Fond memories of my one encounter with the Queen

I remember the day quite clearly. It was Thursday, May 1, 1986 and yours truly, my mum, younger brother Matthew and my nan and grandad waited in the weak sunshine for the arrival of a very special visitor from Stoke Station.
I have to admit I wasn’t that keen on flowers and I certainly didn’t understand the term ‘regeneration’.
Nevertheless, we had just bought season tickets to the National Garden Festival which had transformed a 180-acre eyesore which had, until 1979, been the site of the Shelton Bar steelworks.
After five years of planning, earth-moving and landscaping and millions of pounds of Government funding, the Garden Festival – billed as a celebration of the best of British gardening – was ready to receive its Royal seal of approval.
I had never seen the Queen before and even 14-year-old me, besotted with football and Dungeons & Dragons, was excited as we stood in the drizzle with 14,000 other people waiting for Her Majesty to arrive.
I had never seen so many police officers and I remember grandad telling me they were worried about the threat of a terrorist attack.
We didn’t have a great spot in the crowd, if truth be told, and I remember craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the monarch as she stepped out of a shiny black Rolls-Royce.
She was wearing a vivid blue woollen coat and a black hat and seemed to have a fixed grin as we waved our Union Flags and Garden Festival carrier bags like things possessed – convinced that she was waving at us.
We listened to the opening ceremony during which the Queen said some very nice things about Stoke-on-Trent and told us she thought pottery pioneer Josiah Wedgwood would be proud of what had been achieved at Etruria.
Then she joined civic dignitaries for a one and a quarter mile train ride around the Garden Festival.
That’s when most people lost track of Her Majesty and, like us, went off to explore the remarkable site.
My brother had his picture taken with children’s telly witch Grotbags and I was chuffed to have met Central TV news presenter Bob Warman.
We marvelled at the strange waterfall made of Twyfords bathroom ware, enjoyed having a nosey around the new show homes and were thrilled to be taken on a cable car ride.
Then I remember great excitement as parachutists paid tribute to the Queen by dropping in, unexpected, on Festival-goers.
The Red Arrows also flew over the site and left a red, white and blue vapour trail which was pretty cool viewing to a teenager like me who was still harbouring dreams of joining the RAF when he left school.
After touring the festival site the Queen made her way over to the new Beth Johnson Housing Association complex in Etruria Locks – arriving in style aboard a red, white and blue narrowboat decorated with flowers.
As the boat went by, dozens of Sentinel employees could be seen waving from the newspaper’s new offices next to the Festival site.
This was the first and only time I laid eyes on the Queen and, having shared the occasion with my family, the memory is all the more special to me.
Since then I’ve been fortune enough to chat to Prince Edward, meet Prince Charles and Princess Anne and take photographs of the late Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry during a visit to Alton Towers.
However, I remain a great admirer of the Queen who, through all the trial and tribulations of the last two decades has remained a dignified and reliable ambassador for both the monarchy and Britain.
Whoever succeeds her certainly has big shoes to fill and I dare say we will never see the like again – both in terms of Her Majesty’s longevity and grace.

The day Live Aid rocked our world

Thirteen was a pretty good age to be when the biggest concert in the history of the world was staged.

I had discovered music two years before when I was given my first record player for Christmas and got my first album (Status Quo – Twelve Gold Bars).

After that I had built up a collection of 30 or so singles ranging from Paul Young’s Love Of The Common People to King’s Love And Pride. Enough said.

As well as regular trips to Lotus Records up Hanley, like most people back then I relied on Radio One’s Sunday chart countdown and Top Of The Pops for my musical fix.

Then at 12 noon on July 13, 1985, a charitable phenomenon quite literally rocked the world.

Unless you were around at the time of Live Aid then it is difficult to appreciate the sheer scale and impact of the dual concert staged at Wembley Stadium and across The Pond at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.

Indeed, in comparison the Live 8 concerts – staged some thirty years later – felt like Live Aid light. They were simply duller reinventions for a new audience.

Back in 1985 the dual concert was all anyone was talking about.

Live Aid was a televisual first and one of the largest satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time.

Against all odds, a relatively minor punk rock artist managed to bring together a multitude of genuine superstars who performed at the same time in front of an estimated audience of 1.9 billion people in more than 150 countries.

Bob Geldof was that man – or Sir Bob, as he is now.

The scruffy and irreverent lead singer of Irish band The Boomtown Rats had been incredibly moved by BBC reporter Michael Buerk’s of the 1984 famine in Ethopia.

This led him to pick up the phone and call Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure and together they co-wrote the massive number one hit single Do They Know Its Christmas?

The Band Aid track, sung for free by a collection of British and Irish musicians, became the fastest-selling single ever in the UK and raised a staggering £8 million for the famine relief effort.

Overwhelmed by the public response, Geldof then set about organising a concert of epic proportions.

Although most of us were completely unaware of the logistics at the time, the Live Aid concert brought together TV networks ranging from the BBC in the UK to ABC and MTV in the U.S. as well as numerous channels on the continent.

It was also broadcast live on the radio in a technical accomplishment which, for its time, was quite remarkable.

The list of performers – with a few notable exceptions – read like a who’s who of the music world.

It’s like a snapshot of the mid-Eighties music scene and, looking at it, I defy anyone to tell me that the Nineties or Noughties were richer and possessed more talent.

At Wembley the Coldstream Guards band opened the show with a royal salute before veteran rockers Status Quo kicked us off with the very appropriate Rockin’ All Over The World.

Elvis Costello sang The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love and U2 established themselves as one of the great with an energetic set in which lead singer Bono leapt into the crowd to dance with a girl who he thought was being crushed by the throng.

Other artists included Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Alison Moyet, Dire Straits, Elton John, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Adam Ant, The Style Council, Bryan Ferry, The Who, Nik Kershaw, Sting, Sade and Bob Geldof himself who sang I Don’t Like Mondays with The Rats.

Phil Collins was unique in that he preformed on both stages – using a Concorde to make it to the U.S. show in time.

But, for me, the stand-out performance of the show was Queen’s astonishing set.

Genius frontman Freddie Mercury held the entire crowd of 72,000 in the palm of his hand during Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are The Champions – while the rest of us sang along at home.

It’s little wonder to me that various artists, music industry executives and journalists voted it the greatest live performance in the history of rock music.

Artists on the stage in front of 100,000 people in Philadelphia included The Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run D.M.C., Reo Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Madonna, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, The Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppellin, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Lionel Richie.

All the while the music was playing 300 phone lines were being staffed by BBC personnel – allowing us to make donations to the Live Aid cause.

At one point, the yet-to-be Sir Bob, interrupted BBC presenter David Hepworth as he attempted to give out the address for potential donations.

Pumped up by Queen’s performance, Geldoff shouted: “F*ck the address, let’s get the (telephone) numbers!”

After his outburst the rate of donations rose to £300 per second.

It was estimated that Live Aid ultimately raised around £150 million for famine relief in Africa.

It was certainly the ‘Woodstock’ of my youth – even though I don’t even know anyone who was actually there!

Pick up a copy of the Weekly Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Memories of the decade when music made a statement…

You know you’re getting old when you look around the pub table at the lads you grew up with and they’re all either bald, receding or have grey hair.
Back in the late Eighties, we always started our Christmas pub crawls at the Old Brown Jug in Newcastle and this year 10 of us made the annual reunion.
The only thing that hasn’t changed since those halcyon days is our pub of choice – complete with its wooden floors and proper ales.
This year yours truly was driving and so remembers everything and didn’t embarrass himself.
Now, maybe it’s my rose-tinted spectacles again but I remember Newcastle being busier back when I was young, free and single.
I remember the music being so much better. I also remember girls wearing skirts that didn’t resemble arm bands.
It seems I’m not the only one, either.
DJ Mark Porter has been entertaining crowds for more than a quarter of a century and, like me, he laments the good old days.
The 42-year-old, from Kidsgrove, learned his craft at the ‘Kids’ Night’ at The Place nightclub in Hanley – putting on records for the resident DJ when he nipped to the loo.
From such inauspicious beginnings Mark went on to DJ at The Place, as well as Maxim’s in Newcastle and at The Highlight (formerly Jollees) in Longton.
When asked the straight question: Which decade do you prefer for music, he is unequivocal.
“The Eighties, definitely,” said Mark. “So many of the tracks from back then are still popular. So many of the bands and artists from back then are either still going or have reformed.
“Yes, there was some proper cheese like Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face and Black Lace’s Agadoo and some of the fashions were – in retrospect – horrendous.
“For example, I remember seeing people wearing sweatbands round their heads and leg warmers.
“But the Eighties was a decade of great guitar bands and proper pop groups like Duran Duran, the Human League, Spandau Ballet and Heaven 17.
“Remember the likes of Joy Division/New Order. Look at what Queen and U2 achieved. Just think of the line up at the Live Aid concert.
“I like to think as the Eighties as the modern Sixties – a decade where musicians were making a real statement – along with the people who listened to them.
“Nowadays I look around and, to be honest, I despair at the manufactured acts which the music industry moguls inflict on us. These days, the sad truth is anybody can be a pop star.”
Mark, who currently DJs at the Bel Air nightclub at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, genuinely misses the Eighties and he’s not afraid to admit it.
He said: “I think it’s a case of you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.
“At the time I don’t think we realised just how good the music scene was and what a great time it was to be growing up.
“It’s certainly different these days. Back then going out on a Friday or Saturday night was a big deal. People got dressed up for it – none of this jeans and trainers business.
“Back then nightclubs were destination venues. People went out on the town and then rocked up at the nightclub at around 11am and stayed their until 2am. That was what everyone did.
“Nowadays I occasionally feel a similar buzz to all those nights back in the day but it’s pretty rare and depends very much on the crowd that’s in.”
After 25 years as a DJ, Mark also has an interesting theory on Potteries pop superstar Robbie Williams.
He said: “I can’t help but think that Robbie was heavily influenced by growing up in the Eighties and going to nightclubs like The Place.
“Like the rest of us he would have listened to the new romantics, the synth pop and the kind of sounds which emerged towards the end of the decade and I see lots of those influences coming through in the music that he has written and performed.”

Heaven knows what my top 10 says about me…

They reckon you can tell a lot about someone by the music they listen to. That being the case, heaven knows what my vinyl says about me.

This week’s eagerly anticipated reunion of The Stone Roses had me fondly trawling through my record collection looking for their debut album.

The Stone Roses, released in 1989, is widely regarded as a seminal album and is my personal favourite of all time.

Many bands who enjoyed their halcyon days are now back together but, for many people my age – if you’ll pardon the pun – This Is The One (we’ve waited for).

Thus the Stone Roses are number one in my top 10 of Eighties bands – listed here in no particular order.

In truth, I could have gone for any of a number of other indie outfits whose tunes were heard at my beloved Ritzy nightclub in Newcastle from 1988 onwards.

Indeed, I feel duty bound to give honourable mentions (in no particular order) to: The Happy Mondays: The Charlatans: Carter USM; Ned’s Atomic Dustbin; Northside; The Wedding Present: Thousand Yard Stare: The Farm: The Mock Turtles; The La’s and James.

But in at number 2 are Oldham’s finest – The Inspiral Carpets. Formed in 1983, they also got back together earlier this year and are working on new material and planning a tour.

Infamous for their squiggly-eyed cow T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Cool as ****’, the band’s hit This Is How It Feels has to be their best track.

If ever a tune summed up how so many people must be feeling in the current economic climate, this has to be it. As relevant today as it was 21 years ago.

Third in my list is a Black Country band formed in 1986 which went on to record numerous catchy tunes.

I had the pleasure of watching The Wonder Stuff perform in the open air in Nottingham and again at Keele University a couple of years ago.

It’s 20 years since what was arguably the band’s finest moment – the album Never Loved Elvis – but I’m happy to say they are still touring with the irrepressible Miles Hunt as their frontman.

My musical tastes are nothing if not eclectic and so I’m going to veer from UK garage, baggy and indie music to perennially unfashionable rock.

Mentions in despatches here for Sheffield boys Def Leppard and U.S. giants Whitesnake, Aerosmith, Poison and Mötley Crüe.

However, fourth in my list is something of a no-brainer.

They are an American rock band, formed in 1983, who take up roughly a quarter of my entire vinyl collection.

I first saw the mighty Bon Jovi perform in front of 65,000 people at the Milton Keynes Bowl on August 19, 1989.

After witnessing that sea of leather, denim and ripped T-shirts and soaking up the smell of hot dogs, burgers, warm beer and sweat nothing would ever be the same for me again.

I have now seen the New Joisey syndicate 35 times and was fortunate enough to have tea backstage with guitarist Richie Sambora when they played the Britannia Stadium in 2000. Wanted Dead Or Alive is my favourite track and my Jovi collection includes autographs and limited picture discs from all over the world.

They are still touring and selling out stadiums across the globe. Enough said.

In at number five are another U.S. rock band which I adored – partly because of their tenuous connection to the Potteries.

Founded in the Sunshine State in 1985, Guns ’N Roses took the world by storm with their major label debut album Appetite For Destruction.

So vital that even non-rock fans loved them, the ‘Most dangerous band in the world’ fell apart after years of heavy drinking and drug-taking.

Being one of the fortunate few who witnessed Stoke-on-Trent’s prodigal son Slash wring the life out of his Gibson Les Paul guitar at Hanley’s Victoria Hall earlier this year reminded me just why I loved this band so much.

G ’N R are still touring but are a poor reflection of their former selves – despite what Axl Rose would have us believe.

At number six is an American icon and proper working class hero who I had the pleasure of watching in the most English of surroundings.

Bruce Springsteen had been performing for 20 years before he really made an impression on the UK consciousness with his 1984 album Born In The USA.

I saw The Boss and the E Street Band perform at Old Trafford Cricket Ground a couple of years and can honestly say that he remains the consummate showman.

Straddling that ground between rock and pop and with another astonishingly-charismatic frontman are my seventh choice – Queen.

My favourite UK band of the Eighties, their performance at Live Aid in 1985 cemented their place as one of the best live acts in the world.

In terms of Eighties pop, I have to give honourable mentions to a number of bands which feature in my record collection including: The Pet Shop Boys; Erasure: Spandau Ballet and The Human League.

But at number eight I offer up an Australian band which gained worldwide popularity thanks to their 1987 album Kick.

In July 1993 INXS were up ’Anley and played to a sell-out audience at the Vicki Hall. Sadly, yours truly was working that night.

The tragic death of lead singer Michael Hutchence robbed the band of their heart but with tracks like Never Tear Us Apart and Need You Tonight their legacy is assured.

From the sublime to the ridiculous now, novelty band Adam And The Ants have sneaked in at number nine thanks to two memorable songs and their madcap videos.

Stand And Deliver is a great tune but Prince Charming has to be my favourite. Go on – tell me you don’t do the arms-crossed-in-front-of-your-face routine every time you hear it.

Last, but by no means least, I am not embarrassed to say that Princess Diana’s favourite band are also in my list of Eighties music icons.

Duran Duran earned their spot with some cracking tunes including The Reflex and The Wild Boys which, alongside Aha’s Take On Me remains one of my favourite videos.

I never saw them live but I’m certainly not ruling it out…

Slash is returning to Paradise City

Yes! He’s back! A little older. Perhaps even a little wiser. But with the same laid-back attitude.

No, I’m not talking about former Elected Mayor Mark Meredith.

I refer, of course to the return to his native city of a music legend: A rock icon; A guitar hero;

I could go on…

The truth is that Labour’s landslide victory in the local elections pales into insignificance alongside the big story of the week.

Let’s face it, any fool could have predicted that voters in Stoke (or at least those who could be bothered) would revert to type and stick an X next to candidate wearing a red rosette.

It seems all is forgiven for Worldgate/the Cultural Quarter etc. (insert as appropriate).

The only thing that would have prevented a Labour candidate winning in most wards is if a certain Saul Hudson had stood for election on a ticket of free smokes and Jack Daniels for all.

Mr Hudson, better known the world over as Slash, would have romped home, I assure you.

It is testament to the pulling power of the former Guns ’n Roses guitarist that tickets for his first ever gig in Stoke-on-Trent sold out in under two hours.

THAT is the big story of the week, ladies and gentlemen.

A colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless, simply couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when I told her I’d lined up an interview with the man himself.

“He’s hardly local, is he?” she asked in the dismissive tones of one who had clearly never appreciated the magnificence of Appetite For Destruction or the unbridled genius of the opening riff to Sweet Child ’O Mine.

I don’t care if he only lived in Stoke-on-Trent until he was five, I’m claiming him as one of ours.
It seems I’m not the only one, either, as an online campaign to honour Slash and Motörhead stalwart Lemmy Kilmister with statues in their home city continues to attract signatures.

FA Cup Final or no FA Cup Final — they both hail from the Mother Town, by the way, so technically they should be Vale fans too.

Having been fortunate (or unfortunate — depending on your perspective) enough to have rubbed shoulders with a fair few celebrities over the last 20 years I don’t generally get star-struck.

Fair enough, I haven’t washed since shaking hands with The Fonz but — that aside — I am generally underwhelmed by showbiz stars, footballers and even royalty.

Slash is, however, a bit different and when his PR bloke confirmed I could have an interview I admit the denim-wearing 17-year-old in me played air guitar momentarily.

You see, it is a little-known fact that Stoke-on-Trent is a bastion of rock music.

Indeed, I have it on good authority that there are more Bon Jovi, Guns ’n Roses and Queen fans per head of population in the Potteries than almost anywhere else in the UK.

I should know, I’ve queued with most of them to get into every stadium from Milton Keynes to Manchester, from Wembley to Gateshead over the past two decades.

It’s something to do with our fair city being stuck in 1987, according to a friend of mine.

For those of you still wondering what all the fuss is about, Slash is widely considered one of the greatest rock guitar players of all time.

He has received countless accolades and awards including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame alongside his idols Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.

He has performed alongside everyone from Elton John and Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson and Ray Charles.

More to the point, sales of the 10 studio albums released by the bands he has been the heartbeat of since 1986 — Guns ’n Roses, Slash’s Snakepit and supergroup Velvet Revolver — have sold in excess of 120 million records.

Thus the arrival of the great man, now an elder statesman of the rock scene, for his first ever gig in the city where he was raised in his early years is something of a coup for the Victoria Hall.

As I said in a previous column, the powers-that-be at the King’s Hall should take note that this gig could have sold out five times over.

Not that I am surprised by either the response to the tickets going on sale or the decision by this music legend to come home.

Slash is returning at long last to Paradise City — “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty”.

OK. You can stop laughing now.

I’ll be there on July 24 with my faded jeans, an earring and a G’n’R tee-shirt.

I may even grow my hair again — although I will have to give the bandana a miss this time.

Election? What election?

Royal mix-up a real missed opportunity to mark 100 years

My picture of Princess Diana on the log flume at Alton Towers. Picture copyright Smith Davis Press.

My picture of Princess Diana on the log flume at Alton Towers. Picture copyright Smith Davis Press.

Through my work I’ve been very fortunate (if you like this sort of thing) over the last 20 years to have met several members of our royal family in the flesh.

I’ve chatted to Prince Charles, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew and – here’s my trump card for use against people who like to name-drop – met the late Princess Diana.

Back in my days as a cub reporter I was tipped off by a national newspaper that Princess Di would be taking her boys to Alton Towers one Sunday afternoon.

I raced over to the theme park in my little yellow Metro, paid to get in as any punter would, and then set about trying to find the royal party.

Alton Towers is a surprisingly big place, you know. After half an hour of me running around like a headless chicken, Diana, William and Harry sailed past me on the Log Flume.

I caught up with them, said hello, ignored the withering looks from their minders and snapped them all as they walked past me.

My story and pictures of them on various rides were used in The Sun and the Daily Express the following day and I was chuffed to bits.

However, as a proud Englishman, I have to say that nothing can top seeing the Queen up close and personal.

I first saw Her Majesty at the National Garden Festival here at Etruria in 1986.

I also met Grotbags the TV witch and Central News anchorman Bob Warman on the day.

No offence to either but, for me, seeing Liz just shaded it.

I was 14 at the time and I remember standing in the rain amid the throng and doing my level best to attract the Queen’s attention by waving and shouting – all to no avail, of course.

Despite the bizarre nature of some of the exhibits – a fountain made of toilets springs to mind – the Garden Festival was, for Stoke-on-Trent, an unmitigated success.

It kickstarted the regeneration of a huge parcel of land close to the city centre which is now the thriving retail and business park we all take for granted.

Indeed, where do you think yours truly is sitting while typing this? (The Sentinel’s HQ moved from Hanley to Festival Park in 1986)

What a shame it is then that Her Majesty won’t be coming up in March to help us celebrate the centenary of the federation of the Six Towns.

I can’t help but think that this is something of an own goal.

The word was that the Queen was definitely coming up in the New Year but someone, somewhere seems to have dropped a right royal clanger.

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t know the centenary was coming up, is it?

You would have thought that the Lord Lieutenant, the city council and Buck House could have got their collective act together to make sure the Queen was in town to give the royal seal of approval to a special day for Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall.

Is anyone prepared to hold their hand up and take responsibility? No, I thought not.

We may well get a visit from another member of the royal family but if any occasion merited a visit from the Queen it was our centenary, don’t you think?

What a great lift it would have given to Potters to have Her Majesty drop in and say hello as we struggle through the worst recession in living memory.

Despite what the anti-monarchy brigade might say, I’m a huge fan of the Windsors and of royal visits.

Having the Queen here in 1986 and again when the refurbished Regent Theatre opened its doors in 1999 created a huge buzz.

There’s no politics to such an event – just flag-waving, happy faces and a moment in the sun for a city that has suffered more than most during the current economic downturn.

These occasions remind the rest of the country that there’s more to Stoke-on-Trent than ailing potbanks, ill-health and council cock-ups.

At least, we all think there is.

It’s just a shame we won’t be able to remind our wonderful monarch at a time when it really matters.