Queen's 'fifth man' Spike Edney celebrates 25 years of his All-Star Band with hometown gig at Portsmouth Guildhall
In early 2019, Spike Edney was opening the Oscars ceremony with Queen, beamed live to goodness knows how many millions of people.
Portsmouth-born Spike has been a part of the rock band’s set up now for 35 years. He was was brought on board as their keyboard player for The Works tour in 1984 and never left, becoming a vital part of the operation. He was there for Live Aid, the world-beating Magic Tour, and The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley, five months after the legendary frontman died of Aids-related complications.
And for the past two months he’s been touring America with Queen + Adam Lambert (as they are styled these days), including two sold out nights at Madison Square Garden.
‘Yeah, I thought I was in for an easy slide down into old age,’ he tells The Guide, ‘but I’m busier than I’ve ever been – which is good! I can’t complain.’
The Guide was catching up with Spike, though, to chat about the other major band in his life – it’s 25 years since he started Spike’s All-Star (SAS) Band.
They played their first show at Gosport Festival in 1994.
Spike had played at the Gosport Festival with (Queen drummer) Roger Taylor’s The Cross, and as part of Bob Geldof’s solo band in 1992 and ’93.
But the following year, Spike was without a project, so the festival’s organiser Peter Chegwyn (who now runs Wickham Festival) convinced him to tap into his little black book and put together a band.
It has become a long-running revue which has seen Spike bring together dozens of big names to play concerts with him all over the globe. While their stock in trade is high profile corporate events and exclusive private parties, they still play a handful of public shows each year too.
Those who’ve played with the band include Roy Wood, Chaka Khan, Roger Daltrey, Lionel Richie, Roger Taylor, Brian May, Paloma Faith, Jack Bruce, Paul Young, Marti Pellow, Paul Rodgers, Bob Geldof, Lulu, Suggs, Errol Brown, Bruce Dickinson, Carl Barat, Leo Sayer, Ronnie Spector and Fish, to name a few.
‘It’s quite shocking to think about that, I can’t really get my head around 25 years, it seems like such an epic achievement, the journey that we’ve taken, from Gosport to the stages of the world.
‘I’ve been compiling lists of musicians and songs – I’ve gone through a list of songs that we’ve played and I’m up to 450, there aren’t many bands around who have that many in their armoury.
‘I looked at all the titles and I could recognise and sing nearly everyone of them to myself – there were only a couple I couldn’t!’
That first line-up included Tony Hadley, Kiki Dee, Cozy Powell, Chris Thompson, Paul Young, Neil Murray and Jamie Moses.
The SAS Band is playing a short anniversary tour, dubbed 25 Riffs, which kicks off here in his hometown at the Guildhall. And one Mr Hadley is back in the band.
‘He was there with me in Gosport 25 years ago and Tony has often said it was that gig which came out of a long period of him having a quiet time, when he was going through a career change.
‘Having been such an iconic frontman in the ’80s, he was wondering what to do. I bumped into him in London, I’d met him quite a few times before, and asked what he was up to so I thought I’d take a flyer: “I’m doing this thing and I need some singers…” He looked at me, and went: “Okay”.
‘He’s said that jump-started him getting back into performing, so I’m very proud to have been part of that transition for him.’
And as usual, Spike will be bringing a host of big name guests with him, on this outing that includes Justin Hawkins (The Darkness), Midge Ure, Toyah, Graham Gouldman (10cc), Madeline Bell (Blue Mink) and Patti Russo (Meatloaf).
‘We’ve got nine singers on this bill, which is more than enough for me to deal with. Fortunately that doesn’t mean nine massive egos as we are privileged to play only with people who enjoy doing what we do and are glad to be there.
‘I was talking to Graham Gouldman today and he was asking how it’s going. I had to tell him it’s embarrassing in a way, because I’ve got so many people who want to be there, I don’t know what to do.
‘And he said everyone should be honoured to be there, which I thought was very sweet of him to say.’
There’s also someone new to the all-stars, Japanese guitar maestro Hotei.
‘He’ll probably be a new name to a lot of British people,’ admits Spike, ‘but he’s the Japanese equivalent of Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix rolled into one.
‘He’s their guitar playing god. He’s so well known in Japan he had to move to London to get some peace and quiet.
'I’ve met him several times over the years in Tokyo when I’ve played there with Queen and various other bands. It’s like playing in London and having Eric Clapton get up on stage with you.
'There are plenty of videos of him jamming with The Rolling Stones and David Bowie or whoever, so having him play with us is a great thrill and a huge honour because he really is world class.
‘My best friend, our guitar player Jamie Moses is trembling at the kneecaps. He asked if he can take the night off, but I’ve told him he’s got to be there.’
While putting together the setlist and rehearsing with such geographically disparate talent can be a bit of a challenge, technology has made it easier.
‘It can be difficult. In the old days, back in the late ’90s, I would be sat there in my flat with a cassette duplicator and I would be recording 20-30 songs on to a long-play cassette and then making 20-or-so copies and physically posting them out.
‘We don’t have time to learn songs in rehearsal, only arrangements – we top and tail it, and everyone needs to know it when they walk in. I can’t have 15 people standing around while the guitarist learns the chords to Wild Thing, you know?
‘These days it’s much easier, I send them the links and say: “This is the song, this is the version, by next Tuesday, make sure you know it”.’
Given that he’s worked with so many stellar names, are there any who have got away?
‘Two people I missed sadly, one was George Harrison, I came very close but no cigar, and the other was Steve Marriott of The Small Faces, one of my all time heroes, i would have loved to have done something with him.
‘Stevie Winwood, I would love to be onstage next to him as I think he’s such an amazing talent.
‘And Joe Walsh I’d love to play with, and that’s not out of the realms of possibility. Nearly got him once, but an Eagles tour got in the way.
‘I’ve been lucky that I’ve got to play with most of my heroes.
‘We’ve played all over Europe and the US, New Orleans, San Diego, and the world-famous Troubadour Club in Hollywood, as a warm-up to a corporate the next day.
‘There’s a lot of moving parts to an SAS Show, there’s 25 people on the stage, and then the crew, so that gets quite complicated. It’s like taking a school trip.’
So what was it like playing at the Oscars?
‘We were the first band ever to open the Oscars. That was quite something, I put that up there with Rock in Rio and Live Aid as an experience to be remembered.’
As Queen’s 'fifth man’, what did he make of the film Bohemian Rhapsody?
‘The film has gone way beyond everybody’s imaginings, the success of it, and Rami Malek winning the Oscar and deservedly so, it’s an absolutely outstanding performance, very proud of him doing that.’
But because of the film’s timeline – it climaxes with the band’s show-stealing turn at Live Aid in 1985 – and the artistic licence involved in telling the story, he’s not featured as a character.
Does he think there will be a sequel?
‘It’s hard to say. Where do you go from there? The film ended on a high and from then on the main character starts to go downhill, it would be a very depressing sequel.’
At 67, Spike has decided to write his autobiography.
‘I’m a very slow mover and every time I think of something, or someone reminds me of a story, that generates three more stories, and that generates more, so I spend most of my time ferociously writing notes about the story of this, that or the other and trying to keep up, but I’m about 30,000 words in.
‘I would say later next year is the most likely delivery time.’
The SAS Band play Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday, September 11, doors 7pm. Tickets £35.15-£48.71. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.