Queen in the Garden by Jim Barnett
Jim spent over a decade in the 1970s and ‘80s designing lighting and staging for international concerts by major rock groups including ABBA, Queen and the Rolling Stones.
Ah… New York City. It really is the city that never sleeps, although in the 1970s and early ‘80s it was one of the murder capitals of the US, and you definitely didn’t venture out alone after dark. Nonetheless, as a venue for touring rock concerts it’s hard to beat, with Madison Square Garden considered the place to play for rock gods.
New Yorkers normally make enthusiastic concert audiences and the atmosphere in the Garden could be electric. The main auditorium on the fifth level could literally bounce in time to the music. I remember the Stones ripping through “Brown Sugar”; lighting grid, sound system, stage, everything and everyone shaking up and down. Exciting if a little frightening.
Working with American union crews could be a challenge. At Madison Square Garden they had a reputation for being hard-assed. You didn’t fuck with them. But boy, when they were on your side, they were the most professional and skilled operators you could hope for.
September 1980; with the last chords of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” rolling round the Garden, Freddie Mercury beating his microphone on the mirrored stage, huge banks of lights sharp and slick and intense descending hot and menacing over the drumkit, enthralling the audience and stimulating the performers — Brian May once said to me ‘Jimmy when you do the lights I play better’ — and the audience applauding wildly, screaming out for more; the end of a Queen show was always climactic. And as the lighting designer I had an immensely satisfying sense of a job well done. Just as I was reflecting on the extraordinary skill of the crew, one of the eight spotlight operators called out over the intercom: “Hey limey!” he said, “That was a great show!” And another: “Yeah a great show! And you always said please and thank you!” These guys could make or break a performance, and in this case they absolutely nailed it. I thanked them again for their terrific work.
Growing up my mum was always nagging us kids to say please and thank you…I’m thankful for that now, as I realise that treating people with courtesy gets the best out of them.
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