This is a really good article about Queen, but at the end of it there seems to be some “filler” when we get an update on what Ian Hunter and Bernie Taupin is doing. But all that is fine when the rest of this is so good.
`I conquered New York in a maroon velour bath robe`
Actually it took a little more than that – like a satin jump suit slit two feet below the navel and four impressive Queen shows at The Beacon Theatre. Here`s the full story.
By Lisa Robinson
Things seem different this time around for Queen. No one has to ask who they are, there are even girl fans standing outside the entrance of the posh Sherry Netherland hotel where the band have a penthouse suite.
High-powered publicity people are taking care of the press, and an expensive party in their honour follows the first of four sell-out shows at New York`s Beacon Theatre.
And yet, once again, when Freddie Mercury and I sit down to do an interview, we both have the `flu. Even John Reid, manager of Queen and Elton John, can`t do anything about that…
“But last year, with our previous management, I couldn`t even talk to you in person,” Mercury laughed. “This year, I can at least sit up, and talk face-to-face… So that`s the difference.”
He coughed, seated on a couch, dressed in pink Biba (circa 1973) pyjamas and a maroon velour bathrobe.
Brian May also seemed a bit under the weather – but was fully dressed in a black velvet suit, having done an interview previously in the hotel dining room.
“There`s just so much to take in in New York,” said Freddie, explaining his touch of the `flu. Pressing further, I ask how much they feel their new management has had to do with their continuing rise: “Absolutely nothing!” laughed Freddie, then adds, “he`ll kill me…”
“I think it`s very hard to pin down, really,” says Brian. “We feel better. Some of the things that have come about because of John Reid have helped us settle down and finish the album.”
“It`s a whole new outlook,” said Freddie, “and certainly the new management has helped a great deal. It`s given us a release, and opened up whole new areas of thinking. We`ve done things that we wanted to do for a long time.
“And it`s just shown in our music in a way, and in the way we`ve come up with this new album… and subsequently it`s led to better chart places and sales… Things trigger off…”
What about the rumours of Brian leaving the band? “Oh, that,” May shrugged. “No, that was really blown out of… that happened a year before, it was never a serious thing. I got friendly with Russell and Ron Mael, live quite near them and we sort of got on well, and we talked of doing something together at some point. That was really as far as it went.
“It was at a time when Queen weren`t doing very much and they probably thought that I wasn`t doing very much but in fact it was when I was recovering from being ill. It was no big deal, you know; it was just a friendly talk. There was never any danger of my leaving Queen.”
“The only reason he`d leave Queen is to become an astronomer,” Mercury added, “not to join another band. My god” – he sneers.
“It`d be silly,” said Brian, “because we`re so fortunate in having this combination… and especially at this point when we`re just beginning to find ourselves. It`s all rubbish about that…”
Mercury: “Especially when it`s just starting to be fun.”
What do you mean, starting to be fun?
“Well, you know… we`re riding on the crest of a wave, and things have finally opened up for us. The rewards are finally beginning to show in the sense that we`re now being respected as musicians, and our songs are hitting the right kind of people. And that`s very rewarding.”
I wondered if, with the astonishing success of the single, as well as a worldwide prominence, they felt “respectable” in a way that had previously eluded them.
“We`d always had confidence in what we were doing,” Freddie answered, “and little things – like the press – didn`t really get us down. If it`s a bad review I tear it up.”
Brian: “It always hurts. I mean, even if there`s an audience of ten thousand and there`s one guy saying `rubbish`, it hurts.”
Queen performed at the Beacon Theatre here – four shows with about 3000 audience each night. Why not a larger hall?
“Well, all the places we`re playing are small halls that work well with the act at the moment,” said Brian.
“Instead of doing one big show we`re doing four small shows,” said Freddie.
How would the visuals change if there was one big show?
Mercury: “I`d just have to project further – grins, hand poised on his chest, which brings me to… ahhhh… his nails.
What shade of black is that? Black is really hard. You have to be careful… it can rot your nails.
“I know. I used to use Biba, but now I use Miners… do you know them? Do they have that here?”
No. How many coats to get it that dark?
“Only one,” he said, “and it goes on really smooth. Reminds me, I have to do them for tonight…”
We look over a photo of the group on stage… Who did your blouse, Brian?
“Zandra… I`d used some other things, but went back to her this time. I`m really pleased.”
“What about you, Freddie, are you changing clothes mid-show this time?
“I change after every number now,” he cracks. “You`re coming to a fashion show, not a concert…
We touch on the length of time the single`s been number one in Britain.
Freddie: “Slim Whitman in 1955 was Number One for 11 weeks… couple of others that have been eight weeks, nine weeks, but we`ve reached that, which in this day and age, I think is rather nice.”
Brian: “Once it got up there, and really caught fire, it just sold more and more. We couldn`t believe that people were still going out there and buying it.”
Freddie: “It sold over a million and a quarter in Britain… just outrageous. Imagine all the grandmothers groovin` to it.
“I think our music is becoming even more versatile, so we can please a pretty wide range of people. And the people who have come to see us, even in the few concerts we`ve done at home, have spanned a wide age group.”
Talking about “Night At The Opera” (record not film) Freddie explains: “Every molecule on that album is us, just the four of us, every iota. No session men, not for strings, not for anything… and we don`t try to reproduce that onstage, we present the music in a different way for stage.
“Sometimes we think about performing with more musicians, or a set… but at the moment, there`s just so much going within the four of us, that it would be a shame to latch onto something else. Because we haven`t quite burnt up our energies doing what we want to do now.”
“Maybe at some stage,” says Brian, “but at the moment the stage act`s evolved in its own right. It`s separate from the album. The songs are the same, but the treatment is so different, and that`s just what we do onstage. But for the moment it is what it is, this is not the time to do it otherwise.”
David Johansen (New York Dolls) and Freddie Mercury
I`ll say Queen`s management is classy. I arrive (with a mild flu in the midst of a snowstorm) at the Beacon Theatre and, predictably enough, find two people in my seats.
No ushers to be found anywhere, and the huge men guarding the doors refuse to help. In the midst of my plight – for I am blind as a bat unless I sit up front – manager John Reid comes to my rescue. He manages to con the 7` 4″ black man at the door (after various red tape and approval) to help me get to my seat, accompanies me down the aisle, stands there while everyone in the row is checked out, and at last manages to evict the two who have obviously trespassed.
So… sometime after “Flick Of The Wrist” and before “Killer Queen” I sit down. Well, I thought, no matter how the concert goes, John Reid gets a rave review for his performance.
“HE`S THE SEXIEST THING I EVER SAW!!”, shrieked Linda Stein sitting right in front of me. “Oh my god…” I whisper to my associate, look at his… errr… “Socks?”, he asks, not hearing me properly because of the volume.
The object of these observations was, of course, Freddie Mercury, who had the audience in the palm of his hand. Dressed in white satin, chest exposed… a flash of Flash Gordon at the wrists, he was all over the stage, down the ramp (very showbiz), at the piano, and his voice was in total control in a theatre that has had its share of sound problems.
The crowd was completely hysterical with every number; “Prophet” featured a digital delay system that was dramatically effective for Freddie`s voice… technology is wonderful when it doesn`t enslave you…
At the end of that number a cone-like silver object with flashing red lights was lowered to the stage over the drums as the band went off… and when they returned Freddie was dressed in… a black version of the satin jumpsuit, slit all the way down to there.
They went straight into “Stone Cold Crazy”. Girls were literally screaming all around.
It`s easy to see why Queen have made it here; they combine a sense of the theatrical (without the outrageous gimmicks) of the biggest American band – Kiss; have a legitimate hard rock appeal – like Aerosmith; and above all, have the added aura of being a Big British Band with the respectability of musical complexity.
While some critics here find Queen pretentious, I thought this was a stunning concert; they have a keen sense of showbiz humour that saves their songs from being too heavy, and what they do is so extreme that it defines its own terms, sort of a baroque stage show.
Meanwhile, it was freezing in the theatre. Freddie sat down at the piano for “Lap Of The Gods”, and it was time for the smoke machine… This year it worked. I`m not a big dry ice fan, but this stuff certainly is a crowd pleaser…
The lights were lavish and spectacular. The audience, who`d been on their feet for the last few numbers, went beserk for an encore…
Billie Jean King (yes, the tennis player) was standing in the back of the theatre wearing a maroon sweater and skirt and a backstage pass… (I can already see the photos… Billie Jean and Freddie… King and Queen…)
Freddie came back for the encore in the flowing white satin Zandra Rhodes top… and then “Big Spender” with the strip tease… no doubt about it, next time Queen`s here, they`ll be in Madison Square Garden if they choose to.
(I later found out that the band were annoyed because the flashpots didn`t go off: “It looks like the whole stage explodes,” Reid said, and Freddie laughed. “Every time you come and see us something goes wrong technically. Last year, the smoke machine, this year, the flashpots. Come and see us tomorrow night, it`ll be so much better…”)
At Le Pouilailler, an elegant restaurant near Lincoln centre, a magnificent buffet is set. Bottles of red and white wine are on the tables, and the bar is open and well-manned.
The party for Queen is being held in this welcome contrast to the blizzard raging outside; and everyone is here.
Bernie Taupin, Ian Hunter, Todd Rundgren, David Johansen, Ahmet Ertegun, David Nutter, John Reid, Clive Davis, Mel Posner, Steve Ross, (all the WEA brass), press – including Punk Magazine! – Paul Drew (important radio programmer who was recently slapped by Bette Midler when he told her he didn`t like her record…), Ron & Ellen Delsener – celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, Renee Wexler, Connie Pappas, Billie Jean King, Frankie Rudge, Joe Armstrong, more, more, more.
Freddie, Roger and John arrived late, seemed tired. Brian didn`t come, he obviously was hit with a serious sore throat.
Freddie, after having a thousand photos taken (with Billie Jean King, etc. etc.) finally sits down, eats some food, throws some food at – I think – David Nutter who is wearing a Stevie Wonder backstage Madison Square Garden button on his lapel, chats with David Johansen.
We all talk about Bowie (“Send him my love,” Freddie instructed), Robert Plant (“I know he`s said nice things about me but you know, it`s really true – he always was my favourite singer,” said Fred), everyone called everyone darling and it was one of those very successful New York parties.
Ian Hunter talked about his new album: “It`s called `All American Alien Boy`, I think, and it`s amazing. I thought it would take two months to do and it only took 24 days, mixing and everything… Chris Stainton played on it with me, but he didn`t produce it. People think that, but I arranged it, wrote everything and produced it.
“I think it`s gonna surprise a lot of people, and I know that some people will think it`s a heap of shit because it`s very heavy. There are cuts on it called `Apathy`… `Religion`… no rock and roll. I had too many cuts for it so I eliminated the rock and roll ones… But I`m really writing well, and the musicians on it are incredible – David Sanborn, Cornell Dupree, this great guitarist from Reno who used to be with Edgar called Jerry Williams…
How`d you get them all together?
“Money.” He laughs.
As for missing England, Ian`s American wife Trudy says she misses it more than he does. “I had to come here to write,” claims Hunter. “I was just fresh out of words there; I needed to come some place where I would have new inspiration for lyrics.”
At another table Bernie Taupin talks of his solo album: “Oh, it`s really a good laugh,” Bernie smiled, “it`s like Bernie Taupin at the bar. The name? Well… I think it might be `Bernie And The Jets`… I`d really like to use that. And I do all these versions of other people`s songs – `Let It Be Me` with Phil Everly singing on it with me. It`s really corny, they`ll love it in England. And `Cryin Time`, Ringo sings on that with me.”
As the party ends, Freddie and I discuss a story that ran here about him. An amazing Hit Parader writer named Josephine Mori had written a piece on him that was, to put it mildly, euphoric.
“Speaking of sphinxes… he was a Creature to me… a 70`s minotaur, half pop artist half Arabian Knight/Night (K or N optional with reader) – an impossible combination, like singles charts and scimitars, that somehow he could make work, the way he made another impossible combination the ether of Faerie and the heavy metal of rock music, somehow work. In a sense he was no more “real” to me than Scheherezade or the Big Bad Wolf… though in my fancy at least, he might well have been a bit of both.”
Hmmmmm… the Creature that Captured New York…
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Led Zeppelin, Tony Iommi, The Fania All-Stars, David Bowie, Sailor, Gay and Terry Woods.
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