Queen Rock Montreal
I wonder if I will ever get over the trauma of speaking in public. After all these years, it still does weird things to my head. In fact I went to my personal shrink recently and told him … I said, “Every time I attempt to speak in public, I get delusions - sometimes think I’m a Teepee, and sometimes I think I’m a Marquee” … He said, “You know what’s wrong with you – you’re two tents!”
This little Queen live film has a fascinating history – it won’t take me more than an hour and a half to tell it to you … ha ha. So here’s the context.
It’s 1981, and for us young lads in Queen, life was very hectic. We had just finished recording two albums simultaneously – THE GAME, and the sound-track album for FLASH GORDON. The Game included big hits - a world-wide number one hit, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "Another One Bites the Dust", "Save Me"… and "Play the Game" … and Flash Gordon yielded the hit "Flash", and became the first full Rock soundtrack in history.
In Feb-March 1981 we began our conquest of South America – sorry if I seem immodest but it was pretty much a grand slam … no-one from the Northern Hemisphere had ever taken a big rock show down there – we took two Boeing 707’s full of staging, PA and lights, and played to sold-out football stadiums … it felt like being The Beatles in North America in the 60’s.
RECORDING "UNDER PRESSURE"
Then we came back for a brief rest, but then went into the studio in Montreux, on the banks of Lake Geneva … and were visited by a chap who happened to live nearby, David Bowie. We actually recorded a few tracks together, but only really finished one new collaboration, "Under Pressure". This became a big hit all over the place, but notably in Argentina, where had just seen us playing to sold out football stadia, but was under attack from Margaret Thatcher’s gunboats. A shameful episode, I thought … but of course, it wasn’t the first time the UK behaved in a pre-emptive warlike fashion, nor would it be the last.
Our incredible and exceptional Manager, Jim Beach, normally is a very good judge of character, but he had struck up a friendship with someone who even he would admit was a little risky – a character called Saul Swimmer (now deceased, RIP, so I won’t slag him off too much!) Saul Swimmer had the idea that he could film a Queen concert, in a very high quality 35 mm double anamorphic way, and project the resulting film onto a huge screen three stories high, in an arena, and charge people to come and see it, like a concert. So a Queen show would be able to be seen in all sorts of places we could not get to in person. It seemed like a nice idea, but we were no longer on tour. So two special one-off concerts were booked in Montreal Forum, a well-known great audience for Queen, on the 24th and 25th of November 1981. This was, and IS, prime Queen territory, so we were guaranteed a great audience, but the scheme was fraught from the beginning. For a start, we were not on tour, so all the sound and lights and production and CREW had to be reassembled just for this occasion, and we had to rehearse ourselves up to speed. Plus, we didn’t get on with Mr Saul Swimmer at all. Freddie in particular took an instant dislike to the man, and this turned to something like hatred, when we discovered on the first night that Swimmer had put up his own lights on the audience, changed the colours in our lights, and had cameras all over the stage … obviously we were not going to be able to treat it like a normal gig. It got worse on the second night, when Saul Swimmer demanded that Freddie wear the same clothes as the first night … and make the same moves … this guy had no idea that the show wasn’t choreographed … we basically did what we liked … So tempers flared … and it shows.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
What you will see in this film is a very edgy, angry band, carving out a performance in a rather uncomfortable situation. But it does mean it’s very high energy, real, and raw. In addition, although the actual quality of the film was great, you will see camera work from camera men who did not remotely know the show, directed by a director who didn’t know the show either. The subsequent editing was consequently chaotic. They cobbled together bits of both shows visually, choosing the bits where the cameras had found the right person at the right time. They then matched up the sound as best they could, but there were many bits where you were hearing sound from one night, but watching the visuals from the other. Still, the film went out, and WAS seen by a lot of people in a 'Live' situation.
ON TO A BAD VIDEO
But then the thing went further wrong … somehow no-one had realised that Saul Swimmer would assume the rights to put the thing out as a Video. So, against our will, the VHS version, confusingly called We Will Rock You, was put out around 1984. Of course the concert had not been shot with this in mind. And the sound had been mixed dry, with no audience, so it would work in a ‘live’ situation … so it was really unsuitable for a video, as well as being a bad mix in the first place. To cap it all, it was transferred at the wrong speed on to video, so the whole thing ran at the wrong pitch. We made lots of complaints, and so did many of the people who had bought it, but this did not stop the Swimmer commercial thrust … the video was a thorn in our side for 25 years … out there with our name on – but something we had no control over. They even went to DVD around 2001.
FINALLY WE BUY
Finally, we bought the whole thing off Swimmer last year with the kind help of Eagle Rock. Finally it could be sorted. The work that has gone into rescuing it is immense … I can’t even get into all the details, but Justin Shirley-Smith, and Kris Fredriksson have put nine months of loving care into rebirthing this baby … It involved finding the master 24-track tapes, figuring out how they had been chopped up, digitally copying them, and rebuilding them into complete performances, and then after much cleaning up, making a splendid new mix in 5.1 surround. The visuals were in a sense harder. The surviving negative went to be doctored in the USA – by a process using using algorithms invented by John D Lowry of NASA for rescuing the film from the Apollo Moon missions. (Astrophysics gets everywhere!) You know how quick computers are these days … ? Well, to give you an idea of the huge number-crunching involved, it took 700 Apple Mac G5’s one MONTH to process this film. The computation compares a frame with the ones before it and the ones after, and uses the comparison to remove dirt, scratches and some of the defects of the original filming. In the case of the feature film Singing in the Rain … it apparently removed the RAIN! So adjustments had to be made! In our case it worked well, as you will see – the quality is magnificent – particularly noticeable in the incredible close-ups of Freddie in "Bohemian Rhapsody". Having said this, the close up of Freddie is just about all you will see in "Bo Rap". Saul Swimmer’s editors made their selection of shots to use, and the footage they left on the cutting room floor has never been seen again. So no proper re-edit of the visuals was possible. It’s kinda sad, because in addition to all the cut-aways we might have liked to use, bits of songs are missing, and the whole of "Flash" and "The Hero" will never be seen because the visuals don’t exist. These tracks ARE however on the CD version of Queen Rock Montreal – and sound great! And in view of what happened later, no-one is upset now that this is a document which concentrates on Freddie.
So our boys, stuck with very few options, were still able to restore all the songs to their full length, and, with modern digital artistry, make lots of improvements. But to end up with a version that is much much more true to what actually happened at any given moment, Justin and Kris mostly had to match up all the sound bites to picture. It’s a great piece of work. Well, Maybe I’ve spoiled it for you by telling you all this, but I wanted you to appreciate the work that’s gone into it, and how worthwhile the project has been, made possible by Eagle Rock. And I do find that once I’m five minutes into the film, I’m caught up in it as a real live show.
1) You are about to see a trimmed 60 minute version for this presentation, which has been made for TV … I like it … some of the longer improvisations are cut out – you can enjoy these at home, and the show zips along nicely.
2) It shows only the four of us – Freddie, John, Roger and myself …it’s the last time we toured without a keyboard player … very raw and edgy.
3) It’s one of only three concerts of Queen captured on FILM rather than crappy non-hi-res digital – they are: Live at the Rainbow in 1974, this concert, and Budapest in 1986 – which will be a future project – and will be sensational.
4) It features the very first performance of "Under Pressure"!
5) It has a rare gem, "Save Me", in which I played piano for the verses, and then instantly switched to guitar while Freddie took over the piano. Of course the cameras didn’t really capture it … !! so this is why I tell you now – ha ha! the cameras were only sometimes in the right place. But when they are, the view is fantastic. And on this track, Freddie’s vocal is exquisite.
6) "Keep Yourself Alive" is to be released as a Digital Single for download on Monday. (It makes us laugh that these things are called a “Digital Release” – everyone seems to have forgotten that a CD is a digital recording!!!)
7) You’ll be hearing this in surround, on wonderful giant Genelec speakers specially flown in from Finland.
8) If, later on, you want to know what I was going on about here, there will be a transcript on Brianmay.com this evening! (Add message from Roger?)
9) You might be wondering where Roger is …. Well, he sends his love. He told me to tell you that he would actually MUCH rather be here with us for the launch of the DVD, rather than sunbathing on his luxurious boat off the coast of Africa, if he were someone who gave a shit!!
10) You can make as much noise as you like because this will be lusciously loud – but such good quality your ears will lap it up!!
Ladies and Gentlemen -
Queen Rock Montreal !!!