Ah so here we were again. 2012. Some 21 years since my first experience of the annual Queen Convention. I was a sprightly 17 year old then and the location was a Southport holiday camp. Now a far more mature 38 year old man…a man with as much sprightliness as a one legged sloth…(do sloths have legs? I guess they do) the location had changed, but it was still a holiday camp, this time in sunny Great Yarmouth.
Ok so not so sunny. It rained every day except the day we were leaving. When I say rained I mean it really, really rained. Not just a few April showers but instead torrential downpours. Luckily myself, and fellow Queen nerd Mark, didn’t really care about the weather. As seasoned convention goers we knew that the majority of the time would be spent indoors drinking heavily and eating the odd bit of pizza and chips from the various fast food joints dotted around the campsite. This year though my wife had for some reason agreed to come along with us, you see originally Mark’s wife was supposed to come as well but she obviously got sense and decided against it. Lorraine was now left alone with two nerds. How would she get through a weekend of Queen, eating junk and sleeping in freezing cold mobile homes…
Her mood wasn't helped by text messages she received from her two younger sisters. One was on her way to Marbella for a girl’s week in the sun and the other would be going to New York and Las Vegas in the next week with her husband. A holiday camp in Great Yarmouth at a Queen convention didn't quite match up …I’ll say this for her though she certainly put a brave face on it.
So what happens at a Queen Convention? Well back in 1991 as eager young men we signed up to as much as possible. Taking part in the football tournament was a highlight. I scored a cracker and Mark saved a few penalties if I remember rightly. We joined in with as much as we could, dressing up in beachwear as per the ‘themed’ night. Now 21 years later we are much lazier, a bit like those sloths I mentioned earlier. To be honest I’m not even sure there is a football tournament anymore…everyone is getting too old and the aches and pains get harder to cope as we approach middle age. Instead we concentrate on the drinking and eating, now that is an older man’s game and after years of practice and 11 years living in Ireland then it’s something I’m actually pretty good at it. Also I did hear that the crazy golf competition had been cancelled due to health and safety reasons….rock And roll…rock And roll.
Friday consisted of heading to the bar at around 3pm and not really moving until midnight. During that time we had the official welcome from Jacky Smith who runs the fan club and the mighty Jim Jenkins who has to be THE Number 1 fan. We got a video message from Brian (which I had no recollection of the next day due to my inebriated state) and then a tribute band…a Guns n Roses Tribute band.
Yes, yes I know why a tribute band of GNR and not Queen? Well lead singer of Guns 2 Roses is a big Queen fan and has been coming to the conventions for years. After much nagging, Jacky had finally succumbed and let them play. They were rather brilliant as well. Very much a tribute act from the 1991 / 1992 Illusions era they played a great set. Backed by a half-naked Baby Ga Ga and with new / guest drummer in place…the one the only Ben Dover (if you are over 18 then Google him if you don’t know who he is…I will say this though…his programs entertained me on Television X for years back in the day) they really got the weekend going. As a surprise they brought on special guest Clayton Moss. Now you probably have to be a Queen nerd to know who he is but in short he was a guitar player in Roger’s band The Cross. A band that had three terrific albums and I wish, wish, wish they would do some more live dates…that isn’t going to happen though.
So the weekend started in style with the rest of the evening seeing us propping up the long bar. Lorraine had enjoyed the first night but you could see she was mentally counting down the hours until the weekend was over. Before the end of the first night I saw that Clayton Moss was having a beer and appeared to be on his own. Having had quite a few drinks at this point we had plenty of Dutch courage and practically sprinted over to him dragging Lorraine along with us. What happened next was a bit of a love in…that turned a little sour….Lorraine recounts it best as she was the least drunk…apparently it very roughly went something like this:
Me “Hi Clayton, we are huge fans, are you ok to talk?”
Mark “Yer we love The Cross”
Clayton “Thanks very much and yes fire away”
Me “Can I just say all three albums were great, gutted when you finished”
Clayton “Me to, me to”
Me “Err can we get a photo?”
Clayton “Of course”
Me “Aw thanks mate, Lorraine take a picture of me and Mark with Clayton”
Mark “Now take one using my phone”
Me “Thanks Clayton, much appreciated”
Mark “You know of all Roger’s solo stuff The Cross was the best, classic”
Clayton “The Cross was a band, not Roger solo”
Mark “Oh yer I know I’m just saying…so do you see any of the others?”
Clayton “Not so much no”
Mark “So what have you been doing the last few years…?”
Clayton “Dabbling here and there”
Lorraine smirks again
Me “So you aren’t doing much recording?”
Clayton “No not really”
Lorraine, eyes widening, starts sniggering
Me “Right, err so anyway what you doing these days??”
Clayton “As I say dabbling here and there with a few things”
Mark “At least you played on three great albums, albeit 20 years ago”
Clayton looks over to a man further down the bar
Clayton “I’m just going over there to drink with him”
Me and Mark “Oh yer, thanks Clayton, great meeting you…”
Clayton walks away and walks straight past the man to the other end of the bar and orders another drink as far away from us as possible. Lorraine’s eyes are streaming with tears.
We somehow managed to get from genuinely being excited to seeing Clayton and he enjoying the attention, to pissing him off within the space of five minutes…We were just a couple of drunk fucks and Lorraine lapped it all up. She was in fits of laughter afterwards but at the end of the day I would have loved to have recorded 3 albums and go on tours as part of a band with a member of one of the biggest bands on the planet. Clayton did it. Me and Mark certainly didn’t and although I still have vague hopes we never will.
Clayton I apologise completely.
Waking up with a bit of a headache (and the other affects that gulping Guinness all night brings) is not the best preparation for another days drinking but Queen fans are nothing if not resourceful and so up we got mid-morning. This was after a surprisingly pleasant nights sleep in one of the nicer mobile homes on site (that was Mark splashing out…he has delusions of grandeur). Lorraine was genuinely surprised and it is fair to say not a little relieved that the mobile home was so nice. She had visions of the tiny caravan in Father Ted...Hide and Seek still wouldn't have been an option though.
The rain showed no sign of abating on Saturday and so we ran over for the first guest interview in the smaller bar (The V Lounge) where Queen Archivist Greg Brookes was on. For those that don’t know him, he is tasked, along with Gary Taylor, with trawling through the old tapes to see what gems can be located. Every year he comes along and shows what he has found. This year the guys had collected together some unseen live footage from the late 1970’s when Queen were quite possibly at their peak. The likelihood of a Live Killers box set is very much highly anticipated. Greg really has become a highlight of the conventions and I look forward to hearing more stuff in the future as some of the footage is quite a privilege to see.
Moving into the main ballroom (The Regency Room) for the next guest interview the first pint of the day was bought (well not Lorraine, she was being far too sensible and mature about the drinking and so stuck to the soft variety). This interview was with audio engineer Gary Langan who may be better known to many as part of the Art of Noise. In his younger days though he assisted on some of Queens’s most famous albums including A Night At The Opera, Day At The Races and News Of The World. A great interview this, conducted as all interviews were by Jim Jenkins (who does a great job and looks and sounds like an experienced pro…which I guess he is at this stage). For myself and Mark it was a fantastic insight into the recording process in those early days…poor old Lorraine however was beginning to have the first of many distant looks on her face. The eyes had glazed over and the mental countdown had renewed….luckily for her there was another interview almost immediately after.
The charming Peter Freestone was next up and talked about his life with Freddie. He has talked many times about his life as his PA. It really is a pleasure to hear the insight into a legend from someone who knew him so well. Always worth listening to, he speaks emotionally, tenderly and with a sparkle in his eye.
Lorraine was dying of hunger at this stage but she would have to wait a little longer as The Market Place had opened. This is another highlight as just about every Queen record or Queen related record you could hope to buy is on sale by various people selling their wares…my budget was limited alas but I managed to pick up a number of items which once bought were ticked off my considerable list known as ‘Queen stuff still to buy’. I have been a record collector for many a year. Not everyone understands us record collectors. For some people its car’s, others it may be stamps, others dead butterflies, but for me it is the smell of vinyl that does it (not to mention CD’s, Tapes, DVD’s and Blu rays). Waste of money my mother would say…each to their own.
Next up was the Charity Auction. This again is always entertaining. Even Lorraine perked up as she realised the amount of money people would bid for Queen items. Now I’m not just talking about records. Yes there were some. There were some signed pictures (including a John Deacon signed photo from 2011. Trust me if you are a Queen fan you will know how rare that is) but the big money went on items of clothing. A frankly horrendous looking Brian May shirt (not known for his fashion) and a Roger Taylor Jacket were two of the biggest sellers although the most expensive item clocked in around £800 (approx. €1000) and I think was paid for a Christmas Card with the band’s signatures. I can’t quite remember the full details so if someone wants to put me right then please do. A quite unique item though and something I would have loved to have bid on although it is the records that I would really want. I must save money up for a convention one of these days. I have been saying that since 1991 though and I never do…life gets in the way alas.
There were a couple of live acts tonight. First up playing a short set was Eddie Howell. Eddie is a guy who had an album in the ‘70s called Man From Manhattan with the lead track of the same name. Freddie and Brian sang and played on it and hence there has been a Queen connection ever since. Eddie may not be to everyone’s taste but it was great to see him play a few songs including Manhattan.
Belladonic Haze were the main band tonight. Taking their name from the Keep Yourself Alive lyrics they are made up of Queen fans who only got together at the 2010 convention. Well in those two years they have made great progress and led by a charismatic singer with a great rock voice they played a superb set including a barnstorming Man On Fire and ten minute long Brighton Rock with quite superb guitar playing from Ben Saunders (?) and a Dance With the Devil drum solo as well. Cracking stuff.
Sunday started with yet more interviews and in my view possibly the best two of the weekend (although all were excellent and in fact probably better than any I have seen before). Simon Lupton was first up at midday and talked about some of the work he did on last year’s Queen documentary and the DVDs that he and Rhys Thomas have produced. A down to earth guy, Simon talked enthusiastically about this work and was hugely informative.
Neil Murray followed not long after. He of course is a bass player who was in Whitesnake for many years and has also played with many other artists including a certain Brian May. Neil was possibly my favourite interview of the whole weekend as his very dry sense of humour coupled with his candid views on his career to date was highly entertaining.
Robby Valentine played in the afternoon and in truth wasn't my cup of tea. Obviously the guy has a terrific voice but playing to Queen backing music seemed a little lame. He was far better when he just sang at the piano and I get the feeling that normally that is what he does. I wish he had done that here as not sure he showed the best of himself. Hope he comes back next year and proves me wrong.
The drinking continued throughout the afternoon interspersed with the odd packet of crisps…you have to eat after all. The countdown had now begun to my one hope of actually winning something…yes it was the raffle. Buying €10 worth of tickets I spread them out on the table ahead of me, each a different colour, each a different range of numbers, each potentially bringing me that good luck. In truth in the 12 conventions I have been to, I have never, ever won anything on the raffle. Mark on the other hand has won big on two occasions. When I say big I mean huge. I didn’t go in 1999 as my then wife had just left me…on April 1st of all things. Surprisingly my deep depressive state wasn’t helped when Mark rang late one night from the convention (to which he had still gone) telling me that he had won Brian May’s Guitar. Ok obviously not the Red Special but still a rather cool Flying V from the Princes Of The Universe video. He has left it to me in his will though….watch your back Mark, watch your back. Oh he also once won a signed copy of the Made In Heaven album with 3 band signatures. Bastard.
Other highlights of Sunday night were the Red White and Blue Fancy Dress theme, a theme to which myself and Mark obviously took no part in. As I said laziness really gets a grip in middle age. Having said that the Queen Mastermind is something I would love to take part in but I would hate the embarrassment of passing every question. As it turned out the final ended up being a very close call between two contestants only coming down to the amount of passes each had had. A bit like losing the league title on goal difference…
Closing Sunday night were the Dutch band Miracle, who were quite marvellous. In fact this weekend proved that the better Queen tribute bands don’t try and look like the band. It can work for some tribute bands like Guns 2 Roses but it doesn't work as well for Queen related ones, too often there is just a guy in a yellow jacket and a moustache. Miracle aren’t like this, they just play really well and are all accomplished musicians. Personal highlight for me was a great rendition of I’m In Love With My Car performed by drummer Victor Louisa. Sixteen years since they started their popularity shows no sign of waning.
So the whole weekend consisted of drinking, eating, drinking, eating, live music and some great interviews not to mention some more eating and drinking. Actually as Queen fans are some of the nicest people in the world, simple tasks like ordering beer can be hazardous as it’s a case of “no after you, no after you, no please after you”…and so on. There is never any trouble, there is never any hassle. People come to these things to relax and be around people who love the same music as you.
My one gripe is that no one from the band has ever been to a convention. Many fans say that you can’t expect them to, but yet bands like Kiss and Marillion happily mix with fans at similar events. Are Queen too big nowadays to do such things? I don’t mean to be controversial at all and accept that I am in the minority. However maybe, just maybe they could turn up for 30 minutes to talk about Queen and answer a few questions. Mark thinks they may do it when they are 75 years old. Maybe, maybe not. I really do hope so.
In the meantime it is left to Jacky Smith and Jim Jenkins (along with the never tiring Arena staff), to annually make the event a quite brilliant celebration of Queen and the amazing music that we know and love so well. They both put so much time and effort into the fan club and guys it really is massively appreciated from all us Queen nerds. Long may you continue.
Myself and Mark grew up listening to Queen music, I don’t know why we love their music so much. Maybe it’s that tie with our youth that still binds us to their music.
You never forget your first love after all.