On this day, thirty years ago, I sat trembling on a tiny bit of tarmac outside Wembley Stadium. No I wasn’t on some kind of protest, I was waiting to see my idol for the first time. Madonna’s now legendary Blond Ambition Tour had landed on our shores and the excitement was incredible.
It is difficult to get across the Madonna of 1990 if you weren’t lucky enough to experience it first-hand. Known as one of her Imperial phases, 1990 saw Madonna on top of her game. She had just released Vogue bringing the world to a standstill and was still riding high on her 1989 Like A Prayer album which saw her take her first steps into a world of legends, leaving her teeny bopper contemporaries behind.
Having missed the Who’s That Girl tour of 1987, I was fifteen and giddy as a kipper when we got to Wembley at eleven in the morning after a six-hour drive from the Lake District. My parents must have been mad. In those days you paid £20 for a ticket and it was up to you to put the effort in to get a good seat. That meant sitting outside the stadium for hours in unrelenting 32C heat with no shade. Typical of the UK to decide to have summer on that day. I had to add my own touch of drama to proceedings and get heat stroke, my Dad having to open his shirt up to give me shade. But the power of Madonna can’t be ignored and when she soundchecked I soon perked up. I can even remember she did Causing A Commotion, Vogue and I think Holiday.
Vogue was a surprise hit for Madonna, originally a b-side to US release Keep It Together, they realised they had created a masterpiece. A homage to the New York Gay ballroom scene, the whole tour was fused with its influence. Madonna could have played it safe and done a tour of her hits but instead she decided to make an artistic statement we still see the effects of today. Every song was a theatrical presentation brought to the masses, dealing with racism, Catholicism, female sexuality and LGBT awareness. This was in a time when mainstream newspapers were free to pour as much bigotry into society as they saw fit. For a best-selling artist, it was a risk. Madonna was at the peak of her powers and introduced fashion with the now iconic cone bra collaborations with Jean Paul Gaultier, choreography which would make a Broadway dancer flinch and a selection of songs her adoring public were desperate to see live.
So it was against 79,995 other worshippers we competed with when the gates finally opened at 4pm. Modern day health and safety officers would pale if they saw us all pushing our way through and into the hallowed ground of Wembley. My Mum managed to lose her shoe and just grabbed it as I hollered “Leave it”. Our hard work paid off and we had a great position to the left side of the stage. Now we only had to wait another four hours but with shade and an actual seat it felt like we were at Buckingham Palace.
These were the days before Madonna pushed her luck with start times and she started at 8 on the dot with the set rising up from under the stage and a suited Madge coming to take control. She was peak Madonna, broadcast live on Radio One she had been told not to swear, obviously she said the F word 14 times in one speech and dropped it in wherever she could. I’ve been to many a gig since but nothing will compare to seeing 40,000 people on the pitch leap up as one when the lights started.
The impact of Blond Ambition shouldn’t be belittled. Madonna introduced a four-act structure she still uses in her live performances and raised the bar for anyone who wanted to present pop music on the stage. Before then it simply hadn’t been done this way. Michael Jackson had put on spectacles but not of such sophisticated means. We go to see shows now and take it for granted that there will be costume changes and concepts, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Madonna invented this for the most part.
Madonna herself went on to take many amazing tours on the road, each with iconic moments, which I’ve been lucky enough to see, but I can’t think of another tour that she has done which had the energy levels and consistency of Blond Ambition. Even her later peaks like the Confessions Tour and MDNA Tour had moments where you felt safe to nip to the loo, for Blond Ambition you forgot you even had a bladder.
After she had sung her last song on the road, the tour was not done with us. The following year, Madonna released In Bed With Madonna, a warts and all documentary of life on the road. Again, in a world laden with reality TV, it is easy to forget that artists didn’t do this. The access she gave to the cameras was unprecedented and she pushed further her quest for equality, making her gay dancers the stars of the show. I’m not saying she invented reality TV because I don’t want her to be blamed for the Kardashians but she most certainly put the pressure on stars to drop the veil and show what they stood for.
The only thing she didn’t do was make an official release of the concert as a whole but a rummage around YouTube can find the TV specials from Yokahama, Barcelona or Nice. I’d recommend the Nice one as she was being broadcast live to the USA and the devil on her shoulder was firmly in residence.
Were you at a Blond Ambition gig? If so, which one and what were your memories? Let me know in the comments below.