Added on 29-Jan-2007
n a new book, writers recall the best gigs they have seen. Here the novelist Tracy Chevalier describes her memorable night with Queen
It started with a champagne toast and ended with a limo pulling away into the night. In between these two gestures symbolising glamour and sophistication, I lost my virginity. Not in the technical sense (that would take another few years), but in other ways. At my first ever rock concert — going with four friends to see Queen at the Capital Centre in November 1977 — I got an eye-opening peek at elements of the adult world, with its power and its limitations, its glittering artifice and dirty reality, and it demonstrated how little I knew and how much I had yet to learn about life.
I was ripe for it; overdue, really. I had turned 15 the month before the cThe concert was part of Queen’s News of the World tour. While not a great album, especially after the double whammy of A Night at the Opera and its follow-up, A Day at the Races, it did produce two of their best-known songs, We Will Rock You and We are the Champions, which drop-kicked them firmly into stadium anthem territory. Appropriately, the concert began with the lights going down and the primitive, effective, impossible-not-to-join-in-with BOOM- BOOM-CHI, BOOM-BOOM-CHI, BOOM-BOOM-CHI intro to We Will Rock You rolling over the audience. Everyone immediately jumped up out of their seats and began to stomp and clap along. I, too, stood and stomped and clapped, watching in awe as people began flicking their Bic lighters, a gesture I had never seen before. What, were they going to set light to something? I had tried not to act surprised earlier when people nearby started smoking grass in public, but now was there going to be a riot? What other illegal things would go on that night? Then a spotlight picked out Freddie Mercury, who began to sing, “Buddy you’re a boy, make a big noise, playin’ in the street, gonna be a big man someday . . .” and I thought, “Jesus H. Christ, that is the loudest noise I’ve ever heard! Is that legal?” The wall of sound terrified me, and I wanted to cover my ears, but I didn’t dare, as it would have been a very uncool thing to do. I think I looked around for the exit, wondering how many people I would have to climb over to escape the sound. It was just so goddamned loud — exhilarating, yes, but painful, too, dangerous and overwhelming. I wavered between loving it and hating it, but knew it would be uncool to hate it, so I’d better try to love it.
Towards the end of the song the single note of an electric guitar began to hum louder and louder under the chorus we were all singing and shouting, and Brian May stepped into the light to add his distinctive sound, ending We Will Rock You with low, long-sustain, three-part harmony chords, overlaid with a high melody he made fuzzy and metallic by using a coin as a guitar pick. I adored Brian May. He was the reserved, straight guy (literally) to Freddie Mercury’s camp high jinks — tall, dark, good-looking, with long curly hair and a melancholy pensiveness that made every teenage girl want to comfort him. At this concert he was wearing a silvery white jacket with long, pleated wing sleeves; that combined with his mop of curls should have made him look effeminate, but instead he was deeply sexy.
I loved Freddie, too, for his outrageous antics, his riskiness, his joy at performing and glorious indifference to how ridiculous he looked wearing glittery leotard jumpsuits, eyeliner and a mullet, prancing and strutting and posing, twitching his hips, smacking his lips and otherwise hamming it up. But even without being conscious of Freddie’s sexual preference — I hadn’t yet met anyone who was openly gay — I instinctively sensed he was not to be lusted after. For all his extrovert, welcoming stage presence, he was clearly playing a part, which served to hold us at arm’s length; whereas Brian May’s taciturn moodiness was clearly himself served up raw.
Thank God for Freddie, though. Without him, no one would have moved on stage: Brian May was not a dancer, John Deacon, in time-honoured bassist tradition, stood solidly in one place throughout, and Roger Taylor was trapped by his drum kit.
To set us at our ease, after We Will Rock You Freddie toasted us with a glass of champagne — “Moët et Chandon, of course,” after the reference in the hit Killer Queen. My friends and I heard this and screamed and clutched one another. He mentioned Moët et Chandon! That was our champagne! He was acknowledging us! I swear he made eye contact with me, 200 yards away and over the heads of thousands.
For we had done what we thought was the most original and extravagant gesture (for 15-year-olds) a fan could make: we had sent a bottle of champagne backstage. We’d pooled our mon