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Is this the Real life? Mark Blake on Queen
World-wide, Queen are the second highest selling UK recording artists of all time. Author and music journalist Mark Blake describes his new book, and explains some of the connections of the band to Cornwall. Interview Rupert White.
Does your biography attempt to cover
the lives of all four members of Queen right up to present day or does
it focus on a particular phase in their careers?
Many official music biographies are heavily edited and rather bland,
because the band have an image to maintain. For example they are likely
to stipulate who should be interviewed, and who should n't.
There’s a telling quote from Brian May, in which he talks about going to see the film of the Woodstock festival, and realising that, The Who and Hendrix aside, he can’t relate to a lot of the bands – “the stoned shuffling” and so on. I think that some of the criticism Queen received from the music press was valid. Unfortunately, it seems to have done some irreversible damage. I enjoyed interviewing Brian May and Roger Taylor, but it’s hard, if not impossible, to convince them of your good intentions.
I’m part of a generation of – not very young – music critics, who grew up on Queen’s music, and don’t share the same hang-ups as some of our predecessors. Then again, those men have had 20 years now of being asked the same questions over and over again about the death of Freddie Mercury and how many “Galileos” there are in Bohemian Rhapsody. I imagine they must be sick to death of it by now.
From the interviews I conducted, it seems that it was a home from home for both groups, and a place for the bands to practice their act, away from prying eyes in London.
There was also a big social aspect to Smile and Queen’s mini-tours of Cornwall. Smile used to bring an entourage of friends, roadies and general hangers-on with them from Imperial College (where Brian May was studying) and Ealing Art School, which is where Smile’s bassist Tim Staffell was a student. Among those friends was Fred Bulsara (later Freddie Mercury). One of my interviewees, Richard Thompson (who played drums in bands with both May and Mercury) remembers being with Smile in Cornwall, on the night of the first moon landings, in 1969. He watched it on Roger Taylor’s mother’s TV in Truro…
Queen also played their first concert in the City Hall in Truro on June 27th, 1970. Though the gig was advertised as a Smile gig, it was the first time that Freddie sang with them, which is why the band have always said it was their first concert as Queen (see advert in West Briton below).
I managed to track down other people who haven’t given interviews before. These include Freddie Mercury’s first friends in England (who took him to Eel Pie Island to see Rod Stewart, and who helped design posters when he tried to put a band together); Doug Bogie (aka Doug X) the teenage bass guitarist who was fired by Queen after just two gigs; Chris Smith, who briefly played keyboards in Smile and was one of Freddie Mercury’s first songwriting partners, and a former tea-boy/assistant tape op at Wessex Studios (now a big name in radio) who witnessed a bizarre altercation between Freddie Mercury and Brian May over a tray of almond slices.
were supposedly recording 'We are the Champions' in that same studio in
Highbury at the same time as the Sex Pistols recorded 'Never mind the
Bollocks'. Is this right?
I’d like to think it happened. Queen’s roadie Peter Hince, who later became the head of their road crew, also recalls the meeting, and says that the Pistols and Queen had been in the same studio a year before that, when Queen were making the A Day At The Races album.
Mark Blake is a journalist and writer. His work has been published in numerous newspapers, music and lifestyle magazines since 1988, including Q,The Times, Mojo, and Music Week. He is Editor-In-Chief of Q and Mojo's special edition magazines and books.
He is also the author of the 2007 music biography, Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd (available under the title Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd in the United States). His book "Stone Me: The Wit & Wisdom Of Keith Richards", was published by Aurum Press in 2008.
Is this the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen is available from October 2010.