Queen, Adam Lambert and Trains


Bloody hell, I’ve missed the train again. There’s something innately late about me always. I undoubtedly arrive after the event, both metaphorically and in reality. I miss the actual and have little choice but to turn up to the party belatedly, reactionary and reflectively, but while I kick myself, there’s always the old adage that it’s better late than never.

Like many thousands of others, Queen were the sound track to my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. I remember walking to school with my friends, every day, singing Bohemian Rhapsody, harmonies and all, making up the words that we didn’t know or understand as innocent nine and ten year olds, naively believing that we’d give Freddie and his mates a run for their money. We might not have understood all the lyrics (who does, even today?) but we had every nuance and synchronisation locked down, every lick, pause and beat, each phrase of the melody perfected, in our own little world as our voices hit the notes, and very possibly a lot of extra notes that weren’t supposed to be there.

Later on there were other songs that absolutely transcended my teenage and adult years, moments in time that Queen were a part of. Love and angst, with Love of My Life and Who Wants To Live Forever, the spirited, joy of life in Don’t Stop Me Now, the belonging and shared collective of Radio GaGa, social realism of Is This The World We Created, and the wide ranging emotional, political, learning, testing of barriers and beauty of their catalogue of hits. They were just there, constantly, on the radio, in my record collection or in my head, whenever they were needed, always relevant, comforting and encompassing.

Sadly, I had no awareness of the impact they had on me until Freddie died. There are few dates indelibly printed in my mind, November 24th 1991 is one. I remember where I was when I heard the news, saddened in a way I’d never really been, death and loss not having really touched me before that. Afterwards, they were all over the airwaves again, not that they’d ever been away, but there, sometimes in the foreground, often in the background, consistently available at the touch of a dial.

Easter Monday, 20th April 1992 is another of those permanent marker days, a day that, while it might not have changed my life, significantly changed my way of thinking. I very nearly missed that train too. I almost didn’t even make it to the station. I wasn’t going to Freddie’s tribute concert at Wembley until a couple of people I knew told me they had a spare ticket and I tagged along. I didn’t know them well, and, selfish git that I was, I didn’t really want to share this experience with them, so when I nipped off to the loo and couldn’t find them when I came back, well, that wasn’t entirely my fault, and whilst not completely planned, very convenient!  It meant I was able to live the evening for myself, absorbing and consummating exactly what it meant to me to be there.

During that amazing, electric night, I had an epiphany or two. I was gripped by those on stage paying tribute to this remarkable talent, captivated by those around me and the outpouring of love and admiration for this one man who had entranced us all in some way. I didn’t know that I knew every word to every song. I didn’t know that before that evening I’d been repressed, somewhat stunted by self-imposed restrictions about how I was supposed to live my life, what I was supposed to want and strive for. I think that was the first inkling, the first understanding that somewhere within me was a tiny spark that would grow into the ideals and mantras that became a new way of thinking, the beginnings of a more inspiring and less confined way of thinking.  It wasn’t a launching pad to strive for the extraordinary or remarkable, more the realisation of a ‘Why not?’ attitude that just allowed me a touch more freedom and expression – a passion for my own life and choices. Years later, as age and maturity allows us to grow into ourselves, I’ve become so incredibly thankful to have experienced that definable moment when I slowly turned a full 360 degrees and watched the spellbound enthusiasm and promise of infinite possibility that surrounded me.

Freddie and Queen’s legacy means that they’ve never really gone away, that they’re still as important today as they ever were, with every documentary, every piece of music, new old or re-mastered, every interview and every live show that any of them get involved in. Talents like Freddie, few and far between, come along a handful per generation, and how bloody satisfying that Roger and Brian found Adam Lambert, a massive talent in his own right, but one who can do justice to that legacy. He doesn’t have to try and be Freddie, because his own genius (it’s a considered, deliberate use of the word), showmanship and that amazing voice are more than adequate substitutes, but to walk in his shoes for a couple of hours (and what opulent and overstated shoes they are), and bring those memories of Freddie back to life for a while, well, I can’t imagine anyone, anywhere, capable of doing it better. He gets to tell the world, like Freddie did, that it’s ok to be yourself. In fact, that you owe it to yourself. It was difficult to do then, and it’s probably as hard today, but it’s a bloody important message.

Having missed that metaphorical train again, I haven’t seen the live show live. I’ve watched some live performances on the net and I’ve seen bits and pieces to try and satisfy my growing obsession. I hope I get another chance. My railcard application is in. If there are more destinations added to the timetable, I won’t be late again, I’ll be the one sleeping on the station so I get on that elusive train in plenty of time. The continuous kicking of myself otherwise is far too painful, and a less than gentle reminder of what I learned about ‘why not?’ all those years ago!


Brief Musings About Tommy in Ratcatcher

(Reflections of Tommy Flanagan in the 1999 Film Ratcatcher, written and directed by Lynne Ramsay)

One of Tommy’s relatively early roles was Da (George Gillespie) in Ratcatcher, a film set in 1970s Glasgow, against the backdrop of the bin men’s strike, a social commentary of that generation. Reflecting what little I know of his own life, it depicted what it was like to live in the grim housing tenements of the era, some with no indoor bathing facilities, running hot water or indoor toilets. Glasgow had some of the poorest schemes in Europe and Ratcatcher showed the stark reality of living in those bleak and harsh conditions. It told the story from 12 year old James’ perspective (played by William Eadie), a narrative of the austerity of the time, a political, social and economic statement, amidst the somber overtones of family life where abuse, addiction and struggle were rife. These schemes were the pre-cursor to places like Easterhouse, where Tommy himself grew up during a similar period to the one reflected in the film.

Although Ratcatcher never received a wide cinematic release, it was critically acclaimed, winning numerous awards for its debut director Lynne Ramsey. Once again Tommy played a selfish, arrogant man, father of the main character, with an inclination towards alcoholism and domestic violence. It was another powerful performance, a blatant, unadorned and telling insight into a flawed father, and a barren portrayal of a time and place. As a film, it caught my attention completely, resonating with its bluntness. Again, Tommy was amazing, and his depiction of that Da character hit home at least as strongly, possibly even more so, than his more recent characterisation of another Dad, that of Woods in the recently released film, Winter. Da was an unadulterated, undiluted exposé of the individuals who dominated an era. Once more, it completely took me back to my childhood, and struck a monumental chord with me. If I wasn’t in awe of him previously, when I saw this portrayal in Ratcatcher I felt a very real sense of wonder and respect for the actor and the power of his performances.

Ratcatcher affected me not just because it reminded me of what I’d experienced, of the feelings and emotions I’d had growing up through similar events, but it also transported me back to the time and place of my childhood. I could almost smell it. I became nostalgic for the era and familiarity of the surroundings. There’s a scene where the boys are talking about the mythical reputation and notoriety of the canal. They tell tales of a giant perch that inhabits the water, and Kenny looks to catch it with his fishing net, walking towards the canal with the net over his head. I wondered if the writer of those scenes had actually shared my childhood and had an invisible camera on my youth. There was a brook that weaved its way across the fields beyond the back of our houses. When I was about 12 our grubby little group of friends used to walk up there most days through the long, hot summer and on one such day, whilst jumping across the rocks, we saw a monster of a pike sheltering itself from the sun. We ran back home to get our nets, and returned, walking with them over our heads, to try and catch the mighty fish. That image on film, so captured the essence of my own childhood, and that of many others from the same era.  It was a spookily accurate portrayal of both the time and the mood, of our lives and our family relationships and dynamics.

When I tweeted about a personal history tour it was an intimate reflection of exactly where it felt Tommy’s performance had taken me while I was watching, and in my reflections afterwards.