It was a very cold and foggy late November day and I remember being on the bus going to Hammersmith Odeon for my very first concert... and what a first gig to attend! It was life changing.
In 1974 I was 13 and had come across the band from seeing their debut performance on TV on Top of The Pops with 'Seven Seas of Rhye'. To say this made a profound impression on me is an understatement, as I remember sitting bolt upright and thinking 'Wow', who is this band? I decided to find out more. Unfortunately I was too young at this time to go along to see them at the Rainbow although I dearly wanted to - however I certainly made up for this later on and witnessed the band on many tours.
The 'Night at the Opera' tour began in late 1975 and this time I was determined to go - I made it to the show on November 29th. I got to the venue and sat downstairs in the stalls on my own and I had no idea what to expect. The support band, Mr Big came on and played and I remember thinking how loud they were - and they had two drummers! A bit of a novelty I thought... They were alright - melodic and heavy. Anyway they came and went without much impression on me. As I sat there I noticed the age range of the people taking to their seats and in particular I saw quite an old couple turn up and sit down the front in the rows ahead of me. They were all dressed up - I believe they both had on evening dress... she had a fur jacket and a long dress. I remember thinking how strange this was and now I think about whether they had to retreat to further back later on! The rest of the audience were mainly young so this couple really stood out.
So, picture the scene - I was towards the back of Hammersmith Odeon and Bo Rhap had just got to Number One in the British charts a few days earlier... The lights went down and an intro tape began - a tapping of a conductors baton and a voice saying "Ladies and Gentlemen, Pray silence for a Night at the Opera" - I later found out that this was recorded by Kenny Everett, a DJ at that time on Capital Radio and who was responsible for breaking Bohemian Rhapsody. Then there followed an extended piano intro to the operatic bit of Bo Rhap (I think - memory is a bit foggy here) which was playing along to a darkened stage. When the vocals came in and it got to "I see a little silhouetto of a man" a spotlight hit a white screen and we saw a silhouette of Fred behind it and then this was flicked off and the track continued playing to a blacked out stage and auditorium, building the momentum and anticipation of the audience. This went on with the anticipation building right up to the "To me, to me, to me -" right at the end of the operatic section....
And now you must realise that:
- I was 14
- I had never been to a gig before...
Everything exploded at once - for the minute they hit the first notes of the heavy bit to Bo Rhap all the flashpots exploded, lights flooded the stage and Fred took a flying leap off the drum rostrum. I will never forget that moment - I remember distinctly saying 'Oh my God'. By this time I was already standing on my seat - the audience was just stunned by their entrance and I was just thrilled and exhilarated. Then they went into 'Ogre Battle'... it was incredible. Then the show just became something of a blur - but it was a great show. I remember Fred the first time he addressed the audience just before the medley, I think. He came to the front of the stage to toast everyone with champagne and throw some roses out into the audience. A girl shouted out 'Freddie' before he opened his mouth and he said, "He's announcing..." in quite a flippant way, then he went onto thank everyone for getting Bo Rhap to Number One and said "Cheers!" to the audience.
Fred was wearing the silver Hermes costume that is in the video for Bo Rhap but later changed into a black leotard with a belt and a few sequins. I remember Brian's solo on the ukelele for the solo bit in 'Leroy Brown' and I remember John being spotlighted when he hit a triangle after the drum roll and the 'To avoid complications...' bit of 'Killer Queen'. Another moment I recall was during 'Keep Yourself Alive' - Fred banging away on the tambourine and then flinging it really high into the air and towards the backstage...
The band were heavy and very tight and the audience just couldn't get enough - in fact towards the end of the show even before the encores the people at the front of the audience were standing on top of each other in a pyramid formation, so it was getting at that point difficult to see the band. I seem to remember this was during 'Lap of the Gods'.
But I clearly remember Fred coming onstage for one of the encores with the kimono and stripping to 'Big Spender'. This was just before 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'Stupid Cupid' - I loved it because altho' Fred came across as quite serious and even aloof onstage (of course he had to control all these people going completely over the top with excitement), his sense of humour always came across.
Lastly I remember a moment from mid way through the show when Fred came over to the side of the stage nearest to me and just stood there looking out into the audience and for a moment time seemed to stand still. He was just lost in thought looking straight ahead - looking back across the years now I like to think that he was thinking, "we've done it" and savouring the moment.