What Happened When Queen Conquered South America
In 1992, official International Queen Fan Club President Jacky Smith and superfan Jim Jenkins published an authorized biography of the band, Queen as she began. It’s since become something of a collector’s item – the original hardbacks can sell for hundreds of dollars – but a reissued version is on the way.
“We both decided it was time to take stock of how it started because we had so much new information and facts from the very beginning, in part because of talking to so many people who had come forward over the years who were part of this story. say Jacky and Jim. “We also felt we should document the years from Freddie’s loss to 1996 – before everyone started to forget.
“The book is a factual document of the time with new insights from Brian and Roger, and additional information from the many people who surrounded them and made up a large part of the ‘Queen Machine’.”
In the edited clip below, it’s 1981. Queen is visiting South America for the first time, and not everything has gone to plan. Argentinian promoter Jose Rota booked the tour with his credit card, when even the band’s VIP passes – which featured two women sharing a banana – broke local pornography laws.
Queen As It Began – Authorized and Revised Edition, by Jacky Smith and Jim Jenkins, is published March 24 by Omnibus Press and is available for pre-order now.
On February 28, 1981, it looked like all the problems had been ironed out: everything had gone according to plan as Queen took the stage in front of 54,000 fans at Vélez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires for their first concert in South America, and although bands had played indoor halls on the continent, none had aspired to the huge stadiums that Queen filled.
The group was nervous and worried. They were in the spotlight on all sides, as the entire music industry waited to see if their ambitious plans would come to fruition or fall flat on their stomachs.
Queen needn’t have worried, the fans went wild, every song they played was recognized and ecstatically received, and the crowd even sang along in English, though few spoke the language. When it came to Love of my life Freddie Mercury stopped singing and the audience took over, word perfect all the way. It was a very emotional experience for Queen, and Freddie wasn’t the only one to wipe a wet eye.
The following night, the show was broadcast live on television to over 35 million people in Argentina and Brazil. After each show, the band was escorted out of the stadium by military police, in thrilling maneuvers that would have put car chases to shame. The only reason for these measures was that the local population was concerned for the safety of the group among these cheerfully rioting crowds – but the group never felt unsafe. The vibes were all good.
The president of the Vélez Sarsfield stadium hosted a party for Queen at his home where they were introduced to footballer – and almost Argentine demigod – Diego Maradona; Brian traded in his Union Jack t-shirt for Maradona’s football team jersey.
They were also invited to meet General Viola, President of Argentina, at his home. He had expressly requested a meeting with them because the shows they had given were considered a major cultural event in his country. Freddie, Brian May and John Deacon accepted, but Roger Taylor disagreed with the president’s political views and so declined the invitation on principle.
There was a short break between the concerts in Argentina and those planned in Brazil, which was fortunate for two reasons. The group had wanted to play in the biggest stadium in the world, the famous Maracanã stadium in Rio, but the promoter had not been able to book it; the governor of Rio had changed the law to specify that the stadium could only be used for football matches and cultural or religious events, and Queen did not qualify. The group offered to donate a substantial sum of money to the special charity headed by the governor’s wife, but this offer fell on deaf ears, so they ultimately had to admit defeat. .
Negotiations took place to instead play in the second largest stadium in the world, Morumbi in São Paulo. Eventually, just ten days before the show was announced, the promoter managed to get permission to perform there. Tickets went on sale immediately and sold out so quickly that a second night was held, for which tickets sold out within thirty-six hours of the show.
Local security was hired for the band members while they were in São Paulo, and John’s “guard” came forward saying he had killed 212 people and therefore must be good at his job.
The plans were going well, except for one small matter. The concert organizers couldn’t have been more helpful – everything the band needed was provided. However, tour manager Gerry Stickells noticed something odd: “I noticed that the equipment they provided us had, in any case, always belonged to someone else,” said- he observed. “We used huge Super Trouper spotlights, and they all had earth, wind, and fire stenciled on the side. There was also other gear that had another band’s name on them on previous tours.”
This caused serious concerns as to whether Queen’s gear would be seized at the end of their tour – and the band had virtually all the gear they owned with them. They couldn’t take any risks and after Morumbi’s second concert they decided that the equipment would be removed at high speed. They chartered a Flying Tiger 747 cargo plane and arranged for it to be on the runway in São Paulo after the show.
Meanwhile, the concerts in Morumbi continued. The band took the stage on March 20, 1981 to deafening cheers and thunderous applause from 131,000 people, the largest paying audience for a band in the world to date. Before the next night’s show, while the band was in the dressing room, Gerry was trying to make a phone call. After the seventh phone he tried didn’t work, he got angry, an unusual event, ripped the phone from the wall and threw it out the window.
The police were called and the band locked themselves in the dressing room until the incident was resolved – but the promoter had not realized they had to go on stage at any time. The group was eventually released to perform in front of 120,000 other people.
In total, Queen had performed to a staggering 479,000 fans on the tour and grossed over three and a half million dollars. During this tour, each of the group’s albums was in the Argentine Top 10 and the single Love of my life spent a year in the singles charts – a feat never before achieved by any band, British or otherwise.
South America had been a triumph for the group and the team. This had been evident from that first concert in Buenos Aires, when the band amazed the Argentinean organizers not only with their stage performance and audience response, but also with their organization from start to finish. The band and crew returned to the UK tired and elated, and knowing that in a few months they would start again in Venezuela.