Interviews - Queen

Live In The Eighties (Record Collector- January 1996)


Many of this year's anniversaries - Lennon, Hendrix, Joplin - are commemorative, so it's a relief to learn that 1990 can also give us something to celebrate, as it marks Queen's 20th year in music business. With the band currently working on their untitled 17th LP, we must assume that the enormous party thrown when they won the 'Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music' at this year's BRITS ceremony is the nearest they'll get to a formal recognition of the anniversary. We've decided to pay our own tribute by continuing our look at the band's live work; this examination of Queen live in the 1980s follows on from where we left off in issue 118, which covered the '70s concerts.

1980 kicked off on a high note with a huge tour, two hit albums in the space of six months, and a fine run of four hit singles in Britain alone. But all this was overshadowed by the impact the band was making in the States, with two No. 1 singles and a chart-topping album in "The Game": a wave of success that repeated itself in Canada, Israel, Europe and South America.


"The Game" tour began in North America with Queen performing numbers from the album alongside the usual mix of hits and classics. These gigs were the first to feature the huge 'Star Wars'-style lighting rig, and a similar show was captured on 1984's "We Will Rock You" video, now available at budget price. Noticeable absentees on this officially-sanctioned videotape were "Rock It", "Need Your Loving Tonight", "Mustapha", "Jailhouse Rock" and the raunchy "Fat Bottomed Girls".

By the time the tour arrived in Europe, Queen were about to release their "Flash Gordon" soundtrack, and so "Flash" and "The Hero" were added to the set. The British shows during December found the band in sparkling form and the set varied each night. On one notable night, 9th December, the group played "Imagine" as a special tribute to John Lennon who'd been tragically slain the day before. Tapes of this tour are not too easy to come by, but they're well worth seeking out.

Tour highlights included the piano version of "Play The Game", featuring a glorious guitar break from Brian May, but it was the newer songs which gave real sparkle to the shows. "Save Me" was transformed in concert with Brian switching to piano, leaving Freddie Mercury free to turn in a fine vocal performance; "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", with Freddie on 12-string acoustic, Brian on Fender and Fred Mandel sitting in on piano, was given a heavier, looser treatment; and fans were treated to live renditions of "Another One Bites The Dust", "Need Your Loving Tonight" and "Dragon Attack" for the first time in Britain.


After the European dates Queen relaxed until the next leg took them to Japan in February 1981. Tapes of these shows are virtually non-existent but there is a Japanese picture book, "The Miracle", which documents the tour. The set was virtually identical to the British shows with the exception that "Rock It" was added and "Somebody To Love" - absent from the U.K. dates - reappeared in the opening medley. Spring 1981 saw Queen achieve a major first by touring South America. In addition to the millions who packed out the continent's huge stadiums can be counted the regulars at the annual Queen Convention where several of these shows have been screened. The set was practically identical to the Japanese repertoire and captured well on tapes like "Rocking The Falklands", and on the "Magic Years" and "Rare Live" video releases.

The band played three dates at the end of 1981 in Montreal in order to shoot the "We Will Rock You" video, which isn't wholly indicative of the live peaks attained by the group elsewhere. That said, the video captures the band in the process of change, with "Under Pressure" and a reworking of old favourite "Keep Yourself Alive" both indicative of a funkier approach. The release of "Hot Space" and its first single, "Body Language", in early summer 1982 provoked controversy because of the apparent shift towards a more disco- or at least funk-based sound. Some stunning shows during that year's tour soon silenced the knockers' hasty, ill-informed judgements, though. Kicking off in Europe, the live shows included just four songs from the latest LP, one of which, "Action This Day", was much faster and heavier than the album version with Freddie pulling out all the stops.

The British dates were particularly memorable, Brian May actually citing the Leeds date as one of the band's finest ever. That night, the band played a blistering "Get Down Make Love", "Play The Game" and "Somebody To Love", with only "Staying Power" retaining a funk edge. On this occasion the encores included a beefed-up "Another One Bites The Dust" and a frantic "Sheer Heart Attack" before the usual show closers, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions". The Milton Keynes gig was filmed by Channel 4 and broadcast in January 1983. Since then, excerpts from it have appeared on "Rare Live", though the show certainly deserves an official release in its entirety. There are some excellent stereo tapes in circulation from this tour, including some of the European shows - Zurich, Vienna (which was filmed) and Frankfurt (broadcast on German TV). One sad note: the "Hot Space" tour did not find room for Roger Taylor's "I'm In Love With My Car" or, more surprisingly, "Killer Queen".


After a short break the tour reconvened in North America where Queen unveiled a totally reconstituted set list. Both the big hit "Body Language" and the follow-up "Calling All Girls" were added, along with "Put Out The Fire", apparently a highlight in many of these shows. "Rock It" was also reinstated and placed early on in the set. Tapes from these dates are fairly rare but an excellent U.S. radio broadcast was issued as a three-disc radio promo set and commands a high price when it makes a rare appearance on the market. Fans will find that recordings from the final leg of the tour, in Japan, are easier to locate; there was also a Japan-only official video release of the Osaka show. Tapes of these Japanese concert are highly recommended for the great versions of "Teo Torriatte" (with Brian May on piano), "Action This Day" and "Calling All Girls" they contain. At one show, Freddie performed a wonderful solo rendition of "Spread Your Wings" on piano, ruined only when he forgot some of the lyrics! The tour ended in November, marking a watershed in the band's career: they've not returned to the U.S. since, and their tour schedules have become noticably shorter.

Queen sat back during 1983, even cancelling a return visit to South America, before breaking the silence by appearing at the San Remo festival in Italy the following year. A full European tour followed in late summer, lasting - with breaks - well into 1985. The huge success of "The Works" LP and a total of four hit singles meant that the dates were quickly old out. Some forty songs were rehearsed, and for the first time in nearly five years, Queen revived songs from their early years, old favourites like "Liar", "The Seven Seas Of Rhye", "Stone Cold Crazy" and "Great King Rat". The set opened with "Machines" before steam-rolling through "Tear It Up", "Tie Your Mother Down" and a surprisingly short "Under Pressure". Dropping many songs from "The Game" and "Hot Space", the new set was instead built around new material like "It's A Hard Life" plus old favourites "Killer Queen", Now I'm Here", "Somebody To Love", and of course "Bohemian Rhapsody".

Nothing was on offer from the "Jazz" album and only "Staying Power" remained from "Hot Space". There was a truly fine "Hammer To Fall" on which May was joined by Spike Edney playing additional guitar and keyboards. The shows closed with the remarkable "Radio Ga Ga" (complete with mass audience participation) before the band returned for a camp "I Want To Break Free", an electrifying "Jailhouse Rock", and the traditional finale of "We Will Rock You"/"We Are The Champions". At several British concerts Queen added "Saturday Night's Alright", and at the September 5th show, Freddie sang an impromptu "Not Fade Away" before launching into "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". The U.K. dates were recorded by the band but not released: however, there are some superb stereo tapes in circulation dating from this time. "The Works" tour next moved to South Africa, which seemed to many observer a completely irresponsible thing to do. Queen paid heavily for their insensitivity with a huge fine and the threat of expulsion from the Musicians Union. The tour itself was far from successful with Freddie developing throat trouble and several dates having to be cancelled. Nevertheless, the accusations aimed at Queen by the press, who felt they were breaking the boycott for financial or even racist reasons, were unfair. Many of the band's songs deal with freedom - "White Man", "I Want To Break Free" and "Is This The World We Created?" - and the chief motivation seems to have been the naive belief that change could be brought about through music.


Having stopped off in Munich to record "Thank God It's Christmas", Queen took the world stage yet again in January 1985, headlining both nights at the massive Rock In Rio festival in Argentina. With Brian suffering with flu and Freddie still full of Xmas puddings, the band were clearly not on top form, as evidenced on the video release. But if you want to catch Freddie forgetting his words on "It' A Hard Life", "Live In Rio" (issued in 1985) is the place to go. After the festival Queen returned to the U.K., Freddie to finish off his solo album, the group to rehearse for the forthcoming tour of Japan and Australia. They had found their form again by the time the Japanese dates were filmed, performing "The Works" set in all its glory. The unofficial film in circulation also captures excellent versions of "Tie Your Mother Down", "Under Pressure" and "Another One Bites The Dust"; while a good stereo tape recording, "Live In Tokyo", comes highly recommended. The Australian dates - the band' first there in nine years - were filmed by the local television network, and an excerpt of "Radio Ga Ga" featured on the second volume of the three-video "Magic Years" series.

Queen returned to Britain after the Far East tour intending to take a breather. May saw Freddie's solo album charting well, while his second solo single, "I Was Born To Love You", reached No. 11. The resting period was cut short when the band announced their intention to appear at the Live Aid concert in July. To prepare, they rehearsed solidly for three weeks in order to condense the set into just 20 minutes. With no soundcheck and on a bare stage, Queen's performance became an instant legend; and sales of "Greatest Hits" rocketed. More than that, the appearance seemed to revitalise the group and they quickly re-entered the studio to record the "One Vision" single and later, the "A Kind Of Magic" LP.


The disc went straight to No. 1 in Britain and a major European tour was announced for the summer, again taking in Wembley Stadium. These shows were on a massive scale, the stage set was huge, and the music drawn from all parts of their career: but there were big surprises with some strange omissions from the set list. The shows began with "One Vision", followed by "Tie Your Mother Down" and a superb reworking of "Lap Of The Gods (Revisited)", kicking off a medley of "The Seven Seas Of Rhye", "Tear It Up" and a stunning "A Kind Of Magic". "Under Pressure" followed, then a brilliant version of "Who Wants To Live Forever" (criminally left off the "Live Magic" LP), with Freddie's vocals soaring majestically. The pace was varied with "Another One Bites The Dust", a drastically remodelled version with a great driving rhythm supplied by John Deacon and Roger Taylor. Next up was an intriguing jazz instrumental featuring Freddie on piano and some delicate guitar-work from May. Sadly, this was not featured on either the live album or the official video release.

An old stage favourite, "Now I'm Here", was revamped becoming much harder and faster than the version on "Live Killers": Brian's guitar break was longer and the lighting rig was used to great effect. Leading into "Brighton Rock", the band then played a surprisingly extended acoustic set with "Is This The World We Created?" and "Love Of My Live", followed by a string of 50s and 60s songs like "Hello Mary Lou" and "Tutti Frutti", to which they added an electric ending best captured on the "Live In Budapest" video. The Wembley dates were filmed by Channel 4 and broadcast on TV and stereo radio later in the year as "Real Magic". "Bohemian Rhapsody" still retained the tape segment and "I Want To Break Free" was now a sing-along number with the crowd supplying the chorus and the verses sung by Freddie. This is featured in edited form on "Live Magic". The shows ended in great style with a glorious "Hammer To Fall" (with Brian May letting rip), and an extended "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", mysteriously left off "Live Magic". The band returned to encore with "Radio Ga Ga", prefacing this with "Hey Big Spender" at the second Wembley show. A second encore featured the slow version of "We Will Rock You", while "Friends Will Be Friends" led into the closing "We Are The Champions".


While covering all aspects of Queen's career, the omission of songs like "Somebody To Love", "Save Me", "Play The Game", "It's A Hard Life", much of the hugely successful "A Kind Of Magic" LP and all of the "Queen" debut, was felt. The long acoustic set was fun but seemed out of place in what has turned out to be the band's last tour of Britain and Europe in the 1980s. The release of the heavily edited "Live Magic" proved pretty pointless, as both the official video "Live In Budapest" (1987) and "Real Magic" broadcast were more complete as tour documents. The "Live Magic" CD is marginally longer than the vinyl release, but still no substitute for the full, unedited concert.

The 'Magic' tour ended at Knebworth on August 18th before a crowd over 150,000. Tapes of these shows are worth seeking out for Brian May' performance alone - possibly his best-ever show - where he attacked his cherry red guitar, wrenching out some truly amazing effects. It was an amazing show, but was sadly marred by the violence of a few, and the tragic death of one fan. This was particularly out-of-character because Queen concerts are generally extremely good-natured affairs.

Knebworth proved to be the final Queen show of the decade. It was not till May 1989 that they returned with the brilliantly stylish "The Miracle" album which soon became a huge worldwide hit. Despite this success, Queen are unlikely to tour in the near future, as Freddie has maintained his resolution not to appear live against the wishes of the rest of the band.


1987 saw the formation of Roger Taylor's band the Cross, featuring Spike Edney on keyboards. This outfit released its first single, "Cowboys And Indians", on Virgin in October, and made its live debut at Thames Television studios for the "Meltdown" show. They played a superb set lasting an hour, showcasing songs from the forthcoming "Shove It" album, and with Roger handling the vocals with great style. Particularly good were "Strange Frontier" and the marvellous encore of "I'm In Love With My Car".

The show was broadcast that December and, while the omission of "Strange Frontier" was inexcusable, for a debut show was damn near perfect! "Shove It" appeared in 1988 and the group supported both album and single with a tour of Britain's smaller venues. The set of classic heavy rock also drew from Roger's pair of under-rated solo albums as well as the new Cross album. Alongside "Love Lies Bleeding", "Cowboys And Indians" and "Heaven For Everyone" (with Roger confidently handling Freddie's lines) were the show's highlights, a fierce "Man On Fire" (with some tremendous drumming by Joshua and a great vocal from Roger), "Strange Frontier" and "Laugh Or Cry" from "Fun In Space", featuring some fine acoustic guitar playing by Clayton.

Later shows saw the Cross visibly growing confidence and adding a great version of "It's An Illusion" to the wet. Meanwhile, many of the songs from "Shove It" were being transformed: "Love On A Tightrope" became a real showstopper, "Shove It" a powerhouse song. The shows climaxed with some raw vocals from Clayton on "Manipulator" before the group's version of "I'm In Love With My Car". The final British date at the Town & Country Club, London, saw one of the finest performances, and tapes of this show are well worth locating. The group then went on to Germany taking with them a sizeable number of their British fans.

A historic event took place in December 1988 when Queen fans gathered at London's Hammersmith Palais for a special Christmas party. The Cross played a short-but-incredible set of
their first three singles and some choice album cuts, being joined by John and Brian for encore. The trio, along with Cross keyboard player Mike Moran ran through some blues standards, rounding off with a raw "I'm In Love With My Car". The band members later mingled with the crowd signing autographs and chatting to the hordes of enthusiasts.

The April 1989 Queen convention previewed the new album but a terse statement from Freddie was posted on the walls informing fans that he did not want to tour to promote the record. This was a crushing blow to the hopes of those who thought he may change his mind, particularly in the light of the album and single's success. The press, meanwhile, took delight in prophesying the demise of Queen.

Although welcoming the news that a new album is on the way, few Queen fans are expecting much in the way of concert performances to promote its eventual release. Video releases cannot replace the intimacy or the excitement of a live concert, so fans' hopes are pinned on Freddie Mercury having a change of heart. As the Stones and Paul McCartney have recently showed, demand to see the elder statesmen of rock is still at a premium and, arguably, the return of Queen to the stage could result in this marvellous quartet outselling them all.


Perhaps the waiting game could be eased with the release of a live retrospective in the mould of Bruce Springsteen's five LP/three CD concert anthology. There is certainly enough material in the vaults and such a celebration would be instantly preferable to another "Greatest Hits" set. Rarities such as "See What A Fool I've Been" (1975) , "Jailhouse Rock", "Hangman" (1973) , plus previously unissued concert recordings of classics such as "Liar", "Lap Of The Gods", "Father To Son", "Somebody To Love", "Save Me", "Play The Game", "It's A Hard Life", "Flash", "The Hero", "Who Wants To Live Forever" and even "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", would be more than welcome. At the time of this writing, there are no plans to release such a set, nor indeed a retrospective similar to that which celebrated 20 years of Jethro Tull. Perhaps the most we can hope for is the hasty arrival of the new album, although sources close to the group insist that, as yet, there is no projected title and certainly no release date. It looks as if fans will be celebrating 20 years of Queen in private.


Share this Article