The Girl In The Audience
by Patrick Lemieux
“The chanting of the crowds both nights was so moving before and after the boys came out. It seemed as if once you could see Freddie, the entire place screamed with joy!”
By the end of 1981, it had been a busy year and a half for Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. Queen released their album The Game in June of 1980, had been touring the world to promote it, had also completed work on the Flash Gordon soundtrack music and released that album, and returned to the studio to work on the follow up album which would become Hot Space. Roger recorded and released his own solo album in that time, as well, titled Fun In Space. The Hot Space sessions in Montreux in the summer of 1981 found Queen working with David Bowie and the two released the single “Under Pressure” in October, giving them another #1 hit while they were on the aptly named Gluttons For Punishment Tour in South America. Early November saw the release of their Greatest Hits album.
The band had also agreed prior to this to allow the company Mobilevision to film them in concert. The resulting film would be toured by the company for paying audiences. Two special concerts were planned for November 24th and 25th for The Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 19 year old Sarah Bernard had no idea that attending the concerts would result in her being immortalized on film.
“I attended both nights for the Montreal shows, and was fortunate enough to be up front both nights,” says Sarah, “My sister Cathy and her friend Christian Giddings got three tickets for both nights and invited me to go, as they knew I was a fan, so I was lucky in that sense.”
Sarah goes on to explain, “I had been a Queen fan since the mid-1970s, when I received my first Queen album. It was Sheer Heart Attack, and it was given to me as a gift. I would often listen to certain songs and associate them with certain memories in my mind, and listening to Killer Queen always reminded me of the first time I played the album and broke in my record player at my best friend’s house. The album that I played the most in the ‘70s, however, was probably A Day at the Races. I had seen Queen two times before the Montreal shows. My father was taking care of his brother in Michigan in the late ‘70s while he recovered from a major work injury, and I tagged along when I could, so I was able to see Queen there in 1977 and again when we came for another visit in 1978.”
At the Montreal shows, Sarah was able to make her way to a priceless spot perfect for taking pictures. “There was really nothing too difficult about getting to the front of the stage, other than waiting in line very early in the day, and simply playing by the rules of the venue. I’m sure there were reserved spots up front for professional photographers and media people outside of the film crew, but most people around me were simply fans,” she says, so when Queen launched into the fast version of “We Will Rock You” to start each concert, the only issue to emerge was, “just trying to keep your spot! My sister was right next to me when both shows started, but ended up a getting pushed to the side, and pulled away from me at both times! She was still able to stay very near the stage, and as far as I can remember, so was Christian!”
Throughout the concert film, which is edited together from both nights, Sarah can be glimpsed center stage in the audience, occasionally taking pictures. Unfortunately, she no longer has the photos she took at the shows. Sarah says, “They were not the greatest quality, but I was proud of them.”
Of the band’s performance, Sarah says of Freddie, “I recall thinking that he made it very hard to NOT watch him. He was a wonderful performer, and I was reminded of how incredibly he commanded the stage. It had been a few years since I’d seen them last, and I’d forgotten what a force he really was up there. In the two shows I’d seen before, I was not as close to the stage, but I was still enchanted by how he worked the crowd. It really was like he held us all in the palm of his hand. Like we were being manipulated, and we loved it! A feeling I’ve felt with very few other acts. Brian and Roger were just as swift and amazing as I’d remembered from the previous shows. Watching Roger drum was almost hypnotic! John always seemed like the quiet and reserved type in photos and magazines, but live on stage, he always shined!”
Sarah goes on to recall, “Towards the end of the first show, I had spent some time trying to get their attention for a wave or a smile, and I made eye contact with John who nodded at me and returned my smile, which made my night even better! I also remember getting goosebumps during a few numbers both nights and even in the two previous shows I’d seen. Most notably during, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’!”
Towards the middle of the concert each night came a song that over the last few tours had only just started becoming the crowd favourite it is today. Having recently toured South America, Queen saw the huge response to “Love Of My Life,” were it seemed that every member of the audience sang along at top volume. Freddie and Brian noticed at once the Canadian crowd preferred to mostly watch and listen. Sarah explains, “The attitude of the audience for both nights flowed with the songs being performed.”
At the end of “Love Of My Life,” the cameras captured a truly moving moment in Sarah’s reaction as she stands still and glassy-eyed amid the erupting audience around her. She remembers what was going through her mind in that moment, “Every time I heard ‘Love of My Life’, I felt a bit emotional. I had fallen in love with a man who I truly saw a future with, and who used to play a few songs to serenade me while we were dating. ‘Love of My Life’ was one of those songs, and both nights I can remember feeling like I was on the verge of very happy tears just thinking about my love. He was on my mind and in my heart at the time I was being filmed.”
Sarah didn’t know she specifically had been filmed in her moment of quiet reflection, “We did see the cameras at the shows, but I never really noticed them facing me. I assumed they were filming the crowd as a mass of people.”
As Queen finished what would be their last show of the year on the second night, and indeed the last show of an extended, exhaustive world touring schedule begun the previous June, the fans, including Sarah Bernard’s group, filed out of The Forum and into the cold Montreal night.
“Those were my last two shows with Freddie,” Sarah says now, “I wish I’d made an effort to see them with Freddie again. I always figured there would be ‘more time.’”
Mobilevision released the concert film on VHS in 1984 and several more times on Laserdisc and DVD before Queen were finally able to acquire the material and release it under the official Queen banner in 2007.
“I got a call from my cousin who happened to be in an electronics store at the time, telling me that I was on the ten big screen HD TVs they had in store,” Sarah explains. The year was 2009, the Montreal concerts a dim but happy set of memories for her, two of many artists’ concerts she’d attended over the years. “They had popped in the Montreal DVD and had been playing it on repeat for days on their TVs to show the pixel quality in the screens. At the time, I didn’t even own the DVD myself, and it had apparently been out for some time by then. My cousin bought a copy then and there and sent it to me to watch. I was shocked to see me there! My daughter and I visited my sister in America a few months ago and did see it in the Imax theater. My daughter got quite a kick out of seeing my ‘‘80s hair’ on the big screen! It’s a neat little story, and as another fan pointed out to me, this little cameo in the concert means I may no longer have the photos I took, but I have something just as lovely to keep as a memory on DVD!”
Patrick Lemieux is a Canadian artist and writer. He is co-author (with Adam Unger) of The Queen Chronology book, available at Amazon (http://tinyurl.com/phgjjaw), Barnes&Noble.com (http://tinyurl.com/p62gxvq) and Lulu.com (http://tinyurl.com/lbt9tzl). He has also written articles for Queen Online and the Official International Queen Fan Club. His other books include The Mike Oldfield Chronology and The Barenaked Ladies Chronology. He has published a collection of his artwork titled Play Of Light: The Art of Patrick Lemieux. You can follow him on Twitter @MadTheDJ and visit his blog: http://madthedj.wordpress.com/