'What is "rock and roll"'
Well, there's a question. I'm sure there's many answers to that one as there are "rock and roll" songs (depending on your opinion of what constitutes a "rock and roll song" that is). I heard that very question asked from the stage of The Dominion Theatre in London's Tottenham Court Road only last night. The young man asking it called himself Galileo Figaro, he had a girlfriend called Scaramouche and not even a great big black fella called Britney Spears (yes, you did read that bit correctly) knew the answer. And I have to admit I'm not sure of the answer myself; but what I do know is what I saw happen on the stage last night most definitely wasn't "rock and roll". Not in my eyes anyway.
It was according to Ben Elton, 'cos he said it was, several times. He said lots of other things too, mostly about how critics are entitled to their opinions but so are audiences- and this show has had a standing ovation every night for the last 5 years. So- does that mean that no one in any of those audiences likes "rock and roll"? Or does it mean that they all like it? Now there's a question...
I never liked Queen. I remember seeing them on 'Top of the Pops' back in the '70's doing 'Seven Seas of Rhye' and 'Killer Queen' and I thought they were alright but nowhere near as good as Slade, or The Faces, or even Mud, and definitely not as good as T.Rex. Then 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world- a world which, according to some people, has never really been the same since. Me- well I liked the loud bit near the end but that wasn't really enough to tilt the planet off it's axis, and besides I'd heard this great group called Dr. Feelgood; I'd seen them on the telly and they were REALLY good, especially their guitarist. They were much more like it for me, though not many of my mates agreed. Mind you they all said that they'd liked them all along a couple of years later. But punk rock was clever like that- it changed people's minds. But it didn't change my mind about Queen because I already didn't like them. 'Rock music for people who don't like rock music' was my favourite description, normally delivered with my best attempt at a punky sneer. (A few years later I would punkily sneer at Simply Red- 'soul music for people who don't like soul music, or haven't got a soul themselves'. Maybe I need a new scriptwriter?!?) When The Price were together it split us down the middle- Malcolm and me on one side (he hated them! He still does!) and Huggy and Mick on the other. Oooh the fun we all had, ranting and raving at each other at gigs, rehearsals, anywhere that they ever got a mention. Great stuff. But now I work for them. Sort of. Which is how Shirley and myself ended up with Stuart the guitar repair man at the Dominion Theatre last night for the 5th anniversary show, and, hilariously, at the after show party at AllBarOne across the road from the back of the theatre. Roger Taylor sat at our table. He's a very popular man, it looked to me as though everyone in the room wanted to talk to him. But I didn't. I don't like Queen. Remember?
Earlier on I'd seen him and Brian May on the theatre stage. At the end of a show that I'd found impossible to dislike anywhere near as much as I probably should they'd made an appearance that got a crowd reaction that redefines the word 'hysterical'. As May appeared (he came up through a trapdoor since you ask, playing his famous 'Red Special' guitar and sounding- and looking- exactly like Brian May, if you know what I mean) to play the solo in 'Bohemian Rhapsody' pandemonium ensued; when Taylor joined him for the loud bit near the end (I like that bit, remember?) it was the nearest I'm ever likely to get to being at a Nazi rally, and when they finished with 'The Show Must Go On' you could have set fire to the building and no-one would have even noticed let alone tried to escape with their lives. Except me. Oh, and Shirley. She doesn't like Queen either. Good girl.
But (and it's a BIG BUT) if Ben Elton was right and it's the audience that gauges an evening, not a critic (or even a performer), then the audience last night saw a great show, a show that they will never ever forget, that they will tell their mates about over and over again for the rest of their lives. And-incredibly- that includes me. It was an evening to have been at. It was still 'rock music for people who don't like rock music' as far as I'm concerned but (and that's another BIG BUT) it was also theatre music for people who like theatre music, and the songs made much more sense to me in that context than they ever did before.
But I still didn't like them. Because I don't like Queen. Remember?