On Sunday night, I was in Sheffield, at the Sheffield Hallam Arena to see Queen+ Paul Rodgers. I was there when they played on May 9, 2005, which ended up being released as a DVD and a CD, and though I’ve never managed to find myself on the DVD, I swear down that during All Right Now, I can hear myself, which is quite unlikely, but I believe it. Now this isn’t a review of the night (though it was damn good, and the cosmos rocks indeed) but the story of me and my love of Queen. Of all the groups and singers I love, Queen are at the top. Always have been, always will be. The range and presence of Freddie Mercury, the splendour of Brian May’s guitar work, the pounding of Roger Taylor’s drums and the under-rated ability of John Deacon (who wrote a lot of the hits we know and love), Queen hold a special place in my heart.
My first memory of the band is from when I was small, being driven places by my dad and having Don’t Stop Me Now playing on his tape of Greatest Hits 1. You want an introduction to Queen, you can’t do much better than that, in my opinion. I loved the music, even though I was too young to appreciate it in all it’s glory. In 1986 – the last time they toured with Freddie and John – I was 9. I was too young to see them live, and it was something I do regret. I know from the people who did see them live that it was truly a wonder to be seen.
Five years later, 24 November 1991, Freddie was gone and Queen as we had known them were gone as well. I remember I was sad and shocked, but didn’t grieve. I didn’t really know what death was. I was the same when Jim Henson died. No 14 year old should know what death really is, but it’s inescapable that it happens. I learned what death was a few years later when my brother Richard died. Still too young, though. These days, I know how truly heartbreaking it was back then (and Jim as well) and how the world lost a true icon, and though many have tried to emulate him, they’ll never be another Freddie Mercury. I was still too young to do a great deal about anything though. I had Greatest Hits 1 & 2, A Night at the Opera and very few others. I didn’t have much money at all and I wasn’t a ‘gimme gimme gimme’ child. You accepted what you had to accept. It would change though as we jump forward to my college years as it was here I started to have some disposable income. Not much, but some and Queen was about to play a rather large role in my life.
My first Christmas, I was looking for a present for Richard, and I was wandering around York and went in to the nice little charity shop and what was there but the 7inch single of Those Were the Days of Our Lives/Bohemian Rhapsody. For £1. I said thanks to my brother and bought it. It wouldn’t be the last time I bought Queen music. By now I had a nice collection building – Greatest Hits 1 & 2, Made in Heaven with Brian May’s Back to the Light and Freddie’s Mr Bad Guy Extended Album and The Freddie Mercury Collection on CD. Not long after Christmas I took out a student loan and suddenly I had a shed-load of cash, so I did what anyone would do. I went to HMV and I picked up every Queen CD I didn’t have. In one go. £200 or so it cost me, and I remember it very well. Some moments live with you, and that always will. The cashier asked if it was a gift and I said ‘Nope, they’re all for me’. Suddenly I had a mighty Queen collection and it was going to come in handy.
My college dorm was faced out on to an enclosed terrace, so sound would bounce off the walls. One… gentleman, shall we say… thought it was a good idea to play techno music quite loud to the annoyance of me and my friends. I opened the windows wide, placed my speakers on the window sill and started with ‘I Want It All’. He turned his up. I turned mine up. He turned his up again, I did so as well. Mine went louder than his, so he turned it off. Queen FTW! I did something similar one morning on a rare weekend I was on campus, when they insisted at playing music at 3 in the morning. At 8am, I put my music on loud and went out for breakfast. And to the library. And then to town. Not sure which track I played, but I do know it was played loud!
Jump to 1997. I was wandering though town and was in a music store and I saw a sign, with a version of the Queen logo on a nice green background with yellow lettering and it said ‘Queen Rocks’ I looked at the sign and said to myself ‘damn right they do’ thought no more about it other than having a sense of pride at their good taste and went towards the videos to see what Dr Who tapes they had on sale. At which point it suddenly occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a sign saying ‘Queen Rocks’ without a reason. It was a new compilation album. Feeling slightly foolish, I picked it up and bought it. It soon went away. The remix of 'I Can't Live With You' saw to that. Queen really do rock.
There was a trip to Amsterdam during my final year on my HND, which the combined groups of the HND Business and the Business Management (Hons) Degree lot went on and we had a tour of the new Ajax stadium, the Amsterdam ArenA. At the time I was having a friendly debate with one of my friends about who was best – Queen or Oasis – and we’d gotten to a stage where we weren’t making headway and had to agree to disagree. Until this stadium tour. They showed us a video of the grand opening of the stadium and there was an orchestra and a choir and they were singing ‘We Are The Champions.’ I moved over to my friend and said ‘when they start singing Oasis songs at the opening of stadiums, let me know’. Once again, Queen FTW!
The next Queen moment wasn’t quite a Queen moment, but was a Brian moment, and it still counts. I was living in Canada at the time and I picked up Brian’s single release of ‘Why Don’t We Try Again’, and the B-side was a cover of FBI (the Shadows did the original) and featured the late, great Cozy Powell and Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt (better know as the front men of Status Quo) and it was incredible. The track not only blew me away, it made me stop in the street in awe of it’s greatness. Some songs are good, some songs make your hairs stand on end and others take your breath away. This took mine away and did it ever. Fabulous track and if you can find it, play it. Absolutely brilliant.
For the next few years, Queen releases came and went – compilations, covers, We Will Rock You (damn good show), Freddie Mercury Solo Collection 12 disc box set (lovely set) and I picked up rare stuff and old stuff and the rest. Brian and Roger worked with a lot of people, John Deacon bowing out of the music scene. To a lot of people, Brian and Roger alone aren’t Queen. Queen was a group of four people, not a duo. These people – and you might be one of them – are idiots. The absolute last thing Freddie Mercury would have wanted is for them to stop. They’re not Queen as they were, I can’t argue with that, but they’re still Queen. They found a perfect partner to work with in Paul Rodgers (of Free and Bad Company fame) and they compliment each other. They haven’t replaced Freddie, they’re working with someone who brings something new to the table, and they work well together. It is not disrespectful to the memory of Freddie or insulting to John, it’s a progression and they are still Queen.
When I saw them Queen and Paul live the first time, it was special. Firstly it was being put on DVD but it was my birthday. It was a great show, and though it took a while for the crowd to warm up to Paul, they did quickly enough and they rocked the house and I thought it was good. It was enough. Then came word of the album, and a few weeks back it came out. It’s a great album, though I would say that. I admit there are a few tracks that don’t work as well as the others, but that said they stand up with them when done live. The biggest compliment I can give the album is that while Freddie isn’t singing the songs, you can hear him singing. Paul does it differently, but you know where Freddie would have done it. It’s a collaboration of brilliant talents. They have the rock of Queen, the blues of Rodgers and they put it together and bring out something that works. I would have loved to see Freddie live, been there at Wembley for Live Aid or something, but I didn’t get that chance. The chance I do have is to see Queen+ Paul Rodgers, and hear how they’re continuing the legacy.
I love Queen, I love the music and the songs and the sounds and how it makes me feel. I love the way that Queen and Paul have not only settled together, but are having so much more fun. They did the hard part a few years ago and while they do different things at times, they’re relaxed and more comfortable with each other. I hope it continues for a long time, but if not I have a new album which I do love, memories of a wonderful concert from this weekend and you know that Freddie is looking down and saying ‘well done, my dears’. Freddie Mercury will never be forgotten by anyone and Queen as they are now will make sure that for as long as they are able his music, their music, will live on the way he would have wanted.
Long live Queen.