Think of Freddie: short hair, big ‘tache, tight clothes, probably striding a stadium stage in complete ownership – a charisma just small enough for the world to contain. What’s largely forgotten is Freddie before he learned how to own the world. The singer and band that barely filled the role of support to Mott The Hoople. The group that sweated for two years from Teeside to Tokyo, often dismissed as boring, until ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ broke all the rules.
‘B. Rhap’ sold 150,000 copies in 20 days and continued at 20,000 a day. It was so fresh and mad and fantastic that you had to like it. The now famous video was knocked out in an afternoon during tour rehearsals. Queen were already on tour when they first saw it, 20 minutes to agree it was quite good for four hours work. Everyone thought the opera sequence was hilarious. No one thought they had just seen a classic.
The sold-out audiences were a few hundred to a couple of thousand, but, in the nicest way, Queen acted very big. Everything they did and thought demanded that the world should and would bow in complete acquiescence. So they had a simple, classy stage where no roadie lurked, nine Vox amps stepping back in rows of three (though Brian only used one or two), and lots of smoke, lots of lights, and lots of noise. Even in 1975 it seemed probable Queen would always be remembered since they had the ability to actualise even the outer limits of their self-importance.
The fans (all guys) were vociferous, knowing all the words, cheering at every effect and solo, fists flying to the beat. Freddie received them beneficently, telling them they’re beautiful. Inevitably, someone evaded the bouncers and the audience seethed to the front, climbing on each other in pyramids, sudden openings appearing as splintering seats sent bodies to the floor.
Even with an earthquake like Fred, Queen presented a leaderless image straight from the Beatles school of interlocking chemistry. John was the nonchalant one, Roger the cheeky cheesecake, Brian a frail astronomer with diamond-hard solos. Freddie was…an original.
He wasn’t pretty in any conventional sense. Like the Mick Jagger of ’64, he was his own invention, an interesting mix of hard rock preening and louche campness. Although he borrowed – like most of Queen’s plagiarisms – from Zeppelin, Freddie’s supreme assurance and belief in himself exploded into something that was a constant delight to watch.
He reacted to his audience almost like an over-emotional actress. At the climax to one night he paused at the top of the drum stand, looked back over the crowd and with complete, heartfelt emotion placed delicate fingers to lips and blew a kiss. Anyone who could consume himself so completely in such a clichéd showbiz contrivance deserved to be called a star.
Freddie’s real talent, though, was with his mike stand, a short, handheld stick that served all manner of visual metaphors: cock, machine gun, and for fleeting moments an imaginary guitar. He had a neat trick of standing quite still in particularly frantic moments and, holding the stand vertically from his crotch up, draw a fragile finger along its length, ever closer to the taunting eyes that surveyed his audience.
Freddie was at home before 50,000 fans. But even when the audience numbered a few hundred, he always referred to himself as a star. I like that Freddie, who knew greatness was going to arrive.
© 2006 J. Ingham Photo © Mick Rock