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Authors: Peter Hince

Queen Unseen

BOOK: Queen Unseen
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M
y sincere thanks go to the following people who, since my time with Queen, have made this book happen and encouraged me to ‘go for it’: John Blake, Michelle Signore, Louisa Somerville, John & Nadia
Cameron-Blakey
, Vernon Reeves, Julianna Mitchell, Stefano Pesenti, Ian Craig and Alastair Campbell.

I have been fortunate to travel widely and constantly meet new people of all nationalities and from various walks of life. Apart from all of Queen and the obvious friends and family, etc., I would like to thank the following people from the thousands I met and worked with over my many years with Queen, and who were supportive, generous and appreciative, and respected and believed in me. And there are those also included who got me out of various forms of trouble, kept me company at the bar or simply escorted me
safely back to my hotel room. If you aren’t there, and think you should be – I apologise. There is always the reprint to put things right…

In no particular order: Gerry & Sylvia Stickells, Reinhold Mack, Jimmy Barnett, Billy Squier, Joe Trovato, Jim Devenney, Trip Khalaf, John Collins, Chris Taylor, Brian Zellis, John Harris, Geoff Workman, Mike Stone, Roy Thomas Baker, Fred Mandel, Morgan Fisher, Richie Anderson, Phil John, Michael Hince, Robin Mayhew, Pete Brown, Mary Austin, Veronica Deacon, Chrissy May, Dominique Taylor, Joe Fanelli, Peter Lubin, Mike Wilderink, Edwin Shirley, Chris Wright, Ian Haynes, David Bernstein, Neal Preston, Barry Levine, Tony Williams, Robert Usher, Pete Cornish, David Morris, Dick Ollet, Vicky Everett and David Martin.

Q
ueen Unseen
is about a rock ’n’ roll band and the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, as told through my experience of working for Queen during the ’70s and ’80s. My story is for anybody who has ever wondered what it was really like spending your youth travelling the world and living with one of rock music’s biggest ever bands.

I was lucky that I got to live that life – and survive. Some sadly didn’t, including one notable genius who was a huge influence on me.

My journey comprises of many stories, anecdotes, observations and memories. It is not a definitive or chronological history of Queen; I write only about my unique first-hand experiences, which I hope convey a sense of being with the band, whether on stage or backstage, in the studio, at a video shoot – or in the bar. For all the Queen
‘experts’ – please note: the Queen live show I take you through incorporates elements and incidents from various tours we did through the years. It is not meant as a representation of a specific show, but rather an attempt to convey and relive the experience of being where everybody wanted to be – on stage with Queen, as it happened. Live.

I have written this book for various reasons. Perhaps it has been an exercise in catharsis. Most importantly, it has been written as a tribute – not just to dear departed Freddie and others no longer with us, but as a salute to the wonderful times and our shared experience. They were truly magical days when we were young; feeling we could take on the world and win. Invariably we did.

My book is a warm recollection of that era when our hairlines were thicker and our waistlines thinner.

If you want tabloid dirt and revelations – buy a dirty tabloid. If you would like to join me on my journey, and enjoy lots of laughs and surprises along the way, please be my guest – an access-all-areas guest.

Mine may have been reflected glory – but what glorious light to bathe in.

So, to recollect a phrase that Freddie often used, ‘Come on – get on with it!’

CHAPTER ONE

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

(
THE CREW ARE READY – WHERE’S FRED?)

‘I
can’t do it! I simply can’t go on! It’s no good – the show will just
have
to be cancelled!’

Freddie Mercury, the singer with rock band Queen, often expressed to his beloved live audiences that he’d like to have sexual relations – with all of them. Well, looking at him right now, it appears that last night he did, plus a few of their friends. And shared drinks with them all too.

Queen are at the peak of their successes – and excesses. A pale and fragile-looking Fred is sheltering backstage in the comfort of the dressing room. Outside there is a packed arena containing nigh on 20,000 baying rock fans and it’s less than an hour until show time. Mr Mercury is in one of his
moods
and nobody present dares to say anything in response. They just ignore him and hope it will go away. It doesn’t.

Fred stands, waves his arms theatrically and loudly states
his feelings again: ‘I’m telling you – I
can’t
do this show – my voice is fucked.
I’m
fucked!’

Well, what do you expect – screaming and ranting like that?

Brian May and Roger Taylor start to mutter support and try to win him round, while bassist John Deacon stretches out on a couch, a Walkman plugged into his ears – nodding and smiling. Grinning actually. Meanwhile, ‘management’ stop picking at the copious plates of food laid out on long tables and begin to get twitchy as they search their address books for lawyers’ and insurance companies’ telephone numbers. The promoter’s face has turned white.

Fred is precisely where he wants to be – at the centre of everyone’s attention, and is playing the drama queen to perfection. Silly old tart! This scenario has happened before, but this time it looks like he might be serious.

One of the band assistants thumbs through his
Spartacus
guide and gleefully tells Fred that there is a gay telephone box, pedestrian crossing or even a late-night hardware shop in the area that they could go to after the show. Fred isn’t impressed.

A drink, perhaps – to raise the spirits? Champagne – your favourite – Moët? No. A vodka, large one? No. This is going to be hard work.

‘Give me a ciggie!’ Fred demands of one of his ‘valets’.

He snatches a low-tar king size and takes a brief perfunctory draw.

That’ll
really
help the voice Fred…

Gerry Stickells, Queen’s wily tour manager, who has been hovering and observing in the background, approaches, and candidly reminds Mr Mercury that a hell of a lot of people – 
a sold-out crowd in fact – have waited a long time and paid good money to see him perform tonight, and that it wouldn’t be very nice to let them down, and Fred was never somebody to let his people down. Was he?

Me? Peter Hince (aka Ratty), Fred’s and John’s roadie and head of Queen’s crew. I’m ignoring all this melodrama and ambling around the dressing room, being one of the few people allowed in during this pre-show period. Fred calms down a little as he ponders the tour manager’s words, passes the cigarette to somebody to extinguish, takes a drink of hot honey and lemon and, with a frown, huffily settles into a comfy chair. He says nothing, as the rest of Queen leave him to it and excitably begin asking the perennial questions of their tour manager, assistant or roadie:

‘What’s the sound like out front now the crowd is in? The show is
completely
sold out tonight –
isn’t it?
How are ticket sales for the rest of the tour going, are they sold out too? Is the new single number one yet? What time are we on? What time will we be off? Is it hot/cold out there? Has that nasty buzzing sound in the monitors gone? Is it
really
true Van Halen have more lights in their show than us? And what about the tour merchandise – how are the Queen toasted sandwich makers selling…?’

The quality of Queen’s dressing room varied in size and style, depending on the venue. Theatres naturally had proper dressing rooms, but sports arena venues had functional facilities that had to be ‘dressed’ before they could be deemed a dressing room worthy of a Queen’s visit. Carpet and rugs were laid down on the cold concrete floors, bare walls draped with material or pictures, and furniture, lamps, flowers and

objets
’ were introduced to make it more comfortable and relaxing for the visiting artistes. There were adjoining showers, make-up mirrors, areas for Queen’s wardrobe cases and a central space for relaxing, with tables of food and drinks against the walls.

Meanwhile, beyond the comfort of the dressing room, the distant drone of the support band can be heard bashing away on stage. On occasion, when some of Queen were feeling tense or irritable, they would insist that the opening act turn down the volume so they could prepare in peace…

‘So then, Fred?’ I venture jovially, to one of the world’s greatest showmen.

‘Yes, dear, what is it?’ he replies with a little more verve. He seems a bit better now.

‘Songs, your choice of, for this evening?’

‘Ah. Yes, right.’

The silly old tart, for whom I held the utmost respect, admiration – and exasperation – has decided he will perform after all. I never really doubted he would let down the audience, the rest of the band or the crew – who have spent the last 12 hours or more sweating blood to put all this together, just so he can prance around in a few silly costumes for a while. As usual he would get through on willpower, self-belief and determination.

Few people could approach Fred as he prepared for a show, but I would saunter over to him, while he was surrounded by ‘beautiful and important’ people, and ask, ‘Oi! What do you fancy playing tonight then, Fred?’

‘I don’t know – why don’t you guess?’

‘Guess?’

‘Yes, Ratty – guess!’ he would giggle, playing to his immediate audience, who would laugh rather superficially with him.

‘Well, that’s not exactly helpful, is it?’

‘I’m not telling you then!’ he would state with camp authority – again playing to his invited entourage.

‘Oh all right then,’ I would shrug, knowing this was just a game he wanted to play.

‘I’ll arm wrestle you for it!’ he said, pumping himself up and flexing his muscles.

‘What?’

Those not used to our rapport would be amazed that this dishevelled and irreverent roadie could hold the attention of one of the world’s biggest rock stars. Fred would then usually reply with a laugh, twirl his hands in the air and say dramatically, ‘OK then –
you
choose!’

This was quite flattering but not very constructive, so I would suggest a couple of Led Zeppelin songs, a Stones classic and ‘maybe you could even play some of your own songs, Fred?’

‘C***!’

Playfully whacking me with a towel or whatever was to hand, he would chase me out of the dressing room, screaming: ‘Same as the last fucking show!’

The voice certainly seems somewhat better now, Fred?

The set list was now set. The contents of that sheet of paper was the burning question on the lips of the entourage as show time approached; the final selection always being down to Fred and how he and his voice felt. Sometimes he just wanted to mix things up a bit – to keep everybody on
their toes. He occasionally referred to the Queen set as ‘our repertoire’. Well, after all, Freddie Mercury was a very
well-spoken
man and highly literate.

‘Scaramouche, and doing the fandango?’

He was extremely intelligent and well educated.

‘Thunderbolts and lightning, appeared to be very frightening!’

An eloquent man, who wrote songs of depth and intricacy – and full of meaning.

‘He wanted to ride his bicycle…’

Having been told to get on my bike by Fred, I now had to convey the set list to the relevant crew so they could adjust their personal set lists, on which the song titles were always abbreviated: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ became ‘Bo Rhap’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ was simply ‘Champions’, for example. Annotations were made in black felt-tip pen as songs were dropped or added.

Cues for Queen and the crew were noted adjacent to song titles in code. Fat D, for example, was a reference for John to tune the low E string on his bass guitar down to D, prior to playing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’. (Fag B was merely a cigarette break for John and me, as Fred would be off stage at that point and I didn’t have to constantly watch him.) The irreverent crew cheekily renamed the songs on set lists: ‘We Will Rock You’ – ‘We Will ROB You’, ‘Now I’m Here’ – ‘Now I’m Queer’, ‘I Want To Break Free’ – ‘I Want To Break Wind’, ‘Flash!’ – ‘Trash!’ And so on.

The set list taped to the top of Fred’s piano was the first piece of ‘inside information’ given to outsiders during the setting up of the show. His black nine-foot Steinway concert
grand was the first piece of band equipment to take the stage and, as it was lowered from its enormous flight case to await the graft of its third leg, the local crew would already be studying and making comments on Queen’s proposed show selection. Meanwhile, yours truly would be lying underneath one ton of wood, metal and imitation ivory, screaming at them to ‘lift the bloody thing’ so I could hammer the last leg in place.

With show time approaching, towels and drinks for the band’s refreshment on stage would now be strategically placed: water and beer for Fred, beer for Brian and Roger and the Backstage Bar for John, comprising water, beer, soft drinks, wine and whatever spirit or cocktail he fancied at the time: Southern Comfort, vodka or tequila. Added to John’s cocktail lounge were mixed nuts and chocolate M&M’s. All of this was located discreetly to the side of his electronics control rack, where he could simultaneously knock the volume up and a drink down. A copy of the set list was taped here for John, and others to refer to – along with opening hours…

In Queen’s silk and satin days of the mid-1970s, Fred had champagne glasses on top of his grand piano to sip from. I kept these wrapped in an old towel in the drawer of a flight case, and before the show I would give them a wipe with the bottom of my T-shirt and fill them with local tap water.

It was never champagne. I did try using Perrier water in places where the water was a very dodgy colour as it came out of a backstage tap, but Fred cursed me – the bubbly water made him burp! After an incident where one of the champagne glasses caused a member of the audience to be
injured, I was told I had to replace them with plastic champagne glasses. Fred was horrified when he saw these tacky items from a party shop and we switched to plain plastic cups and Evian or still mineral water, as our backstage catering became more sophisticated.

With show time very close, Brian would be escorted to the backstage tuning room to tune his guitars and warm his fingers up. He would invariably be in conversation with somebody as he did this, get carried away and forget which guitars had been tuned, which not – and have to start all over again.

Show time is imminent and Brian is fruitlessly trying to plug a ukulele into an electronic strobe tuner.

‘Brian, it’s an acoustic instrument!’

He grins and tunes it by ear.

All of John’s and Fred’s guitars would be tuned by me on stage, being closest to the temperature and environment in which they would actually be used. After the first few shows of a tour, Fred and John very rarely did any kind of sound check. They trusted all of their crew. It also meant they could sleep in much later.

Queen were always confident individuals, but sometimes at huge outdoor shows or vast arenas in major or new cities, nerves could start to creep in. That was the time that irreverent crew banter would help to relax them and keep their spirits up. Queen could usually laugh at themselves and see the funny side of some of the pompous things they did, and it also helped keep their feet on the ground, as there were plenty of sycophants ready to assure them everything they did was wonderful and beyond reproach.

‘The audience is all in now, Fred.’

‘Good – how do they look?’

(How do they look? Keen? Smart? Angry?)

‘Well, they seem like a very nice couple to me.’

‘You bastard!’

‘Oh, by the way, the new album has just gone…’

‘Gold? Platinum?
Double
platinum?’ one of Queen would snappily interject.

‘No – vinyl.’

‘Fuck off!’

‘I’ve heard a woman in Slough bought a copy…’

‘Fuck off and die! Now let’s get on with it! When are we on?’

With Queen itching to get on stage, the buzz was now increasing and you could feel the hyped nervous energy in the corridors backstage. With laminated Access All Areas passes slung around their necks, crew members would now wander on stage to check the equipment and check out any female ‘leisure potential’ in the front rows.

Meanwhile, Queen’s dressing room had been cleared of non-essential personnel as the band finally donned costume; preening and preparing themselves for the daunting and exciting ordeal to come. In order to exorcise nervous tension and to warm up their voices, Fred and Roger would screech loudly at each other in high-pitched voices, like a couple of late-night tom cats. Roger would have a pair of drumsticks in hand, repeatedly tapping and hitting things – including his assistant and former roadie, Chris Taylor (aka Crystal – and no relation), in order to warm up his wrists and keep them flexible.

Queen were sometimes late appearing on stage but once, at a show in Spain, it was not their fault. Joe Trovato, Queen’s lighting designer of the time, had been partaking of the cheap and plentiful local wine, causing him to spend several sessions in a backstage lavatory. Forlornly sitting there, he lost track of time until there was a polite little knock on the door and a concerned, recognisable voice asked, ‘Are you all right in there?’ Joe opened the door to see Fred peering in, along with the rest of Queen – all dressed and ready to take the stage. With a grimace and an apology, he adjusted his attire and took to his lighting console.

Now it is show time – Queen show time, what today has been all about. The next couple of hours are all that matter. Shortly Queen will be on stage in your town playing for you –
just for you
, you privileged ticket holders. The four faces that have been spread over the media will be up there on stage attached to their instruments, in moving, living person – and colour. They have travelled over land and sea and overcome all manner of obstacles and hangovers to give you this special personal experience. So be sure and enjoy it!

BOOK: Queen Unseen
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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