Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Denise Craddock

Various Queen biographies have mixed up Sinclair Road and Sinclair Gardens...So thanks to Denise, here is some more accurate information. Denise lived with Pat McConnell in 69, Sinclair Road. It was the flat where Freddie Mercury's first band Ibex stayed, and it was a flat a few hundred yards from Sinclair Gardens where Roger Taylor lived with Les Brown.

Towards the end of 1969 (10/10/69 to be precise) Denise moved to 40, Ferry Road with Roger, Pat and one of Roger's dentist friends...

UPDATE 24/1/11 I spoke to Denise again last night. In fact it was 36 Sinclair Road - though she lived briefly with Freddie in 69, Cunningham Road before moving to Barnes. For most of the time she was in Barnes she shared a room with Pat, whilst Freddie and Roger also shared a room.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Keith Harding and Vaughan Hankins

One of the first things I did when I started the 'Queen in Cornwall' research was to visit Park View in Truro where Roger Taylor lived as a boy. This weekend I returned and spoke to Keith Harding who moved there as a newly married man in 1962. He has lived with his wife in the same house ever since. During the 60's as their immediate neighbour, Keith got to know Roger's family. Later he went on to meet the members of Queen, when he helped them mend a puncture on their van which was parked in the street.

As an electrician Keith also used to help with the lighting at the City Hall in Truro (where Queen played their first concert) and he once provided Roger's first band, The Reaction, with a cable that provided power to their marquee on the cliffs in St Agnes...

Another close neighbour that I spoke to recently was Vaughan Hankins who is the same age as Roger Taylor and was a contemporary at Truro School. Those of you who know Truro may be surprised to see this building in High Cross opposite the main entrance to the Cathedral. The garage was owned by Vaughan's father who provided cars in which Vaughan drove Roger and friends around the county late in 1966...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Les Brown and Sinclair Gardens

Les Brown is well known to Queen fans as the man who originally brought Brian May and Roger Taylor together when he saw an advert for a drummer at Imperial College where he was studying Maths...I spoke to him in France last night, and he had some great memories of the Smile years in particular, both in London and Cornwall. He remembers for example cooking breakfast for 17 in Truro when Smile and their entourage descended on him one weekend!

There are some unanswered questions re Sinclair Gardens though which I will hope to get to the bottom of over the next few days mainly regarding who exactly lived there and when...

This picture is taken from Google maps...The black door level with the blue lorry was the entrance to their flat... You also have to imagine a Smile sticker - about a foot across - in the window...

UPDATE 3/12/10 All the Queen biographies say that Roger moved in with Les in 1967 - but actually Les and Geoff Daniel who lived at Sinclair Gardens say they were in Halls during academic year 67/68. Its possible Roger was too - but will need to try and clarify this. Certainly Roger and Les lived there during the academic year 68/69 and Brian and Freddie visited and slept over regularly but never lived there - at least whilst Les was there.

The Kensington was a regular haunt for the band  - especially before they moved to Barnes late in 1969. It was near Sinclair Gardens and it was where Freddie met Ibex for the first time...

UPDATE 12/12/10 There was a flat a few hundred yards away in Sinclair Road where Ibex stayed with the McConnell sisters. Roger also first met John Harris the Queen sound man via the McConnells in the same pub.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Penny North of the Jayfolk

Jill Johnson sent a copy of this photo of The Jayfolk to me a few months ago...and I wondered if there was a story behind it. Penny who joined Jayfolk at the beginning of 1967 was able to explain that this was the Jayfolk's Austin van which was written off after an accident only a few weeks after the accident that their friends The Reaction had had in February. (At the time Jill and Sue of Jayfolk were going out with Roger Taylor and Mike Dudley of The Reaction). Penny stayed in touch with Roger Taylor, and got to know Smile and Freddie Mercury. She stayed with them in Barnes, and they stayed with her in Grampound. She also helped secure one of Queen's first concerts at Balls Park College, which followed a Smile gig the previous year.

Very interesting. Thanks Penny!

UPDATE 29/11/10 Looked in the West Briton1967 March to June and Oct to December. Couldn't see record of accident which occurred travelling back from a second round audition for Opportunity Knocks...the X-Factor of the day.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

John 'Acker' Snell

I was really glad to finally speak to John Snell on Friday. He was the sax player and one of the founders of Roger Taylor's group in Cornwall: The Reaction, and he was able to explain lots of things about the history of the band that were not clear.

So, for example, the band used a Bedford van like the one above that was owned by the butcher and concert promoter, Jack Pascoe. This was the van he remembers driving most often, though prior to this they used his parent's Ford Thames. He confirmed that, on their trips to Devon organised by the promoter Lionel Digby, they often slept in the van. Digby himself was a very colourful character, and the first time John met him, he was wearing a cowboy outfit complete with six-guns which he would intermittently fire at the boys!

John saw Smile not in Cornwall but in London at the Albert Hall, and he remembers staying with Roger in his flat in London the night after the gig. He also went on a trip with Smile out of Truro, but only got as far as Playing Place because they had a puncture...Below is a fairly well known picture of him sharing the front of the stage with Graham Hankins at a dance at Truro School. Thanks John.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bert Biscoe and a piece of very important and very rare memorabilia

Bert is well known in Truro as a musician, writer and City councillor. Although he saw quite a lot of them he is at least two years younger than Roger Taylor, Mike Dudley, Dick Halliwell and the other boys associated with The Reaction, and so has a different perspective on that time.

He remembers Roger and Dick at Truro School. During dinner Roger was head of the table he sat at, and Dick deputy head, and they had to supervise the younger kids as they ate their food. Bert also recalls sneaking into PJs after school where he listened to Smile rehearse on more than one occasion.

He also saw Queen play at Tregye and has an original ticket, which - and he probably does nt realise this yet - is probably the earliest printed ticket for a Queen concert in existence anywhere in the world. (I'll e-mail him in a sec to point this out!!!!). Here it is.

The gig he remembers most, though, is the Fantastics playing at the Rock and Rhythm Championship in 1968. This band was actually Roger Taylor's Cornish band The Reaction under another name, and  - for one night only- they had a French go-go dancer called Joelle...(who may have also danced with one of the other groups).

It should be said that Bert has a great knowledge of Truro, and of the Cornish folk scene as it was in the 60s...For example he remembers seeing Eric Clapton play with Maddy Prior at the Folk Cottage in Mitchell. But that's a story for another day...Thanks Bert.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Cornishman ads

These old ads from the sixties are so evocative...I've trawled through the West Briton and Cornish Guardian. That only leaves The Cornishman as the other paper that is probably worth looking at for gigs by The Reaction...

22nd April     Penmare Hotel 'Cornwalls champion group'
20th May     Penmare Hotel 'Cornwalls champion group'

11th June    The Old Barn Club Eastern Green Penzance
16th July     Winter Gardens, Penzance
23rd September   The Old Barn Club Eastern Green Penzance
8th October   The Guildhall St Ives  'By popular demand the return of the Reaction Cornwall's Big Sound'
14th October    Penmare Hotel   'Beat Night is back with the Reaction'
4th November     Penmare Hotel  'Beat Night.  The Reactions'
18th November     Penmare Hotel   Beat Beat Beat Night Reaction Reaction Reaction
11th December      Arlo Guthrie appears at the Tell-a-Tale folk club on Chapel Street, Penzance

6th January   The Penmare BEAT BEAT BEAT NIGHT
27th January   The Penmare
28th January   St Ives Guildhall With apologies to The Electric Prunes OAP 2/6
24th Feb   The Penmare The Fabulous Reaction
10th March   The Penmare The Fabulous Reaction
31st? March   The Penmare Reaction
9th? April    The Penmare
28th? April    The Penmare
4th August   Hayle Rugby Ground  Beat Dance Barbeque Open-Air Floodlit Dancing
30th Sept    Town Hall, St Just  St Just Cricket Club

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Rock and Rhythm Championship: Cornishman

There are 3 or more local newspapers in Cornwall. The Cornishman covered the Rock and Rhythm Championship in 1966 differently to the others and included mention of a tour of Southern France...

Richard Halliwell

Richard was not in The Reaction but was one of Roger Taylor's best friends at Truro School. Then known as Dick, he is one of only a few people who has seen all of Roger's groups play: Beat Unlimited, Reaction, Smile and Queen. He has some good stories: one of them being a trip to Exeter to see The Kinks and The Herd in 1968. He remembers, that day, both he and Roger wearing white sailor's trousers that they'd bought from an army and navy store in Falmouth. Thanks Richard.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


This has been a good week or two for new pieces of memorabilia: all things not previously seen or reproduced to my knowledge. The best ones I'm keeping back for the exhibition and the book. One of them is a postcard to Pat and Sue Johnstone from Freddie Mercury written in 1974 which is completely brilliant. Another is the contract with Queen for the Tregye Festival in 1971, which Dave Stone from St Austell let me copy.

I thought this picture of Dave and a friend sitting in front of one of The Magicians Workshop 'magic murals' was interesting too. Magician's Workshop (Gerry Gill and John Lumley-Saville) did the sound and lighting for a couple of the Queen gigs in Cornwall. This 'mural' was 3 or 4 four times bigger than the frame of the photograph below and created using luminous paints that responded to light.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Gerry Gill and David Bowie in Cornwall

David Bowie performed in Cornwall on two snowy nights during Christmas 1968. At the time he was still under the influence of 'Lindsay Kemp', with whom he had performed in the earlier part of the year, and he had also met Hermione Farthingale and was performing with her as a trio called 'Feathers'. In Falmouth his performance was a mime to music that was played by his DJ friend Gerry Gill, devised as a response to the invasion of Tibet by China. He'd done something similar with Marc Bolan and TRex at the Royal Festival Hall earlier in the year.

And this ad is the proof. Jill Johnsons group played as part of the same 3 night event, though apparently not on a night that Bowie was performing.

I will get a better copy of this ad - but thanks to Richard from kernowbeat I was able to speak to Gerry Gill this evening who was active as a DJ in Cornwall between about 1968 and 1972. During this time he saw Smile perform a few times and compered at concerts that Queen played in Cornwall too.

Interestingly it was Roger Brokenshire (who sang with Roger Taylors band in Cornwall) who organised for Gerry to move down to Cornwall from London, where previously he had known Bowie quite well. Whilst he played at Falmouth Bowie stayed with Gerry in his flat on Illogan Highway for a few days over Xmas before going back to London on the train. Interesting stuff! Thanks Gerry.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Neil Battersby...and at last I get to hear The Reaction!!!

I finally caught up with Neil Battersby today in Redruth. It was very exciting because late in 1966 Neil made the only known recording of The Reaction playing live, and he played it to me today in his office in Redruth. It was made using a plastic microphone in the room next to the one the band were performing in (the kitchen in the annexe of the City Hall in Truro) so the quality is n't perfect, but it's good enough to make out lots of Mike Dudley's keyboard, bits of Acker Snell's saxophone (I think) and of course Roger Taylor's drumming and singing.

Regarding the drumming, and I 'm not an expert but I would say the band 'swings': they're playing a lot of soul numbers and all them have got a really good rhythmical 'feel'. But there is nt the same flamboyance: the rolls are simple quavers on the toms, not flams or paradiddles and its as if Roger, as the singer, is concentrating more on his singing, which actually is very impressive. It seems very dynamic and expressionful, with really soulful whoops and wails etc.

In fact it's a reminder that, had things worked out differently (maybe if there had been another drummer around who was keen to play with the Reaction) Roger might have concentrated on singing - and the history of Queen might have been very different...

Neil had some other interesting Truro School memorabilia, including a couple of 'Yearbooks' which were given to all the boys and listed all the pupils of the school (picture above). He also remembered gigs that I havent heard described before including on a boat on the Fal and in a clubhouse in Trevellas (?possibly Talk of the West: will need to check this with him).

Neil did most of The Reaction's driving in 1966, and hes found an image of a Thames Trader van that is almost identical to the one they had back then. This is the same one that crashed (badly) in 1967.

Thanks Neil.

UPDATE 27/10/10 Actually its just occurred to me that the 'Yearbook' (picture above) allows us to date the fancy dress party pictured on the back of the Queen 1 album because it has Les Brown's birth date. We know it was at Les' 21st birthday that the photos were taken, so the party would have been at the beginning of June 1971 - shortly before Queen set off on their tour of Cornwall...

UPDATE 15/11/10
Speaking to Neil again hes corrected me. In a lot of the biographies there are references to Thames Traders which were big heavy pickup lorries. Actually to be strictly correct the vehicle in question was called a Ford Thames...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Mr Lucifer

There are members of a few bands who played at PJ's that would be nice to talk to. One such band is Mr Lucifer the only other band apart from Constable Zippo who we know shared the bill with Smile when they played in Cornwall in 1969. Someone mentioned that they might have a link to Cambridge but I did nt follow it up until I saw this ad:

which is one of a few that were placed in the Cornish Guardian in late 1969. Someone on We're All Neighbours (a Cambridge website) remembers Mr Lucifer as a 3 piece with drums, bass and keyboard and suggested I contact Tim Renwick, who suggested I contact Trevor Mannell, who in turn suggested I contact Tony Cousins who is someone who knew the band quite well. (In fact both these gentlemen also remember PJs and Trevor worked there as a doorman). He said the bassist was called Paddy and the drummer was a certain Willie Wilson...and they moved down from Cambridge and lived in Lomorick near Lanivet for a while...

I'm hoping to get to the bottom of this. Meanwhile have a look at this ad from The Cornish Guardian the same year...

UPDATE: 22/10/10 Bob from the Czar/Tuesday's Children website has a picture of Mr Lucifer...Both groups played in the Cambridge Free Festival at the beginning of June 1969, as did a group called 1984, which may have been Brian Mays former band.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Alan Mair

Alan Mair is a musician himself, who in the sixties was in successful Scottish band The Beatstalkers, but in the 70s he also had several years working in Kensington Market alongside Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor. We spoke on the phone for more than an hour this evening.

Alan isn't aware of any photos of the market in the early 70's (though they must exist - so please contact me if someone reading this has one!) but there is an obscure but interesting link with this picture of David Bowie. Manchester Square was where Alan first started making clothes before he moved to the market. He used the offices of the Beatstalkers manager Ken Pitts, who also managed David Bowie. As a result he got to know Bowie, and recalls him calling round to the stall, and being fitted for a pair of boots by Freddie Mercury probably in about 1972.

Alan was really great to talk to and has a good memory of The Greyhound Pub, which was a regular meeting place, and Queen's early gig at the College of Estate Management which was also very near by.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Wadebridge Town Hall

We know Queen played here in 1971, and that The Reaction and Smile probably played here too...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Geoff Hawkey

I thought I'd found all the members of The Reaction (Roger Taylor's group in Cornwall) I was likely to find, then today out of the blue I was really excited to receive an e-mail from Geoff Hawkey who is the bassist that played on their tour of Devon in 1966.

What was interesting is that Roger 'Sandy' Brokenshire, who was The Reaction's singer at the time, was the person who had suggested he play with them. Geoff already knew Sandy, as he had been the bassist with Brokenshire's band 'Sandy and the Rockin' Rockardo's' (above)) when Brokenshire was working up in Devon with Lionel Digby .

Geoff remembers meeting The Reaction, rehearsing with them in The Old Cop Shop in Torquay, before then playing in Barnstable, Wadebridge, South Brent and Bude...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Truro School 1965

Many will remember headmaster Derek Burrell (the man in the photo who doesnt have a boy sitting in front of him)...

In the third row down from the top are two smaller boys with fringes standing wedged together. The slighter of the two is Roger Taylor, the other is his best friend Dave Dowding. Dave is next to the boy with the glasses. If you follow the row along Mike Dudley, the third member of Beat Unlimited, is the tall lad with the massive quiff second from the left.

As far as I know this is the first time a school photo of Roger Taylor has been published. Remember: you saw it here first!

Thanks to Jo, the Truro School archivist who has this and a photo of Mike Dudley of The Reaction with the other prefects. Amazingly she also has copies of the school magazine going back to the 1800s.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Perceval (Percival) Institute, St Minver

Adverts can be exciting  - and this one is particularly so. We know that Smile, the band that preceded Queen, played in some quite obscure venues during 1969 when they came to Cornwall, but there has never been much evidence. Until now.

I was alerted to this gig by members of Constable Zippos Electric Commode Band, Nigel Chappell and Wynn Jones who remember supporting Smile at St Somewhere in North Cornwall.

Note that the advert mentions Smile's latest record (actually their only record (!)). Which is a really nice detail, though sadly 'Earth' was never released in the UK...

So how obscure is this venue? Well this is what it looks like now. It's in the middle of a very rural and remote part of North Cornwall, the best part of an hour's drive from Truro...but the organiser had laid on buses so it was probably well attended...I have a feeling in fact that the organiser is someone that booked The Reaction in 1968 because there were a few gigs they played where the same little Lion motif was used in the ad...

UPDATE 14/10/10 Talking to Nigel and finding the advert inspired me to drive up to St Minver today. It is, as I thought, a very small picturesque village of less than 20 houses, nearly an hour's drive from Truro down single track B roads etc. There is a pub and a post office and Maureen, who works there, keeps the key.

As you can see inside it really is a 'classic' village hall. Built in the 1890s it has lovely stonework and neo-gothic stylings.This photo is looking towards the end that the stage would have been when Roger Taylor, Brian May and Freddie Mercury were here.  In fact Maureen said that it's always had a temporary stage. There is an accounts book for the Institute that goes back to the 40s. On the day that Smile played here the accounts just say 'Dance'. As you can see the organiser (who could have been celebrity chef Rick Stein as he was involved with promoting dances from his base in Padstow) paid £4 - 10/- for the hire.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

PJs frequency table

Those of you who have been following the blog will recall that I made a note of all the bands to play at PJs club in Truro more than once a couple of months ago. Queen only played there once so they're not on the list, but Smile played there 14 times.

I think this is what statisticians call a frequency table:

Smile 14
Onyx 7
Mr Lucifer 7
Gin House 4
Good Times 3 (became Safron)
Constable Zippo 3
Bobby Knight's Soul Band 3
Mosaic 3
Marvellous Kid 3
Vigilantes 2 (became Coconut Grove who played once)
Safron 2
Sky 2

I think theres a good chance that at least one of these bands supported Smile at venues in Cornwall other than PJs...we know that Constable Zippos did.

Two historic buildings...

This bedding shop in Truro was the Sunday School for St Mary's Church before the Cathedral was built. In the sixties it was still used as a church hall. It was somewhere that The Reaction played early in their history, and in fact the band was formed from the meeting of two Truro School boys and two Truro Tech boys in the youth club there. Roger Taylor also recorded with Jill Johnson's group the Jays in this building.

Immediately opposite (in the Guild of Ten building (below)) was The Riverside Cafe which was the favourite haunt of The Reaction and The Jays when they weren't playing. If anyone has any photos of these buildings as they were in the 50s or 60s please get in touch

Friday, 8 October 2010

St Something

St Something...makes a nice title for a blog entry. Its how Nigel Chappell described the location of the village hall in West Cornwall where his band Constable Zippos supported Smile with Freddie Mercury in about 1969. I spoke to Nigel last night and he was very clear about the things he could and couldn't remember. And he said it was in St Ives direction but it was nt St Ives - it was a small village with a traditional village Hall. He's going to consult his mothers diary because he thinks the detail may be in there...

Nigel knew Queen well in London, because after moving there in the 70s he shared a flat with Pat and Sue of the fan club, and worked as the band's accountant.

So regarding previously undocumented and unadvertised Smile gigs we now have:
St Georges Hall, Truro (Pete Gill-Carey)
Wadebridge ?Town Hall (Pete Edmonds)
Falmouth Art School (Pete Edmonds)
Portreath? Hotel (Graham Hankins)
Beach Parties (Tim Staffell)
Fowey Carnival/Regatta (Tim Staffell)
St Ives (Tim Staffell) ?most likely the Guildhall
And St Somewhere in West Cornwall ?St Just, ?St Erth, ?St Buryan (Nigel Chappell)

Actually the reason why St Ives Guildhall is the most likely place that Smile would have played is because it was a venue also used a lot by The Reaction. Here are some pictures:

The foyer is rather grand. You have to imagine: its the mid to late sixties and Barbara Hepworth and the other St Ives artists are, for the most part, still working in the town. Meanwhile a bunch of Roger Taylor's sixth form friends from Truro School are in the foyer of the Guildhall selling tickets to holiday makers and locals to see his heavy rock band The Reaction...

I'd have gone if I'd been there...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Kernow Beat

The Kernow Beat website has become a truly amazing resource now and I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in understanding the music of the 60's and how it affected the unique rural county of Cornwall.

Richard the webmaster has recently posted some images of 'The Individuals' who were rivals, really, to Roger Taylor's band The Reaction, and what is nice about the photos is that they really convey a sense of what the old City Hall stage in Truro was like in the 60s. The Reaction played on that stage several times, as in fact did Queen (Queen played there three times I think).

Incidentally, Mike Grose, Queen's first bassist is in the foreground of the lower picture.

Pete and Wendy Edmonds

I think this was the first biography of Queen. It came out in '76. Dont know if the book's any good, but I've posted the cover here because it features a classic Mick Rock photo of Freddies 'Mercury Suit', as used in the Bohemian Rhapsody video.

Last night I spoke to Pete Edmonds who has been involved with Queen's live concerts since their earliest incarnation as Smile in 1968. Before that he knew Brian and Tim at Hampton Grammar School. He had some great recollections of that period, and mentioned a couple of Smile gigs in Cornwall that have n't been recorded elsewhere. His wife, Wendy, who also visited Cornwall with Smile and Queen and described the arduous journey down the A303 to me, not only designed but actually made the Mercury Suits that Freddie used in the mid-seventies.

Fantastic. (Literally! The stuff of fantasy...)

Is this the Real Life? Mark Blake on his new book

Does your biography attempt to cover the lives of all four members of Queen right up to present day or does it focus on a particular phase in their careers?

It focuses on all four, from their earliest days up until the present day. But the emphasis is on their time in Queen – the glory years, if you like – and in the years immediately preceding Queen, when they were all playing in school and college groups. Understanding what all four were like as individuals early on helps make sense of what they later became in Queen.

Is it an authorised biography or not? What are the differences between authorised and unauthorised biographies and are there issues here that are unique to Queen?

It is unauthorised, but several interviewees told me that they contacted Brian May and Roger Taylor before agreeing to speak to me. So they were made aware of the book quite early on. I doubt that they took much notice, though. The difference between an ‘unauthorised’ and ‘authorised’ biography is that the band are not involved in the former, but would be in the latter.

Many official music biographies are heavily edited and rather bland, because the band have an image to maintain.

Is it true that Queen have always had a difficult relationship with the music press? Can you try and describe this relationship and also explain it, given that you have a good knowledge of both?

Yes, I think they had a very difficult relationship, especially early on. Researching the book, it was easy to see why both parties took against each other. Queen were very much a creature of the 1970s, not the 1960s. They were openly ambitious, in an era when many of their contemporaries pretended not to be; they were smart, well-educated and didn’t try and hide it, and they admitted early on that they wanted to be rich and successful. You can see why this rankled with critics, when there was still a hangover – of ideas and values - from the late 60s.

There’s a telling quote from Brian May, in which he talks about going to see the film of the Woodstock festival, and realising that, The Who and Hendrix aside, he can’t relate to a lot of the bands – “the stoned shuffling” and so on. I think that some of the criticism Queen received from the music press was valid. Unfortunately, it seems to have done some irreversible damage. I enjoyed interviewing Brian May and Roger Taylor, but it’s hard, if not impossible, to convince them of your good intentions.

I’m part of a generation of – not very young – music critics, who grew up on Queen’s music, and don’t share the same hang-ups as some of our predecessors. Then again, those men have had 20 years now of being asked the same questions over and over again about the death of Freddie Mercury and how many “Galileos” there are in Bohemian Rhapsody. I imagine they must be sick to death of it by now.

The fact that Roger Taylor grew up in Cornwall is quite well known: but the extent that he played here as a teenager and later as a member of both Smile and Queen is not really appreciated...

Cornwall figures hugely in Roger Taylor’s story, but also in the story of Queen and the pre-Queen band Smile. From the interviews I conducted, it seems that it was a home from home for both groups, and a place for the bands to practice their act, away from prying eyes in London.

There was also a big social aspect to Smile and Queen’s mini-tours of Cornwall. Smile used to bring an entourage of friends, roadies and general hangers-on with them from Imperial College (where Brian May was studying) and Ealing Art School, which is where Smile’s bassist Tim Staffell was a student. Among those friends was Fred Bulsara (later Freddie Mercury). One of my interviewees, Richard Thompson (who played drums in bands with both May and Mercury) remembers being with Smile in Cornwall, on the night of the first moon landings, in 1969. He watched it on Roger Taylor’s mother’s TV in Truro…

Queen also played their first concert in the City Hall in Truro on June 27th, 1970. Though the gig was advertised as a Smile gig, it was the first time that Freddie sang with them, which is why the band have always said it was their first concert as Queen (see advert in West Briton below).

I understand you were able to speak to John Anthony who engineered Queen's first album. He hasn't contributed to biographies before. Were there other people who were able to bring something new?

John Anthony agreed to an interview after several months of gentle persuasion (ie: nagging). John is a great raconteur and full of insights. He produced some tracks for Smile (in fact he got into a fight during a Smile gig in Cornwall, and claimed to have fought off angry locals with the clawfoot base of a microphone stand), before co-producing Queen’s first album. John was excellent on that transitional period where Smile gradually turned into Queen, and he has some great anecdotes from those early Queen tours that illuminate just how unusual they were as a band, and how unique Freddie Mercury was as a frontman.

I managed to track down other people who haven’t given interviews before. These include Freddie Mercury’s first friends in England (who took him to Eel Pie Island to see Rod Stewart, and who helped design posters when he tried to put a band together); Doug Bogie (aka Doug X) the teenage bass guitarist who was fired by Queen after just two gigs; Chris Smith, who briefly played keyboards in Smile and was one of Freddie Mercury’s first songwriting partners, and a former tea-boy/assistant tape op at Wessex Studios (now a big name in radio) who witnessed a bizarre altercation between Freddie Mercury and Brian May over a tray of almond slices.

Queen were supposedly recording 'We are the Champions' in that same studio in Highbury at the same time as the Sex Pistols recorded 'Never mind the Bollocks'. Is this right?

Both bands were using Wessex Studios in North London at the same time. Brian May and Roger Taylor discussed the meeting in an interview for Mojo magazine in 2008. They couldn’t remember the exact details. But the most popular story is that Sid Vicious is supposed to have asked Freddie Mercury if he was still “bringing ballet to the masses” (in reference to a quote Mercury had given to an NME interviewer), to which Mercury replied, “We’re trying our best, Mr Ferocious, dear.”

I’d like to think it happened. Queen’s roadie Peter Hince, who later became the head of their road crew, also recalls the meeting, and says that the Pistols and Queen had been in the same studio a year before that, when Queen were making the A Day At The Races album.

At around the same time Queen gained a reputation for holding the most extravagant parties. Was this just hype or did they really happen? I say this because people like Brian and John particularly seem reserved and intellectual and not the sort to really enjoy that kind of thing...

Those extravagant parties really did happen, but a little mythology has crept in over the years. The most notorious Queen party was in New Orleans in 1978. This is the party in which there were supposedly dwarves carrying trays of cocaine on their heads. Unfortunately, I’ve been told by several reliable sources that there were no dwarves with cocaine… The former head of EMI Records Bob Mercer (who is sadly no longer with us) shared some wonderful anecdotes about that night. I’m sure Brian May and John Deacon thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as well. It’s just that Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor were the more visible party animals. I was told about lesbian sex shows in Paris and a party in a brothel in Germany in which all the working girls were pre-paid. I have no idea who did what and with whom, but I was assured “that only the single members of the touring party attended”.

Overall how do you explain the band's success?

I think it’s simply down to the music, and the fact that they had a fantastic frontman who was great at selling that music.

Is this the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen is available from October 2010.  This interview was originally published on

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Jayfolk make the frontpage!

Noticed this article today when I was in the museum. The Jayfolk - previously known as The Jays - were close friends with Roger Taylors cornish band The Reaction. They appeared on regional television - and - as I discovered today also managed to make the front page of the West Briton on March 9th 1967.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Jim Jenkins and the missing advert

Spoke for ages on the phone to Jim Jenkins this evening. Jim wrote the official Queen biography with Jacky Gunn published in 1992. Jim was one of Queen's first fans and got to know the band well over a long period of time. He was given a lot of memorabilia by the four members of Queen, and for example, was given a copy of the above ad from the West Briton 1971 by John Deacon. Its one that I'd missed first time round. Easily done...Queen's name is written in such minute lettering!

John also kept a diary for a number of years, I believe, in which there are some details of the early gigs, including the gigs in Cornwall in 1971. This was source material used by Jim in the book and passed on later to others, like Martin from Interestingly, talking of memorabilia: John also, apparently, has recordings of Queen made by the late John Harris, their soundman, going back to their first concert in the City Hall in Truro, and possibly before.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Beat Unlimited revisited

Beat Unlimited was Roger Taylor's first band.

Tonight I met up with Jenny Doble who lives in St Agnes. She has a photograph of Beat Unlimited that she would have been given, probably by Mike Dudley, in 1963/64. Jenny kindly let me copy it, but what is interesting is the fact that the three boys signed the back...

Jenny grew up in St Agnes and knew Mike from about the age of 7. She thinks she probably met Roger Taylor for the first time either at a Beat Unlimited gig or - wait for it - at ballroom dancing classes in Truro! She remembers Roger as being one of the smaller boys at the classes which meant that dancing with him was rather clumsy and awkward as she was much taller...

She is still in touch with the other member of Beat Unlimited: David Dowding and his wife.
Thanks Jenny...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Queen in Cornwall 1971

I've still to find any photos that were taken of Queen on their tour of Cornwall in 1971....but for a long time I've been wondering if this picture of Freddie on the back of their first album was taken in the creek in Devoran where they stayed that Summer...

Friday, 10 September 2010

Truro School Magazine: Terraces 1985

This short biography was written for the Truro School Magazine by a pupil. The prose is very sixth form and its not very accurate, but it's interesting because it seems to have been based on teachers recollections.

Roger Taylor

Roger Taylor is the drummer in the super-mega-ultra etc. group Queen. His greater claim to fame, however, is that he is a Truro School old boy.

Born Roger Meddows Taylor on the 26th of July 1949 in West Norfolk, he first came to Truro when his parents moved to Falmouth Road in 1957. In fact, Mrs Carruthers’ son does Roger’s mother’s hair. He spent one year at the Cathedral School, and was a member of their choir. At the age of eleven, in 1960 he won a place at Truro School under the direct grant scheme. Roger Taylor initially took up the guitar, but eventually ended up playing the drums. This was to become an all-absorbing occupation, and one in which it was recognised at the early age of sixteen or seventeen that he had great talent.

In 1966, he formed a group called ‘Reaction’, with Mike Dudley as guitarist. Other members included Steve Passmore and P. Stethridge. This was probably the best group Truro School ever had. Consequently Roger Taylor was very popular and was in with the ‘in crowd’ as they would say in those days. Mr N.J. Baker was in the same year as Roger. He remembers a birthday party held behind St Mary-Clements with Reaction playing. Roger was a ‘magician’ on the drums. The group used to play and rehearse in the old gym.

Once, whilst going between gigs, in the Volkswagen van, they had a serious accident. One member of the group was seriously injured, but Roger was unharmed.

In those days, the school had streams A, B, C; Roger was in the B stream and tended towards the sciences. Roger is remembered as a shallow, pale-faced, wide-eyed, effeminate-looking person by the teachers who knew him. Mr Weeks was his form teacher in the third year, Mr Taylor in the fifth and lower sixth. He was taught Chemistry by Mr Edwards and Biology by Mr Jackson. One thing they all remember was that his drumming took priority over his work. He was quite intelligent, and with more work he would have done much better but even so he obtained seven ‘O’ levels. Roger listed amongst his hobbies drumming and driving. The fascination with the latter led to his writing, ‘I’m in love with my car’, which reached number one in the charts in November ’75.

Everyone expected Roger to leave after his 6th year, but he came back to the upper sixth took Biology, Chemistry and Physics. He then started a dentistry course – on the advice of Mr Taylor – at the London Hospital Medical College in Whitechapel but he gave up the course after one year. Eager to continue his drumming, he answered an ad, and started the group ‘Smile’ with Brian May and Tim Staffell. Later Staffell quit and Taylor set up an old clothes stall at Kensington market with a certain F. Mercury. During this time, Mr Baker happened to see him at his Kensington stall, and they talked for some time. Mr Baker does not remember seeing a dark-haired, flamboyant Persian with him.

In ’69 Roger took up a degree course in Biology at the North London Polytechnic, and eventually got his degree. Mercury joined ‘Smile’, and Deacon was accepted after an audition.

In July ’71 they came down to Truro for two months and played the local gig circuit. The rest is history.

I am presently trying to contact Roger Taylor. Who knows, I might persuade him to do a concert in the sports hall with three of his mates!

The last word goes to Mr Taylor who advised him to take up dentistry as there probably wouldn’t be much money in drumming.

James Daniel.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Saints skiffle group

Thanks to John Northey for these images. John plays now in a band with Roger Brokenshire. Here he is in the late fifties playing with the Saints. The Saints, which included the Treloar brothers Leon and Max, have the distinction of being the band who won the skiffle competition in 1958 in Truro City Hall. Other members on stage are Finton Lawley and Ginger Pascoe. They are all about 16 in this picture which was taken around the same time. John still has the original guitar. He explained that whilst you couldn't buy electric guitars in Cornwall in the late 50's you could get a pick-up and fit it to an acoustic guitar, which is exactly what all the skiffle groups did.

He also has two nice images of the stage at the Flamingo Ballroom. In the first he is playing with a band called The Rebels, with his mother playing the piano, Jack Pascoe on the far left and Joy Simpson's son playing drums. He said that the stage went back a long way and in the picture they are infront of the curtain. In the second image, sporting a spectacular quiff, he is on stage with his cousin, who it has to be said looks not unlike a Cornish Marilyn Monroe. Lastly an image of the Flamingo being demolished in 1980. There are very few pictures of The Flamingo Ballroom and if anyone reading this blog has any others please contact me!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Reaction gigs in the Cornish Guardian

The Reaction had a manager/booking agent in Bodmin who would have been well placed to find them gigs in East and North Cornwall so I have put my anorak back on and started going through adverts in The Cornish Guardian (which has a different circulation to the main Truro-based paper, The West Briton) expecting to find quite a few concerts not already listed in the other here goes...

1965 only two:
July 17th Werrington Park near Launceston 'Something for everyone at the North Cornwall Conservatives Beat and Barbeque'
December 24th St Brannocks Hotel, Newquay (picture above) 'Big Beat Dance 8 to 11.55'

January 21st St Brannock's Hotel, Newquay 'Big Beat Dance Every Friday'
February 25th St Brannocks Hotel, Newquay 'Big Beat Dance Every Friday'
July 29th St Breward 'Camelford Area Conservatives Beat Barbeque Michael Hasseltine MP for Tavistock will speak at 8.30PM' (This is actually Michael Heseltine!)
August 21st Blue Lagoon Newquay Sunday Swinging Club Steve Brett and the Mavericks supported by The Reaction'
September 17th Blue Lagoon Newquay 'THE CREATION supported by THE RE-ACTION'
October 15th Blue Lagoon Newquay 'The Athony James Scene TV and recording stars supported by THE REACTION'
November 5th Wadebridge Town Hall 'Rock, Jive, Twist to the REACTIONS (1st time in Wadebridge)'
November 12th Blue Lagoon Newquay 'Britains top surfing sound THE FENMEN supported by THE RE-ACTION
December 31st Blue Lagoon Newquay 'Screaming Lord Ceasar Sutch supported by THE REACTION and THE OTHER FIVE'

Jan 20th Harlyn Bay Club 'move in on the '67 scene Dancing to the Reaction'
Feb 11th Dobwalls Memorial Hall 'Big Big Beat' band did not get to gig because of road accident
Feb 25th: Wadebridge Town Hall 'Wadebridge Camels RFC Dance to the Reaction'
April 1st: Public Rooms, Bodmin 'Bodmin Town FC Dancing to the Reaction'
April 15th Liskeard Public Hall 'Five Star Big Beat The Reactions they're great'
May 13th Dobwalls Memorial Hall 'Big Big Beat' rebooked after first gig cancelled?
June 3rd: Public Rooms, Bodmin 'Bodmin Town FC Dancing to the Reaction'
July 14th Port Isaac Social Hall 'Big Beat Dance to the REACTION'
August 11th St Merryn Village Hall 'Warning! If you don't want to be with the crowd avoid the crowds going to'
September 1st St Merryn Village Hall 'Stop! For a good dance this FRIDAY'
September 2nd Public Rooms, Bodmin 'Bodmin Town FC Dancing to the Reaction'
September 22nd St Merryn Village Hall 'Stop! For a good dance this FRIDAY'
November 18th Ladock Hall 'Probus 'Y.F.C. Romp Round to the R-E-A-C-T-I-O-N-S'

1st January Bodmin Public Rooms 'Bodmin Town FC Dancing to The Reaction'
23rd March Bodmin Public Rooms 'Bodmin District League presents Dancing to the Reaction Group'
8th June Bodmin Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry 'Come and Dance to 'The Reactions' supported by The Ginhouse...No Jeans or Leatherjackets'
6th July Mevagissey Feast Week 'Beat Dance to the Fantastic Reaction - watch for handouts'
31st July: Mevagissey Recreation Ground 'The Reaction, light show, records London Folk Group'
6th September: St Merryn Village Hall 'THE FANTASTIC REACTION' Free Buses. SLIM will be in attendance'
14th September: Bodmin Public Rooms 'Bodmin Town Football Club Dance to the 'Fantastic''

nb some of the ads have R.O.A.R. on them meaning right of admission reserved....

The September gigs are significant because one of them could be the last ever gig by The Reaction...Its certainly the case that during that Summer they are frequently listed as The Fantastic Reaction and so it seems likely that the gig on the 14th intentionally leaves out their name: and assumes their audience knows that its them.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Smile memorabilia and gigs

Thankyou to Martin from for photographing this excellent Smile memorabilia from his personal collection. The poster above was designed and printed by Freddie Mercury, whilst the Smile logo below is one that was made for Roger Taylors drum by Tim Staffell. Wonderful stuff.

Last night I managed to speak to Peter Gill-Carey who was a contemporary and close friend of The Reaction, and the person who was most badly injured in the accident on Goss Moor. He said lots of very interesting things, but one of them was that he clearly remembers a gig by Smile at a Church Hall in Truro. This is significant because it is an example of yet another Smile gig in Cornwall that has not been previously documented.