30 October 2018

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.


Train Man said...

We will we will rock you!
We will we will rock you!

Ahh the memories.

Hels said...

Oh, Lord
Somebody, somebody
Can anybody find me somebody to love?
(Can anybody find me someone to love)

Back at you, Train Man! We are children of the same generation :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - regrettably I wasn't and am not very musical - but I do enjoy reading up now on how brilliant so many people who have succeeded are ... talented beyond belief ... thanks for this thorough write up for us - I'll enjoy seeing the film later on, after it comes out this week ... cheers Hilary

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, It is astounding to think how people who were persecuted or rejected from society frequently gave so much back that was beautiful or meaningful.

Hels said...


you know how people remember music from their best days, even when they are otherwise totally demented? I remember every word and every note of songs from the 1963-72 decade! Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Beach Boys and my favourites - Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond and later Queen. What an era!!

Hels said...


that is so true. I was having a look at asylum seekers who left their home countries under gun fire and starvation, travel to their new land on tiny boats and get put in a barbed wire prison camp. They are vilified, as criminals and job grabbers :(

Yet once asylum seekers are settled, they work hard to establish a safe and healthy life for their children. These are the very people who add so much to our business, professional and cultural worlds.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the background. I don't think I have ever been to a film on opening day, but I am tomorrow. Sadly I have become more interested in Mercury since his death than when he was alive. I loved where he lived in Montreux.

Parnassus said...

Hello again, Speaking of asylum seekers adding to culture, I remember the post you did on the Ben Uri Galleries. I just got a notice from Sotheby's on a sale they are having:


This does have me a little concerned. For a museum to sell important art to buy pieces more in fitting with its mission is one thing, but to sell are just to raise money or to fund expansion programs induces anxiety. So often the result is that the art is gone, the money evaporates, no new building appears, and bad will is created between the museum and its supporters. Also, the program name "Ben Uri Arts and Dementia Institute" is distinctly off-putting, however important the topic. It sounds like the title of a pedantic PhD thesis. I hope that I am wrong and that Ben Uri will go on to produce more great exhibitions.

Hels said...


many people would understand that. Freddie's last few years were so pain-filled and so isolated that people focused more on his death than on his life. Back then AIDS was so terrifying that nobody would have even got up the stairs to wave to him from his bedroom door.

Re Montreux I didn't remember that Queen had lived in Switzerland, renting homes there and buying Mountain Studios in 1978. I assume Freddie loved the very quiet town because he already knew about his medical diagnosis. I will add a line or two to the post - thanks.

Hels said...


The Ben Uri dilemma reminds me of Dr Barnes who established his Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, a gallery where he could display his precious collection. In his will, Dr Barnes left his art to the state, but with VERY specific conditions that controlled how the works were to be displayed for the rest of history.

In modern times the Barnes Foundation was finding it difficult to maintain the museum and to attract a large audience. So the foundation directors decided to breach the legally binding conditions in the will and to relocate the collection to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Pa. After years of paying lawyers _millions_ of dollars, the new gallery did open!

Perhaps Ben Uri directors were trying to avoid spending 10 years and millions of dollars on lawyers, judges, lower courts and then appeal courts etc etc.

bazza said...

Freddie was a great showman and was always good value as a live performer. Queen made so many great records that, as I hear each one, I think that one is my favourite!
Sadly, Montserrat Caballé passed away three weeks ago.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s contemplative Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

CherryPie said...

A fascinating history, much of which I did not know before.

Hels said...


Way back in 1993-5, I met many locals and overseas friends on my MIRC chat channel and discussed films, books, politics, travel and of course music. Only one of the Americans had a career in music, so she asked me which Queen song I loved best. I can't remember which I said, but she said "Oh nooo.... Bohemian Rhapsody is by far and away their most skilled piece of music".

Look at the heading that the ABC gave in its news: "Montserrat Caballe, Spanish opera singer who dueted with Freddie Mercury, dies aged 85". She had been famous when Freddie Mercury was still in nappies :)

Hels said...


I think because Freddie Mercury's career was unfortunately shortened, and because he lived in a number of different countries, the history was choppy. Thus people remember the music, without necessarily knowing the back stories. But that could be equally true for Mozart!

mem said...

By all accounts the Movie is great . My son James who is a musician and born after Freddie died said that it was one of the best movies he has seen . Its wonderful that Freddie is reaching a whole cohort of people via this film .

Hels said...


The music was original, powerful and the best part of the film. But I was so sad at the pain Freddie Mercury had to endure, from the time he joined the other musicians in London until the end of Live Aid. What an amazingly creative life!

Stephen Romei said...

Mercury was not part of the gay pride movement. This is a movie about him as one of the greatest performers in rock'n'roll. It opens and closes with Queen's astonishing performance in the Live Aid convert at Wembley Stadium in 1985. He is an outsider, a misfit. He chooses the band name Queen "because it's outrageous and I can't think of anyone more outrageous than me". When singing, when performing, he said "I am exactly the person I was meant to be".

Stephen Romei
The Australian Review
Nov 3-4, 2018

Hels said...


Many thanks. The film showed that Freddie did indeed feel he was an outsider and a misfit. But I didn't see from the film (or from my memory) that _other_ people felt he was a misfit. How sad that must have been.