⚡️ The London Palladium. A venue steeped in British entertainment history that stretches back to the beginning of the 20th Century when it began staging variety shows and one off concerts by the likes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, that cemented it’s reputation as ‘the’ place to perform.
Since those early days, a veritable ‘who’s who’ of celebrities have walked through those hallowed doors and onto its stage. The list includes Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Liza Minelli, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and The Beatles to name but a few! One of my favourite facts about this most iconic of venues is that climax of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock thriller ‘The 39 Steps’ was filmed there.
When I was asked by Planet Rock to be one of four singers to perform songs by Queen on that stage…with an orchestra…well, I’m sure you can image my reaction.
I was, however, slightly worried as the show was scheduled to take place the night after the final Wayward Sons show at KK’s Steelmill In Wolverhampton.
This made me nervous.
One thing that has hampered me in recent years is struggles with my voice on tour – specifically catching colds and once I do, unfortunately for me, it becomes almost impossible to carry on. I don’t know why this is. It’s not my first rodeo as we know, I’ve toured all my life, but things have changed physically for me in recent years with my regard to my vocal health.
I’ve been to vocal specialist, had scopes down my throat, every test imaginable and all the results come back as ‘normal’. I don’t have vocal nodes or any obvious visible long term damage. I take every potion and spray going, I consume vitamins, follow the ‘no talking’ rule, don’t drink alcohol on tour, drink water like it’s going out of fashion, I get as much sleep as possible and yet, if there is a bug about I get it and IF I do, it often spells disaster.
One thing that most don’t understand is the emotional fall out of suffering this – the stress and anxiety brought on by knowing that you can’t do your best and the apparition of letting people down is enormous. I hate it, it becomes a huge mountain to climb and only gets worse feeling like that. Us singers cannot completely guard against this stuff it seems – after all, it’s our instrument.
I can only assume that age has something to do with it. As a young man, I by and large, managed to get though most tours with one, maybe two rough gigs before my body gave in and complied with the demands I was placing on it. It now seems that no matter what I do, it’s tough to avoid catching stuff.
Because of the Covid problems, we had put in place a raft of procedures that we hoped would give us the best chance possible to avoid catching the virus. We traveled in a bubble, didn’t come out after the shows, wore masks in public etc, but as most now know, we STILL ended up getting it in the ranks. Rather ironically I didn’t contract it, but by the time the tour was postponed, I HAD picked up a head cold that ravaged me to the point where I had totally lost my voice three days before the Queen Symphonic event. You couldn’t make it up – I was gutted.
It’s seemed so unfair, yet weirdly inevitable that I was once again facing that familiar nemesis. Once I got back home, I tried to combat it with all the usual routine and thankfully, my self medication plan did begin to work…to a point.
The day before the show, i woke up feeling pretty good and tried to sing the songs in my studio – it was awful, I won’t lie! I was mortified – my chords were locked and no matter how much i steamed them or tried to coax them into action, nothing worked. Reluctantly I called my manager Martin and told him the bad news.
I then went for a walk with my wife Ket. I was miserable and felt completely dejected, but through some well placed remarks (can’t repeat them here haha) she basically made me realise part of the problem was one of feeling sorry for myself and thus defeated. It suddenly occurred to me that what was important wasn’t the fact that my voice wasn’t up to it, no, it was much more important to TURN UP. Just being there was the key. So, I reversed the decision and I threw myself into the hands of fate.
I will at this point say that I received some incredible support from Nathan James (Inglorious) I’ve become good mates with Nathan who I believe to be a thoroughly lovely man. He gets bad press I feel, yeah maybe he’s made some mistakes but haven’t we all? That’s human and growth – I’m sure he’s learnt from them. My experience of the guy is one of warmth and support as well as mutual respect. I think he’s ace. Nathan offered not only moral support but also some medical remedies that he uses to get him through – some I hadn’t tried. I cannot stress enough how much that kind of genuine concern helped me, and I’m forever in his debt.
Fast forward to the day of the show and I arrived at the venue around 2pm. My voice was marginally better for a nights sleep but was my no means ‘back to normal’ – I had some improved ‘tone’ but really, I was still in croaky territory. BUT, because I’d resigned myself to the fact the show must go on – pardon the pun – I felt a lot better in myself. Nathan then popped into my dressing room and we compared notes about methods of how to get though problems like this. He gave me some medication he uses and more than that he encouraged me.
The sound check was nerve wrecking. As I walked down into the wings of that amazing theatre I suddenly became aware of where I was. I’d been focussed on nothing else but getting there up until then and hadn’t taken in the fact I was actually in the building. Now, before I go on, I have played just about every venue in London over the years, from the Marquee club to Hammersmith, the Forum to The Royal Albert Hall, but this place was on another level – it seems to vibrate with the echos of past performances – it has a real haunting quality.
I need not have worried though as the orchestra leader and the musicians were utterly wonderful to me. They had got word that I was suffering and were genuinely concerned for me, so I felt protected and supported. It really really helped.
So, show time arrived. I was the first guest singer to perform and, heart in my mouth, I began my first track – ‘Killer Queen’. Now, Queen are my favourite rock band – hands down. I’m my opinion, the songs are some of the greatest ever written and consistently so. There is no mystery to me why they have the reputation they do – they were simply incredible writers and had the perfect mix of people – all stunning and the sum of the parts was pure magic. The underlying beauty of the songs – especially the Freddie written tracks, is a crafted complexity that is so well conceived that to the listener it seems effortless, but believe me, to a singer (and fellow writer) to perform them is to stretch every area of your skills. You can‘t just ‘sing’ Queen, you have to ‘become’ the songs – embody the narrative and deliver on the promise.
I found KQ incredibly difficult and with a voice firing on 70% cylinders, even more so. However, as I got into it, I began to feel the atmosphere and didn’t think it had gone too bad. I tried not to look out at the packed house whilst performing – instead, I concentrated on the task, but by the end, the applause told me I had – at the very least – delivered enough.
The show progressed and I retired to my dressing room to spin through my next song ‘Dont stop me now’. The oddest thing about singing these songs was that for years I’d got quite a few of the words wrong! Ha! Not terrible, but to try and implant new words was quite a task. I was getting the two verses of the song the wrong way round and so the only thing I could think of doing was writing the verse ‘starts’ in order on my hand! I have what’s commonly known as a brain fart…
Going back out onto the stage for a second time was much more relaxed and thankfully the audience lifted me beyond anything I expected. Everyone was on their feet singing along – I hardly had to sing anything!! So wonderful – it was so clear how much the music meant to everyone and it was then it hit me that my problems were nothing, it could have been ANYONE on that stage – the song was the star, the legacy of Queen was what we were all there for and THAT was what was important.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity and I’m so glad I got over myself, pulled up my socks and got on with it. Lessons learnt in so many ways.
I hope one day I can play that wonderful venue again, it really does have an atmosphere all of its own.