On September 18th, 1993, a crowd of about 1,000 lucky rock fans dressed in their finest black tie evening wear gathered on the charred ruins of Cowdray Castle at West Sussex, England to witness a once-in-a-lifetime superstar concert featuring Pink Floyd, Queen, Genesis and Eric Clapton. The event was put together to raise money for King Edward VII Hospital in Midhurst. Fans that shelled out £160 got to enjoy an elaborate dinner, while those that paid a £45 had to bring their own food and picnic. All in all, it was an incredible bargain for anyone fortunate enough to be invited.
The most remarkable aspect of the show was that none of the bands were actually in tour mode, and these generally aren’t acts willing to play without months of elaborate rehearsal. Queen had been inactive since the tribute concert to Freddie Mercury the previous year, Genesis were on hiatus following the Way We Walk tour and Pink Floyd were busy putting the finishes touches on The Division Bell. But somehow or another, all of them were convinced to perform at the show.
The show began with Queen, though it was really just drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon because guitarist Brian May was busy on a solo tour. Taylor handled the vocals for “A Kind of Magic,” “I Want to Break Free,” “We Will Rock You,” “Radio Ga Ga” and “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” with Paul Young coming out to help out with “Another One Bites the Dust.”
“I must admit that I’ve done some crazy things in order to satisfy my passion for Queen,” one fan wrote in the Queen fanzine Princess Of The Universe, “but paying L80 and wearing a dinner suit (complete with dicky bow) to stand in a field must rank up there as one of the silliest. However to see a rare glimpse of a certain Mr. Deacon it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.” It was the only time in history that Taylor and Deacon played together as Queen, and the second-to-last time that Deacon played in public.
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Next up was Genesis with Roger Taylor on drums. They played “Turn It on Again,” “Hold on My Heart,” “I Can’t Dance” and “Invisible Touch.” Years later, Phil Collins said it was a pivotal moment in his life since he was ripped away from the making of his solo LP Both Sides of the Story – an extremely personal collection of songs about the breakup of his marriage – to play the gig. Clowning around to “I Can’t Dance” just didn’t feel right. He wouldn’t announce his departure from the group for another three years, but the show was his his final stand with the band until their 2007 reunion tour.
Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford handled bass duties for Pink Floyd. They played “Run Like Hell,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb” with Paul Young helping out with the Roger Waters vocal parts. Eric Clapton wrapped things up with “Stone Free” and “Old Love” before everyone came back out to jam on “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “Ain’t That Pecular.”
It was indeed very, very peculiar. It was peculiar all of these stadium acts played for such a tiny audience on the remains of a castle that burned down in 1793. It was peculiar that fans were forced to wear tuxedos and ball gowns. It was peculiar they didn’t charge 10 times more for tickets. It was peculiar most people have never heard of the damn thing. It was peculiar they didn’t film it professionally and we are forced to look at the crappy, partial fan-shot video at the top of this article. At least it’s evidence the thing happened and it wasn’t some sort of classic rock fever dream.