Queen before Queen|
|Record Collector #199, March 1996|
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Apart from pre-Queen titles like the previously-documented 'Lover' and the
newly-discovered 'Vagabond Outcast', plus the three originals disclosed in
Freddie's letter to Celine Daley; there are a further four contenders for
the title of the mystery track. That's the number of unknown Freddie songs
stencilled and typed onto a piece of paper by Richard Thompson in October
1969. Richard has a recollection that one of these, "Universal Theme", was a
Bulsara-Bersin guitar instrumental, which leaves three songs in the running -
"Boogie", "One More Train" and "FEWA", the last of which Sour Milk Sea's
recalls was an acronym for "Feelings Ended, Worn Away". Unless any
other tapes miraculously surface, Freddie's words and melodies to such songs
can only be imagined.
Despite the arduous rehearsal, no one seems to recall Wreckage's debut at
Ealing College, but Richard Thompson once again comes up trumps with a
typewritten setlist for the gig. In addition to playing all ten of Freddie's
originals mentioned above, Wreckage created an intriguing new live concoction
by tagging the Beatles'
- not a reference to Brian May's
former band, but the dreamy psychedelic soundscape from Freddie's favourite
Electric Ladyland" .
They ended the set with
Me Love You" ,
no doubt inspired, once again, by the version on
Only an impression of Wreckage in general remains: "It was a far better group
than Ibex, because of Fred," recalls Geoff Higgins. "Mike's guitar playing
and Tupp's bass playing were always excellent, but Fred made it gel. It was
a proper progressive rock band, which is what they'd always wanted it to be."
Better than Ibex they may have been, but the brief hislory of Wreckage isn't
nearly as well documented. Only a handful of gigs were booked under that
at Imperial College - possibly at the 5th November 1969 gig listed
in Freddie's letter to Celine Daley. "We also played somewhere in Richmond,
at a nigby club," recalls John Taylor. "A friend of Brian May's arranged it,
and Brian came along. He thought our image was 'savage'. He thought we were
really good. 'Oh, savage!' he said."
What was probably the last Wreckage appearance took place at the 1969
Christmas dance at the Wade Deacon Grammar School For Girls in Widnes,
apparently booked with the help of John Taylor's younger sister, who was a
pupil at the school. (Members of Ibex had attended the corresponding
institution for boys.) This date has gone down in history as the night when
Freddie discovered what was to become his trademark. Fed up with the
microphone stand he'd been using, he removed part of it from its base and
leapt around the stage in his familiar fashion, gripping what amounted to
a redundant three-foot pole attached to his mic.
"There are lots of legends about that," reckons Geoff Higgins. "It happened
all the time, because we had a really crap microphone stand. It was one of
those big, heavy three-legged ones that most jazz bands used. Fred liked to
move around, and because it was too heavy, he used to unscrew the middle and
take out the pole. He did it all the time. It was purely a practical thing."
Despite flashes of true potential, the end of the 1960s also marked the end
of Wreckage. Gigs were few and far between, and while John Taylor, Richard
Thompson and Freddie remained in London, Mike Bersin was committed to his
college course in Liverpool. Inevitably, the band petered out.
"Before I went down to London," says Mike, "I told my parents what I wanted
to do. They were completely horrified and had 'visions of me disappearing
into the fag-end of swinging London in a haze of drink, drugs, sex and
rock'n'roll, and never coming back again. They made me promise that if
I got enough 'A' levels to go to art college, then I would do.. Eventually
the letter came, and I had to tell the guys that a promise was a promise. I
didn't have any regrets. It was fun, but I didn't perceive it as going
anywhere. Freddie was serious, but we weren't. When we started to fall to
pieces, he moved on to something else."
That "something else" was the Leatherhead-based quartet. Sour Milk Sea, for
whom Freddie auditioned in early 1970 - probably February - after seeing a
"Vocalist Wanted" advert in the 'Melody Maker'. "We were a blues-based
four-piece, playing predominantly our own material, really influenced
explains the band's Chris Chesney (then known as Chris
Dummett). "I was the lead vocalist, trying to sing like
really didn't have the right pipes for it. Plus, I wanted to move over to
The roots of Sour Milk Sea lay in a outfit called Tomato City, formed by
public schoolboys Chesney and Jeremy 'Rubber' Gallop, who played rhythm
guitar. In 1968, with Paul Milne on bass and original drummer Boris Williams
(who, in the 1980s turned up in the
the band "played arts labs, as
they were called then," remembers Chris. "People would come along and take
their clothes off and scream poetry". Inspired by the
that name recorded by
the band became Sour Milk Sea in late '68.
Williams was soon replaced by another public schoolboy, drummer Robert Tyrell,
who had previously played behind Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips at
Charterhouse, in a
band called the Anon.
|Sour Milk Sea's debut performance took place at the Guildford City Hall, opening for up-and-coming acts like Taste, Blodwyn Pig, Deep Purple and Junior's Eyes. Although the band turned professional in June 1969, and had its own sizeable following, drawing audiences of around 100 people, they felt they needed a little something extra. Freddie Bulsara was just the ticket.|
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