Watch a giddy Freddie Mercury warm up before his last ever show with Queen

Freddie Mercury singing in a backstage portakabin
(Image credit: YouTube)

It wasn't meant to be Freddie Mercury's final performance, and it certainly wasn't billed as such, but Queen's 1986 show at Knebworth has gone down in history as just that. The last time Freddie Mercury took to the stage with his band.

There's a shortage of video documenting what took place, but that's far from unusual, even considering the historical nature of the show. Two months earlier Marillion had headlined the vast Garden Party, 35 miles north of Knebworth at the Milton Keynes bowl, and no professional footage of the show exists. "There was a disagreement over who was going to pay for it," then-frontman Fish told this writer, "and at the end of the day nobody bothered filming it. It's ridiculous." 

These days, of course, it'd be different. There'd be multiple cameras, a drone or two, pro-shot and fan-shot highlights would be on YouTube within hours, and the whole shebang would be released as a deluxe edition Blu-ray before the arrival of Autumn. 

That's not to say that there weren't film crews at Knebworth. Anglia TV were there and filmed a segment for local news broadcast. Some documentary footage was shot by Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher, the Austrian duo responsible for Queen's One Vision video. And the entire set was relayed live to the huge screens that book-ended the stage. 

Various pieces of footage have surfaced over the years. Anglia shared some film shot at the show to accompany a story about Brian May receiving an honorary degree from the University of Hertfordshire in 2002, but the footage has become a subject of some controversy – even conspiracy – among Queen fans.

"It is one of the biggest blunders in our history," May once said. "The cameras were rolling, and visuals of the entire concert were relayed to the Eidophor screens simultaneously with the show. All it needed was for someone in our team to put a tape machine on the end of either the screen mix or the cameras themselves. No-one did. So it all went into the ether.

"There is a little bit of documentary footage in existence, also shot at the time separately, by Rudi and Hannes, I think, which includes some beautiful audience footage - which has been used in the odd documentary. But that's it. It would have been a great DVD to have, wouldn't it. Queen's Last Concert! Well, sadly, it will never happen."

So we're left with scraps, until we're told otherwise. But there's still magic in those morsels, as proved by the short segment of video that shows a giddy Freddie Mercury performing vocal exercises in a backstage dressing room immediately prior to the band's stage walk. He's even joined by Roger Taylor for a quick run through the "deeeeey-o" call-and-response Mercury had made world famous at Queen's Live Aid show the previous summer. 

It's a wonderful clip. Mercury looks as if he doesn't have a care in the world. Yet he'd already told his bandmates that he was nearing the end of the road, "I'm not going to be doing this forever," he's reported to have said. "This is probably the last time."

Sadly, he was right. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.