Queen before Queen
Record Collector #199, March 1996

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Rob Tyrell recalls seeing him for the first time: "Freddie auditioned with us in a youth club in crypt of a church in Dorking. We were all blown away. He was very confident. I don't think it was any great surprise to him when we offered him the job." Jeremy Gallop agrees: "He had an immense amount of charisma, which was why we chose him. Although, we were actually spoilt for choice that day. Normally at auditions, you'd get four or five guys who were rubbish, but we had two other strong contenders. One was a black guy who had the voice of God, but he didn't have the looks of Fred, and the other person was Bridget St. John."

Chris Chesney: "I remember Freddie being really energetic and moving around a lot at the audition, coming up and flashing the mic at me during guitar solos. He was so impressive. There was an immediate vibe. He had a great vocal range. He sang falsetto; nobody else had the bottle to do that. He said, 'Do your own songs and I'll make up my own words'. It was clever, and very good.
"When Freddie joined," he continues, "we were on a roll. We were in the habit of playing two or three gigs a week and we continued to do so. I think we played one down at the Temple in Lower Wardour Street with Freddie, the Oxford gig, and a few others."
The Oxford gig was in the ballroom at the Randolph Hotel, one of the grandest in the city. "It was like a society-type of bash, debs in frocks and all that," recalls Chris. "I remember our sound wasn't great." Jeremy Gallop adds: "Freddie definitely managed to get what people were there in the palm of his hand, just by sheer aggression and his good looks. He was very posey, very camp, and quite vain. I remember him coming into my house and looking in the mirror, poking his long hair about. He said, 'I look good today. Don't you think, Rubber?' I thought, 'Fuck off!' I was only eighteen at the time, and didn't think it was very funny. Now it's hilarious."
The only other gig featuring Freddie which the members of Sour Milk Sea are certain about was a benefit for the homeless charity, Shelter, staged at the Highfield Parish Hall in Headington, Oxford, on 20th March 1970 - just weeks before Freddie teamed up with Brian May and Roger Taylor in a new group. "That was probably the last gig we played with him," remarks Chris Chesney.
Surprisingly enough for such a low-key gig, just like Ibex's Bolton show, Sour Milk Sea's appearance at Headington also made the local paper, as revealed in Mark Hodkinson's 'Queen - The Early Years'. This time it was the 'Oxford Mail', and incredibly, the paper also included a photograph of the group complete with Freddie - the only shot known to exist of him with Sour Milk Sea. Typically, Freddie is the only one looking at the camera.

The article included an interview with the band on account of Chris Chesney's parents being minor local celebrities (his father was a philosophy don, his mother an official for the Oxford Committee for Racial Integration). It also remarked that vocalist Freddie Bulsara had only arrived "a couple of weeks ago", and quoted from his song, "Lover". More importantly, as Chris told the paper at the time: "I don't feel we are like any other group. Our approach is based on our relationships with one another."

Those relationships held much promise, but were fraught with danger, as Chris was soon discovered. "I was slaying with 'Rubber' at the time," he recounts. "Then Freddie asked me to stay with him in Barnes. So I did, and we started songwriting together, getting into each other's heads. His chords were kind of weird. They broke all the rules, F-sharp minor to F back to A. That was totally new for me. I thought it was all very current and that we could blend our two approaches together". He continues: "We did two or three of Freddie's songs. He had some material from the Ibex days, including 'Lover', 'Blag' and 'FEWA'. He was good at lyrics and we wrote a couple of numbers, some big, operatic pieces. Operatic in the sense that they broke down into solo guitar parts, then built up again vocally. I can't for the life of me remember what they were called. He also introduced weird covers like 'Jailhouse Rock' . We'd have never considered playing Elvis, or Little Richard's 'Lucille' . Then he had his little rock'n'roll medley, which pushed the band into a showbiz direction, which I liked. He also had a lot of stagecraft going. I had a good relationship with Freddie and he liked the way I moved on stage. We were like Bowie and Ronson, where we related physically to each other on stage."

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