The late, great Kirsty MacColl insisted that there was a guy down the chip shop who swore he was Elvis. I am not sure about that, but I recently have discovered that the late Freddie Mercury is alive and well and working as a waiter in a St Albans restaurant. Well, there is a member of the waiting staff at this establishment who has, in my mind, more than a passing resemblance of the great Queen front man; and once you decide that he’s ‘Freddie’ then it is very hard to back away from that thought.
I have a very dear friend to blame for my love of Queen. A copy of ‘Queen’s Greatest Hits’ recorded onto a cheap AGFA C90 cassette was the first piece of music that came into my hands that was not related to my parents record collection. It was a revelation, and I played it to death. It did have the quirks that many people had with the recordings they had in the days before digital, where jumps in the vinyl gave you unplanned remixes of songs never intended by the artist concerned. In the case of this tape the issues were that the album did not quite fit – it was some time before I actually heard the end of ‘Save Me’ for instance, as it was rudely truncated. Also, while the album was obviously stereo, my friend’s midi system was only operating on mono and had recorded as such onto the tape. For most of the tracks that did not matter; for those of you who know ‘Bicycle Race’ will realise this rather impacts the song in the middle section as the stereo bell ringing was reduced to one bell and an uncomfortable series of silences. It has never been one of my favourite songs.
Not long afterwards came Live Aid and my love of the band was cemented when they stole the show, although my initial experience of that performance was listening to a radio in the back of the car on the way to a summer holiday in Dunbar with the sort of inconsistent signal you felt was deliberately trying to annoy you by dropping off at the most inopportune moments.
The Lovely Wife and I have been lucky to go to many gigs over the years, separately and obviously together in more recent years but the one regret I do have is that I never got to see Queen live. It was never really going to happen, to be fair to me, as they stopped playing live in 1986 when I was in my mid-teens, and I would never been able to afford tickets anyway. Like most fans I was distraught when Freddie died of AIDS in 1991 when I was at University, and the tribute concert (aside from the oddest thing in the world, David Bowie reciting the Lord’s Prayer on stage – where did that come from?) only served to show how few vocalists could really get Freddie’s range (honourable exceptions being the late George Michael and the marvellous Annie Lennox).
Queen were never ‘cool’ and liking their music never will be. But that was OK for me as a teenager as I was not in any way cool or trendy. That is the joy of music; you can own it and take joy and support from it, and even more so now you can be listening to whatever you want without anyone else knowing, providing you keep your iPhone screen hidden from view. Or, wear the T shirt with pride. Some music is to listen too, some is fuel for your soul.