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Here is an article about Queen when they just recently had released their second album. They didn`t exactly have the critics on their side from the start. This is exactly why you never should listen too much to critics and music reviewers – they are sometimes horribly wrong. As Freddie Mercury would have said: Have a nice read, my dear! 😉
Described by Roxy Music`s Paul Thompson as `too contrived` and by NME`s Nick Kent as `a bucket of urine`, this band have nonetheless come from obscurity to a headlining tour in six months flat.
They must have something. Mustn`t they?
JULIE WEBB finds out what…
Freddie Mercury’s a pretty regular guy – uses regular Biba black nail varnish, regular black eye liner and straightens his hair with regular electric tongs. You get the idea he’s bored with being told Queen are going to be big – he reckons he’s a star now and wears that star-apparent attitude like a well-fitted pair of trousers.
Freddie’s not bent, just camp. Ask him if he’s queer and he’ll turn round and say: ‘I’m as gay as a daffodil, dear’. (He has the habit of saying “dear” at the end of every sentence). Drummer Roger Taylor expounds: ‘Freddie’s just his natural self: just a poove, really.”
Apart from Nick Kent describing their first album as a “bucket of urine”, Queen have had few mentions in NME – yet even so they managed to pull second place in the “best new group” readers’ poll. Put them down as much as you may – they don`t really give a damn. They`ll still come up smelling of roses. This week their single “Seven Seas Of Rhye” makes its debut in the chart, just days after release. Soon, their second album “Queen II” will doubtless follow. For Queen are big business and though you may hate them they’re gonna confound you by being huge.
There’s money behind them for a start. For a band who are still on the verge of making big bread they’ve got an amazing amount of gear and a lighting system that Bowie would be jealous of. They also have a professional set up that makes you wonder why it’s taken them so long to get where they are now. Every one of them is academically bright; all possess degrees and, while no one likes a smartie-pants, being above average intelligence has helped them avoid being rooked.
Mercury: “The moment we made a demo we were aware of the sharks – we had such amazing offers from people saying `We’ll make you the next T Rex` – but we were very, very careful not to jump straight in. Literally, we went to about every company before we finally settled. We didn’t want to be treated like an ordinary band that`s going to be launched. We`re signed to Trident Audio, so basically all the money comes from them. We were their first management venture and they are prepared to lend us – or whatever – the money we need. Within reason.”
At the time of signing, Queen had no manager and it was Trident Audio who found them one, in the personage of Jack Nelson, a smooth-working character from America. “The whole point of him being our manager is that he`s based in London but he`s obviously got all the American contacts – which is great.” Shrewd too – advance publicity in America suggests the band promise more than most British groups – and already they`ve sold an incredible 150,000 copies of their first album stateside.
Backstage at Cambridge Corn Exchange the band are getting ratty. Drummer Roger Taylor explains: “The road crew got here early and were told by the promoter they couldn`t get in till five and when it takes hours to put up the equipment there`s just no way you can get a sound check.”
While support band Nuts are on stage, the road crew are still fixing up Queen`s lights. Guitarist Brian May says, “I`d walk off stage if I were them. D`you realise they`ve got all the house lights on? How can they play under conditions like that?”
Subject changes to hypes – Queen are very sensitive about being described as a hype: “It’s rubbish to say we were hyped,” Taylor claims. “We started playing the really small gigs and then we released an album. There was no big splash of publicity or any thing. Now Cockney Rebel – their publicity came before they’d done anything.”
At this stage in the proceedings, record producer John Antony is considering doing rock`s first streak, but finally comes out with this gem: “The best quote I ever heard about Queen was from the drummer of Roxy Music who said `I don`t like them because they are too contrived!` I laughed for about ten minutes. In fact, I almost had apoplexy.”
Cambridge Corn Exchange is one of those places that’s draughty but has atmosphere. Beer cans may litter the floor, and hot dogs may be on sale at the back of the hall, but it`s phantasmagorical, man. And when Queen take to the stage it’s echoey as well. In this establishment Queen fans look like any other fans except they wear overcoats. And before you know where you are, the place is being blacked out, the opening strains of “Procession” (from their new album) are being played, prior to lights switching on Mercury as he gets into “Father To Son”.
If I seem to be dwelling on Mercury and drummer Taylor it’s because they hit you between the eyes as the two genuine image makers in the band. Taylor is the pretty one with class, while Mercury is the evil-looking type with vibes. He describes himself as being “sluttish” on stage and it’s true – just the way he slinks around the place spells out “street-walker whore tart”. In fact, when he sings their encore “Big Spender” and yells ‘I don’t pop my cork for everyone’ you’d better believe him.
Musically Queen are brash, loud and heavy. There`s little subtlety at this point in their musical career and – there`s not an awful lot that`s totally original but they do have a flash way of putting it across that makes it with the audience. It seemed a compromise when they played “Jailhouse Rock” coupled with “Stupid Cupid” – who needs that, after all? Yet Mercury was adamant afterwards that it was a vital and relevant part of the stage act.
“You see, the thing is we`re out on stage to entertain and it`s no good saying `look we`ve got a new album and you are going to get a whole barrage of our new songs whether you like it or not`. It`s nice to do a barrage but in the end it`s nice to do something they can associate with so they don`t have to listen too much. All they do is boogie and have a good time.
“We do `Jailhouse Rock` because we`ve been doing it for years and I don`t give a fuck if people say it`s now a trendy thing to play. It suits us and that`s all that matters.”
Strangely enough, Mercury, self-confessed poseur and dandy, says they don’t come in for a big gay following. “We don’t get letters from gay people or anything, though I’ve had letters from people saying I look very evil.” True, he does look evil and if you study the lyrics on their second album with its mentions of thunder and lightening, defying the laws of nature and ogres… you begin to wonder. “I just like people to put their own interpretation on my songs. Really, they are just little fairy stories. Last night (at Sunderland) I felt really evil when I came on stage – when I’m out there I’m really in a world of my own, I go up there and have a good time. It’s the audience participation that counts and last night they were really great – I felt I could do anything. I could have gone into the audience and had a rave. Just Freddie Mercury poncing on stage and having a good time.
“People expect something special so you`ve got to create a real show – the Mott tour helped us an immense amount. I don`t think we were a real band before that – but Mott taught us how to behave as a band and how to survive over a long period.”
Was it a difficult transition to make – from being support band a few months ago to now headlining their own British tour?
Mercury: “The responsibility now lies with us. but I’ve always thought of us as a top group. Sounds very bigheaded, I know, but that’s the way it is. The opportunity of playing with mott was great but I knew darn well, – and even Ian Hunter knew – the moment we finished that tour as far as Britain was concerned we’d be headlining.
“We took it in our stride. It was something we had to do – I wouldn`t have liked to have done a headline straight away because we wouldn`t have attracted many people but the Mott tour just did us right.”
On their debut album “Queen” the band were compared to a variety of bands, mainly Zeppelin and Yes. I asked Mercury if he was aware that, at times, his voice sounded remarkably similar to that of Jon Anderson.
“I`m not as weak as that…” he counters – then thinks, realises he hasn`t said the right thing, and adds “I could take that as a compliment because I know I sound gritty in other places. In other works, you are saying it`s versatility. I don`t sound like Jon Anderson all the time, do I?”
Everything in this man`s manner suggests he is vain. I broach the subject.
“My dear I`m the vainest creature going but then so are all pop stars…”
I tell him I noticed him tonging his hair in the dressing room.
“I`ve been doing that for the last two years – look at it, it`s all dry. I know it`s bad for the hair…”
He poses quite a lot on stage, looking evilly at the assembled masses around the stage before standing sideways, holding his head in profile for seconds, flicking his hair back. All good stuff. And there’s more to come if he gets more of his ideas through: “I’d like to be carried on stage by six nubile slaves with palms and all.”
It had been suggested to me prior to the gig by a somewhat cynical but articulate person that Queen had sat down and, in the manner of Chinn Chapman, cleverly worked out what was commercially needed in the music business. Therefore, they were clinical in their approach.
Mercury: “Untrue. We haven`t suddenly decided `here is an open market`.
“We`ve geared ourselves, certainly – but with our music coming first. And we`ve been pretty confident all along. I still think the strongest thing we do is our music – and the way we put it across. That is all we`re about actually – from start to finish. I don`t think we`re suddenly going to say `Oh! Look! the phase is going to change.` That`s why we are concerned about people saying `here come Queen`. Suddenly, glam rock is in and they are following the tradition.` We were called Queen over three years ago – and that`s pre-Bowie.”
They seem ultra touchy about being accused of jumping on bandwagons yet Mercury adamantly states: “I don’t care what they say, really. I think people have said things about us and then changed their minds after listening to the album.”
I venture that “Liar”, a track on their first album, has been described as ascloseasthis to the Ballard composition of the same name – and Mercury counters with “Bullshit”, before adding, “I thought that might arise, actually. It`s a very old song that we used to do on stage ages ago. I heard much later there was an Argent track with the same name but that`s a completely different song.”
With an education and qualifications apparently second to none behind them, it might appear that this is just a gathering of four intellectuals who want to toy with the music business.
“No, we`re not just playing with the music scene. It`s just the way things happened. We went to college but we were also musicians doing it part-time and we thought it would be a nice idea to take it seriously for once.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Stevie Wonder, Alvin Lee, Elkie Brooks, The Beatles, Golden Earring, Genesis, Christopher Lee.
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