Knebworth 1986: Fan Feature By Rob Fletcher
Knebworth 1986. My Memories of the Day.
By Rob Fletcher
I had seen Queen in 1978 at Bingley Hall Stafford and was desperate to see them again so like thousands of fans, I had applied for tickets to the shows at Wembley Stadium. This was before the days of the internet when you logged onto a site and tried to buy tickets. I did not even have a cheque book back then so had to get a mate to write a cheque and post it off. The envelope came through the post and I opened it in anticipation. Sadly it only contained my mate’s cheque. It looked like my chance had gone.
A couple of months later I heard about a final show on the tour to be played at Knebworth House. I don’t know where I came across this news. It could have been Teletext or something. Life was so much simpler then. A local travel firm was selling coach and ticket packages. I spent a fair bit of time phoning my girlfriend of the time to see if she wanted to come along. She got back to me to say yes so on the Saturday morning I went into the coach firm’s office and came out with a pair of tickets. I was going to see the greatest band in the world again.
We were due to set off at 07.00 on Saturday 9th August. On the Friday before, I must have called and left messages for my girlfriend to get in touch as I had not heard from her and did not know what time she was coming through to Hull. Thankfully I finally got in touch at half past eleven at night. She was in Hull and would meet me in the morning at the pick up point.
The next morning I woke to see it was a sunny morning. Bleary eyed I set about making some sandwiches and stuff to get us through the day. I also put in a couple of bottles of fizzy drinks, more of that later.
We left Hull in high spirits at seven o clock on the journey south and arrived at Knebworth about five hours later. Armed with my carrier back of supplies, we got off the coach and headed to the concert site.
We were met by a phalanx of security guards, one of whom insisted he search my bag. He spied the fizzy pop and told me I could not take it in. At this point I noticed bins full of 2 litre bottles of every fizzy drink you could think of. With an air of resignation, I took my bottles out of the bag and decided to have a drink before dumping them. That was a mistake as they had fizzed up on the ooach. As I opened the bottle, it literally exploded and lemonade went everywhere, including all over the security guard. He was not impressed and for a second, I thought I was going to be refused admission. Fortunately his mate saw the funny side of things and defused the situation.
In we went into the site about the first thing I saw was stalls selling bottles of pop at exorbant prices. Being a Northerner, I was not impressed. However we needed something to drink as it was scorching hot so i parted with a few pounds grudgingly.
We found a spot inside the venue and sat down. I then decided I wanted a t shirt. Off I went and of course my girlfriend did not like the one I bought. I still have the same problem when buying clothes today with my wife.
So there we are waiting for the concert to start watching videos on the screen above the stage lapping up the sunshine. Then she dropped a bombshell, she had left her inhaler on the coach and suggested that I went back to the coach to get it. As if that was ever going to happen. My advice was to not have an asthma attack. I was a heartless sod back then too.
Suddenly people started pointing at the sky. A helicopter flew overhead painted with the A Kind Of Magic design from the album. A huge cheer went out and people waved madly. The band had arrived.
There were still several hours to go before Queen were due on but the atmosphere was something else. There were people as far as the eye could see and I’ve got four of them. You could feel the atmosphere and almost taste the anticipation of the masses waiting for their heroes. The audience is reckoned to be 120,000 or so. That is still the biggest single crowd I have ever been in. It was certainly an experience.
At last the concert got under way. Some singer called Beloius Some came on stage. He had just had a hit with a song called Imagination which had rather a racy video. One rumour doing the rounds was that he was Freddie’s current love interest so had got the gig on the back of that. Even Freddie had better taste than that. He went down like a lead balloon and got the first hail of bottles. Probably why they wouldn’t let us bring ours in. Maybe they thought the ones on sale in the site wouldn’t fly as far. Thankfully he was only on for a short while.
Then came the Quo, Status Quo for those of a more tender age. They had split a couple of years previously but had got back together and had a hit with In The Army Now. One story suggests that John Deacon had heard the song, or was it Roger, and told them they had to release it. They did so and it got quite high in the charts.
Quo rocked as only Quo can. Their music is pretty basic and not to everyone’s taste but they do get a crowd going. Hits like Caroline, Whatever You Want and Rocking All Over The World had people up and bouncing around. Famously one of their roadies got onto the Starvision screen with a huge inflatable guitar. That went down badly with the Quo though and apparently he was sacked.
Next up was Big Country. I thought they were brilliant that day but I was in a minority. Hundreds and hundreds of bottles flew through the air as Queen fans, waiting for their heroes, showed their displeasure. One guy standing near me was hit and blood poured from a cut on his head. My girlfriend suggested I deal with it as I was a nurse. Like I had a first aid kit on me. I must have left it on the coach with her inhaler. Pity I didn’t leave her on the coach, life would have been more tranquil. Maybe if they had been on before Quo, they might have gone down better. But by the time they hit the stage, everyone was getting impatient for Queen. They were still good though.
By now anticipation was at fever point. People had found their spot from which to watch Queen. No one was going to move an inch even for a pee. Not that I needed one, I wasn’t going to spend any more of my cash on over inflated lemonade let alone beer. And I had heard whispers that the toilets were rather basic.
Eventually as twilight started to approach, the intro for One Vision blasted from the stage. I have never heard a roar so loud. Queen burst onto stage and Freddie belted out the opening lines of the song. It was party time. Within minutes he was controlling the audience like the master he was. We sang, we danced, and we did whatever he asked us to do.
Hit followed hit. We sang along, we danced and we clapped and cheered every single song. One highlight as always was Love of my Life. Freddie handed part of the song to the audience as was his custom. I was at one of the very first gigs when Freddie did this at Bingley Hall way back in 1978. My girlfriend clutched my hand as we sang along. As the applause rang out at the end of the song, I swear she had tears in her eyes. She said something about how that song would always be our special song. We split up a few months later though.
To be honest, after all the waiting, the Queen set flew by. The hand clapping on Radio Ga Ga was amazing with 120,000 pairs of hands all clapping in unison. It sounded like a repeated thunderclap. All too soon, Freddie sang the last lines of We Are The Champions and then stood there in that famous pose as God Save The Queen brought the show to an end. Little did we know that would be the very last time Freddie would stand in front of a Queen audience.
Then as we all trooped out, some clown turned off all the lights and we were plunged into the kind of darkness one associates with the middle of nowhere. You could hardly see the person in front of you and he/she was literally right in front of you. It took an age to get to the coach and then we were held for hours whilst the police searched for information regarding the tragedy of a fan being stabbed.
It must have been close to 3am when we finally set off home. I remember stopping at a service station on the A1 and getting a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. You would not believe a sandwich from a service station could taste so good.
We finally got back to Hull at 8.30 on the Sunday morning, over 24 hours after we had set off. By then the buzz had subsided and I needed to sleep. Trouble was I was still high, not through anything illegal of course. After an hour or so I gave up, got out of bed and hit the pub.
If I had got tickets for Wembley, I doubt I would have got to Knebworth so in a way that was a blessing in disguise. I am glad to be able to say I was part of that last crowd to see Queen as the original line up. It was an amazing day. People might claim that the band were not on top form. Trust me, being part of that audience it really didn’t matter. I can look back with pride and say, I was there.
Knebworth was a real highlight of my time as a Queen fan. To be part of what we now know was the last gig they played together is something no one can take away from me. I know of other fans from Queenonline who were there. If only we had the internet back then, to be a part of a historic gig with people from this site would have just about been the icing on the cake.
There were other Queen related gigs. Bingley Hall, the Tribute gig, Brian May in Nottingham and Queen plus Paul Rodgers in 2005 and 2008. Nothing comes close to the magnificence of Knebworth though. Nothing ever will.
About our contributor:
How I discovered Queen: Heard Seven Seas of Rhye on the radio.
Favourite Album: A Day At The Races
Favourite Track: It's Late
Favourite Single: The Show Must Go On.