FUNNY HOW times change. Seems like only yesterday that people were taking the mickey out of Queen. Of course, there were some who reckoned they had a genuine talent which would come to the fore, but for many they were merely a flash in the pan.
Two hit albums and two hit singles later, the band can afford a smirk at the expense of their Journalistic detractors. This week Queen began their second major tour of Britain. Last time round they were just breaking “Seven Seas Of Rhye” – this time the new album “Sheer Heart Attack” will be featured, but strangely enough not their single “Killer Queen” since their lead singer Freddie Mercury deems it “not necessary to add to what we are going to do on stage”.
It was Mercury, you may remember, who was so sublimely confident about the band’s chance of success – and he hasn’t changed. “Queen II” may have gone silver, but he reckons “it’ll go platinum” before long. Four months ago, you might have sneered – now it’s about time you listened.
The turning point for the band is really the new single. “A double A side, though no-one seems to realize it because they keep playing ‘Killer Queen’, interjects Mercury. It’s a turning point in that it sounds nothing like the noisy heavy metal sound to which we are accustomed from Queen, thus justifying their earlier claim of ‘versatility’. It’s more of a mixture of Beach Boys, early Beatles and 1920’s music-hall. Quite nice, actually.
Says Mercury : “People are used to hard rock, energy music from Queen, yet with this single you almost expect Noel Coward to sing it. It’s one of those bowler hat, black suspender belt numbers – not that Coward would wear that.”
And you ?
“Oh no dear, just a nice black number.”
It is apparent that success (in any shape or form) has not altered Mercury, who still insists on using the suffix “dear” at the end of his sentences. He is also still very much hung up on maintaining the ‘star’ image.
For a start he never carries much money around with him. It’s not that he’s poverty-stricken or even mean – just that it’s difficult to keep cash in your shoes. A star to the last, he wears pocketless trousers and keeps his finances close to his feet.
“I hate pockets in trousers,” he stresses. “By the way, I do not wear a hose. My hose is my own. No coke bottle, nothing stuffed down there.”
Of course, Freddie.
However, sticking rigidly to the star image has its draw-backs. Satin trousers aren’t that durable (“I split a pair last week”) and velvet and sequins have a nasty habit of dulling in the rain. Still, they create the desired effect of getting people to stare. Mercury still adores the stares, of course – he’s insisted all along he’s a star and thinks he should dress accordingly. But for all the high camp, he’s got some gray matter in that head of his.
It was, after all, Mercury who wrote six of the thirteen cuts on the new album and being artistically inclined it was he who provided the idea for the album sleeve.
“God, the agony we went through to have the pictures taken, dear. Can you imagine trying to convince the others to cover themselves in Vaseline and then have a hose of water turned on them ?”
Sheer agony, Freddie. The end result is four members of the band looking decidedly un-regal, tanned and healthy, and as drenched as if they’ve been sweating for a week.
“Everyone was expecting some sort of cover. A Queen III cover really, but this is completely new. It’s not that we’re changing altogether – it’s just a phase we are going through.”
But won’t Queen devotees be a trifle worried by this new image ?
“They will love it. We’re still as poncey as ever. We’re still the dandies we started out to be. We’re just showing people we’re not merely a load of poofs, that we are capable of other things.”
The album, as detailed above, boasts 13 tracks – most of them a mere three minutes in length.
“Not a collection of singles, dear – although we might draw another one off later for a single. I’m not absolutely sure about that, though. No, not all the numbers last for ages. There were just so many songs we wanted to do. And it makes a change to have short numbers. It’s so varied that we were able to go to extremes. I only had about two weeks to write my songs so we’ve been working (expletive deleted) hard.”
IT SHOULD be noted that the BBC seem to have taken “Killer Queen” to their collective bosom, since they’ve been flogging it to death. I wonder if they would be so keen if they realized the true story behind the single.
Mercury elucidates : “ It’s about a high class call girl. I’m trying to say that classy people can be whores as well. That’s what the song is about, though I’d prefer people to put their interpretation upon it – to read into it what they like.”
The British tour is their first live manifestation since their ill-fated American bonanza, when they played support to Mott The Hoople and returned early after guitarist Brian May contracted hepatitis.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, May was later informed that he had an ulcer. Currently he still has a certain air of frailty surrounding him, but claims to be feeling “better than ever”.
Mercury advises : “Brian has got to look after himself in future. We all want to make sure something like that never happens again. So he’ll have to eat the right things and steer clear of hamburgers.”
Most inopportune, one would have thought, quitting their first US tour halfway through, Mercury however is confident as ever of the band’s chances in America.
“We did what we had to do, anyway. Sure, a whole tour would have helped us a bit more, but there’s no such thing as ‘we lost our chance’. I still believe that the time is right for us there and we’re going back pretty soon. We really did it – cause when we came back you should have seen the write-ups. They were beautiful and they just want us to come back as soon as we can. They are just waiting on new product.”
One particular review from the US sticks out in Mercury’s mind since it was, in a sense, on a personal level.
“We played a theatre in New York with Mott and this particular chick (well, they notice everything down to the pimple on your arse, dear) wrote that she noticed that when I did a costume change I changed even my shoes and socks. She also added she was so close she could tell what religion I was, and that I wasn’t wearing any knickers. She also pointed out that Ian Hunter had knickers on. Ian’s going to die…”
Since the American market is taking such an interest in Queen, it appears Japan is not very far behind. “Queen II” was recently voted album of the year and all members of the band came up highly in the musicians’ awards.
“Quite a change for a country which has of late been apparently obsessed with the likes of ELP and Yes. We’re planning to go to Japan in the New year,” states Mercury “Can’t wait, actually. All those geisha girls…” (he laughs) “and boys.”
Seems the Japan market have twigged quite early – even now they send presents to the band. At EMI Mercury received a Japanese wooden comb “for your birthday, please, come over soon.”
Before the British tour, the main priority has been rehearsing. This time round, the sound should substantially improve, since they will be playing larger venues than before, which are more suited to their vast sound system.
“We’re just hoping to have a whale of time. We are going to have to put across all three albums. The repertoire will be built around them. But the main thing is to put across the energy of the band and hopefully the versatility. I’d hate to just do hard rock all the time, dear. It should be good because we’ve got better lights, better everything.”
PART OF this interview was conducted in a local hostelry which sold liquor. Beforehand, Mercury seemed a bit nervous, about what kind of establishment it was.
“Is it working class ?” he asked, in what sounded like an elitist manner. No, it wasn’t particularly rough. Even so, people did tend to stare when he entered.
“I love it, really.” He commented, looking distinctly uncomfortable trying to avoid the stares of an old man nearby, whose eyes were attempting to leave their sockets.
“I just wanted to know what kind of place it was because I don’t want a load of cut-throats around me. I just wonder what they think. I mean when we walked in that man’s eyes did nearly pop out his head.”
Does he ever get strange comments walking down the street ?
“No, not really. I’ve had people try to pick me up once or twice, but I’m not intending to change into jeans because of it. I tried that a few weeks ago and people I knew remarked on that far more than my satin or velvet.”
Somehow I have enough confidence in Mercury to feel that he could carry off any occasion with typical aplomb. Just a short time ago he found himself in a somewhat embarrassing situation and miraculously escaped. But let him explain that :
“We’d had a hectic day at ‘Top Of The Pops’ and our promotion man Eric Hall invited us out for a meal. Unfortunately the others in the band couldn’t come as they had to go back to the studio. Anyway, I had rather a lot to drink and I seem to remember at some point in the evening that someone removed my shoes and socks and hung them on a lampshade. Then I said something along the lines of ‘well, if you’re going to take everything off I shall remove my trousers…’ “
Picture this. Our hero, half under his table at a rather trendy nightspot with trousers akimbo, when the big white chief of the establishment approaches.
“I thought he was going to throw me out, but instead he said ‘ I hear you’ve got a gold disc’ He meant to say silver. And then he presented me with a bottle of champagne.”
Now if Mercury can handle a situation like that with such style, think how easy it is for him to get everyone else convinced he is a star.