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Spike Edney

Queen’s Keyboard Player By Tony Bacon
Published January 2023

Spike Edney

For Spike Edney, touring with one of the biggest bands in the world has meant keeping up with the very latest in stage keyboard technology.

It’s 1984, and Spike Edney is just a few gigs into his new job with Queen as their touring keyboard player and occasional guitarist. Among the keys set out discreetly to one side of the stage at the Birmingham NEC is his Roland Jupiter‑8, and just as the set is about to move to that year’s big hit, ‘Radio Ga Ga’, Spike accidentally knocks one of the Jupiter’s controls.

“It was the slider that adjusted the arpeggiator’s tempo,” he recalls, “and it had only about an inch of travel, from zero to a million — very sensitive. Hung around my neck on that tour I’d have a little Casio thing with a metronome that I’d use to manually set the arpeggiator for ‘Radio Ga Ga’, and normally this would take quite a few minutes to do. But my heart sank, because there wasn’t time for any of that. Roger Taylor points at me, goes, ‘Two, three...’ and I had no choice but to press the key.”

Instead of the relaxed arpeggiating groove that 40,000 fans might have expected, out came a manic blur of machine‑gunned notes. All four members of Queen glared at their new keyboard player. “It’s the only time in my career that I held up my hands and said, ‘I don’t know what on earth happened — carry on without it!’ And that was my third gig. I was really expecting shit after that,” he says, laughing, “and to be fair, eyebrows were raised. So in order to save my arse, I deflected. I said that something went wrong with the machine. And since then, I’ve had this motto: Technology will fuck you up.”

Just Another Gig

It all began for Spike in the usual teenage bands in his home town of Portsmouth, which led to gigs in the ’70s playing keyboards for the likes of soul legends Ben E King and Edwin Starr, and on to ’80s tours playing trombone with everyone from Duran Duran to Thomas Dolby and Dexys Midnight Runners to the Boomtown Rats. In the ’90s he worked in Brian May’s and Roger Taylor’s solo groups, and also formed Spike’s All Star Band (SAS Band), which has featured a host of special guests over the years, including Roger Daltrey, Jeff Beck, Kiki Dee, Ian Anderson, Jack Bruce and Ronnie Spector.

Queen on their 1986 Magic tour, their last with original frontman Freddie Mercury.Queen on their 1986 Magic tour, their last with original frontman Freddie Mercury.Photo: by Denis O’Regan, copyright Queen Productions Ltd

Since his two‑year live stretch with the original Queen line‑up, which stopped touring after the Magic outings of 1986 and ended upon Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, Spike has toured with all the later versions of the band. Alongside Brian May and Roger Taylor, at first in 2005 this was with ex‑Free and Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers, bassist Danny Miranda, and guitarist Jamie Moses; since 2012, the line‑up has featured vocalist Adam Lambert, bassist Neil Fairclough, and percussionists Rufus Tiger Taylor or Tyler Warren. The most recent Queen gig — Spike describes it as “a last‑minute dash” — was at the Taylor Hawkins tribute concert in September 2022.

Back to 1985, though, a year after the Jupiter mishap, and the chance came for Queen to play at something called Live Aid. Spike remembers the band thought it no big deal. “It was another gig,” he says. “Another short gig.” Twenty‑one minutes, in fact. Twenty‑one minutes that would make Queen even bigger stars than they were already.

“I was in Bermuda doing a gig with a mate, a gig holiday, and I had to come back,” he remembers. They rehearsed for two days at the Shaw Theatre in London and worked out a medley to fit the allotted time. “Queen were always big on medleys, because there’s so much material. It’s the way to give an audience more bang for their bucks. We sat out around a wooden picnic table, a beautiful day, I had my Casio thing that also had a stopwatch in it, and it took us a few minutes to decide the songs to include.”

Then they pieced them all together, chopping and adapting to suit. “We tapped it through and I timed it. So OK, we’ll start with ‘Bo Rhap’, up to the end of the guitar solo, then straight into ‘Radio Ga Ga’, a shortened version of that. Once we’d figured out the timing through to ‘We Are The Champions’, we went back in, said right, let’s play ’em and join ’em up. But it was not a big deal.”

It helped that Queen understood what was required and that they delivered. “Play your biggest hits, and play as many of them as you can fit in, and you will please more people,” Spike explains. It sounds obvious, but it wasn’t a scheme widely adopted at Live Aid. “I was gobsmacked by how many on that show did one or two songs with extended guitar solos forever. Or played their new single. I think we gauged it right — and I was still very much the new boy, learning all the time about how they put things together and their viewpoint on stuff. I learnt an awful lot, which stood me in good stead later when, among other things, I was musical director for the Nelson Mandela 46664 benefit concerts for AIDS.”

Come the day of Live Aid, Spike recalls a great sense at Wembley of everyone being there for the right reasons, and that the band’s main worries — without a soundcheck, naturally — concerned getting on, hearing everything, and getting through unscathed. “That was the order of the day: play what we know; don’t cock it up. We came off after our six songs in 20 minutes, and it was a case of OK, job done. Simple as that.” Except?

“Except, of course, the hysteria started the next day,” he says, smiling at the memory. “Queen this, Queen that. And it just grew and grew over the years. Now you get, ‘Oh, the greatest gig ever!’ and all this kind of stuff. Well I think that’s a load of old bollocks, myself. It was a band at the top of its game doing what it does, and doing it well. I do understand that people want it to be some magical thing where we all descended from the heavens, but no. It shows you what experience and a sense of occasion can produce.”

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