'Even Queen's copyright team can't stop us now'

The travelling teacher recalls a school production of We Will Rock You bailed out of copyright trouble by Brian May himself

Hywel Roberts

Queen don't stop me now

The fog clears and here we are.

I have filled the request form in and submitted to the copyright owners everything they need to give my school and I permission to do four performances of the newly-released schools-version of the hit Queen musical We Will Rock You. Permission granted, rehearsal schedule published and our auditions (of sorts) complete.

I say "auditions of sorts" because, basically, if the kids rock up to the auditions, they can be in it. Big, small, old or young – if you wanna be in it, turn up when you’re needed, then you are IN and you will reap the glory and rewards of a showbiz lifestyle for three nights in February! You’ll also be the envy of your peers and all those who sacked it off before opening night. Yep, we are cruising for greatness.

We will rock you

We aren’t Glee Club, and we aren’t in the West End. We are a proper town-centre high school in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. It’s 2006 and the rights to put the show on haven’t been available long. The great folk at Queen Ltd or whatever it might be called have given it to schools and amateur societies to perform for a cheap fee – for a song, you might say. They are generous and we are buzzing.

When I announce it’s to be our next production, the kids go bonkers and start the instantly recognisable stamp-stamp-clap that signals the title song. I’m bleary-eyed for the right reasons as I fondly remember an ancient Christmas as a kid, giving my Dad the cassette of Queen Greatest Hits, the one where they all wear leather jackets on the front. He loved that tape.

A week before curtain-up and the tickets have been sold, Mad Max-style costumes nailed, and Elaine in reprographics is wearing out the photocopier doing the programmes. It’s all systems go, and we are levitating with hard-won joy.

Then a letter arrives.

It’s from the copyright people. There is to be a Northern tour of WWRY in a few months and one of the venues is Bradford, an hour’s drive away. It’s a professional production and our performances will apparently have a negative impact on ticket sales.

Another one bites the dust

I can hardly register what I’m reading. My first instinct is to ring them, and so I do. I’m greeted with an inhuman first-responder who ignores my arsenal of human arguments:

The cast is not professional.

The cast are kids.

The cast are kids in Barnsley.

The cast are kids in Barnsley who have worked their socks off.

The cast are kids in Barnsley who have worked their socks off and just want to show their folks. They love Queen.

"It’s all in the terms and conditions, sir," is the response I get.

And then it hits me. I have an internal downward-rush and feel sick. What do I tell the students? I’m thinking of Nathan in particular. He hasn’t had any bother in school since he got to be in the show. His recent record is spotless. This news could ruin him. He’ll kick right off, bless him. Then I see all their faces in my mind’s eye and my head starts melting.

I go to teach Year 7.

At home that night, I fire up the computer and hope the current internet provider we have will give me a break from their often-temperamental consistency.

I google Brian May. I google "Contact Brian May". It honestly takes me moments to find a 2006-equivalent of a "contact me" page.

And I write. I try and maintain my dignity, but it’s close to begging. Hopefully Brian will hear me. HEAR ME, BRIAN!!!!!

School the next day is tough and I’m keeping a low profile whilst the levels of excitement are hitting fever-pitch. Oh cripes, it’s going to be tragic, I fear.

Don't stop me now

At the end of the day I do my usual email check and there is one that sticks out. As I sit and write this, I can’t remember the name of the sender, but it is someone close to Queen’s star-gazing guitarist. The gist of it is here:

"Thanks for your email. I showed it to Brian, and he is livid. He said you should crack on and not worry. He told me to tell you to have a great show!"

I could levitate again. All good. Panic over.

Later, I confided in Nathan as to what had happened, my panics and the eventual happy outcome. He smiled and said, in his beautiful South Yorkshire drawl, “I would have said: Brian! Don’t stop us nar!”

And the fog descends.

Giving permission, building bridges, being kind…it’s not rocket science.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. Read his back catalogue, and follow him on Facebook

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Hywel Roberts

Hywel Roberts

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer

Find me on Twitter @hywel_roberts

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