Queen before Queen
Record Collector #199, March 1996

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BEATLES

"I'd known Freddie for years," Richard recalls. "I first met him in 1966. I used to go round his house to listen to Beatles records. Then we'd go and watch Smile play, before he joined Ibex. I knew all of Ibex's songs, as I'd watched them perform, so there was no point in auditioning anybody else."
 

With Wreckage's first (and Freddie's fourth) concert appearance just five days away, the band set about rehearsing a new set. "Mike came down today (from Liverpool)," wrote Freddie to Celine, "for a five-hour live marathon practice... Richard collapsed half-way through and I've really gone and this Friday, 'cause I'm going to out-ponce everybody in sight. (It shall be easy.)".
 
Freddie ended the letter with this hitherto unpublished information: "We've written a few new numbers: 1) 'Green'. 2) 'Without You', 3) 'Blag-A-Blues', 4) 'Cancer On My Mind' (originally called 'Priestess'.)"
 
"Freddie always had very unusual titles at that stage,"- recalls Mike Bersin. "I can't remember what 'Green' was about. It might be the one with the intro which went, E, A, D, G, D, A, E, A, D, G, D, A, in guitar chords." As neither Ibex nor Wreckage went within striking distance of a recording studio, none of these songs was ever recorded officially. Miraculously, however, one of them has survived - and it's the one which stuck in Mike Bersin's mind. "Green".
 
Richard Thompson is the man responsible for its preservation. "The song was taped at the flat in Barnes, on a little Fidelity two-track recorder I'd had for about ten years," he reveals. "It was at the rehearsal for the Ealing College gig, after Mike had come down from Liverpool. I only recorded it so that I could learn the song. It is straightforward 4/4 in the middle, but we needed to learn the beginning and end of it. It had a weird beginning. Most of Freddie's songs were like that. I can't remember the rest of them. but they were Hendrix and blues copies."
 
"Green" is a melodic, medium-paced ballad, whose tone recalls that obscure Queen delight, Mad The Swine (recorded in 1971, not issued until 1991), and ironically, some of the more reflective material he wrote towards the end of his life. "There's a sudden change in me...," sings Freddie. "I believe my time has come. Any moment I'll be drifting to the sun... Green, turning green. Rapidly changing through the bassline, turning green." ("That sounds like the state of Freddie's lyrics at the time!" laughs Mike Bersin.)
 
This excellent-quality recording survives on a 5" spool, and runs for just over ten minutes. As Freddie revealed in his letter, the session was a extended one. In addition to his tired voice and Richard Thompson's exhaustion. Wreckage had the other occupants of the Ferry Road flat to consider. So while Freddie sang in a hushed, compelling manner, Mike Bersin can be heard strumming along on an unplugged electric guitar. Only John 'Tupp' Taylor's bass is amplified, while Richard Thompson keeps time by lapping on a practice pad. Wreckage make several attempts at "Green", before switching to another song, obviously a Freddie-composed number, which is difficult to identify (but could be "Blag-A-Blues") from its lyrics because the band were interrupted before they reached the chorus.
 
"Whoever we were sharing the flat with came in and complained that it was one o'clock in the morning," remembers Richard Thompson. "So Freddie stopped singing." And there ended the last and certainly most important pre-Queen recording. One well-heeled collector will have the chance to hear the tape for himself when it comes up for auction at Christie's on 6th June.

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