QUEEN ON FIRE – LIVE AT THE BOWL
By Greg Brooks and Gary Taylor
“Now most of you know that we’ve got some new sounds out in the last week, and for what it’s worth we're gonna do a few songs in the funk/black category - whatever you call it? That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our rock 'n’ roll feel, okay! I mean it’s only a bloody record! People get so excited about these things. We just want to try out a few new sounds…”
As Freddie Mercury intimates on stage during this English concert of June 5th 1982, the Hot Space album caused something of a stir when it emerged two weeks earlier, both at home and in America. The album received widely ranging reviews from all quarters. Some regarded Queen’s foray into funk rock as a step too far, while others embraced it - as they had done previously when the band experimented with alternative musical styles and grooves, such as with Another One Bites The Dust in 1980.
Liked or loathed, and regardless of its hugely contrasting reviews, many fans loved Hot Space, and so it achieved a very credible No 4 UK chart placing, in May 1982. Under Pressure, the first single, released a full six months ahead of the album, in October 1981, had stormed into the UK charts on its way to No 1 and was a massive international hit. Queen were firmly back on the world map again.
1982 was an eventful and busy period for Queen, for no sooner had the album been handed in to EMI, a huge European tour was under way. Beginning in Sweden on April 9th and concluding with this Milton Keynes concert on June 5th, the tour comprised 30 performances, in 9 cities, at 22 venues. It took the band through Norway, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Scotland and England, and would also have included further illustrious English venues had things gone according to plan. Applications to play at Manchester United and Arsenal football grounds (Old Trafford and Highbury) were made, but both were turned down. The proposed Manchester show was replaced by one in Leeds on May 29, and the Arsenal show by this concert at Milton Keynes. Plans for a further concert at the Albert Hall were also abandoned because of fears that the famous ceiling of the venue might cave in under the weight of Queen's vast lighting rig.
The support act for the tour was British band, Bow Wow Wow, but regrettably they do not stay for the duration because fans at one gig throw bottles and food at them. Brian May is outraged. He later says that he never imagined so-called Queen fans would act in such an appalling way to a guest of the band. He is further upset when Bow Wow Wow quit before they get to Germany, because they have sold some records there and are likely to be well received. Another British band called Airrace are drafted in for the remaining dates.
As well as familiar favourites, the set now includes new material from the Hot Space album - Action This Day, Staying Power and Back Chat. Under Pressure had already been introduced for two Canadian concerts six months earlier. Other material from the album will feature in the set in subsequent legs of the tour - Put Out The Fire, Calling All Girls, Life Is Real – but is absent for these European concerts.
Queen seldom performed live during daylight hours, preferring instead to enter the stage under a blaze of lights and smoke. This concert is one of those rare occasions - as Freddie is quick to impart to the audience. “Hello everybody. You know it’s not very often that we do shows in the daylight. I fucking wish we had before; I can see you all now - and there’s some beauties here tonight, I can tell you.”
The concert is filmed by Gavin Taylor and shortened highlights are later broadcast on the British Channel 4 music programme, The Tube. It is shown many times thereafter and is widely bootlegged, but then in 2004 it emerges in all its full and original glory on CD and DVD. Furthermore, Justin Shirley Smith and Kris Fredriksson’s meticulously constructed 5.1 Surround Sound mix and is a breathtaking audio/visual experience.
Directing this performance is not easy, as Freddie risks life and limb by hanging precariously off the stage construction during numerous numbers, or else he races across the stage at breakneck speed before collapsing at the piano. Such antics are all in a night’s work for him, and his boundless energy never falters. The band were so impressed with the direction here that they later invited Gavin Taylor to oversee the filming of the July 1986 Wembley Stadium shows (which also made it to DVD years after).
This wonderful concert races along at an astonishing pace, spanning many Queen albums and familiar hits, featuring both new and old material, and leaving the audience as exhausted as Freddie himself. “I feel positively knackered!” he confesses, after throwing himself around like a rag doll.
A few days prior to the concert, Brian is interviewed by a journalist who is clearly irritated because Freddie will not speak with him. He asks, “What’s up with fruitcake Fred?”
Brian: “He’s been torn apart and bitten so many times before, that he doesn’t want to say anything. It’s very difficult being a front man in a band, because the things you say often get twisted. In my position I can stand away and be objective, Freddie comes in for abuse. He’s part of the team and he doesn’t like it when he’s singled out. Would you?”
On the actual day of the concert, only hours before the band are due on stage, a fan is interviewed and explains that the event will be his 23rd Queen concert. He then that adds that up to this point he has travelled 8,000 miles (over the years) to see them. When asked why he’s there, he answers for many fans who feel the same way. “Sheer technical brilliance, good songs, and a good show.” No-one could have put it better!
That is what the people have come to see, and the band, as ever, deliver a phenomenal performance in their usual uncompromising way. The daylight soon fades to night, the lighting rig blazes down, Freddie challenges the director to follow and keep up with him, and the band gives one of its most memorable concerts ever.
The band arrive at the venue in a helicopter, and then later, immediately prior to the start of the show, they are seen again backstage; nervous and apprehensive and excited, waiting to go on and do their stuff. It is a rare insight, and shows an unusually anxious looking Roger and John. Freddie meanwhile, clad in white jeans and striking matching jacket, looks fantastic - anything but nervous.
Queen On Fire – Live At The Bowl (the entire concert) was produced by Justin Shirley-Smith and engineered by Justin and Kris Fredriksson, from the original recordings by Mack and Mick McKenna. Executive producers were Brian May and Roger Taylor. Both CD and DVD were released on October 25th 2004, in the UK and on November 9th in the U.S. The double CD reached No 20 in the UK charts, while the DVD (containing lots of bonus material) went to No 1. Once again no singles were released from the album, but a promo single was issued in Japan of We Will Rock You (fast).
Did You Know?
1. Also released on vinyl and DVD.
2. First time the whole show had been heard since its recording in 1982.
3. A triple black vinyl edition was released with a single cover and 3 inner sleeves were stretched over six sides. This was a first time ever release of this kind.
4. A one track promo 5" single was issued in Japan to promote the album and in Mexico with a 3 track promo CD.
5. The concert was the culmination of their European Hot Space tour.