A bit of a sideways glance for this week’s blog. Whilst my intention with the blog is to highlight my experiences as a performer this week I’d like to chat a little about the gig I went to. All time rock legends and national treasures, Queen brought their tour to Manchester this week and Susan and I were there in the two hundred and thirteenth row. (Actually, our seats were pretty good, considering the size of the arena). I’m sure Queen really need no introduction to anyone reading this blog (nor pretty much anyone else for that matter). They are one of those curiously British phenomena like James Bond, Doctor Who, pantomime, Monty Python, the Beatles where a genre (action movies, science fiction, theatre, rock n roll) is taken and subverted to produce something unique and compelling and – yes unmistakably British. With Queen, a standard 70s rock band format and songs is twisted just enough to become a heady mix of operatic theatricality, cheeky sexuality and an endearing campiness whilst all the time ensuring a superb commitment to phenomenal songwriting, instrumental playing & singing. Whilst humour and a knowing wink to the audience are often to the fore, without a doubt this a group of musicians to be taken extremely seriously.
I’ve been thinking back to my younger years and my first memories of the band – certainly I have very distinct recollection of their videos on Top of the Pops. The video for I Want to Break Free particularly was an eye opener for a naïve 10 year old. “Dragging up” – that great British panto tradition – was certainly nothing new, but Freddie Mercury’s take on it, even to my 10 year old eyes, suggested a sexual world extending beyond what school and home taught me! That particular video was banned in United States – here in Britain we were, and still are, far more progressive and grown up about- well- most things…
It was at high school when I got further insight into the band, as one of my friends, Chris was a massive fan. He introduced me to the albums, regaled me with little tidbits of info like the fact that Brian May built his guitar he always plays out of an old fireplace and some motorcycle springs; their rather luddite insistence on ‘no synthesisers’ on their records; controversies surrounding songwriting royalties; the Marx brothers etc. So, Queen became a not insignificant part of my early teenage years (not as big a part as that other regally monikered rock artist, Prince, but that’s another story).
And then one Friday it was announced that Freddie was sick…and by Sunday he was dead.
It was a big enough event in our lives for our school chaplain to talk about Freddie’s death in our next assembly. I still remember how he started his address, with the pronouncement that is made in this country when a monarch dies -“The King is Dead – Long Live the King”. And then – “Queen is dead – Long Live Queen”. Of course, what he meant was that in the modern world of media culture, movies, records, music videos, an artist becomes truly immortal – the records and films made, to all intents and purposes mean that to an audience they never age or die. And this would be the case with Queen.
But in Queen’s case there has been more. Despite the loss of one of the most unique front men in the history of rock, Brian and Roger (and initially John before his retirement) have carried on recording and performing now for a longer time without Freddie than with him. And despite a continuing roster of guest singers, the legacy of Freddie’s performance has not in any way felt diluted. Undoubtedly the best of these performers is their current singer, Adam Lambert. On paper it sounds like a disaster. An American?! He’s less than half the age of the rest of the band! He’s a reality tv show runnerup?! But, arguably Adam is the finest male singer of his generation and its wonderful to see him get his teeth into a back catalogue of songs worthy of his skills. This wasn’t a Freddie impersonation but it was a stylish compelling performance that stood up in it’s own right and was a worthy and touching tribute. He really sold it. And he can get round those songs, and believe me they are a hard sing. In another life, in my student days at St Andrews University I used to be part of a close harmony group called the Hangovers – a great bunch of lads and really quite a good bunch of singers. We used to sing at balls at parties in and around the town, a mixture of trad barbershop and arrangements of current pop tunes. I’m not quite sure why, but I put myself forward to sing a couple of Queen numbers and I – Was – Awful! The rest of the guys would gamely back me up as I, a skinny goofy teenager in a cheap bow tie and ill fitting tux would try to get my voice round Fat Bottomed Girls (of all things!) with none of the swagger and style of the original. Here are the boys below looking young fresh faced and thin!
Anyway, for what it’s worth, finer performers than me have fallen foul of living up to the Mercury magic, but Adam knocked it out of the park – as did Roger and Brian – a special night. So on that note, Freddie, Brian, Roger, John, Adam – thank you and Long Live Queen!
Gig Guide A quick heads up for the very fine Northenden Players and their next play of the season, Agatha Christie’s The Hollow from 1 – 7 February, details at the link below: http://www.northendenplayers.co.uk/ This is the directorial debut of my friend and musical writing collaborator Mr Ross Keeping (Musical, I hear you ask? Have you written a show Richard? Why, yes I have! Check it out at http://oncebittenmusical.co.uk/ – its available for performing!) – but I digress -Northenden Players always put on a highly entertaining, extremely high quality performance, and knowing the director and the cast as I do, this will be no different. Get down there -the front of house folk are always really welcoming too!
Finally, a couple of dates for my Funk band, Lostock, talked about at length in my previous post – 24 Feb at Night & Day (if you put your name on the list in advance, you get reduced entry, no obligation, so drop me a message if your interested) and we’re back at the Blue Cat Café on 27 March. See you there!
Credit – photo www.standard.co.uk