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….
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
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.
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.
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.