The Lamp Made by a Father of Delicate Southern Girls
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They have travelled over land and sea and overcome obstacles and hangovers to give you this special personal experience. So be sure and enjoy it! The stage is ready; everything taped down, the carpet vacuumed, all equipment powered and humming, everybody on standby at their assigned station. The crew are standing to attention — but not in uniform, despite attempts to get us to wear things to camouflage ourselves on stage.
Very stylish, but not very practical loading-out attire and it would be hard to gain the respect of a six-foot-plus, pound union teamster or truck loader while wearing a boudoir garment. All onstage spotlight operators wore fitted black overalls, but I found them restrictive, as I was constantly scuttling under, over and about during the show; so jeans and a T-shirt — preferably a Queen freebie, to show some mark of loyalty — were what I wore.
The final check of instruments was done in conjunction with a line check. Not that kind of line, but a check that all the instruments were placed back into the correct channels after use by the support act. There is a distinct art and calculated procedure to these exercises; knowing too much is dangerous, but so is knowing too little. It would also brand you as a total wanker to the rest of the crew. The middle path of single notes or chords was preferable. However, there was still an enormous temptation to crank the volume up and let rip with a couple of power chords….
It is very important to check instruments immediately prior to the show as things do change after the sound check. The positioning of speakers has to be exact and the acoustics can alter dramatically. Temperature and humidity cause tuning problems, and with drums an awful booming feedback.
It could be a sword, guitar, machine gun, golf club, baseball bat or whatever Fred wanted to convey with it. The stage manager, having checked that all was definitely ready, would call the dressing room by crackling walkie-talkie to bring the band up. Queen would be swept by a combination of this energy and torch light on to the stage and into the Doll's House: a freestanding frame covered in black drapes, located in the back corner of stage right.
This was where the band would rest, or hide from view when not active on stage. Not even Access All Areas gained access into here. The intro tape pumped through the PA and monitors, battling for level with the audience noise — as smoke machines hissed out an atmosphere for the lights to cut through as they came pulsing to life.
No going back now. The hundreds of lamps in the rig flashed and flickered but remained tethered, not yet releasing their full power until the dormant metal monster slowly began to rise in the air, spitting light beams of multicolored fire. Awesome, but also quite scary….
On cue with the intro tape, the trio would crash perfectly into the opening song as Brian and John bound on stage. Fractionally after the opening bars, Fred would glide out of the Dolls House like a cat, and swoop his wand mic from my hand as he effortlessly strode on stage. The initial roar for the band was pushed to another level as Fred took his place upfront, and when the overhead rig manoeuvred into its final position, blazing and scorching with light as the pyrotechnics exploded, the energy created was truly tremendous.
Queen are here to entertain you! Queen may have played the venue before but, like secretly agreeing to meet an ex-lover, there is a certain expectation from both sides — how far will it go? The air is charged with energy and sexual tension — who will make the first move? He would tease and cajole his audience like an experienced lover, using strength, stealth and power to take control.
Drawing his conquests in closer, he would slow the pace to show his own vulnerability, before taking them back to the heights of excitement and final consummation. A promise he did his best to keep. Having adjusted my eyes to the dimness of the blackout, my photoreceptors are now in overdrive. Here we go again, another day at the office. Most nights Queen were very good, and on occasion absolutely magnificent — or not quite so good. However, they were undoubtedly a great live band that were exciting to watch.
The secret to this was simple: they could play. Musicians who had mastered and applied their instruments, firmly believing in quality in all they did. When Queen took to the road after a new album was released, they always strived to give their best to the paying public as these four guys unashamedly wanted to be The Biggest Band in the World.
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The first song was naturally a little tense; was everything working OK? It was audible to me, but could the band hear themselves well enough? The system of nods, winks and gestures between us would indicate their level of satisfaction. The discomfort of the smoke and showers of dust hailing down from the pyrotechnic explosions and building ceilings were brushed aside as concentration intensified.
The first song seemed to speed by like lightning, and often lead directly into a second hi-tempo number without break or introduction. I would simply nod in agreement.
Roadie: mind reader, whipping boy and infrared linguist? The hand-over exchange I made with Fred was his microphone on a stick for a freshly made drink of hot honey and lemon. A sip was taken to ease the throat and he would sit down, shuffling himself to adjust to life at the piano. A major testing time — was Fred happy with how things were going? Was all well in his Mercurial world? As he gently tickled the keys, got comfortable and threw morsels of comment to his hungry public, I would be crouching at the end or in the curve of the black Steinway grand, focusing on him intently and trying to avoid the multi-coloured glare and hypnotic reflections from the highly polished piano lid.
The rest of the band would take this opportunity to catch their breath, have a drink and give their instructions about the onstage sound. One particular Mercurial twirl meant he was hot, and I would turn on a fan under the piano to cool him down.
When Fred gave me an unscripted nod, wink or smile, it was like an older brother showing confidence and support. I admit, it gave me a glow, made me feel good, appreciated and special.
So what did I do in return? I took the piss by staging a glove puppet show at the end of the piano with Crystal or wearing a baseball cap given by a fan in Japan that had a giant pair of large clapping hands protruding from the front. I would pop up from the end of the piano, pull the string to operate the hands and applaud Fred along with the audience. He laughed. Fred laughed a lot. Then he chased me into the wings to administer a playful slap or punch. And of course I was dead hard myself in those days! The onstage crew could clearly see the audience as they were illuminated by the glow from the stage lights, but for the band, however, this was difficult as they were constantly being tracked by powerful spotlights focused directly into their eyes.
A dozen or more could be on Fred alone, so he would gauge the crowd by audible response and feel, as he could rarely see further than the first few rows. Post-show, provincial U. Mercury comments:. Did you?
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They were all ugly! I will not have that at a Queen show!! So, are audiences to be vetted at a casting session before premium Queen concert tickets get released? Check with the promoter on that, will you….
I was expected to watch him like a hawk and be prepared to scuttle urgently on stage, half crouching, to release him and his mic cable from any onstage obstacle, while attempting to avoid detection by the audience—like a Wimbledon tennis ball boy scampering on at speed to retrieve the ball, then returning to a kneeling sentry position. Nevertheless, Fred was very sharp and aware on stage, and could keep himself out of potentially embarrassing situations despite being caught up in his expressive creativity. Brian, however, would go charging back and forth across stage, oblivious to the surroundings and totally into his playing, a black curly umbilical cord thrashing in his black curly-haired wake.