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 MUST GO ON
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.