What a weekend! On Saturday I was off to play at Wembley with #QUEEN and not for the first time. Way back in 1985 I was a Wembley virgin at “Live Aid”, then in ‘86, we had 2 nights there on “The Magic Tour”, where we recorded the “Live at Wembley” DVD. However, that was the old stadium, where the ’66 World Cup came home. A place of ambitions, dreams, and magic, which has now been replaced by a shiny new stadium complex; an improvement in the dressing rooms maybe, but the acoustics... Mmmmm….. Not so much!
The gig on Saturday was the #TaylorHawkinsTribute concert - an incredible evening, full of memories, emotion, and energy. The memories brought back an earlier tribute show 30 years ago in 1992, when we gathered to pay tribute to a certain Mr. Freddie Mercury (who, BTW, would have turned 76 today! Happy Birthday Fred!). Wembley was filled with 80,000 people, sharing their grief and loss: audience and artists bonding in an emotional celebration. The Taylor Hawkins concert brought together a new generation of fans and friends, but the emotions were identical and the energy from the crowd and performers alike was overwhelming.
Back in 1995, I went along to Shepherd’s Bush Empire to see Alanis Morrissette and her “Jagged Little Pill” tour. At the aftershow gathering in the backstage bar, I was chatting to some friends when up popped a tousle-haired drummer. I was introduced as the “keyboard player for Queen”. He looked confused at first (they all do!) then asked, “Hey do you know Roger Taylor?” I confirmed that indeed I did and he quickly enquired, “can you hook me up with him? I’d really love to meet him!” And the rest is history... Over the years I played with Taylor and Dave at various Queen awards performances and more notably when he came up to join a “John Lennon” tribute concert in Seattle. He was full of fun and his energy was infectious. He played and sang a particularly rumbustious version of “Drive My Car”. When I enquired if there was any possibility that he might pull the tempo back and play it a tad slower? He beamed that broad toothy grin, shook his head and said “not a chance brother!!!” I shrugged and moved on.
It’s almost impossible to describe how it felt to be part of the concert. Taylor’s family and close friends were milling around with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones (Led Zep), Brian Johnston (AC/DC) Stewart Copeland (The Police), Geddy Lee (Rush) along with Brian May and Roger Taylor. In many ways similar to an awards ceremony, but with real, raw emotions on display. The crowd was beyond fabulous and their energy helped bring out the best in everyone on stage.
We had Luke Spiller (The Struts) performing the combination of both versions of “We Will Rock You”. Starting with the familiar slow stomps and claps and 4 drummers before morphing into the fast rock & roll version, not much aired since the late seventies. Then Roger delivered a powerful “I’m in Love with My Car” which featured his son Rufus (The Darkness) on the kit. Next, Justin Hawkins (no relation) joined Roger to duet on “Under Pressure”, which was one of Taylor Hawkins’ favourite ever songs. Then we had a surprise for everyone when Sam Ryder (of Eurovision Spaceman fame), whipped the crowd into a singing frenzy with his boundless energy and enthusiastic performance of “Somebody To Love”. We finished our segment with Brian delivering a poignant version of “Love of My Life” with the crowd lighting up the stadium using their phones. It was a supremely beautiful and dramatic sight. The FooFighters then delivered some of their best-loved songs, with Dave Grohl struggling to hold back the tears during “Times Like These”. A huge moment to remember happened when he introduced both Chrissie Hynde AND Macca who performed “Oh Darling” (Abbey Road) as a duet followed by a raucous “Helter Skelter”.
The most emotional point of the night came when Taylor’s son, Shane Hawkins, played his father’s drum kit for a mighty, thundering version of “My Hero”. Everyone was blown away by his composure, talent and powerhouse delivery in what must have been a really daunting moment. The show ended with Dave Grohl and the crowd joining together to sing an emotion-racked “Everlong”. We all lined up to take the bow - old and new friends alike. I was sandwiched between Roger T and Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age), then we made our way, feeling drained and numb, to the backstage bar, where our sadness soon turned to riotous celebration.
One of the most searing memories of the night was when I noticed that Brian May, Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl were huddled in a group discussion, having a shared moment of hilarity. I reflected on how that little scenario would have undoubtedly brought a beaming smile to Taylor’s face and also just how much of a “Multi Million Dollar Quartet” that particular line-up would make! It was indeed a night to remember and an event worthy of the memory of a much-loved man adored father, husband, and supremely talented artist. We reluctantly went home shell-shocked but content that we had been a part of something very special and had done him proud.
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