11th February 2019

The Crazy Tour of 1979: The Craziest Tour Queen Ever Played - Fan Feature by Nathan Hodges

By the end of the 1970s Queen had become one of the most successful live acts in the music industry with their big indoor arena performances selling out in Europe, North America and Japan. In November 1979 the group played their first United Kingdom concerts in eighteen months but instead of playing consecutive shows at large indoor venues as they did on their last UK tour (two at Bingley Hall in Stafford and three at Wembley Arena in London), this time the group played at mostly small British venues. This was something they hadn’t done for years and the reasoning was so that the band could have more personal contact with an audience which would lead to a more exciting concert atmosphere. 

Already this year Queen had played a large, successful tour of Europe which would see a lot shows properly recorded with songs from a mixture of different shows appearing on their first live album Live Killers. Freddie Mercury’s voice wasn’t in great shape for some nights on that tour but the Japanese tour which followed just a month later, his voice would deteriorate as it went on. He had to find more creative ways to make up for his shortcomings. Overall this tour is probably the worst his voice had ever been in as a couple of nights saw him struggle to make it through most of the songs. However, the Crazy Tour would see Freddie’s voice in phenomenal shape with performances that match or even outshine the studio versions. Hence why this tour could be described as his strongest tour ever. 

The tour came at a time when Queen had begun recording songs for their then-upcoming eighth studio album The Game. By this time the group had already recorded four songs; “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (which would be part of the inspiration for the name of the tour), “Save Me”, “Coming Soon” and “Sail Away Sweet Sister (To The Sister I Never Had)”. The first of these songs had at the time been released as a single and would peak at a very respectable #2 in the UK singles chart during the tour. This would cause the band to play the song as an additional encore at a few shows. 

The lighting rig they were using at the time (nicknamed the “Pizza Oven” due to the heat from the lights which would not only be felt by the band on stage but by audience members in the first few rows) had to be scaled down to accommodate most the venues. Every subsequent show from now until the Hot Space Tour in 1982 uses an intense drone leading into thunder and lightning, a concept which originated from Roger Taylor. The sound along with their lighting rig is a very effective way to begin a show.

The setlists for this tour is very similar to the tracklisting of their first live album Live Killers and the previous tour setlists with only two new songs being added on this tour. (“Mustapha” wasn’t played on the last tour but had debuted at a standalone performance at a German festival in August.) The Brian May power ballad “Save Me” was heard by the public for the first time this tour. Like on the record, Brian played piano and it marked the first time that he was seen playing the instrument on stage on a regular basis. (Brian had already played piano for “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” on the Japanese Tour in the same year.) Brian would always play piano for the song’s life on stage which would last until the end of the Hot Space Tour in 1982. The arrangement was that Brian switched to his Red Special guitar before the second chorus and Freddie would play piano from the guitar solo until just before the final chorus. (In 1982 the arrangement was changed; Brian only played piano until the first chorus and Freddie didn’t play piano at all for the song. This was because of the additional keyboardist Queen had hired for the first time in their concert career.)

The other song which debuted for the first time was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and would be heard at every subsequent Queen show (except a couple of shows which wasn’t intentional). It marked the first time Freddie was seen on stage playing guitar. He played an acoustic guitar for the song until 1982 and subsequently played a Telecaster electric guitar. The studio version of the show which is described as ‘rockability’ would become heavy rock by the final part of the song when performed live as Brian switches from an acoustic guitar, to begin with, then a Telecaster electric guitar for the guitar solo and then his Red Special guitar for the finale.

Despite the small changes from the previous tour, no consecutive concerts on this tour seem to have the same setlist. Queen used a few different openers on this tour (“Let Me Entertain You”, “We Will Rock You [fast]” and “Jailhouse Rock”) as well as moving songs in the setlist particularly playing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” as an encore a few times. 

The tour began in Dublin on Thursday 22nd November and marked the first of four shows Queen would ever play in Ireland. And as a special treat, the band played “Danny Boy” in the first of three encores the band would play tonight. Also, it’s worth noting that instead of playing the faithful fast version of “We Will Rock You”, Queen use “Let Me Entertain You” and “Tie Your Mother Down” which would occur a few more times during the tour. Finally, they used the Shepard tone outro from their A Day At The Races album instead of “God Save The Queen” as a political gesture. 

The next show Queen played was at the NEC in Birmingham on Saturday 24th November and was the biggest on the tour with 14,000 people in the audience. It was the largest indoor concert attendance in Britain at that point. Queen once again open with “Let Me Entertain You” and play three encores.

The third show on the tour was in Manchester on Monday 26th November and began nearly two hours late because of technical problems with their lighting rig. It’s a little-known trivia fact that Queen played Manchester on the 26th November in three different years; 1973, 1975 and 1979. 

The second night at the venue saw Queen play the fast version of “We Will Rock You” for the first time this tour as the concert opener and “Liar” made its first live appearance in more than eighteen months due to the band receiving a message from ‘The Royal Family’ (a group of loyal British fans who saw Queen play live at every venue on this tour). The message stated that they either play the song or the tour would end abruptly if they didn’t! The once live staple of their shows for many years would seem to be played at every second night of a venue on this tour.

Their next show was in Glasgow on Friday 30th November and according to attendances of the show, Queen reverts to “Let Me Entertain You” as their opener. For the second night in Glasgow, Queen once again open the show with the fast version of “We Will Rock You”. It was at this second show that Freddie nailed singing the whole of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, even outdoing the studio version at a couple of points.

Next in the itinerary was Newcastle on Monday 3rd December. Queen play “Let Me Entertain You” as their opener once again with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” being played in an encore. A fan who attended the show described how much of a big band Queen was now with a large stage, a large lighting rig, and a raised platform, and described it as very different from their early days. Freddie’s voice once again is in great shape and his delivery of songs are among the best he ever did. 

The next night at the same venue saw Queen for the first time using “Jailhouse Rock” as their opening before segueing into the fast version of “We Will Rock You”. This would be the case for most of the remaining shows of the tour (and indeed for most of The Game Tour in 1980-81). Once again this is another show to prove that Freddie’s voice was in impressive shape.

The ninth show Queen played was at Liverpool on Thursday 6th December and saw Queen play the fast version of “We Will Rock You” as the first song. 

At the second night in Liverpool, Freddie wore red and blue kneepads to keep the football fans of both Liverpool and Everton happy. Brian mentioned this at one point during the show. During the acoustic set, Brian and Freddie played an impromptu cover of the Wings song “Mull Of Kintyre” after Freddie mentioned that the Paul McCartney fronted band had just played in Liverpool. 

Queen had already played ten of their twenty shows scheduled for this tour and their eleventh was at Bristol on Sunday 9th December. During the soundcheck, Queen were filmed playing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. This might’ve been filmed as a rehearsal for the upcoming charity concert at the Hammersmith Odeon later that month.

The next two shows Queen played was in Brighton on Monday 10th and Tuesday 11th December. The shows were originally scheduled for Monday 3rd December and Tuesday 4th December, but Queen played in Newcastle instead. A fan who attended both shows described the second night as being far from sold out when compared to the first night. A different fan who attended the second show said that “Liar” was performed as well as the full version of “Brighton Rock” which hadn’t been heard on this tour which Freddie acknowledged during the show; “you f**kers wouldn’t let us out of here if we didn’t play this.” This is the last known full performance of the song though the ending has been heard at most shows during the tour would remain in setlists until halfway through The Game Tour and then reappear on The Works Tour. It seems that only the medley closer “You’re My Best Friend” was dropped for this show which is a bit unusual instead of “Fat Bottomed Girls” or “If You Can’t Beat Them” as both were rarely performed at the same show. If it’s true about the setlist this could be the longest show Queen did on the whole tour.   

On Wednesday 13th December Queen played their first of seven London shows on the tour at Lyceum Ballroom. Some of the venues Queen played in London on this tour were small clubs like this one. At this location, holes had to be cut in the ceiling for their lighting rig to be attached. 

The following night they played at a familiar venue as it was the legendary Rainbow Theatre where they had played three shows back in 1974. 

The next three concerts were all small clubs. The first of which was Purley Tiffany’s on Monday 17th December which a young George Michael attended. A fan remembers a review of the show; “It was so loud that the band almost brought the ceiling down, a noise akin to an aircraft taking off.” 

The next show was at Tottenham Mayfair on Wednesday 19th December. The venue had a capacity of a few hundred and a fan who attended the show remembers how surreal it was seeing perform Queen there. The venue was so small that the band’s lighting rig could not be used so they had to use spotlights instead and a few lights around Roger’s gong. One member of ‘The Royal Family’ said that he never remembered Freddie being that chatty on stage. He also said that he got a bit carried away talking about Christmas shopping! 

The following night Queen played at Lewisham Odeon. This venue was one of the smallest ones on the tour as it was just a cinema!

The penultimate show on the tour was at the Alexandra Palace on Saturday 22nd December. Before the show at the Hammersmith Odeon was scheduled, this was intended to be the one London show in a large venue as the capacity here is 3,000. This is because many people couldn’t buy tickets for some of the smaller venues as some only held a few hundred people. Before the show, the promotional video for “Save Me” was filmed. The video was directed by Keith McMillan and Roger recalled in 2002 that Keith stepped back a bit too far on the stage and fell 9ft into the orchestra pit. According to people who attended the show, “Liar” was played. If this is the case it would be the final time it would be heard live until the Hot Space Tour in 1982. 

The final show of the tour and the 1970s was at the Hammersmith Odeon on Wednesday 26th December as part of the Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea which all took place at the venue over a few days at Christmastime. Queen were the first act to perform but others included The Who, Wings, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Clash and Led Zeppelin (minus Jimmy Page). Despite being the final night of the tour Freddie’s voice is still very good but he’s not able to hit the high notes as easily as he did earlier in the tour. 

At many shows on the tour, the audience (led by ‘The Royal Family’) continued singing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” when the band had finished playing the song. Tonight, the band joins in and Freddie sings another chorus. The show at Hammersmith Odeon contained the last ever performances of three lesser known but popular fan tracks; “If You Can’t Beat Them”, “Spread Your Wings” and “’39”. The concert also had the last live performance of “Don’t Stop Me Now” which lasted just one year on stage. In my view, it’s very hard to realise that a minor hit which was largely overlooked by the band at the time has become one of Queen’s best-loved tracks. 

The entire show at the Hammersmith Odeon was filmed and currently, two-thirds of it is available to the public. One can only hope that the entire concert will be available on CD and DVD as it could rank as one of Queen’s finest (if not, best) live release.

As I was never alive in Freddie’s lifetime, I never got to see the quartet perform live together. But if I could only see one show it would have to be one from this tour because the setlists they did on this tour are among my favourites Queen ever did. But which one? Perhaps one of the shows in Glasgow or Newcastle with Freddie’s voice in top notch condition or one of the small London venues with the feeling of more interaction with the band. I haven’t decided.

This was a very crazy tour for a band of their status. They would never perform at venues with a capacity of just a couple thousand people in Britain again or very rarely any small venues anywhere in the world again. It’s obvious why they never did because they were too popular. Queen went on to sell out stadiums globally where audience participation happened on a large scale. Their last tour mostly consisted of outdoor venues where thousands of people could attend which would lead to the fact that this was the only tour Queen made money on because they were committed to spending lots of money and putting in a lot of effort to the technical elements of the show. So, for Queen to do a tour which involves them using smaller venues instead of larger ones to have more personal contact with the audience (which in truth resulted in them losing more money), must be one of the most affectionate things Queen ever did for their fans and must be imprinted in the memories of all those who attended at least one of the shows during the tour.