Sat 4th June 2022 was a very special day in my long and varied career.
I started out playing around Portsmouth and the South, in youth and social clubs during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Then, in what seems to be the blink of an eye, I find myself performing outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, for the Sovereign’s Platinum Jubilee. I have to admit that this has given me pause to consider what a strange, wonderful journey it has been. The road from Portchester to this special place and occasion has been full of surprises, twists and turns.
For the record, it’s not the first time that I’ve been in this kind of situation.
Back in 1977, during The Silver Jubilee, I was press-ganged into playing the piano for a street party outside a pub in Gosport! I had a ball. Then twenty years ago, I had the good fortune and honour, to appear in the back garden of “Buck House” for the Golden Jubilee celebrations, so I guess this most recent event could be regarded as a return gig!
Having had the good fortune to be (the band) Queen’s touring keyboardist since 1984, I’ve been present at a couple of other memorable shows; Live Aid; Nelson Mandela’s birthday concerts in Capetown, Hyde Park and Radio City (New York)- all big events in their own right but I have to say that as an Englishman, I was very moved and deeply honoured to be part of last Saturday’s performance.
Queen are in the middle of a UK/European tour that has been rescheduled from 2020, due to the pandemic. A two-year break had naturally created a bit of a ‘rusting’ effect on our abilities and most of us, having had covid at some point, we're definitely feeling a lack of energy and mental sharpness when we convened, back in May, to dust off the cobwebs.
We had played 2 nights in Glasgow with a planned day off before starting a 10-night stint at The O2 in London. The invitation to participate in “The Platinum Jubilee” was obviously much too good an offer for any red-blooded, patriotic Englishman to refuse; so any thoughts of the consequences of 5 shows in a row, were immediately banished to the “we’ll worry about being knackered later” file. After the second show in Glasgow on Friday, we “did a runner” from the stage straight to the jet and were whisked off to London, checking in to the hotel, just off the Mall, at 1:30 am. There had been some merriment on the flight but we were all very aware of what lay ahead and the toll that this non-stop run of shows, would take on us both physically and mentally. At this juncture, I must point out that three of us (i.e. 50% of the band), are septuagenarians and ought to know better than to be spending their waking hours gallivanting around the world’s stages!
At noon on Saturday, partially rested, we set off for the Palace and were taken through various stages of security, where lively ‘sniffer’ dogs enthusiastically checked out our vehicles, running around the outside, banging their tails against our van and creating a weird rhythmic effect - that was surreal moment No.1.
We were delivered to the backstage area, which was a portacabin “village”, located at the bottom of Green Park, bordering on Birdcage Walk. The cabins were in parallel lines and we had our own private cul de sac, as everything was laid out with covid precautions in mind. Most of the artists had been there the day before, so we were the last to sound check. Over the years since Live Aid, Queen have developed the policy of either appearing first or last, at such events. This policy has served them well and it especially worked on this occasion, as having sound checked last, our set-up was left untouched until we performed, which is highly desirable; less to go wrong! The TV director wanted us to run our segment several times in order to get the camera shots lined up but this was so tedious because we know the tunes and it saps our energy to just keep repeating them, plus there are always voyeurs, staff and volunteers who enthusiastically react to the first performance but their enthusiasm wanes by the 3rd or 4th run through. This can be a bit of a downer.
Once everyone was satisfied with the sound and vision, we traipsed backstage where we boarded several golf carts for the 2-minute journey back to the village. This is the worst part of the day because it’s just about hanging around and waiting, whilst trying to avoid the temptations of boredom eating and endeavouring to stay away from that table full of complimentary drinks!
One of the good parts of a day like this though is that you have a chance to catch up with some contemporaries who we haven’t seen for years, in many cases. I reconnected with Steve Sidwell, who was conducting the house orchestra; we go way back to 2002 when he orchestrated the original score for the musical ‘We Will Rock You’, when it opened at The Dominion Theatre in London. He also, coincidentally, organised the big band at my wedding in 2004. I was able to catch up with John Taylor of Duran, having played on their first 12” single, “Planet Earth” way back in the early ’80s and later toured extensively with in 1990. Then I bumped into Penny Lancaster (Mrs Rod Stewart) and reminisced how I was the bandleader at their wedding in 2007. It was a social whirl of name-dropping, showbiz bonhomie, networking and fake air-kissing but it helped pass the time. My favourite moment though, was when a melée of security guards and make-up artists signalled the arrival of Diana Ross (oops! Sorry) “Miss Ross” to you and me. She was escorted by a phalanx of attendants and stopped to receive the admiration and cooing from everyone, posing for some photos and it was then that I noticed she was sporting a clear face shield; looking as though she had come straight from a Star Wars film set as Darth Vader’s assistant. That was a surreal moment no.2 which gave me a good chuckle.
Soon enough, it was time to scrub up and change for our ‘turn’. A few minutes before the scheduled departure time, we gathered in our band lounge, where my rehearsal keyboard was set up and we launched into a few well-chosen vocal parts, in order to warm up and get our heads in the game. We were then, shepherded to the golf carts once more. This time, the cart I was directed to, had some dark netting dangling down all around it, resembling a mosquito net. When I queried its purpose, I was informed that it was there to act as a discreet veil to shield “Miss Ross” from prying eyes. From that moment I asked to be referred to as “Miss Spike” as I felt I was worthy of shielding too. I still have minor delusions of grandeur, apparently.
We had to pause while a convoy of Rolls Royces bearing The Royal Standard swept out from The Palace in front of us, causing all and sundry to stand to attention; then we were permitted to proceed towards the Palace Gates, where we disembarked in order to walk around the statue of Queen Victoria. It occurred to me that she would most likely be revolving in her grave, horrified at all this malarkey happening outside her former house. We waited tensely at the side of the stage until the TV stage manager gave us the signal to take our places. We moved into position and the crowd started to murmur excitedly with apprehension; they could see the drum skin with the “Queen” logo emblazoned on it, so they were all aware of what was about to happen. There was an uneasy silence until some smart arse wag yells out “who’s that old bloke on the piano?” I assumed he meant me, so I turned, disdainfully and snapped, out of the corner of my mouth, “Elton John!”
At that precise moment, the screen burst into life and we witnessed for the very first time, the fabulous encounter between Her Majesty and Paddington Bear. It was endearing, funny and very moving. The final scene with them tapping out the rhythm on the tea cups was beyond priceless and then the military snares kicked in and we were off!
Adam Lambert began his long walk from the Palace Gates to the back of the stage and around the statue; all the time singing: thank God for the sound check because he could hear us perfectly and stayed totally in sync; avoiding all kinds of potential, musical train wrecks. Next, our attention was drawn up to Queen Victoria, where Brian May ascended on a lift to play the guitar solo: the audience went crazy because they all knew the significance and the connection with 20 years ago when he played the national anthem on the palace roof. The crowd in front of us and the many thousands lining The Mall, plus the occupants of The Royal Box, all held their hands aloft for the “We Will Rock You” clapping routine. The song finished and the response was deafening; I waited for it to subside slightly then started tinkling the meandering intro to “Don’t Stop me Now”. This is one of the all-time, favourite Queen songs and the crowd joined in lustily, as we launched into it at a rollicking pace. We were having fun now and so was everybody out there. All too soon I was starting the familiar chords to the intro “We Are The Champions”. Flags were being held aloft and waved at us from as far as the eye could see and of course, everyone knew the words. It was a joyous moment and made me feel quite emotional. As we came to the final crashing chords, Adam delivered “Of the World” and then it was done: a massive roar from the crowd; a huge wave of energy rolled towards us and I was thinking, “Crikey! This is only the first 10 minutes, I hope they can keep this up for the next 3 hours!” I reflected on how proud my folks would have been and how they would have been happy that those piano lessons had finally worked out!
We left the stage with the roar continuing behind us and stopped for some quick photos with the Palace as a backdrop. Then we were back down in the real world, wending our way through a bevvy of dancers and performers, lining up ready for their turn. Many cheered and applauded us; which was very gratifying and as we neared the golf carts, a tall, menacing, security policeman, dressed head to toe in anti-terror, tactical gear and holding a very imposing assault rifle, stopped me: I suddenly felt weird and a bit uncomfortable: had I been mistaken for some dubious unsavoury type? Was I on a list of undesirable miscreants and ne’er do wells?
He quizzed me, “Are you Spike Edney?” I felt anxious and nodded. There was a second when I wondered what he could possibly want with me? I prayed he wasn’t holding a stack of unpaid parking fines ready to slap on me at gunpoint! I held my breath and imagined being led off to Wormwood Scrubs in leg irons: what an ignominious end to such an uplifting occasion!
Then he blurted out “Can I have a photo with you?” With a big smile on his face! My relief was tangible, “Of course!” I gushed. We stood together, posing; him with his bulletproof vest, armed to the teeth and me in a glittery jacket and sparkly shoes; looking slightly incongruous. As we stood there, waiting for his buddy to snap the immortal shot, he quipped, “of course, it’s not for me…
It’s for my dad! He’s your biggest fan!”
Ah well, that’s show business. All in all a very memorable day.
P.S There is more but I’m afraid it will have to wait for my book!