48 years ago, 27 January 1974, Queen performed at The Sunbury Rock Festival – Held at a Private Farm in Sunbury, Australia. (The festival in 1974 ran from January 25th to 28th).
“Queen I Tour”
The Sunbury Pop Festival was staged during the long weekend celebrating Australia Day. It actually ran successfully for several years, 1972 to 1975, and was essentially Australia’s Woodstock. It attracted the best bands the continent could offer.
The large music festival was held on a 620-acre (2.5 km2) private farm between Sunbury and Diggers Rest, Victoria – Sunbury is a small town about 40 kilometres from Melbourne.
Queen were booked as the headliners, the first time a non-Australian band headed the show, which understandably drew some ire from inebriated fans, impatient journalists, and promoters.
The band were looked upon as snobs with the local roadies when they showed up to the event in a hired white limousines to transport them from their hotel to the concert, and when they arrived, they made a big entrance, which the Australian crew loathed, dismissing these ‘Pommies’ as just too clever.
The road crew even received a good drubbing: the local crew who had been hired to assemble the lights were pushed aside in favor of Queen’s own crew, and, understandably irate that they lost out on money and work, the Australian crew did everything they could to sabotage the band’s set.
To top it all off, Brian was ill following his inoculation he received in London for this special trip to Australia. It was reported the needle was tainted and he felt pain in his arm, he actually was developing gangrene in his arm and Freddie was ill as well. Brian stated Freddie had issues with his ears. He had an ear infection and was on antibiotics, he was feeling drowsy and out of sorts. Needless to say, the bands set was less than perfect.
A local DJ (and Scottish-born musician) named Jim Keays acting as MC introduced Queen as such: “Well, we’ve got another load of limey bastards tonight. They’re probably going to be useless, but let’s give them something to think about!” He then mooned the crowd, and proceeded to call the band “stuck up pommies” before leaving the stage.
Freddie couldn’t hear himself singing at all, Brian’s arm was in pain, making it difficult to play and the lighting rig gave up as the equipment was sabotaged. Despite everything, fans reported that it was a good show. From a grudging start, the audience warmed to the band and were wildly enthusiastic by the time their set was complete. They even demanded an encore! You know the band were manipulated out of the encore.
Here’s an extraction from http://anddum.com/sunburyweb/index.htm
“According to one source, there was some incitement from the the announcer, who came on just after Queen had performed and asked the crowd: “D’you want anymore from these pommie bastards or do ya want an Aussie rock band?” Queen quit the stage to boos and calls of ‘go back to Pommyland, ya pooftahs!’ but 𝗙𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗱𝗶𝗲 𝗠𝗲𝗿𝗰𝘂𝗿𝘆 𝗯𝗼𝗹𝗱𝗹𝘆 𝗱𝗲𝗰𝗹𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗱, “𝗪𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝘄𝗲 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗯𝗮𝗰𝗸 𝘁𝗼 𝗔𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗹𝗶𝗮, 𝗤𝘂𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗯𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗯𝗶𝗴𝗴𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗯𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗹𝗱! — and when they returned in 1976 they were indeed one of the hottest acts on the planet.”
Another performance was scheduled for the next day, but the band flew home instead due to Freddie and Brian being ill.
Brian May recalled this show years later. “It was all just a series of misunderstandings. Queen were unknowns and we never expected top billing. We were supposed to go on as the sun was setting so we could use our lighting equipment but we had to wait a while (the schedule had failed to account for daylight saving). The Australian stage crew didn’t like this and started fighting with our stage crew.” He has also stated that he felt the band went down well.
Brian goes into more detail about the day in a 1977 Australian radio interview, but interestingly enough he isn’t quite as hard on the MC: “I got very ill on the flight because we got injections for smallpox, feeling really dead, apart from the journey, which is about 30 hours or something. And it was very hot. We just couldn’t handle the heat, having come from English winter. We played the gig. Freddie had a lot of trouble with his ears. A lot of problems. It’s very strange. He went swimming, and he completely went deaf. He couldn’t understand what was happening. He was getting very worried. We did the first night, and lots of strange feelings on stage, a lot of animosity from not the Australian groups, but from the road crews, and they didn’t want to move our gear. The didn’t want to give us any help. We finally went on stage and played the set. There was an MC, I can’t remember his name, who, before we went on, said ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got some Australian groups afterwards, but here they are anyway, Queen.’ We couldn’t believe it. In the beginning it was, we were all sort of looking and not sure what to make of it, I think, but after a couple numbers we went well, and we thought we got everybody going and everything. And we came off stage, and there’s a lot of [audience] reaction, and the same guy went back on the stage and said, ‘Well, that’s all of them now,’ and they’re kinda still going, saying, ‘we want more’ or whatever, and he says, ‘Do you want to hear more Queen or do you want to hear Madder Lake?’ So that was it, and he basically managed to kill the sort of reaction from us, which was quite amazing, yet he was on there about five minutes during this applause and eventually saying, well, OK, we’re gonna have Madder Lake now. So we felt a little unhappy about that! The musicians we met were great. It was just these few people.”
This is the recollection of a fan from Australia: “Queen, largely unknown, played their set and were very well-received. They did get calls for an encore. They were to be followed by Madder Lake, an Aussie band that were very well-known and popular at the time. The MC egged the crowd on saying things like, “We don’t need these pommies back. We want an Aussie band.” Naturally, the largely drunken audience did boo, not about Queen’s performance, but at not wanting Queen to come out and wanting their local band instead. The press being what it is figured booing the band sounded better and so was born the story, albeit not an accurate one.”
Madder Lake’s bassist, Kerry McKenna, recalls the eventful day: “The issue revolved around Queen refusing to go on at their allotted time because the light wasn’t right. I remember it was sundown, so whoever went on stage wouldn’t get the full benefit of their light show. It came down to a battle between management, which then spilled into a fracas between the roadies of our respective bands, as each crew jostled to set gear up. The MC (or some other promoter) goaded the crowd into an us and them vibe, with the local band in favour over the unknown “pommie bastards.” It ended with us going on stage first, and Queen redeeming themselves to the crowd and showing a hint of what they were to become. And that is how I remember it.” The band’s singer, Mick Fettes, adds that “the crowd were so much against Queen as they were impatient to see Madder Lake, who were the next band on.”