Queen before Queen
Record Collector #199, March 1996

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PHOTOGRAPH

Remarkably, for such a relatively inauspicious event, Freddie's first-ever public performance was extremely well-documented. There were at least three photographers present, and the proceedings were covered in Bolton's 'Evening News' for the second time on 25th August. This even featured an uncredited photograph of Freddie, the caption to which ran: "One of the performers gets into his stride". If Freddie wanted to be a star, it seems as if he was going the right way about it.
 

"Freddie really loved going up to Bolton to play with Ibex," remembers Paul Humberstone. "He was really on form. The band was very basic, but good. They did very reasonable cover versions, and were very loud. That was his very first outing with the band, but Fred struck his pose. Remember him doing "Bohemian Rhapsody"? He was like that, only without the eye make-up."
 
"Freddie was shy offstage," recalls Ken Testi, "but he knew how to front a show. It was his way of expressing that side of his personality. Everything he did on stage later in Queen, he was doing with Ibex at his first gig: marching from one end of the stage to another, from left to right and back again. Stomping about. He brought dynamics, freshness and presentation to the band that had been completely lacking previously."
 
Mike Bersin agrees: "As a three-piece, we'd thought it was sufficient to play fairly basic music and not worry too much about stagecraft. Freddie was much better at putting on a show and entertaining people. That was pretty radical for us. I thought that's what the liquid light show was for, you know. We make the music and the audience can watch the pretty-coloured bubbles behind us. But Freddie was different. He was always a star. People used to pull his leg about it when he had no money, one pair of trousers, one T-shirt and one pair of boots. He'd look after them all really well and people would say, 'Here comes Freddie, the star'."
 
"I don't think Freddie developed," reckons John 'Tupp' Taylor. "The first day he stood in front of that crowd, he had it all going. It seemed as if he'd been practising for years to be ready. We'd only ever sang together as mates before that. We'd never done anything by way of trying it out. He was just going to be in the band and everybody was happy with that. Once Freddie was in, we changed in loads of different directions. We began to play 'Jailhouse Rock', for a start! I think that was the first song we ever did with him on stage." Back in London, a revitalised Ibex began to make plans. "Freddie and the band very quickly became inseparable," remembers Ken Testi. "They were spending large parts of their time together, working out a new set which included different covers and some original stuff. "
 
Mike Bersin: "Freddie was the most musical of all of us. He was trained on the piano, and he could write on the black notes. He said, 'We're never going to get anywhere playing all this three-chord blues crap, we'll have to write some songs'. A couple of things came out of it, but they've all vanished now. I can't imagine that they would have been very satisfactory anyway - largely because he was working with me, and my understanding of music was incredibly rudimentary. We used to argue about whether we should put in key changes. I'd say, 'What do you want a key change for?' And he'd say that it made the song more interesting, it gave it a lift. I'd think, 'Why has he got this thing about gratuitous key changes?' The idea of changing the key of a song just because it made it more interesting to listen to was really alien to me." That said, Geoff Higgins remembers at least one decent Bulsara-Bersin tune: "They did a great song called 'Lover'. The lyrics used to go, 'Lover, you never believe me', and Fred later turned it into 'Liar, you never believe me' (which appeared on Queen's debut album ). It was almost the same tune. But not quite. In fact it was similar to 'Communication Breakdown' , they used to rip off Led Zeppelin a lot." Before they knew it however, the summer was over and it was September. Mike Bersin returned to Liverpool to begin his pre-diploma year at the local art college, at what is now John Moore's University. With nothing better to celebrate than the new term, the pre-dip freshers - new students - threw a party, and who better to provide the entertainment than Mike's band, Ibex? Subsequently, Ibex's third and final gig took place on 9th September 1969 at the Sink Club in Liverpool, a former soul-blues hangout in the basement of the Rumbling Tum - a place Ken Testi remembers as a "pretty dodgy, post-beatnik cafe". The club was situated on Hardman Street, which runs parallel to Mount Street, the site of Paul McCartney's new LIPA building, and was a small venue. "If you got thirty people in there it would have been a squash," recalls Ken.

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