How did you get the Queen gig?
Some years before, in the 70’s I met Chris Taylor (Crystal), back then he was a lighting tech. In the early 80’s I bumped into him again, by now he was working for Queen, first as Roger’s drum tech then later as his personal assistant.
He told me that Queen were preparing to tour and that I should audition. I sent in a cassette containing some terrible recordings of me playing on various fairly nondescript tracks and expected nothing to happen really. The next thing I know is I get summoned to a “meeting” and I find myself being interviewed by the legendary Gerry Stickells. The interview consisted of 2 questions
1) "Do you have a valid passport?"
Answer - "Er, yes!"
2) "Do you want to tour the World with Queen?"
Answer…(Let me think about it…wouldn’t like to get this wrong…) "Er, yes please!"
Gerry says "OK…you’re in", then shuffles his papers and shows me out onto the street where I stood blinking in the sunlight wondering "WTF was that about?" The rest is history.
Who had you been playing with prior to Queen?
In the 70’s I worked as a piano player for Soul Legend Ben E. King and Motown’s Edwin Starr. In the early 80’s I toured with The Boomtown Rats and Dexy’s Midnight Runners as a trombonist. Then with a pop/soul band called Lynx (David Grant was their talented singer). I had just switched back to keyboards when this whole Queen malarkey started.
What was the format for a band rehearsal session for the Magic Tour, what happened on the first day when you all got together?
Having completed The Works Tour (without getting fired!) I had played on the demo of the song “It’s A Kind of Magic” and a couple of other tracks in the studio for the Magic album. We’d also played Live Aid, so by then there was a fairly comfortable working relationship.
The key to a Queen rehearsal is being prepared because they like to move along quickly, normally for about half an hour… after lunch, of course! For me the most fun was working on the Rock & Roll medley, Tutti Frutti etc. At first I thought we were just jamming and having fun. I was really surprised when it ended up in the set! Now I realize how much that music meant to Freddie.
Were you involved in developing the set list for the Magic Tour?
Can’t really remember – sorry. By that time I wasn’t shy about making suggestions though!
The Magic shows are now seen as a classic tour - Queen at their stadium rocking best, was it enjoyable tour to play on?
The absolute best! Everything you could possibly imagine it would be and probably better.
The Wembley shows in particular must have been a proud moment for all, coming back to Wembley after Live Aid...
There was a palpable sense of expectation from the audience and the band that this tour would be “something special”. I seem to remember the reviews from the first gig in Newcastle were pretty amazing…which was a pleasant surprise considering the band’s less than cordial history with the UK press.
What did you feel the first time you walked on the stage to do sound-checks, looking out into such a legendary place?
Having had such a brilliant time at Live Aid, it felt like we were coming home.
What did you do prior to the gig, i.e. as regards keeping calm, warming up and sort of ritual etc?
The ritual is, soundcheck, dinner then sleep! On tour the body soon becomes accustomed to the explosion of adrenalin needed for a 2-hour performance at the same time most nights. So your system demands rest in the hour or so before because the adrenalin lasts for about 2-3 hours after the show and you can’t sleep until at least 2 in the morning- that’s when TV sets get thrown out of hotel room windows…traditionally!
How did the other band members and guests seem?
The guests were very excited. The band likes an atmosphere of serenity and calm backstage before the show so guests are often limited to close family members only. After the show all hell breaks loose!
Any nerves as that taped intro section of One Vision kicked into life?
Not really. We all knew the show was great and we were well played in at that point, so it was a question of doing a proper job with full enthusiasm.
How was the Friday night show for you, did the rain pose any issues for you personally?
No, because we had played in wet conditions at other gigs and it didn’t seem to dampen either the audience or the band’s spirit. Sometimes a good downpour can make it a bonding experience.
'Hammer To Fall' gave you a chance to join the band 'down the front' as it where...did you always look forward to that part of the show?
Yes indeed, and Freddie also graciously allowed me to play his piano in “Tutti Frutti” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. There’s a shot somewhere of him coming over and sticking his butt on the top end of the keyboard...I hope it wasn’t a critique!
Are there any particular memories from the two Wembley shows that stick out?
Inevitably the sea of hands aloft and clapping for Radio Ga Ga and We Will Rock You. Once experienced… never forgotten.
You are now heavily involved in many aspects of Queen 'live' as it were, Queen + Paul Rodgers, We Will Rock You and, of course, 46664. This has seen you perform with hundreds of different musicians; you must have some amazing highlights?
Phew! Indeed there have been some amazing magical moments especially the shows for Mandela’s 46664 concerts in Cape Town and Hyde Park. I think you might have to wait for that book I’ve been promising to write forever. Great moments and memories, too many to count and I really hope we’re not done yet!