September 2021 Favourites

Hello again, I hope you’re all continuing to enjoy yourselves safely. I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to get out to meet some friends and explore the city again at long last, as my aches and pains are continuing to ease off, now that I’ve figured out how I was over-correcting my posture problems. I’m still not cancelling my November NHS physio appointment yet, as I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’m feeling much better at the moment. So I seem to be moving in the right direction, touch wood!

That means I actually have some recent and upcoming London adventures to tell you about in this month’s post and video, as well as the usual mixture of entertainment I’ve been into. So it’s a bumper update this time. With the exception of a theatre show I’ll be mentioning, for which I’ve been kindly given a review ticket, nothing else in this post is sponsored or gifted. So I hope you enjoy!

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August 2021 Favourites

Hello there, hope you’ve been having a safe and enjoyable summer, especially if you’ve been able to get out and about more.

I still haven’t been out anywhere special because of the ailments I’ve been dealing with over the past few months, which I admit has been difficult and frustrating sometimes, as it’s so hard to get any proper help at the moment. Hence this post is a bit late this time around, as I’ve only recently felt up to doing it. I think I might finally be getting somewhere, thanks to some help from an osteopath at a private clinic and figuring out a few changes I can make myself, but I’m not entirely sure yet. And even if I am right, it’s going to take a while for my body to settle down and repair itself anyway.

In any case, I do have a referral for physiotherapy on the NHS, but the earliest they could give me (when I booked in July) was a phone consultation in November. So I’m going to take it easy and see if I can hold out until then. But if I get worse, or if the NHS cancel due to Covid pressures and give me another long wait, then I’ll have to pay to go private again, as 1 in 5 people are having to do right now. It’s important to say that everybody who works for the NHS is amazing and wonderful, and they deserve all our praise, love and respect, but the fact remains that the system is so woefully under-funded and under-resourced that it makes life very hard for staff and patients alike. So we’ll see how things go. But thank you to all the friends who have been keeping in touch and checking in on me, it means a lot.

Still, enough of all that. There are much more interesting things to mention in this month’s post and video, including my birthday, sports and lots of entertainment as usual. None of it is sponsored or gifted as always, apart from my birthday presents of course. So I hope you enjoy!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – News Of The World – Part 1

1977 could have been the year that Queen’s reign came to an end. With punk rock very much in the ascendancy, having gained traction over the previous few years, there was a greater appetite for raw power and simplicity in rock music, rather than elaborate and fancy progressive rock. And Queen’s last album, A Day At The Races, despite being an excellent collection of songs, hadn’t sold quite as well as its behemoth predecessor A Night At The Opera, with some critics and fans feeling that it was more of the same without any notable improvement. So it was going to seem too repetitive if they did the same kind of thing yet again.

The band were perfectly happy to adapt and take on the challenge though, and indeed were already keen to try something different from the multi-layered, complex productions they felt they’d done enough of by this point anyway. So even without the emerging competition from the punk scene, it was already the evolutionary path they were heading down.

As a result, News Of The World marked a shift towards a purer hard rock sound, and took just 2 months to record (compared to 5 for A Day At The Races). The tracks still had some beautifully arranged harmonies and instrumentation thrown in, but not as lavishly and prominently as before. There was also a change in how evenly the writing credits were distributed, with 4 tracks now written by Brian, just 3 by Freddie, and an increase to 2 each for Roger and John. And the band produced the album themselves, with assistance from engineer Mike Stone, now they had the experience and confidence to do so themselves.

It all worked out very well, resulting in another great selection of songs. And so, as you’ll be accustomed to by now if you’ve followed my posts to date, this is my personal review of each of the tracks, including a look at alternate versions, music videos, live performances, covers, etc, along with other bits and pieces that I’m aware of.

In this first post, in addition to more general discussion about the album, I’ll be focusing specifically on the first 2 tracks – We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions – as they’ve had such a colossal cultural impact and there’s a lot to discuss in relation to them. In Part 2 I will then move on to the other great tracks on the album. So I hope you enjoy!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – A Day At The Races – Part 2

Happy Japanese Queen Day! Following on from the wonderful variety of tracks on Side 1 that I reviewed previously, Side 2 of A Day At The Races continues to entertain with a mixture of offerings. It starts off with one of Queen’s most enduring and hugely popular hits, before taking us on a journey that ends up in Japan at the end of the album, which has important relevance to today, as explained for that particular track. So there’s plenty to cover as usual, and I hope you enjoy this latest set of reviews!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – A Day At The Races – Part 1

Happy 50th Anniversary to Queen! Although they first performed under that name on 18 July 1970, it wasn’t until John Deacon joined on 1 March 1971 that the group had its final, official line-up, so the latter date is more appropriate. And as they’re my favourite band of all time, I started doing a special Queen At 50 series last year, reviewing each of their albums and songs in obsessive depth and excessive detail. So, if you haven’t already, do check out my first post about their debut album for a longer explanation of why I’m so into them.

For this post I’m moving on to their 5th album. The musical majesty and stellar success of A Night At The Opera was always going to be a tough act to follow, and impossible to beat. But Queen were up for the challenge, and set about making A Day At The Races between July and November 1976. They produced it entirely by themselves for the first time, now that they had sufficient experience and were keen to give it a go, instead of employing Roy Thomas Baker like they had before. They continued to use engineer Mike Stone though.

The album was designed to be a companion piece to its predecessor with a similar variety of music. So it was again named after a Marx Brothers film, and Groucho Marx sent a note to congratulate them on their success and their “sage choice of album titles”. It also had a similar cover design to the previous album, with the colourful Queen crest on the front, but everything was on a black background instead of white this time. Brian later expressed a wish that both Opera and Races had been released together, as “the material for both of them was written at the same time, so I regard the two albums as completely parallel.”

The band are also credited in fun ways in the sleeve notes – in addition to the usual mentions of vocals, piano, guitar, etc, Freddie is the “Choir Meister” and contributes “tantrums”, Brian is the “Leader of the Orchestra”, and Roger provides “Pandemonium”. John is merely credited as playing Fender Bass and doesn’t get anything extra, which is reflective of his nature as the quiet one in the group.

A Day At The Races 2

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2020 Review

2020 – the year that nobody wants to look back at. Referring to perfect vision as 20/20 will forever carry a certain irony with it now. And let’s be honest, if you were to try and sum up the year with a word or phrase, there isn’t much that’s family-friendly that truly does it justice – other than dumpster fire perhaps, which I’ve seen a lot of people use very accurately.

Granted, 2021 hasn’t started off any better, but that’s because we’re still experiencing the fallout from the damage caused by its unruly predecessor. 2021 has its work cut out trying to repair that, and it will undoubtedly require the assistance of 2022 and beyond to achieve it. However, 2021 is giving us a lot of reason to be hopeful, so there is definitely light at the end of this long, dark tunnel we’ve all been stuck in.

Normally when I do these annual reviews, I just list things month by month. But as time itself shuddered to a halt and stopped making any sense in March, with all the remaining months rolling into one, I’m just going to summarise things in categories instead. That way you can skim through to the sections that interest you most if you don’t want to read everything. The items mentioned here, and many others, have all been discussed in my Favourites posts during the year, which you can read for a lot more detail.

So I hope you enjoy this post and, apart from the first section, I hope it reminds you of some of the more pleasant distractions from the last 12 months!

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Christmas 2020 Favourites

Happy New Year! Well, as happy as it can be in the circumstances. It was a strange and difficult Christmas without a doubt, not the sort any of us wanted, and it’s going to be a hard winter for many, especially now we’re in lockdown again. There’s a big ray of hope with the rollout of the vaccines though, so the future’s looking good, and many thanks to all the health workers who are doing their utmost to dish them out as quickly as possible.

My thoughts also go to everyone in America after the recent terror attack amid the fallout from Trump’s defeat. Biden’s inauguration on January 20th can’t come soon enough. Best wishes from across the pond, stay safe!

Those challenges aside, however, I hope you were able to find some enjoyment and comfort during the festive period, insofar as the rules allowed in your part of the world.

Mum and I are doing fine, I’m pleased to say. We’ve enjoyed lots of nice treats, and have had plenty of fun things to watch and listen to, all of which has been a welcome distraction from the news. I continued to have a few long walks around my local area during December as well, as that was the only way I could get out and about, so it was important to make the most of it. Mum’s had a bit of fresh air too of course, but doesn’t go on the long hikes like I do, and we’ve made sure she stays well away from other people apart from her sister (and even then they keep their distance at the front door, she hasn’t been in the house).

So we did pretty well this Christmas despite the limitations, and here’s my festive post and video to round things up. I’m not going to mention absolutely everything we filled our stomachs with, or every little bit of entertainment we watched or listened to, as this update’s long enough as it is. I’m just going to mention my favourite things, as is the purpose of these posts. Nothing here is sponsored as usual, and any gifts are just from friends, not the people behind the products. So I hope you enjoy!

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Queen At 50 – London Locations – Part 1

Back in September I spent a day walking around some of the Queen-related locations in Hammersmith & Kensington, following the Day 1 itinerary on the Queen Locations website. And my intention was to find most of the locations listed on that site over a series of walks – i.e. those that still exist that I can get to reasonably easily. However, due to the weather and the toughening up of Covid restrictions, I haven’t yet had a safe chance to go hunting for any more.

So this is Part 1 of what will be a very sporadic series, looking at some of the key places where the band lived, recorded and performed. As I don’t yet know when I will be venturing back into Central London, I wanted to share some of the photos I’ve taken so far as a Christmas bonus, rather than waiting until I’d completed my explorations.

Thank you to Judit Castellà for creating the Queen Locations site, which inspired me to do this and made it very easy for me to track down these places. Check out their site for additional notes and photos, and also their Queen Online article about how the site came together. As well as their Day 1 itinerary, further notes and photos about these locations can be found on Queen ConcertsMercury Paradise and the map on Shane’s Queen Site.

So let’s get on with it, and I hope you enjoy walking in Queen’s footsteps with me!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – A Night At The Opera – Part 1

This is the big one, the album that launched Queen into the stratosphere. The previous release, Sheer Heart Attack, was already a joyous collection of majestic variety that sounded like perfection to many, and its predecessor Queen II was also (and still is) held in very high regard. And yet the band still felt they were learning and developing, and they were keen to push things further still for their next album.

They were also having a fresh start, having moved to EMI Records and recruited new manager John Reid (who also managed Elton John), after ending their contract with Trident Studios under a dark cloud. Queen hadn’t been getting paid fairly for the success of their previous work, due to the contract they’d signed up to, and that contract was very expensive to get out of. So they were broke, which placed considerable pressure on them. It was now all or nothing. Their next release had to be a big success, otherwise that would be it, Queen would be no more.

But they were up for the challenge, and determined to show the world what they were capable of. They had also been told by their new manager to make the best album they’ve ever done, with complete freedom to do whatever they wanted. So they made the most of the opportunity.

They incorporated everything they’d learned and played around with up to that point (clear influences can be heard on their earlier albums, e.g. songs on Queen II like My Fairy King), and took full advantage of the studio technology available to them (using 7 studios altogether). They had carefully written lyrics and distinctive melodies (with all 4 band members writing at least one track each), a range of simple to complicated song structures, multi-tracked harmonies (now working with 24-track tapes instead of 16), a myriad of musical styles and instruments (using what felt best for each song rather than sticking to a particular genre), and big production values. It was the most expensive album ever made at the time. And they named the album after a Marx Brothers film, even becoming good friends with Groucho Marx as a result.

Their incredible efforts gave us their first and most successful number 1 single, plus the first chart hit to be written by their bass player, and many other beautiful songs. It held the number 1 spot on 4 of its first 7 weeks in the chart (held off on the other 3 occasions by Perry Como’s 40 Greatest Hits, a very different record entirely!). It stayed in the top 40 for 34 weeks (including 12 weeks in the top 10 & 16 in the top 20), and as recently as last year it was still poking its head into the lower end of the Top 100 every so often, which it will continue to do now and again in the future, each time a new generation is introduced to the band in some way. Inevitably the most famous track on this album is the one that regularly draws people to it time and time again.

A 2-page spread from the Night At The Opera CD booklet, one photo on each page. On the left, Freddie Mercury sits in front of a microphone, wearing a leafy-patterned jacket over a white shirt and white trousers. On the right, John Deacon sits playing the bass guitar, wearing a yellow t-shirt and blue jeans

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Queen At 50 Reviews – Live Around The World with Adam Lambert

Over the last few months, because they’re my favourite band of all time, I’ve started posting deep-dive reviews of Queen’s original studio albums, to celebrate their 50th anniversary (so far covering their debut album, Queen II & Sheer Heart Attack, with the rest to follow in the coming months). There’s such a huge legacy of amazing music that it’s a joy digging through it all yet again (as if I need an excuse), making lots of fun discoveries along the way.

However, it’s also important to acknowledge their current work, as original members Brian May and Roger Taylor are still keeping the Queen machine alive today, with Adam Lambert as their new frontman. The Queen + Adam Lambert (Q+AL) collaboration has been running for nearly 10 years, after they started performing shows in 2011.

Yet in all that time, they’ve never released any albums or DVDs (apart from a Japanese exclusive live release in 2016). So if, like me, you haven’t attended any of their gigs, then you’ve been limited to watching fan footage online or catching their TV appearances if you wanted to experience them in action.

But now, having been unable to tour for most of this year for obvious reasons, they’ve just released a compilation of live performances called Live Around The Worldon CD, DVD, Blu-ray and Vinyl, with additional merchandise available too.

It stormed to number 1 in the UK album chart in its first week, making it Queen’s 10th album to hit the top spot, 25 years since the previous release that did so (Made In Heaven), and 45 years since their first number 1 album (A Night At The Opera). They’ve now jumped ahead of Bob Dylan to reach joint 6th place in the list of artists with the most number 1 albums, level with Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and Eminem. It’s also Adam Lambert’s first number 1 in the UK, and it’s reached number 1 in Australia as well.

So I wanted to review it and give you my thoughts. And just to be clear, this isn’t sponsored or gifted – I bought this myself and all opinions are my own. So I hope you enjoy!

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