THE FREDDIE MERCURY TRIBUTE CONCERT

APRIL 20th 1992

 

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Saxophone

  • Annie Lennox: Vocals

  • Ian Hunter: Vocals, Guitar

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar, Vocals

  • Brian May: Guitar

  • John Deacon: Bass

  • Roger Taylor: Drums

  • Tony Iommi: Guitar

  • Joe Elliott/Phil Collen: Backing Vocals

Repertoire:

Under Pressure | All The Young Dudes | "Heroes"

Freddie Mercury, one of the greatest performers of his generation, died of AIDS-related symptoms on November 23rd 1991. Collecting a posthumous Brit Award on his behalf in February 1992, the remaining members of Queen announced a special concert at Wembley Stadium to raise awareness of the disease. The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, also referred to as the "Concert For Life", rapidly snowballed into the most talked about charity gala since Live Aid, and the 72,000 tickets sold out in under two hours. Rehearsals took place at Bray Studios over the two days immediately prior to the big night. Bowie's presence at the concert had never been in doubt and there was, of course, no mystery about which Queen song he would be singing. It was revealed that Freddie's part would be taken by Annie Lennox, formerly of Eurythmics but now launching her solo career with her soon-to-be number 1 album Diva. Many years later, Lennox recalled the thrill of being invited to sing at the concert. "I was one of the very few female performers," she told The Times in 2010. "I can be quite shy, and I knew that for me doing that performance was the pinnacle of any performance I could ever give. It's not every day that you get to perform with David Bowie. And I thought, I'm gonna savour this forever. I wanted to be his counterpart in the performance. So when we were having the rehearsal, he said, as an offhand remark just before I left, 'Oh, by the way, what are you gonna wear? Why don't you get Anthony Price to make the dress? ' And I left the rehearsal thinking, 'Shit, gotta get a dress'."

The Bowie/Lennox spot came near the end of the evening, after performances by the likes of Def Leppard, Extreme, Metallica, Guns N'Roses, Robert Plant, Paul Young, Seal and Lisa Stansfield. Annie Lennox's choice of outfit didn't disappoint: she arrived on stage resplendent in a silver blouse, a voluminous tutu and a swathe of black make-up across her eyes, while Bowie appeared in his familiar Tin Machine II guise: healthy tan, swept-back hair, lime-green Thierry Mugler suit, shirt and tie. The pair launched into a vigorous "Under Pressure" during which Annie threw herself at David and pawed his face during the final chorus, leaving the stage to tumultuous applause. David next introduced his old school colleagues Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. It was the latter's first appearance with Bowie since their one-off reunion at a Serious Moonlight gig in Toronto nine years earlier, and would lead to his forthcoming contribution to Black Tie White Noise. Backed by Queen, the trio launched into a nostalgic "All The Young Dudes", with Hunter on lead vocal and Bowie playing sax. Hunter then left the stage (unexpectedly by the look of it, muttering something in Bowie's ear that seemed to take him by surprise), but Ronson remained to deliver a superb guitar line on a blistering and impassioned "Heroes". Just as it seemed that Bowie would exit in a blaze of brilliance, he cut short the final "just for one day" and launched into an oration about the victims of "...this relentless disease. I'd particularly like to extend my wishes to friend Craig," he said, turning to look directly into the TV camera, "I know you're watching, Craig - and I'd like to offer something in a very simple fashion, but it's the most direct way I can think of doing it." Then, before an estimated audience of a billion people, he dropped to his knees and hoarsely recited The Lord's Prayer.

The Freddie Mercury Tribute -  Concert For Aids Awareness - April 20th 1992 Poster - Wembley Stadium
David Bowie performing at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert April 20th 1992
Annie Lennox and David Bowie performing at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert April 20th 1992
David Bowie reciting The Lord's Prayer at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert April 20th 1992

​Bowie later said that it was an entirely spontaneous act and that he was "the most surprised man in Wembley" when it happened. Craig, he explained, was a playwright friend from New York in the last stages of an AIDS-related illness; he died two days later. "My friend Craig was not a Christian, but I thought that prayer the most appropriate," David said the following year. "For me, it's a universal prayer." It was clearly meant in all sincerity, but unfortunately the Lord's Prayer incident looked clumsy and mawkish, opening the floodgates for a pitiless ridicule from those who had been waiting for a chance to take a pop at his first post-Tin Machine performance. "In hindsight, as it was so alien a gesture within the context of rock, it remains a favourite personal rock "moment" for me," said Bowie in 2000. "It was astounding to find that I could complete the prayer in front of so many thousands of people without hearing a pin drop...there's an aspect of my personality which continually asks my audience, 'How long will you tolerate this?'"

After the show Bowie hosted a party graced by most of the concert's glitterati, including Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor, whose sixtieth birthday party he had attended the previous February. Two days later David and Iman flew to Lausanne to be married.

The concert was released on video in November 1992, while the performance of "All The Young Dudes" was included on Mick Ronson's posthumous 1994 album Heaven And Hull. Footage of Bowie and Annie Lennox rehearsing "Under Pressure" at Bray Studios (and superior to the concert version it is, too) later appeared in the 1995 television documentary The Queen Phenomenon: In The Lap Of The Gods. Both rehearsal and performance footage were reused in the video for 1999's "Rah Mix", while in May 2002 the concert was released on DVD, complete with an updated version of the documentary and full rehearsal footage of "Under Pressure".

The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

The Complete David Bowie

by Nicholas Pegg

New Edition: Expanded and Updated

"This is the best Bowie reference book one could ever hope for"

Tony Visconti