Bryan Adams on ‘Wembley Live 1996,’ Upcoming Musical and More: Exclusive Interview
Looking back at the show that's the centerpiece of the recently released Wembley Live 1996, Bryan Adams offers a concise summary, calling it “the culmination of a lot of years and a lot of songs."
As he notes, at the time, "18 Til I Die was No. 1 one in England. There had been two or three other albums in the previous years that had done really well, so it was all leading up to something. It just happened that it led to Wembley.”
The concert was a major event that found Adams and his band playing live in front of more than 70,000 fans packed into the sold-out stadium. The show was broadcast worldwide on the radio as Adams and his longtime band worked their way through a set that ran for more than two hours.
Somehow Adams managed to bring the sweaty energy that had been a staple of his club-playing days into the larger confines of Wembley -- and with good reason. The group of players surrounding Adams -- drummer Mickey Curry, bassist Dave Taylor, guitarist Keith Scott and keyboardist Tommy Mandel -- had been on the road, traveling in the same vans and buses, since the early days. Adams and the band had bonded as a unit.
Today, both Curry and Scott continue to form the core of the group; Scott recently celebrated his 35th year with Adams at a gig in Paris. “It’s because we all come from sort of similar backgrounds,” Adams says. “We’re all pretty working class, and we really love a lot of the same music. Keith and Mickey are such good musicians that it makes me raise my game. I’ve become a better musician because of them, and we’ve continued to push each other. It’s like brothers.”
Wembley 1996 Live takes a trip across a lot of eras from Adams’ career up to that point. In addition to the newer material from the period, nearly all of the hits from Cuts Like a Knife and Reckless are there. As fans have come to expect, there are even a few deeper cuts from across the years. Even on his recent tour in support of his latest album, the Jeff Lynne-produced Get Up, Adams was still pulling out a couple of lesser-known favorites with stripped-back versions of “Lonely Nights” from 1981’s You Want It You Got It and “This Time” from Cuts Like a Knife. Musically, in a sense, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. “I might forget my lyrics -- but I never forget where I started,” he says.
The success of the Waking Up the Neighbours album in 1991 spawned seven radio singles, including the massive ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” which had spent week after week at the top of the charts in a number of countries, eventually selling 15 million copies worldwide, partially thanks to its exposure in the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie. Adams toured in support of the album for more than two years, and when things wrapped up, it would be a few years before his next album materialized. In that time, he released a greatest hits album (with more touring in support of that) and notched a couple more hits with additional songs that appeared on soundtracks. Adams now says that on the heels of the Neighbours album, the pressure was on to deliver a successful follow-up. And his stage show had continued to evolve as a result of the nonstop road work.
“It was quite different to tour than it was in the ‘90s -- everything was much more security-oriented,” he remembers. “So in reaction to that, I started doing this thing called a B stage, and we were the first band to do it. We put a little stage out in the middle of the crowd. I remember my production guy saying, ‘You are insane. This is not going to work. Don’t even think about it.’ I said, ‘No, no. We’re going ahead and we’re going to do it, come what may.’ It was such a success and it really, really threw everybody. ... We were doing covers and all sorts of things -- anything that sort of came to our head at the time.”
Adams points to a Japanese bootleg that collects fan recording of the various cover songs that they performed, spreading more than 40 tracks across two CDs.
“It was a lot of fun touring back then, and I felt like we were breaking ground all of the time," he says. "Not only were we doing things like that, but we were also playing in countries that had never had concerts before, like India and Pakistan. With Waking Up the Neighbours, the net had been cast so wide. So what happened was everybody that hadn’t heard albums like Cuts Like a Knife or Reckless and only knew Waking Up the Neighbours, they were suddenly going back and trying to discover what else I had done. By the time 18 Til I Die had come out, there had been such a resurgence of the past music and also with the new albums that it just took off everywhere. We were playing around the world. There wasn’t anywhere I couldn’t go. I could have thrown a dart anywhere on the planet and done a show.”
The spirit of those days is preserved 20 years later on Wembley 1996 Live and with the level of activity that was going on in that era, Adams can be forgiven for not even being aware that he had in his possession video of that very moment.
“I didn’t actually recall that I’d filmed it,” he admits. “I kept getting fans writing to me saying, ‘When’s the film coming out for Wembley?’ And I was like, ‘What film? There’s no film!’ And they’re saying, ‘No, no, we remember, there were lots of cameras there.’ Then I remembered that we had recorded it live for radio. I was looking at one of the CDs that was released at the time a few years ago and saw that there were some live tracks and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, we did record the show for radio.’
A short time later, he was at his studio, the Warehouse in Vancouver, where he made an unexpected discovery. "I went down in the basement to see what kind of rubbish was down there, and I found a box of film. I was like, ‘What’s this?’ And it said ‘Wembley ‘96’ and I was like, “Oh, we did film it.” It took about a year to edit it, because it was all really loosey-goosey filming. ... But because we had a recording of it, it was just a matter of finding the right shots at the right time to put it together.”
Now reunited with his longtime collaborator Jim Vallance in recent years, the pair has been working on a musical version of the Pretty Woman movie. "It’s going to debut on Broadway the summer of 2018," he says. "So between now and then, it’s all just going to be workshops and stuff to get it together.”
Including another album? “There may be another [one] among all of that music," he says. "But it’s hard to say.”
See Bryan Adams and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '80s