On Saturday 18th September 1976, Queen performed a show at London’s Hyde Park. It was a massive free concert organised with the help of entrepreneur Richard Branson (creator of Virgin Records) as a gesture for the British fans for their loyalty and support especially during the last year due to the massive success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and A Night at the Opera. The concert which was organised on the sixth anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death, was attended by at least 150,000 though it’s also estimated that as high as 200,000 may have been present. The show reinforced their position as one of the world’s best and most popular rock bands with the concert having an effect on both Queen’s fans and members with Brian May himself later recalling; “I think that Hyde Park was one of the most significant gigs in our career. There was a great affection because we’d kind of made it in a lot of countries by that time, but England, was still, you know we weren’t really sure if we were really acceptable here. So, it was a wonderful feeling to come back and see that crowd and get that response.”
The Hyde Park show happened during recording sessions for their fifth album A Day at the Races. In fact, Hyde Park was the last of four shows that formed part of a mini British tour that started with two consecutive nights at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh on the 1st and 2nd of September and then a performance at Cardiff Castle on the 10th of September. Roger Taylor explained in a group interview with BBC Radio 1 at Christmas 1977 how they came up with the idea for a concert at Hyde Park; “It was an idea we had while, when we were touring in Japan, we thought it would be nice to do something different in England, rather than do the same old you know, yeah, tour, etc., the same old places. And we thought we'd like to do a free concert, and the best possible venue that occurred to us was Hyde Park, because it was more central than any other. It was an awful lot of trouble, to, to get permission to play in the park, to hold the event, it cost us a fortune, etc, but in the end it was worth it, we wanted to just make a good gesture, err, to do something for nothing”.
The mini tour saw Queen add two songs from A Night at the Opera into the repertoire for the first time; “You’re My Best Friend” and “’39” which happened to be both sides of the latest single by the group. In addition, the band also debuted two new, unreleased songs from A Day at the Races; “Tie Your Mother Down” and “You Take My Breath Away” with the former shortly becoming a live staple of the set which led to it being played at nearly Queen show until 1986 and it’s still regularly played at Queen + Adam Lambert shows today. Despite an exclusive preview of the new songs, the album wouldn’t be completed for another two months!
Before Queen took to the stage at Hyde Park, they had three support acts; Supercharge, Steve Hillage and Kiki Dee. The latter singer had recently just been number one with Elton John in the UK Singles Chart with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. There were rumours that she was going to perform the song on stage with Elton, but he didn’t make it. So, to compensate, a life-size cardboard figure of Elton would sing his parts.
After all the acts had finished their sets, Bob Harris then introduced Queen on to stage, the first half of the overture on A Day at the Races is heard for the first time publicly before leading into the “Bohemian Rhapsody” opening sequence for what would be the final time. As the band make their entrance, everybody near the stage stands up which they hadn’t for any of the opening acts. It’s estimated that as many as 90% of the crowd couldn’t see the stage which angered fans for which they start throwing objects towards the ones at the front, including cans and bottles. This is acknowledged by Freddie a few songs in who tries to get everyone to calm down; "I have been requested by the constabulary for you not to throw little things around, tin cans or whatever. So, make this a peaceful event, OK? Sit on your arses and listen."
The setlist for Hyde Park was; “A Day at the Races Album Intro” (Tape), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Opera Tape/Rock Section), “Ogre Battle”, “Sweet Lady”, “White Queen (As It Began)”, “Flick of the Wrist”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Ballad Section), “Killer Queen”, “The March of the Black Queen”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Finale), “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”, “Brighton Rock”, “Guitar Solo”, “Son and Daughter”, “’39”, “You Take My Breath Away”, “The Prophet’s Song”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Liar” and “In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited”.
However, despite a longer setlist during this tour, at Hyde Park songs had to be exempt due to time constraints (mainly caused by the band delaying the show as late as possible to get it dark enough for their lighting and other stage effects to maximise impact). The casualties were “Doing All Right”, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” (which would never be performed live again by the band), “Tie Your Mother Down”, “Now I’m Here”, “Big Spender”, “Jailhouse Rock”/“Stupid Cupid”/“Be Bop A Lula” (Medley) and “God Save the Queen” (Tape). Also, several songs would be dropped after the show; “Flick of the Wrist”, “The March of the Black Queen”, “Son and Daughter” and the first half of “The Prophet’s Song”. “Bohemian Rhapsody” would be moved to later in the show and be played in one go, with a tape of the opera section being played in the middle while the band left the stage to make a dramatic reappearance during the heavy rock section. The song continues to be played in the same way to this day.
The band wanted to play an encore but as they overran by twenty minutes, they were threatened with jail. Freddie in particular had little desire to be hauled away in a white leotard, so duly compiled. The host of the event, English music presenter Bob Harris, was given the unenviable task of informing the massive crowd that the show was over despite audience cries of “We want Queen!”.
Despite the audience knowing the show was over they still chanted “why are we waiting?”. Not long after the police turned off the main power feed to the park forcing hundreds of thousands of people to make their own way out in sheer darkness. Their reasoning was that it was the only way to “control” such a large number of people with many of whom had been rowdy throughout the day.
A year after the show in 1977, Brian reminisced about the day in an interview with Capital Radio; "It had a great sunny day for it, and everyone had a good time. There were still altercations on the day, and there was a big thing with the powers that be because they wouldn't let us go on and do the encore, about which we were very upset, having worked up for months and prepared for all that. They got very frightened because there were 150,000 people in Hyde Park in the dark, and they thought they were going to get out of hand. But in fact, there was no possible danger happening at all. Everyone was peaceful and having a good time."
The whole show was filmed, and Roger stated in the Official Queen Fan Club Magazine in the Autumn edition of 1976 that “there should be a film of the Hyde Park show on TV soon”. However, just one song out of the entire eighty minutes show (“Sweet Lady”) was aired on the BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. The song aired alongside an interview with Brian speaking to Bob Harris. Fortunately, over the years, the full pro-shot video has been leaked to fans and collectors albeit in a bad quality. The head of the Official Queen Fan Club Magazine, Jacky Smith said in 2001 that “the quality is very very bad, and they cannot 'rescue' it as it was filmed on 16mm and not stored properly.” It doesn’t help the fact that the footage was shot on video but stored on 16mm film. Despite this, several songs and excerpt of others have been shown on TV and in documentaries over the years in extremely good quality. But the chances of this concert getting fully released is deemed doubtful because it’s likely that a lot of this footage hasn’t survived.
Even 43 years later, the band still think highly of their show at Hyde Park and is amongst some of the band’s most memorable shows ever played. This show is one of their highest attendances and it was by far the biggest the band played in the entire decade.