The Show That Had To Go On - Fan Feature by Steve Coles

The Show That Had To Go On 

by Steve Coles

As the day drew nearer, more and more rumours were flying around about who was and who wasn't going to be there. Madonna had wanted to do it, but was turned down by the band. And a couple of other people who thought they'd get in, were turned down. People guessed Extreme would be a definite, because Brian had already played on their 'B' sided tribute to Freddie 'Love Of My Life'. Also Guns N' 'Roses were a favourite because of the narration that Axl Rose had done for the American 'Days Of Our Lives' documentary. But all the others were complete guesswork.

Come the morning of the 20th April, we set off very early and arrived at Wembley at about 0800, the doors were due to open at 1600 Wembley has about eight entrances, all around the stadium, and the tickets tell you which entrance you HAVE to use. Ours was the furthest from the stage, that was the first disappointment. Next was that the steps up to the gates were already full of fans, maybe two or three hundred in front of us, in the five lines of steps.

We took turns in doing toilet, refreshment and merchandising runs, as required. From the merchandising stall, I got two special 'T' shirts, one of which has only ever been worn on that day and two programmes (with which you got a free red scarf, poor quality, though, you can see them everywhere on the video!).

It was as boring as ****, waiting eight hours, with more disappointment happening at about 1200, when about a thousand people started filling up the grass ramps besides the steps, and you realised that they would seriously slow your progress into the stadium, when the doors eventually opened.

Another thing we remember, is that it would suddenly go quiet, and then you'd hear a murmuring getting slowly louder. This was a sign to get up off of your backside quickly, before you got trampled to death by the crowd pushing behind you. I would hear this noise about five times throughout the day, the last one would spoil my wife and children's day, more about that one later.

After the first one, we'd moved about a quarter the way up the steps, and then stopped. People started sitting on the steps again. The mood was quite good with 'Always look on the bright side of life' by Monty Python, being sung all around the stadium by the waiting fans. 'We Will Rock You' was another favourite, and it was very impressive to listen to 70,000 trying to keep in time with each other. Various soundchecks happened with people trying to figure out who was doing them. There was the Opera section to Bohemian Rhapsody that finished with a thunderclap. There was a section of 'Somebody To Love'. But the most impressive from outside the stadium was 'Champions', because you could really FEEL the harmonic unity of Brian's guitar, John's bass, Roger's Drums, and Spike's keyboards. Everything was resonating to it, and people just stared at each other open mouthed, this was going to be a very special and emotional day.

Another murmur started, and this time, the railings on the steps were starting to squeeze the breath out of you. We had a football tragedy happen in Britain around that time, at a place called Hillsborough, and many Liverpool football fans had been crushed to death, much in this manner, so everybody was really frightened when this started happening, and people were screaming through fear, not excitement. Police on horses were sent out, someone had a brainwave there, how the hell they were meant to help, still escapes me.

After about five minutes, it eased off a bit, and people settled down again. The time was about 1430, and other soundchecks started. I think Def Leppard first, and then just about an hour before the gates opened, Metallica. The crush started happening again, only more intense, at about 1550. And by now my wife was getting really concerned about the kids, it didn't let up until we were through the gates at the top, where we handed over our tickets, were thoroughly body-searched and finally allowed through.

Climbing up a few steps to get us into the internal entrance of the stadium, we could see that thousands of fans had got in before us, certainly double or treble the entire amount, that had been there at eight o'clock this morning. I felt really disheartened that we had waited for so long to be nearly halfway back down the stadium, right next to the sound-tent.

Everybody was sat on the pitch, so we joined them. People went away to get drinks, leaving their loved ones to hold a space for them, and as they returned would try and lay down with their drinks. About half an hour later, the familiar murmuring started again, and we were up like rockets, only just in time though, people around us were getting walked on, and were really screaming now, there was a definite crush happening, and my kids were now joining in the screaming, and my wife said to me, "That's it, I'm not going to stay here with the kids while THIS is happening, I'm off and I'm taking them with me!". I told her that I was coming with her, but she said "If you think we've been waiting here since eight this morning for us ALL to miss this, then you'd better think again, if you come with me, we're all leaving the stadium and going home, now! What do YOU want to do?".

Put like that, I decided that I would stay there while she disappeared, I was sad as they disappeared. I only found out after the show that she'd gone up into the seats hard to the stage left. For the entire show, I was on my own.


The show itself was divided into two, much like the subsequent video release of it. The first half being the BIG bands at the time, and the second half being Queen's tribute to Freddie. The acts were given the freedom to play what they wanted. Only Extreme really entered into the spirit of things, as only a very small part of their set was not Queen-written. The crowd went wild at these Queen songs being very well played by the Boston quartet. Def Leppard also did a Queen song, Now I'm Here, and called on the assistance of the 'man with the curly hair, and curly guitar lead, Mr Brian May'. Metallica played three songs off their 'black album' with almost absolute perfection, and were probably the band that impressed me most in this first half. Guns 'n' Roses were also very good. Low-spots were Roger's mate Bob Geldof (Perhaps they're friends because they both gave their kids strange names!), who claimed that Freddie co-wrote his offering with him, I hope not, it really was nuts. Another low-spot was Spinal Tap, who were there at Brian's request. Their four-minute set took up over 15 valuable minutes trying to get the gear to work. This would cost Roger and Chris Thompson, a song each in the second half.

The Queen set was extremely impressive, I had already lost my voice singing along to the 'Extreme' set. On the video, you can see what appears to be the stage bouncing up & down on 'Tie Your Mother Down', the camera was mounted on the solid Wembley pitch, and the crowd bouncing up & down, made the camera move that much. My memories are George Michael's brilliant version of 'Somebody To Love', it really stood out from the rest on the day. Brian's 'Too Much Love' was another emotional moment. But the point when I just collapsed into an emotional wreck, was when Brian did, introducing Liza Minnelli on 'We are The Champions', as that finished, I just completely lost composure, and there were hundreds, maybe even thousands, around me, doing the same. As thousands of red balloons filled the sky, and fireworks went off, I just stood there stationary on the pitch for about five minutes after 'God Save The Queen' just crying my eyes out. This to me was more emotional than Knebworth, and I would say, one of the most emotional times of my life. This had a finality about it, that REALLY hit you at the time.

I eventually caught up with my wife and children on the outer concourse, I didn't know if they'd stayed to watch the show, or got out of there, or what. They told me that they'd seen it all, from closer than I was, but they were looking across the stage, from Brian's side across to John's, about half way up the stand. It's hard to say it, but as a package, this was the ultimate Queen event that I've been to, and the star of the show wasn't even there. We got in our car and went home, upset, not overjoyed, which was the normal reaction after a Queen show. WHY?

The reason: The QUEEN book had just been very firmly CLOSED!

Click here to buy 'The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert: The Definitive Edition on Blu-Ray and DVD.

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The Show That Had To Go On - Fan Feature by Steve Coles


I also don't remember any crushing at the gates or police. I'm surprised you didn't mention the music that got stuck on one drum beat for what felt like hours!

Hearing the sound checks was great, and I thought the whole day was fantastic, although strangely my memory has faded somewhat of the actual gig - I was just shy of 17 years old, but I thought Seal struggled with his song, I didn't llike it at all.

But, all in all, it was a great day and I enjoyed it so much, and remember being utterly exhausted at the end of it!

sharon hoskins

It's strange how a few hundred yards can change an experience. I too took my two small kids aged 5 and 3 to the tribute concert. We arrived around 10am played volley ball on the steps with a beach ball, sang in unison with the rest of the crowd my youngest belting out ' Tiny little cow' ( her own lyrics to the chorus of 'Tie your mother down') and had a great day. The sun shone and from our position there was no surging of the crowd or police presence. We got inside with no problem and were about seven rows from the front to the left of the stage. Metallica began playing as the crowd was still filtering in so they were mostly overlooked sadly. The high points for me were George Michael, Extreme and Guns n Roses. Axl and Elton stole the show. The low points were Liz Taylor and her saccharine sweet, cringe worthy tribute , David Bowie falling to his knees for a rendition if the Lord's Prayer ( at which point poor Brian looked most uncomfortable ) and Roger Daltry's appalling version of 'I want it all'. He definitely couldn't 'do a Freddie'! All in all it was a great night though, a fitting tribute to a true legend. They broke the mold when they made him and while there where some awesome performances no-one matched the man himself and so the videos of Freddie in all his glory became an unattainable benchmark for those who followed. Laughter , tears, elation, grief it was all there and I wouldn't have missed it for the world................ My daughter however committed a crime for which she is still paying.......she fell asleep on her Dad's shoulders during Bohemian Rhapsody :0 Sacrilege ! Three years old or not we've never let her live it down. Thanks Freddie we just wanted to let ya know we're thinking about ya.........

Victor Motas

Why was Madonna turned down? :O

Oberon Treble Schmit

Anna, I take it you weren't at Wembley on the day. Like you I've watched it on Youtube, VHS and now DVD. None of those portray the atmosphere, that standing in the crowd on that day would have given you.

No one on that stage sung any of those song like Freddie, and in some cases were not very good at all. Even Brian May messed up a few guitar solos. But none of that mattered on the day, because every one put their heart and soul into what they were doing. The Atmosphere during the second half of that show was as electric, as much if not more so than on the magic tour.

Bowie was great, in case you hadn't noticed he sang all the young dudes, a song that he wrote and gave to Mott The Hopple, after which they went stratospheric in England and toured with Queen as support . Bingo conection. He performed the song with Mick Ronson, guitarist in his original band and friend of Brian May. Mick was ill at the time and died short while after. It was great to see them together one last time representing the era from which Queen originated.

Brian, Roger and John wanted Freddies death to not be lost to a world which at the time was not well educated about the dangers of HIV and Aids. They also, like the 72000 people at Wembley, wanted to say goodbye on a fitting scale.

It was an amazing day and featured some amazing talent who along with the production team work hard to put on a show for Freddie.

It's incredible how a joker like you can come along and review this gig having watched it on Youtube, with seemingly no understanding of what was going on.

Anna L. Davis

I've seen this concert on youtube and I must say I was not impressed. For one thing, I know Fred would not have liked it because he never wanted to be the poster boy for AIDS. For another, with the exception of Seal's rendition of "Who wants to live forever", it was just like really bad karaoke. I mean, don't get me wrong. These are great artists in their own right, but trying to sing like Freddie just wasn't going to happen. Then, at some point, it turned into the David Bowie show when he started singing his own songs and brought on his own musicians. So, all in all, I think the show really brought home the fact that Fred was really gone. I mean, seeing John, Roger, and Brian coming out on stage without Fred was very sad. Then, hearing the powerful openings of their famous songs without larger-than-life Freddie Mercury to deliver was even more sad. It just goes to show, there will never be anyone like Freddie Mercury ever again.


I believe Chris Thompson was there as a baking vocalist and to stand in should any one have canceled on the day.


CT was there to play A kind of Magic, RT i didn t know he got a song to sing, r u sure?

Tommy Kobberoe

Thanks a lot, Steve, for sharing your experience on this remarkable day in rock history. Unfortunately I was in Greenland at the time on a longer assignment, otherwise I would've been between the people waving the Danish flag :-)
I feel sorry for you not being able to share this major event with your wife and kids, to me it means a lot to be with someone at a concert. But as a parent I fully understand your and your wifes decision. Being part the most violent scene in "Lion King" is not what you want for your Family.

Your last sentence: The QUEEN book had just been very firmly CLOSED!
hits it right on the spot. With the risk of having my comment removed I totally agree. Queen was no mor after Freddie's demise. With all due respect for Brian and Roger, who are great musicians, you should have listened to John and closed Down the band, while time was. It's like having Van Halen with no DLR, and Thin Lizzy with no Phil. I know both things have been or is being practiced, but that doesn't make it more right. Bruce said about Clarence Clemons: You all want to be like him, but you can't. The same goes with Freddie, and after re-watching the tribute concert recently it's very obvious.


..." costing Roger and Chris Thompson a song in the second half". Please explain.

As good a signer as kiwi Chris Thompson is, surely he was not going to take lead vocals on a song?


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