I have a few Queen stories but my son James’s favourite is when I sent to see the band live at Wembley during their legendary Kind Of Magic Tour in 1986. I was thirteen years old and had grown up on their music, thanks to my Mum playing it to us since we were born. I think my first musical memory must be trying to understand the lyrics to Killer Queen (“Mum, what does ‘insatiable an appetite’ mean?”).
My brother Steve and I thought we’d be smart and arrive early, so we rocked up at the Twin Towers at 11. The support that day was some Australian band called INXS followed by The Alarm, and then Status Quo before the main event. Doors were due to open at midday and the music wasn’t supposed to kick off until 2pm so we had plenty of time.
Then we saw the crowds.
Adoring fans had been arriving at dawn and there were already huge crowds waiting by the closed gates of the stadium. There was no way we were going to get to the front without a struggle. And that’s when I caught a glimpse of Oliver Dennis, waving at us from right by those closed gates.
Ollie was a friend in my brother’s year at school. He’s a very tall, very witty chap and now earns his living as a screenwriter. Ollie has impeccable music taste and spent many years on leaving school in the music industry. In days to come, he would slip us an advanced copy of Donald Fagen’s Kamakiriad and even conspire to get us into a Prince after-party at Bagley’s in Kings Cross. But that 12th day of July in the year 1986, Oliver Dennis became a legend. He invited us join to him at the front of the queue.
I don’t know how he got there. Knowing Ollie, he pitched up the night before and slept in his clothes. We had already bonded on Queen and talked of our excitement for the gig. One of our mutual favourite Freddie moments is the opening of Death On Two Legs on the album Live Killers (“Death on two Leeeeeeegs!!!”) – one for the purist!
We squeezed our way to Ollie’s position and looked back at the throng, pushing up in expectation of the doors swinging open. At that point, we noticed that Ollie had a home-made banner. On a huge white sheet between two sticks, Ollie had emblazoned the legend…
FREDDIE – YOU’RE KIND OF MAGIC
…in bright green paint. He unfolded this tribute to the great Mercury and beamed with pride. “But Ollie,” I read the banner a few times. “What does it mean?” In all his excitement, Ollie had created a massive message that made no sense. Freddie – You Are Kind Of Magic?! What’s that apostrophe doing there? Then again, even without the apostrophe, it’s questionable.
Saving Ollie’s blushes somewhat, the gates opened and we ran like our lives depended on it through the concourse and across the concreted Wembley pitch to the front of the stage. And there we were, one row from the front at the biggest gig of our lives so far. I don’t think anything has ever topped it for me: Bowie was a brilliant blip from the back of the Milton Keyne’s Bowl, Prince at Bagley’s – courtesy of Ollie – was sensational, Hall & Oates (as regular readers will know) was a personal high, but Queen close-up and at their very best, surrounded by eighty thousand fans going bonkers, was an out-of-body experience.
As I said, we weren’t at the very front. There was a group of girls in front of us, one of whom was wearing a bright white top. Having helped wave Ollie’s incomprehensible banner (sheepishly) early on in the afternoon, it then started to rain (possibly a heavenly reaction to INXS – who hadn’t quite found their mojo in those days). To add insult to bad grammar, Ollie’s green paint started to run. He gave up and the poor banner ended up being trampled for the rest of the day. It was later on in the afternoon that I noticed, the girl in front’s white top was covered in green streaks – as were the backs of her friends. Fortunately, Freddie and the boys were too damn awesome for anyone to notice.
I’ll leave you with a classic from that very gig. See you tomorrow.