Queen before Queen
Record Collector #199, March 1996

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TIME-CAPSULE

While Freddie's trip to Bolton with Ibex was photographed, unbeknown to Queen historians these past 27 years - and indeed to friends and members of the band - Ibex's appearance at the Sink was recorded. Hazy memories arid a cindered attic have obscured this amateur-quality time-capsule of Freddie for nearly three decades. What's more, the recording pre-dates the earliest known live tape of Queen (the Marquee, 20th December, 1972) by more than three years.
 

Ibex's roadie, Geoff Higgins, is the man behind the mono tape recorder and the rediscovery of a lifetime. He picks up the Story: "I had a Grundig TK14 reel-to-reel machine. We used to record almost everything, and practically all of it is now gone. That night I just thought I'd take it along and tape the band. There was no other reason for it. You don't expect to end up in the history of one of the biggest acts in the world. We didn't hold those tapes as being precious. Although, I've kept everything of Mike's since!"
 
He continues: "I had two beer crates as a table; with my tape on top of them and a little old-fashioned mono, crystal microphone hanging down by its own wire. That's why the tape is such chronic quality. Imagine begin the audience and looking at the stage. I would have been by a pillar on the right of, and slightly in front of, the stage. That's why the bass is so loud, because Tupp was on the righthand side. Mike was on the left, Miffer in the middle, and Fred out on the floor in front of the stage, because there simply wasn't enough room for a singer as well."
 
The tape runs for thirty-five minutes, and demonstrates Ibex's love of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, as well as Freddie's favourite of the day, Led Zeppelin. It opens half-way through the band's reading of Cream's "I'm So Glad" , complete with Tupp Taylor's dextrous bass solo, before diving into a full- throttle reading of Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown" , with Freddie's towering falsetto homage to Robert Plant earning the band a smattering of applause. Freddie's vocal extemporising on the next track, the Beatles' "Rain" , vindicates stories of a untried singer with the confidence to launch himself with his own style. Cream's apocalyptic "We're Going Wrong" follows, with 'Miffer' Smith's Ginger Baker-like drumming rising and falling beneath Freddie's undulating vocals. Guitarist Mike Bersin shines on "Rock Me Baby" , the blues-rock standard popularised by Jimi Hendrix, although the version here owes more to the one found on the Jeff Beck Group's "Truth" ; at one point, Freddie echoes Bersin's wah-wah with his own "wow wow" ad-libs.
 
The tape pauses here, and restarts towards the end of a strut through Hendrix's "Stone Free" . Aim extended stab at Freddie's perennial favourite, "Jailhouse Rock" , leads into an accomplished power-blues blast through Cream's "Crossroads" . Freddie introduces the next number, one of his compositions: "Now we'd like lo do one of our own songs, called 'Vagabond Outcast'." It's reminiscent of that Queen rarity, "Hangman", and although it's under-reliearsed, it's similar in style to Ibex's better-known covers, and earns the band another ripple of applause. Mike and John re-tune their guitars before "We're Going Home", a variation on the Ten Years After R&B work-out "I'm Going Home" , during which Freddie's voice can be heard, half talking, half ad-libbing, beneath the low murmur of'Tupp' Taylor's bass solo. Freddie then reemerges, exploding with an alarming rock shriek as the song draws to a close. It's a fascinating, if slightly ragged performance, but a crucial early document of one rock's greatest stars, or to put it Freddie's way, legends - another national treasure to be venerated one day in Britain's mythical rock'n'roll archive. "Everybody was incredibly competent in that band," agrees Geoff Higgins. "There were no slackers. They weren't rubbish by any means. I know this is a poor recording, but those guys were good."
 
Geoff has a further revelation, which calls to mind Paul McCartney's presence in the audience at the first-ever recording of John Lennon with the Quarry Men back in 1957. "Smile were in Liverpool that night," he says, "playing another club, possibly the Green Door. And because we were at the Sink, they came down to see us." The rest of the story is almost too good to be true. Brimming with encouragement for their flamboyant friend, Brian May and Roger Taylor wasted no time in joining Freddie on stage (or as near to it as they could get). They probably bashed out a few Smile numbers (to which Freddie undoubtedly knew all the words), and this occasion marked the first time the three of them played together in front of an audience. "We virtually had Queen in there," remarks Ken Testi, "although of course we didn't know it then." But here's the sting: although Geoff Higgins' tape recorder was still only yards away at the time, the tape ran out before the three musicians had the chance to play a note together.
 
Sometime between 9th September and the end of October 1969, probably while Freddie was staying with Geoff Higgins in Liverpool, Ibex underwent a mini upheaval - at Freddie's instigation. "I recall him canvassing the idea of calling the band Wreckage, but nobody was very enthusiastic," reveals Mike Bersin. "Then he phoned me one night and said, 'The others don't mind. How do you feel?' I said, 'If they agree, then fine'. So we went along to the next rehearsal and all the gear had been sprayed 'Wreckage'. When I spoke to the others about it, Freddie had phoned them all up and had the same conversation."

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