My home town and its small role in rock history


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What links a small town in the West Midlands, a song from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and two rock classics? Well read on and find out… I was born in a small town called Stafford, the county town of Staffordshire. I’ve lived in a nearby smaller town a quarter of the size of Stafford, just south of Stoke for the past 20 years. The town I live in has in recent times basked in the pride of having an Olympic Gold medallist from the town in the form of canoeist Joe Clarke. However, it is the town of my birth, Stafford, about which I will be sharing a tale about how a gig there in the mid-70s helped inspire the writing of two rock classics. In the 70s and 80s Stafford’s Bingley Hall was a popular spot for the world’s best bands and artists with The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Abba, The Eagles, The Who, The Jam, Thin Lizzy, Bruce Springsteen, Queen and many others performing there. It was at a Queen gig on 29 May 1977 at Bingley Hall where the seeds were sown for two of Queen’s most well-known hits. Brian May, Queen’s guitarist, explains: “We did an encore and then went off, and instead of just keeping clapping, they sang ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ to us, and we were just completely knocked out and taken aback – it was quite an emotional experience really, and I think these chant things are in some way connected with that.” It was a phase during Queen’s career when, according to May: “The audience was becoming a bigger part of the show than we were. They would sing all the songs and in a place like (Bingley Hall), they'd be so vociferous that we'd have to stop the show and let them sing to us. So, both Freddie and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to write a song with audience participation specifically in mind." The “interesting experiment” resulted in May writing “We Will Rock You” and Freddie Mercury composing “We Are The Champions”. The two were subsequently released together. We Will Rock You is a curious song musically as it did not feature any drums. May said: "We were working in an old, disused church in North London, and it already had a nice sound," he recalled, "and there were some old boards lying around, but they just seemed ideal to stamp on. So we piled them up and started stamping and they sounded great anyway, but being a physicist, I said, 'Suppose there were 1,000 people doing this; what would be happening?' and I thought, 'Well, you would be hearing them stamping. You would also be hearing a little bit of an effect, which is due to the distance that they are from you,’ so I put lots of individual repeats on them. Not an echo but a single repeat at various distances and the distances were all prime numbers. When we recorded each track, we put a delay of a certain length on it and none of the delays were harmonically related, so there's no echo on it whatsoever, but the clapped sound – they spread around the stereo, but they also kind of spread from a distance from you – so you just feel like you're in the middle of a large number of people stamping and clapping." Both songs have of course gone on to be staples at many sporting events all over the world, as well as frequently being the final two songs of Queen sets but it was at a gig in 1977 in a small town in the West Midlands where a raucous crowd inspired the writing of these two rock classics.