On April 27th 2010, the day before his 39th birthday (he's now 41), Rickyboy wrote:
In a rare moment of awareness (and perhaps to make up for refusing an advance of my pocket money when tickets for Manchester Maine Road Stadium went on sale on the Magic Tour), the night the gig was announced at the Brits by Roger while I watched it at a friend’s house just up the road, my mum got straight on the phone and booked two tickets as soon as lines opened. My brother came round to tell me that she’d done this, and I was amazed that a) she’d been so on the ball with it, as the whole concept of booking tickets over the phone and the need to do it as soon as possible and persevere until you get through was totally alien to her; and b) the thought had even occurred to her to do it in the first place.
And so it was that very early in the morning of April 20th, which was Easter Monday that year, my parents drove my brother and I to Manchester Piccadilly train station for our train to the capital. A new VHS cassette had been purchased, and strict orders given to record the TV coverage on long play (DVDs, Sky Plus and the internet were the stuff of sci-fi back then), arrangements had been made to kip on the floor of friends we knew from the Convention who very conveniently lived in Wembley, and sandwiches and carton drinks had been packed in bum bags given out as part of the goodie bag package at the Convention the previous year. What fashionistas we were.
I was 8 days short of my 21st birthday (yes people, it’s my birthday tomorrow so feel free to shower me with your very best wishes and offers of sex), and my brother wasn’t far off his 16th. It was my second visit to London without parental accompaniment (the first one was a very eventful trip to the Fan Club Christmas do in 1990 – see old forum for what happened on that occasion), so it was all a bit of an adventure. The train journey was uneventful, the tube journey to Wembley easily managed, and we were met there by our friends who took us back to their flat. All achieved without the aid of mobile phones.
Never having been to Wembley, and knowing how big it was, I was keen to get a good spot at the front, so was chomping at the bit to get to the stadium as soon as possible. We set off for a pub where we were to meet an addition to our group. I thought we might just have a quick drink and be on our way, but my heart sank when Jackie ordered food. As she was our host for the evening I didn’t raise any objection, but I could see my hopes for a good spot fading fast.
Food consumed and impatience to get moving concealed, we finally left and caught a bus to the stadium. The queue was already massive, and I really couldn’t see how a decent spot could be achieved now. Still, the atmosphere was great. At one point a limo made its way very slowly through the throng, struggling to get through the crowds of people pressing their faces against the windows to see who was inside. I had a look as it passed us and realised it was Axl Rose, eyes to the floor to avoid eye contact with anyone peering in.
As the gates opened and the queue started to move, I resisted the urge to visit the merchandise stall just by the steps to the gate. I didn’t want any further delays in finding my spot. Once through the gates, we legged it towards the stage, and although we didn’t get anywhere near the front, we settled on a respectable spot just to the left of a black fabric tent (the first structure on the pitch out from the stage) which I presume was the mixing desk. The atmosphere just kept on growing.
I remember it as being a warm, balmy evening, with a cooling breeze occasionally wafting over the crowd. We were kept entertained with videos on the large screens. The gig itself is something of a blur to me now, but there were some moments that I remember very clearly. The joy of John Deacon addressing the crowd for what I think was the very first time ever for him; the guy stood just behind me who sang at the top of his voice throughout Extreme’s set but thankfully shut up after that; Spinal Tap’s equipment failure (ah, the irony of Spinal Tap suffering a genuine Tap moment) and Michael McKean having to improvise until they got it sorted; Brian’s appearance with Def Leppard going down extremely well; Guns & Roses playing a stormer of a set and Axl’s defiant “Shove it!!” to the minority of protestors at his alleged homophobia; Elizabeth Taylor’s response to some wag who heckled her during her speech; the opening of the Queen+ section and various surprise partnerships that followed; George Michael’s absolute show-stopping Somebody To Love
; David Bowie’s performance of Heroes
being utterly spine-tingling before his impromptu recital of the Lord’s Prayer had people shuffling uncomfortably; Innuendo
going decidedly pear-shaped when Robert Plant appeared to forget the lyrics, but redeeming himself with an amazing rendition of Crazy Little Thing Called Love
; Axl erupting on to the stage for the rock section of Bohemian Rhapsody
; Brian’s emotional Too Much Love Will Kill You
(completely misinterpreted by the press at the time who took the title too literally); things going very wrong during Stone Cold Crazy
where the band completely lost their way and James Hetfield said “Uh-Oh!” before they wrestled it back; Brian’s very emotional introduction of Liza Minelli. Although I could see the stage, I found myself watching the screens most of the time, holding my camera up to take photos which came back from the chemists as mostly useless. Nonetheless, it was an amazing day.
The following day was spent wandering around London before catching the train home. We went to Rock Circus, which if I remember rightly was in the Trocadero Centre and isn’t there any more. We were appalled to see that the waxwork of Freddie in all his Live Aid pomp had been put on a rostrum and they were charging people to have their photos taken next to it but not donating the profits to the Phoenix Trust. Oh, the outrage.
Watching the gig back once we were home, although it had looked and sounded amazing at the show, it was clear the band weren’t playing at their peak. There were a lot of mistakes and much of the songs sounded a little lacklustre through the TV speakers. But who could blame them? It was the biggest gig they’d ever played and they were without their frontman. That’s bound to mess anyone up on stage.
I remember getting the double VHS of the gig when it was released, and noticing that a lot of post-production tweaking and overdubbing had gone on. A banner on the cover said “Re-edited and Re-mixed”, which was something of an understatement. Stone Cold Crazy
sounded flawless; Hetfield’s “Uh-Oh!” had been cut out; Brian’s guitar solo during Somebody To Love
had been completely overdubbed (it hadn’t gone very well on the night); the first few lines of We Will Rock You
where Axl’s mic hadn’t been turned on were now completely audible, amongst other things. It sounded far better than the TV coverage, but it wasn’t a completely honest recording of the gig. And lots of bits were completely missing – Spinal Tap had been cut out altogether, Extreme and Def Leppard’s sets were cut short, for example.
Years later, when the DVD was released, the entire first half of the gig was missing (presumably due to rights issues regarding other bands’ songs), and the picture had been cropped to fit the 16:9 aspect ratio, removing the top and bottom completely. A stupid move. An excellent opportunity to restore footage cut out of the VHS release and utilise the format to any number of useful ends completely wasted. I’m sure those ‘lost’ moments are probably on YouTube somewhere by now.
Still, it’s 18 years ago now. Crikey. I was on the cusp of 21 at the time. I’m 39 tomorrow.