I don't know quite where to begin; it was such an overwhelming experience... The sheer volume, the lights, the people, the music... By the end of the evening I felt as if my eardrums were going to explode and my legs buckle from under me and I was tired but... Happy, very very happy indeed.
How cool is Jamie Moses!!????
How mad are Fish and Mark Shaw!!!!!!??????
How much does Roger Taylor rock!!!!!???????
It began in the morning when I caught a train to Gosport, worried about the wind and the overcast sky but hopeful that the sun would break through as it had been intermittently all morning. I arrived in Gosport early in the afternoon and made sure I knew where I was going and what I was doing, and then with time to kill I took a look at the Saturday market being held on the long high street.
After getting a bus up to Fort Brockhurst to be there nice and early, I spent about half an hour in the pub - drinking coca-cola, I hasten to add - before heading for the gates of the Fort at about twenty past four. They were due to start admitting us at five, but there were already a gaggle of Queen fans hanging around in their "Electric Fire" and "Happiness?" t-shirts, with the occasional fan club one thrown in for good measure.
We slowly began to increase in number as a long queue began to, almost exclusively made up of Queen fans - despite the fact that they were quite heavily promoted on the bill, there were no Leo Sayer or 10cc t-shirts to be seen. That there didn't seem to be any visible 10cc presence is probably just as well, as while we were queuing a steward came out to tell us the exciting - erm, I mean dreadful - news that 10cc had pulled out to a family crisis for Graham Gouldman, and the SAS Band would thus be performing a three-hour mega-set!
The queue was stretching almost right around from the main entrance to the celebrities' car entrance by the time they finally began to let us in at about twenty past five -checking our bags only for bottles and not seeming overly concerned about checking for things like the walkman making in my pocket. Once past the ticket-checkers we ran as fast as we could into the courtyard of the fort - only to be stopped by a line of marshals keeping us around the corner and out of site of the stage, presumably in order to prevent us from seeing any 'surprise mystery guests' warming up.
We could hear the familiar strains of songs like "Radio Ga Ga" (yay! I would get to do the hand clapping!!!), "A Kind of Magic", "The Show Must Go On", and what seemed to be a Leo Sayer lead-vocal of "We Will Rock You", and we were anxious for the show to begin. We realised of course that they were having to practice twice as much material as they had originally had in mind to make up for the absence of Graham Gouldman and his session men, but when it got to nearly half-past six and we still weren't in - the show having been due to start at six - we began to grow just a little impatient.
Then came the magic moment, the marshals stepped aside and the race was on - round the corner to be nearest the stage. Some fell and bit the dust, or rather the gravel, some pushed, some struggled but in the mad scrap I managed to get just a couple of rows back from the front, albeit a front that was separated from the stage by a large photographers pit that would contain all of two photographers all night.
Probably the dullest part of the evening - if not my entire life - was spending the next half hour watching and listening to a bored-looking drum technician bang monotonously on one drum at a time at full amplification. He got an ironic round of applause when he finally finished, with some people muttering darkly that that was probably the whole show.
Following this, things got marginally better with the arrival on stage of a DJ from the Wave 105 radio station who were co-sponsoring the event, trying with limited success to warm-up the crowd with some sing-a-long rock records.
The gig proper at last got underway after what seemed like an eternity when Jamie Moses took to the stage to perform a short acoustic set. Despite not having known anything about Jamie beforehand ("hands up who's never heard of me and has no idea who I am?"), I am now convinced he is the single coolest guy in the known universe.
He sang some great songs - including the hilarious "Beer Song" - taking shouted requests from the crowd, some nice one liners ("all that shit isn't actually in the song by the way, I just made that bit up", "what key is "Desperado" in? It's in G? Damn, there's a musician in the audience, don't you just hate that?", "so what are your names? Mine's Jamie" et cetera).
After getting the crowd going with his performance, Jamie left to make way for the band in which his "evil twin brother plays guitar" - the one and only SAS Band. Spike began the show by apologising for 10cc's absence and making fun of "Atomic Kipper" having been unable to perform at the afternoon show earlier in the day "because of sore throats. How do you get sore throats from miming?"
So the massive gig with its hastily put-together extra portion of songs began with the band's little introductory number with each member of the band being given a singing introduction to the crowd by Jamie, before Chris Thompson took to the stage for his first songs of the evening. He was followed by Leo Sayer who greeted our chants of "Leo, Leo" with "I'm sorry, but ELO aren't getting back together."
He was surprisingly good and even managed to get the whole crowd singing along with him, before the insane Scotsman Fish came up for his first songs of the night. "When I first came here, I thought I was in an open prison", he said of Fort Brockhurst, before cheerfully greeting the police officers standing on the wall of the Fort that surrounded the crowd, "love the jackets by the way lads." He also found time to take the mickey out of the weather, "Southern England in August and Scottish clouds - the perfect combination." To be fair though it was rapidly turning into a very pleasant summer's evening, with the best of the musical entertainment still to come of course…
For me, the musical highlight of the first half of the gig was when Mark Shaw came on to sing, one of the 'surprise mystery guests' who we had been promised. "I told him there wasn't enough room on the bus, he said I'll come on the train and meet you there," Spike told us. As Mark leapt to the front of the stage he asked us "do you know any Queen songs?" The response was predictably enthusiastic as we yelled that we did and he replied, "good, because here's the best thing they ever wrote", before he and the SAS Band blasted into a blistering rendition of "Tie Your Mother Down", which instantly got us all bouncing up and down and screaming our delight as we shouted along.
He then treated us to "Big Area" before closing his portion, and indeed the first half of the extra-long gig, with a "Live and Let Die" that owed more to Guns N Roses than it did Wings, which he dedicated "to Paul and Heather". He also became the only artist in the course of the whole night to jump into the stupid photographer's pit and race right out to us in the masses, much to the delight of the screaming teenage girls at the front.
So the first half drew to a close and Spike told everybody to "go and have a piss, because that's what we're all going to do", and we got another fifteen minutes of CDs from the Wave 105 DJ bloke.
The SAS Band re-took to the stage to begin the second half of the show with a piece they had originally prepared for Party in the Park last year. "They said they needed a three-minute piece with no singing to go before the big finale," explained Spike, "so we booked a rehearsal studio, and for three days and nights we sat in the pub next to it. We needed to come up with something that was three minutes long and had no vocals, and Jamie suddenly says - 'I know! We'll do an instrumental!'."
The instrumental they came up with was the 20 greatest riffs in history in three minutes, specially extended to 21 for us in Gosport. They blasted through familiar hooks from songs such as "Thriller", "1999", "You Only Live Twice / Millennium", "Ticket to Ride", "Layla" and of course at the end we cheered ourselves hoarse for "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We are the Champions" as the finale to the piece.
After this, the Fabba Girls who had hitherto been singing backing vocals to the other artists took centre stage in their rather stunning outfits for a wonderful performance of "Waterloo" and then an un-rehearsed but still fabulous "Dancing Queen".
Chris Thompson returned to the stage for a second performance after the Fabba Girls had finished, followed again by Fish, who performed a new song of his, and then Mark Shaw. The came the second of the 'surprise mystery guests' - sadly it wasn't the big-haired clog-wearer many of us had been hoping for, but it was ex-Spandau Ballet front man Tony Hadley, which caused some of the girls to start screaming anyway.
He started his set with a crowd-pleasing rendition of "The Boys of Summer", before moving onto a song he reckons he'll still get asked to sing when he's 70 but claims not to mind, the classic "Through the Barricades". Then he caused great excitement amongst us all when he said that in a minute someone from one of his favourite bands when he was growing up would be on stage, and he would like to sing one of their songs. "I suppose you'll want me to begin this properly then….. HAMMER TO FALL!!!!!!!!!"
Which of course brought hysterical shouts of delight from us all as the band rocked away and we all bounced and shouted and clapped and got generally excited. It was a great rendition, a bit bizarre to think of a New Romantic tackling a hard rocker but it worked.
However, the very best was yet to come - once the SAS Band had finished giving it to him one more time, Hadley announced that it gave him very great pleasure to introduce….. "Mr Roger Taylor!!!" And there he was, a member of Queen standing on stage, in the flesh, only about ten metres in front of me!!!
I'd heard them rehearsing "Radio Ga Ga" earlier on so I knew they were going to do it, but that didn't stop me getting all excited as the familiar intro began and Roger took to the mic armed with his tambourine, which throughout his set he kept throwing high in the air and catching, inevitably earning a laugh from the crowd the one time that he missed it.
Being in the middle of a crowd of people, clapping along to "Radio Ga Ga" I unison with them all as a real-life member of Queen sang was just…… amazing. I'm not really sure how to describe it, I know this is going to sound terribly trite but it is probably the closest thing I will ever get to having any kind of religious experience. It was great!
After "Radio Ga Ga" came "I Want to Break Free", a surprising choice I thought as I assumed he would only sing his songs, but it was a popular one with everybody as we all shouted along. "Yeah, come on, sing along", Roger encouraged us, although I think to use the word 'sing' might have been a little over-optimistic regarding our crowd. However, as a man I was having a conversation with in the queue earlier had pointed out, when one person can't sing and does it sounds bad, but when a couple of thousand people who can't sing all can't sing at the same time it sounds all right.
Roger rounded off his trio of Queen songs with "A Kind of Magic", which was a good way of summing up the evening really, not that it was over yet. Another chance for all us Queen fans to shout and clap along, and another great performance from Roger. He finished off his set by telling the audience matter-of-factly, "It's been a long time since we rock and rolled", which sent a lot of people into hysterics as he launched into Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" - luckily for me the only Led Zeppelin album I own is the untitled one, so I actually knew this song and didn't feel left out!
Roger left centre-stage after that spectacular performance, despite our repeated and increasingly loud chants of "Roger, Roger". He was still there in the background though, taking to the second drum kit as Chris Thompson returned to the stage for another crowd sing-a-long, "The Show Must Go On". The entire all-star ensemble - Thompson, Leo Sayer, Fish, Mark Shaw, Tony Hadley and the Fabba Girls - returned to the stage to join together for "We Will Rock You", to which Hadley managed to mess up the words of the first verse completely, even though he had them written on a piece of paper stuck to the stage in front of him! Nevertheless, both the stars and us in the crowd managed to get the chorus and the clapping right as Roger stayed behind the drums to boom out that beat for what must have felt like the billionth time in his life, not that he showed any signs of growing tired of it.
After that we were treated to an all-star "With a Little Help From My Friends" with Fish taking lead vocal duties and Leo Sayer flirting with the Fabba Girls (although not as much as Fish had done earlier during "Just Good Friends") and finally a song that I didn't know at all but everyone else seemed to and in the end I got the hang of shouting in roughly the right places - though it was most memorable for Roger trying to persuade his young son to join in, with some help from Fish.
The concert finally ended at about a quarter past eleven, with Spike saying that the police were looking threatening now so they couldn't carry on with all that noise. All in all it had been a spectacular evening and I couldn't believe I had actually seen a member of Queen singing live - the feeling still hasn't quite sunk in even now.
It was only when the gig was over that I realised how deafened I felt and how tired my legs were. I needed nourishment, but I settled for some potato wedges from one of the chip vans behind the crowd and began to slowly make my way out of the Fort, stopping only to see Roger and the other stars board the minibus that was taking them away to whatever hotel they were staying in.
And so all-too-soon, it was over. As I was leaving, one of the people I'd got chatting to in the queue earlier on asked me "was that your best first gig ever then?" Well obviously it was, but it was also one of the very best and most enjoyable nights full stop I think I've ever had.
Now I want to do it again sometime...