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.