This section of Shane’s Queen Site includes some background to the Rock band “Queen” outlining the 4 key members; Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon. Following the death of lead singer Freddie Mercury on November 24th, 1991, Queen as a band has continued with Brian May and Roger Taylor leading the fray. The stage show ‘We Will Rock You’ has brought Queen to a whole new audience and a new generation of Queen fans. Following on from the stage show, the 2018 Oscar-Winning Biopic / Queen Movie titled ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ saw Rami Malek portray frontman Freddie Mercury. Many of the millions of people listening to Queen today were born after the death of Freddie Mercury and never knew what it was like to await the latest Queen album or queue in line for the next amazing live tour.
I hope you enjoy the brief Queen Biographies and band history below.
From School to Smile
This story of Queen starts with the birth of the oldest member and ultimately the lead singer of the group. Freddie Mercury was born Farookh Bulsara on the spice island of Zanzibar 5th of September 1946. He spent most of his childhood in India, and went to school at St. Peter’s British College School a boarding school in Panchgani near to Mumbai. While he was there he was very good at sports, especially boxing, in which he even entered competitions. Also, it was around this time his friends started calling him Freddie. Freddie was a keen artist and enjoyed and both drawing and music, playing piano at every opportunity, and eventually getting to Grade IV. His first onstage performance was also at St. Peters, with his five-member school band, the Hectics.
His family eventually settled in England in 1964, the same year he enrolled at Ealing College of Art. In 1969, Freddie graduated from Ealing with a Diploma in Art and Design. This was to come in useful later, as Freddie designed Queen’s famous lion and phoenix crest.
It was a Ealing that Freddie met Tim Staffel, who was in a band called Smile, with Brian May and Roger Taylor. Freddie attended many performances and rehersals with Tim. By this stage Freddie had started to use the name Mercury after the mythical God.
Smile eventually get a contract with ‘Mercury Records’ and soon end up in Trident Studios, in London, with producer John Anthony. The result of this recording session was a single called ‘Earth’ written by Tim Staffell and a B-side called ‘Step On Me’ by Brian and Tim. It is released only in the US in August where it failed to sell and they are eventually let go by ‘Mercury Records’.
With dreams of becoming a superstar Roger decided to setup a second-hand clothes stall in Kensington Market with Freddie. They reportedly positioned the shall so that they prime view of a womens changing rooms in a nearby shop. Brian also took a job teaching at a comprehensive school in London. Smile hadn’t gone totally, as they were still playing gigs locally.
Meanwhile, Freddie joined a band called Ibex (later to become Wreckage), singing and also playing keyboards and Smile often appeared on the same bill as Wreckage – but eventually Smile broke up, with Tim joining another band as things weren’t happening fast enough.
Queen – Post Smile
Seeing the break-up of Smile, Freddie left ‘Wreckage’ and joined Brian and Roger because he felt the previous band ‘Smile’ had all the elements that he wanted in a band. It was here that history was being made, even if they didn’t know it.
Because, In 1970 Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, Brian May and Mike Grose form a band called Queen. Mike Grose is probably a name many people don’t recognise, but he was a friend of Roger Taylors but more importantly he had a van and a Marshall Amplifier. Mike was the bassist from April to August 1970 and played Queen’s first 3 gigs, two in Truro and one in Imperial College London.
You may ask, Why is Queen called Queen? The name ‘Queen’ was all Freddie’s idea because it sounded so regal but Roger and Brian didn’t like it and other names like ‘Grand Dance’ and ‘The Rich Kids’ were pandered around.
Queen spent much of their early time together rehearsing and trying out new things – many of these rehersals took place in lecture theatres Imperial College. In Rogers home town of Truro an opportunity arose for Queen to play at a charity event in Truro City hall – it should have been Smile but since Smile had broken up – Queen would play. So, on 27th of June 1970, Queen played their first gig, opening with a song from Freddies Wreckage days called ‘Stone Cold Crazy’.
However, all would not go well for Queen, as Mike Grose decided to leave – enter Barry Mitchell as Queens second bass player. By the end of 1970, Queens fortunes had settled down somewhat and they even played the Cavern Club in Merseyside – as made famous by the Beatles. (Mike Grose died on March 6th 2019.)
Even with the growing success of the band, January 1971 saw Barry Mitchell leave Queen and like Mike Grose, Barry felt he need to earn more money. After Barry Mitchell left Queen without a bassist they auditioned another bass player called Doug Bogie, who decided to attempt to steal the show – however, Queen decided they didn’t need his services within 24 hours of the audition. Queen were going through bass players at a rate of about 1 a week and at times this dampened spirits in the Queen camp.
A friend of Queen introduced a young bass player to the group, his name was John Deacon … who wasn’t in any band. So Queen quickly arranged an audition for John and took him on as bass player – Queen is now complete, ready to take their place in Rock history.
Now that Queen was complete, Freddie decided to design a crest or a logo for the band feeling they needed one.
The crest is based on the star signs of the band – 2 Lions, a Crab and a nymph/virgin symbolising the combination of Leo, Leo, Cancer and Virgo.
As Queen start gigging, things happen which have an impact on their future. When playing at at gig in St Helen’s girls school, the base of Freddie’s microphone stand fell off during the performance – Freddie, carried on singing and found that it was easier to get around the stage, and from here his trademark half-mic-stand was born (funny how these things happen).
After doing some touring in Cornwall under the cheeky guise of “Roger Taylor with Queen”, one of Brians friends who was setting up a new recording studio called ‘De Lane Lea’ wanted musicians to try out the new equipment – this would allow Queen to record their demos for free. It was here that Queen recorded songs like ‘Liar’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Keep Yourself Alive’, and ‘The Night Comes Down’.
Queen – The First Albums
Queen caught the attention of Trident Studio’s, Roy Thomas Baker and John Anthony (who produced the Smile single “Earth”). Trident struck up a deal with Queen, with Queen pushing a hard bargain under their terms. Trident gave them a very good contract which ensured that past experiences with Smile wouldn’t happen again. Queen got a new PA system and new instruments from the deal also, however, Brian kept his home made ‘Red Special’ guitar.
Queen were becoming a hot ticket and Trident knew it, and tried selling Queen plus two other bands to EMI – however, EMI spotted that they were possibly offloading 2 smaller bands in the deal and insisted it was only Queen that they were after. This brought the deal crashing down… however Queen were now starting to write their first album.
They were only given Down-Time in the studio so they could only use it when no-one else was using it. Meanwhile, in another Trident studio, Robin Cable was doing work on a Beach Boys track called “I Can Hear Music” and having heard Freddie sing and asked if he would like to sing on this song. Freddie agreed and sung on the track – hoever after finishing on the track Robin wanted the song to have something extra. Roger ended up adding drums and Brian played a guitar solo. Freddie also sang a Dusty Springfield classic on another track called “Goin’ Back”. These tracks were released under the name ‘Larry Lurex’.
Eventually, at the end of November 1972 Queens first album, simply entitled ‘Queen’ was completed and released. Following the release of their first album they had a minor breakthrough in being asked to support Mott The Hoople on tour. Following the tour Queen didn’t have much time to relax as they were quickly into the studio to record the second album called ‘Queen II’, and this was released in March 1974. However, the release of the album was delayed due to a minor printing error on the album sleeve. The band went on their first major tour in March 1974 which was then followed by an extensive American tour, again supporting Mott The Hoople. However, In May ’74, Brian collapsed with Hepatitis, and Queen had to cancel the remaining tour dates.
Even with Brian being sick, work on the third album began, with gaps in the recorded material so that Brian could put in his distinctive guitar solos. Brian soon returned to full health and recorded his guitar and vocal parts. Queens third album ‘Sheer Heart Attack’, was released in November 1974 and saw them get their first #2 album and #2 single, ‘Killer Queen’.