Apocalypse Brum

Source: Melody Maker December 20, 1980.

Submitted by: Brimon

 "Private faces in public places, Are wiser and nicer Than public faces in private places." W.H.Auden.

Not always true I admit, but it does go some way to illustrating the dichotomy between the private and public faces of Brian May.

Offstage, May is a quiet man, precise in his choice of words, a proud father, his thin white face framed by the familiar mass of curly black hair.

But once onstage, he is transformed into the guitar hero incarnate, the sole object of attention during one of his blistering solos, the target for thousands of hands, eager to touch the man or guitar responsible for that distinctive sound.

Queen are a phenomenon. "Another One Bites The Dust" managed to top both the American soul and disco charts. Every single and album released manages to make an impressive chart showing both here and abroad.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" still holds the record as the longest number one of the last decade, a tongue in chic single, which launched a spate of similar lesser epics, and made one appreciate just how clever Queen's rocking operatic ballad actually was.

They have recently completed the soundtrack for the "Flash Gordon" film - the first rock band to actually tackle such a major film project. With so many Mega-bands talking about how they'd "really like to get back and play the smaller venues," Queen actually did it last year with their "Silly Tour", which included such unlikely places as Tiffany's, Purley. They have a following here which is as impressive in its fanaticism as it is extraordinary to those outside it.

They have attracted probably more critical vilification than almost any other major band as they continue to pioneer their own brand of over-the-top, symphonic rock. A style of music which appeared increasingly redundant in  the wake of the post-punk explosion.

Queen were an ideal band for the iconoclastic late Seventies bands to react against: their sumptuous light shows, addiction to dry ice, Mercury's camp posturings on stage, lyrical pretentiousness, all combined to make Queen an easy target for those who wanted rock honed down to some sort of basic excitement.

Queen are either guardians of a school of epic rock which should have rumbled like the walls of Jericho when the first note of the punk fusilade sounded. Or they are a fascinating indication of how a band can survive the fluctuations of rock 'n' roll fashion.

Their antipathy towards the music press is well known, and consequentially they are not an easy band to pin down. Backstage at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, they are surrounded by a security organisation that makes the SAS look like the Boy's Brigade!

To while away the time before the gig, I sat out front and watched the band wrap up their sound check. Notoriously pedantic at the best of times about such things, Queen were even more precise on this occasion as it was the first time the NEC had been used as a rock venue.

Amplifiers were stacked high onstage as well as monitors suspended over it, there was enough cable laid to keep NASA in business and a lighting rig that - when fully ablaze over the audience - looked like the Mother Ship from the last reel of "Close Encounters".

Huddled in conference around the drum podium, casuall dressed, were the four members of Queen, while the vast, empty auditorium rattled with the activities of roadies, lighting crews, promoters (Harvey Goldsmith, in person as himself), ushers, security staff and minders. Strange to think that the epicentre of all this activity were the four unostentatious figures clustered round the drum kit.

The gig itself proved a spectacular event, but raised in me a number of nagging questions about the occasion.

Just h