Freddie Mercury's Final Performance With Queen, Knebworth Park, 1986
The last live Freddie Mercury performance with Queen took place in August of 1986 at Knebworth Park, UK, and I was there. Below, I look back at that concert and his performance that day and give you all the background facts and details.
Freddy Mercury's Last Concert
On the 9th August, 1986, over a hundred and twenty thousand people gathered outdoors at Knebworth Park to watch a number of British musical acts. Topping the bill were the rock band Queen, still riding high after their stunning performance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley and fronted by their charismatic vocalist, Freddie Mercury.
The concert was powerful, and Queen’s performance was outstanding. What none of us knew at the time, including myself, was that this concert would be the final performance of Freddie Mercury with Queen.
I thought it would be interesting to look back at that day and the concert for people like myself, who were there, and any Queen fans who missed it.
Was Live Aid Freddie Mercury's last performance?
The Live Aid concert happened on July 13, 1985, but his last live performance was a year later at Knebworth Park on the 9th August, 1986. Freddy Mercury didn't die until November 24th, 1991.
Freddie Mercury's Last Live Performance
Over 120,000 people attended the outdoor concert that day at Knebworth Park and the weather was close to perfect. Despite some traffic problems caused by the huge crowd, the atmosphere was generally relaxed and upbeat. The other bands that played that day were Beloius Some, Big Country, and Status Quo.
The Other Bands That Played That Day
1. Beloius Some
Beloius Some, an emerging act from the dance scene, was probably a bad choice for opening a Queen concert and wasn't received well by the audience.
2. Status Quo
Status Quo went on next, and their performance went down much better. They were expected to appear just before Queen, but apparently they had to rush off to another gig that they were playing later that day, so they went second.
During the Status Quo set, there was an amusing incident when a roadie climbed on stage and played a cut-out guitar whilst headbanging to the music. The rumour is that Status Quo were so annoyed about being upstaged by the roadie that they sacked him!
3. Big Country
Next up were the Scottish band, Big Country, who were very big in the mid 1980s but have since faded from public memory to some degree. Their lead singer was Stuart Adamson, who tragically died in 2001.
Their music was folk-influenced and their clever trick was to use sound effects to get their guitars to sound like bagpipes. They seemed like an odd choice for a Queen support band to me, but they played a decent set of music and went down reasonably well with the audience.
Queen's Last Concert
In true dramatic form, Queen arrived at Knebworth Park by helicopter. They played a two hour set which was greeted with a rapturous response from the audience.
As I mentioned, nobody knew that this would be Freddie Mercury’s final performance with Queen at the time. According to Mercury’s partner at the time, Jim Hutton, Mercury wasn’t diagnosed as HIV positive until the following year (1987), and he didn’t announce publicly that he was ill with AIDS until the day before his death in 1991.
Nevertheless, Mercury seemed to be in great spirits and full of energy that day. Queen delivered a stunning set, full of energy and slickness, to a deliriously enthusiastic audience.
The Queen Line Up That Day
- Freddie Mercury (vocals, piano, guitar)
- Brian May (guitar, backing vocals, keyboards)
- John Deacon (bass guitar)
- Roger Taylor (drums, backing vocals)
- Spike Edney (keyboards, piano, guitar, backing vocals)
The Finale of Mercury's Final Performance
The finale involved a particularly emotional rendition of "God Save the Queen." I don't know if Freddie knew by then that he might be seriously ill and was saying goodbye to his adoring fans, but we had no idea we were witnessing the final concert of Freddie Mercury and Queen.
I always knew I was a star, and now the rest of the world seems to agree with me.— Freddie Mercury
Queen: A Brief History
Queen first got together in 1971 and released their first album in 1973. They had a degree of success in Britain, but they were slow to gain wider recognition. It was their hit song—and its accompanying video—"Bohemian Rhapsody" which really brought them into the international limelight in 1975.
More hits followed and the band appeared at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, where they gave one of the greatest performances of all time, in many people’s opinion.
Freddie Mercury's Performance Style
Freddie Mercury was a charismatic frontman and knew how to work an audience. At times he could camp up his performance—other times he could rock out, an ideal mixture for a pop singer playing big venues. The Knebworth Park concert would prove to be his last with Queen.
How did Freddy Mercury die?
Mercury, who was bisexual, was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987, according to his partner. The virus would later develop into full-blown AIDS, and there there was no way of slowing the disease back then. His condition was kept secret until the 23rd of November, 1991, when Mercury’s illness was announced to the press. Just over 24 hours later, he died, on November 24th, 1991.
When I'm dead, I want to be remembered as a musician of some worth and substance.— Freddie Mercury