Queen before Queen
Record Collector #199, March 1996

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APPLE

In May 1969, Ibex played their debut in the small Merseyside town of Penketh, and prior to meeting Freddie, had packed off a demo tape to the Beatles' Apple label, which resulted in little more than 'Miffer' Smith becoming enough of a celebrity to warrant a write-up in the local 'Widnes Evening News'. Featuring the headline, 'Beatles Could See Local Drummer Hitting Big Time", the report ended with the Ibex philosophy: "Blues isn't music... it's a way of life."
 

Mike Bersin: "We persuaded Mick to pack up his job as a milkman and to go down to London to make it in the music business. We had a Comma van and a load of phone numbers. The morning after we arrived we all piled into a phone box. Our roadie, Ken Testi, dialed this number. We were all crowded around the ear-piece and we heard him say, 'Hello, is Chris Ellis there, please?', and this very frosty-voiced woman on the other end said, 'Yes, this is Chrysalis'. That was the level of our sophistication."
 
"We met the members of Smile at a pub called the Kensington," recalls John 'Tupp' Taylor. "We saw them play a couple of times and they were really good. They had a great vocal-harmony thing going. Tim Staffell, their bass player, was a really good singer, and Freddie was a mate of theirs. We'd all sit around and have amazing vocal sessions singing Bee Gees, Beach Boys and Beatles songs. We could do great harmonies because there was three of them in Smile, myself, Mike Bersin, who'd chip in, and Freddie, of course."
 
At this point, it was common knowledge among the Smile crowd that Freddie was desperate to get into Brian and Roger's band. Perhaps joining Ibex would be a way in. "Freddie hadn't quite persuaded Smile to take him on as a vocalist," confirms Mike Bersin. "They thought they were doing OK as they were. So he said, 'You know what you guys need, and that's a vocalist.' " He was right, too, as John Taylor recalls: "I wasn't the world's greatest singer by any stretch of the imagination." And, as Ken Testi reveals: "Mike had never been particularly confident about his singing, but had been pushed into it."
 
Freddie first met Ibex on 13th August 1969. Such was his enthusiasm, that just ten days later, he'd learned the band's set, brought in a few new songs, and had travelled up to Bolton, Lancashire, for a gig with them - his debut public performance. The date was 23rd August, and the occasion was one of Bolton's regular afternoon 'Bluesology' sessions, held at the town's Octogon Theatre. For Ibex and friends it was the event of the summer. No fewer than fifteen bodies, including Freddie, Ken Testi, the band's other roadie Geoff Higgins, Paul Humberstone, assorted friends and girlfriends, plus Ibex's instruments, were squeezed into a transit van borrowed from Richard Thompson, a mate of Freddie's who'd previously drummed in "1984" with Brian May and Tim Staffell.
 
The gig, booked by Ken Testi before Ibex had left for London, provided a forum for amateur and semi-professional outfits to play, "on the understanding dial no fees are available though nominal expenses can be claimed from the door takings". Peter Bardens' band, Village, preceded Ibex on stage, and the gig took place 'in the round', with the seating placed around the circular stage.
 
The following day, Ibex appeared in the first 'Bluesology pop-in', an open-air event on the bandstand in Bolton's Queen's Park. On the bill were local band Back, another called Birth, Spyrogyra, Gum Boot Smith, the White Myth, Stuart Bitterworth, Phil Renwick, and of course, Ibex. In a report published the day before, the 'Bolton Evening News' wrote, "The last named act make a journey from London specially for the concert. The climax of the whole affair will be a 'super group', in which all the performers will play together. If the weather is fine the noise should be terrific."

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