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Freddie Mercury and Queen; concerts records and films

Lesley-Ann Jones' biography, The Real Life of Freddie Mercury: Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mecury, revealed a bril­liant musician keep­ing his true self hidden from an adoring world-wide audience.

Farrokh Bulsara/Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was born on the small British protectorate island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous reg­ion of Tanzania that specialised in spices. When he was 8, his relig­ious Parsi parents Bomi (a British civil servant) and Jer Bulsara sent him to an English boarding school outside Bombay.

At St Peter's School, Freddie loved music. The school prin­cipal noticed Freddie's musical talent, and wrote to his parents suggesting that they might want to pay an extra on Freddie's school fees to help him musical­ly. They agreed, and Fred­die began to learn to play the piano. He also became a member of the school choir and took part in theatrical pro­ductions. In 1958, Freddie Bulsara and four other school friends formed a rock band.

But it wasn’t a happy time – he left India as soon as he finished school. But in 1962, due to polit­ical unrest in Zan­zi­b­ar, many of the British and Indians left and re-migrated to the UK. At 17 Freddie got his Art A level & was accepted by Ealing College of Art, doing a graphic arts course.

In London, his closest friend was Reginald Kenneth Dwight, later Elton John. Both young men were a] devoted to their mothers, b] studied piano at an early age, c] developed an unusual look to disguise self-perceived ugliness, and d] were confused about sex­uality. After Jimi Hendrix became huge in 1967, and Freddie became an ardent fan, he spent time sketching and drawing his hero.

Queen, 1976
From the left Roger, John, Freddie, Brian

A fellow student at Ealing College was bass player Tim Staffell. As Tim's and Freddie's friendship became closer, Tim took him along to rehearsals of his band called Smile, with Brian May on guitar and Roger Taylor on drums. Freddie was close to Brian & Roger and greatly admired Brian's guitar-playing and musical experimentation.

Freddie left Ealing College in June 1969, with a diploma in graphic art and design. He moved into Roger Taylor's flat, and opened a stall with Roger at Ken­sington Market, selling the students’ art.

As he entered his 20s, Mercury played piano and sang in a number of bands. With Brian May and Roger Taylor, the three decided to join forces in the band that became known as Queen! In 1971 John Deacon joined the band and Queen were complete. Queen then released three records while building a reputation as a very popular live act.

In 1975, the band released A Night at the Opera, the most expensive album ever produced, which featured Queen’s biggest hit, Bohemian Rhapsody. It was this album and this song that launched Queen into global fame. Freddie was the front-man of the band, and wrote many hits for Queen, including my favourite We Are the Champions. I was in love!

Musicians could have fallen apart from drugs or alcohol, but fortunately Mercury was secured throughout his career by band mates who were good value. Jones noted that the other three members of Queen were clever university students who enjoyed each other’s company and avoided the crises that split many bands. Rough yes; stupid no.

In 1975 Freddie was gradually changing his image: he cut his hair and grew a moustache.

In 1978, the singer and Queen went to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland to record the album Jazz. Mercury fell in love with peaceful Montreux and Lake Geneva and decided to settle in a flat with a view of the lake. He bought the Mountain Studio recording studio and recorded a total of seven albums at Mountain Studios.

In late 1982 Queen all agreed they wanted to take break from the ban-- Freddie had been thinking of making a solo album anyhow, so he booked studio time at Musicland in Munich in 1983. There he was introduced to Georgio Moroder, who was working on a re-release of the 1926 Fritz Lang silent science fiction film Metrop­olis. Moroder needed a contemporary musical score for the film but Freddie had never before co-written with anyone out­side Queen. In Sept 1984 Freddie's first solo single (Love Kills) was released, co-written with Georgio Moroder.

In July 1985, Queen performed in front of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium and two billion tv viewers for the Live Aid Concert - possibly the greatest performance of all time. Queen secured their place in history.

The band had a hugely successful tour of Europe in summer 1986. But the final show of the tour, at Knebworth Park before 120,000 people, was the last show Queen would ever play with Merc­ury. There were more Queen albums and two solo Mercury records.

Freddie spent nights visiting the gay districts of the world’s capitals. He may have been infected with AIDS before the disease had been identified. He was diagnosed in 1987.

In March 1987 Freddie flew to Barcelona to sing with a Spanish opera diva, Montserrat Caballé. In Oct 1988 Freddie and Montserrat appeared at the huge open air festival in Barcelona. This was the last time Freddie Mercury performed on stage. He was secretly ill with AIDS, although he continued to compose and record songs.

Freddie Mercury
front man of the band

In Nov 1991 Freddie died at his London home of AIDS-related disease. Jones said the best tribute was the album Made In Heaven, taking previously unused final recordings composed by Freddie and released in 1995 by the remaining members of Queen. In my opinion, there is a better legacy: We Will Rock You was adopted as an anthem by the Manchester United soccer club, and We Are the Champions will be sung in football fields forever.

Lesley-Ann Jones proposed that Freddie’s childhood strongly influenced his later life. Mercury clearly struggled for years with the balance between his conservative upbringing, his rock fame and his closed off homosexuality. He was forced to restrict his life as the disease took over. But why did he keep his homo­sex­uality a secret, even as he withdrew to an isolated room? Did his conserv­ative, religious parents never know about his sexuality?

I haven’t read Harry Doherty’s 40 Years of Queen, but the book was recommended because of its lavish photos that conveyed that crazy time. The film Bohemian Rhapsody will open in cinemas here on 1/11/2018.


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