Walking off the stage at Live Aid, Brian May thought Queen’s set could have gone better

Queen’s legendary 20-minute set at 1985’s Live Aid would be the first stop on a time machine for many, many people. It is uncontroversially one of the greatest live performances of all time and has been pored over again and again by critics and fans alike. But for Brian May, one of the lucky few to have experienced the magic from a very, very close vantage point, those six songs were simply business as usual—at least in the immediate aftermath.

In a recent Guardian interview, the Queen guitarist was asked if he had any idea that his band had stolen the show when he walked offstage in 1985 after those final notes of “We Are The Champions.” “Heh! No. Absolutely no inkling whatsoever,” he responded. “You walk off things like that with a great feeling of exhilaration, but you’re also doing the postmortem: ‘Oh, God, I didn’t do that, I wish I’d done that, that went wrong.’”

Despite his—in retrospect very silly, but also deeply relatable—self-reproach at the moment, May did feel something extra special in the air that day. “It did feel different because it wasn’t a Queen audience… yet they’d still react that way,” he said, noting that all 72,000 spectators had bought their tickets before the band was even announced on the bill. (Acts like David Bowie, The Who, U2, and Elton John were also among the benefit concert’s list of headliners.) He continued: “The enormity of that did hit me: the Radio Ga Ga, clap, clap. To see that happening sent big chills up my spine.”

May also spoke to the chill-inducing power Freddie Mercury had over that crowd, especially in the call and response section where the rocker was able to bring tens of thousands of people together with a single two-syllable note. “We didn’t plan it,” he said of the moment. “It was always up to Freddie, whether he wanted to do it, and he just felt confident that it was the right moment. Freddie did have an aptitude, it has to be said—he just could connect. He connected with everybody. As soon as he went, ‘Ey yo,’ that was it—the place imploded. I can remember looking over at Roger, thinking, seems to have worked!” Seems to have worked, indeed.

1 Comment

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