tattooed in front of him. He called me an ‘amazing fan’ which were just about the best words I have ever heard. 

As I am typing this, the tears are rolling down my face Kym, as this experience is just the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, apart from being married and having my kids.

This was such a happy, yet emotional roller coaster, I don’t think I ever want to come down xxxx”

Like I said at the start, this is an amazing story – a five-star, solid gold fandom experience.  I suspect they don’t come much better than this.  I’d like to thank Shar for sharing her story for my blog as it’s great to hear other experiences of being a fan.  It’s a unique and unforgettable experience meeting your hero and of course she will have that tattoo for ever.

Good on ya Shar – I’m glad we managed to enable you a little bit, but I’m sure you would have made it anyway.

 

The Mile High Club – Welcome to Falsetto

In “More About Singing – Part 2” I talked about how the three main registers of the voice work.  I also very briefly mentioned a fourth one – falsetto. In the last few days, I’ve had quite a few people ask me about falsetto and how it works, as a video snippet has appeared of Adam using it. This is the one, if you haven’t seen it:

(video from Alessandra Andrade’s YouTube uploads)

Now, the recording quality isn’t great, but this is definitely his falsetto voice – and we don’t hear it that often. Adam tends to use it more as a special vocal effect, or when he’s singing acoustically, rather than singing whole songs in it. A couple of quick examples that are easy to pick out are the “cuckoos” in Cuckoo and the “eyes baby eyes” phrase of Music Again. He uses it in a number of other songs, such as the studio version of Feeling Good and A Loaded Smile, particularly the bridge section

Pic credit: como.fi

Pic credit: como.fi

Another really good example of Adam using his falsetto voice is during the riffing that he did with Brian before the start of I Want It All, such as this version of it from Sheffield (it was different every time – the mark of two good musicians working with each other!)

Adam flicks over in falsetto at about 0’23” until about 0’40” (the delay on the sound makes it slightly difficult to pick up when he changes back) and then there is a very high section from about 1’26” to 1’40” where he is well into soprano territory. Using falsetto here had two big advantages over using his full head voice – it enabled him to match Brian’s guitar sound; they managed to blend incredibly well and sometimes it’s difficult to hear which is the voice and which is the guitar.  There is a collection of these clips all put together on YouTube if anyone is interested in hearing how many different ways they improvised together.  This clip is from Sheffield.

(Video from kinkykiedis’ YouTube uploads)

So, how’s it produced?

Instead of the vocal cords coming together in the usual way, only the very edges of them touch, so there is only very light pressure applied, but with a lot of air rushing past them. It’s rather like producing a harmonic on a guitar or violin string.  Most people who’ve dabbled in playing the guitar will have been shown how to produce a harmonic – you don’t fully depress the string, but you need to be fairly high up the fretboard so that the string is already stretched fairly tightly.  The principal for the human voice is the same; think of it as a sort of vocal overdrive. A male singer with a good falsetto can add a huge amount to his vocal range, and Adam certainly demonstrated that on the QAL tour.

It’s only comparatively recently (since the invention of endoscopic cameras) that we have been able to work out how falsetto is produced anatomically, so until then it was a bit of a mystery.

I did think of adding a video of an endoscopy of this process happening, but it was all a bit pink and icky and I thought that a lot of people might find it a bit gruesome.  If you’re unbearably curious, go to YouTube and look up “falsetto singing – endoscopy” and you will get the idea.

As the vocal cords only touch with their edges during falsetto, they don’t connect together in the same way as they do when you’re singing with your “real” voice and the sound is very different. It can sound breathy or hooty and a bit otherworldly – the original Italian word means “false voice”. There isn’t usually any vibrato when it’s produced (although a trained voice can add it).  It doesn’t necessarily follow that if you can sing well, you can also produce a good falsetto, so it’s yet another factor about singing that is a bit random and down to anatomy.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m only going to talk about male falsetto voices.  There’s a lot of debate amongst singing teachers whether or not women can produce falsetto at all; as womens’ voices are much higher than mens’ anyway, it’s difficult to pick up the change in sound in a woman, as the high sounds of a woman’s voice overlap with the range that you would use as falsetto. In the world of classical music, some low female voices can produce a falsetto sound and this can confuse singing teachers into thinking that they’re sopranos when they aren’t. Some women can produce what’s known as a “whistle” register for extremely high notes. However, most men can make a falsetto sound of sorts, although some of them are very much better at it than others. I’m told by male singers that it can feel rather odd singing in falsetto when you use it as a special effect as it feels detached and rather fragile, almost as though it’s not you making the sound.

Pic credit: Warner Bros

Pic credit: Warner Bros

Where it can become complicated is picking out what is head voice and what is falsetto. With Adam this is particularly difficult as his natural voice is so high, so you can’t assume that when he’s singing in a certain pitch, it’s always falsetto.  If you hear a baritone voice singing falsetto, then it’s very obvious as the sound is completely different. Also, because of Adam’s vocal training, it sounds to me as though he is capable of mixing head resonance on to falsetto in the same way as a classical singer, so sometimes it’s hard to distinguish one from the other.

Time for me to ask you to think about strange images again, but I suspect you might be getting used to this by now!

The easiest way to pick out which one is which is to think of the two sounds as having a different shape.  A head voice has edges, even when it’s delivered quietly, but a pure falsetto voice is round. This might sound odd, but try listening with those pictures in your mind and it may help to identify them.

In this live performance of A Loaded Smile, Adam uses head voice, falsetto and some mixture of the two, so it’s a good test to see if you can pick out the different types of voice he is using.

(Video from fiercealien’s YouTube uploads)

Adam’s said in a recent interview that he’s been encouraged to use his falsetto voice on The Original High, so I think it’s going to be very interesting to hear what he does with it.

Of course, Adam is blessed with an incredible top end to his voice and clearly loves using it, particularly when he adds the edgy, “belted” sound to it. This is a risky sound to produce that high in his voice, but he’s stated in interviews that he likes the danger of pushing his head voice as high as possible, and of course it produces those intense glory notes that we all love.

Freddie could produce a very confident falsetto in recordings, although like Adam, he didn’t sing live with it for long periods. This remarkable piece of music was recorded as one of his solo pieces, but he wrote it with the intention of Montserrat Caballe singing it (and she did, as Ensueno on the Barcelona album).

(Video from Sandra Tivadar’s YouTube uploads)

Some singers use falsetto  as a permanent voice; Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons was a really good example, along with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees.  Another extremely interesting singer of this type who might not be known to readers outside the UK is Jimmy Somerville. who was a part of a group called The Communards in the mid-late 80s.  This is one of their hits, and showcases this type of voice really well.

(Video from ernest68’s YouTube uploads)

To fill in the gaps for you, falsetto singers have been around for many centuries and have their origins in church music; these days they’re usually referred to as male altos or counter-tenors. I’ve spent decades around this type of voice so I’m very familiar with them. If you train a falsetto voice with a classical technique you can apply vibrato and the different types of resonance that I talked about in More on Singing – Part 2. There were men who sang as falsettists permanently, but there was also a voice that is now (thankfully!) completely extinct – the castrato. they appeared in both church music and opera, but it was the world of opera that gave them their fame.

It’s a good job they are extinct, to be honest; the surgery was horrendous and quite a few people didn’t survive it. And yes – they did remove the bits that you think they removed. But – the rewards were immense; they had voices that were unique in terms of their range and power.  The castrati were the opera superstars of their day, sang all the heroic roles and commanded massive performance fees.  The picture below is of one of the instruments which was used to “do the deed”, and the guy holding it is Nicholas Clapton, a world authority on the castrato voice and my principal singing teacher for 12 years.

nick castrato

The last castrato died in 1922 and there are a few surviving recordings of his rather unearthly voice.  The castrati were at their peak of popularity in the 18th century and as they started to decline, some of their music fell out of use as the operatic tenor become the new hero. But the technique of singing in falsetto has remained and moved over from classical music to pop and rock as well.

How on earth did I get from a clip of Adam singing The Original High to men with no… bits? I promise the next blog won’t have a gruesome ending!

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