Freddie Mercury’s ‘AWFUL’ vocals did not impress Roger Taylor: Bohemian Rhapsody was WRONG
In the movie it is shown very differently. May and Taylor are sitting despondently in the carpark after a gig with their band Smile. Frontman Tim Staffell had just quit. Freddie blows them away with an impromptu vocal display. It really didn’t happen like that and Taylor, in particular, was far less impressed when he first heard Freddie singing while May has described Freddie making “a big noise.”
Freddie first performed on stage with May and Taylor in June 1970 but they had known him much longer than that.
They were all part of a world of students and wannabee rock stars in West London.
After desperately trying to join or form a band, Freddie finally was hired at the frontman for Ibex in summer 1969.
Their manager Ken Testi booked them a lunchtime gig at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre on August 23. The band opened their set with a cover of Jailhouse Rock, and Freddie was hit with stage fright.
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They actually recreate the scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. Instead, he is already with Queen, but too nervous to unleash his full stage persona.
Testi recalled: “He had his back to the audience for half of the first number, but by the end of the first song, the shyness had gone, and he was performing well.”
Three weeks later, Ibex played the Sink Club on Liverpool’s Hardman Street. Smile happened to be in the city at the time and joined them onstage at the end for a rowdy jamming session.
Ibex bassist Tupp Taylor said; “God we were awful” and described how Freddie had not yet mastered his vocals.
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Tupp Taylor said: “Freddie was no Steve Winwood, Steve Marriott or Joe Cocker. At the beginning, his pitching was awful.”
Roger Taylor also remembers something similar, although he, like everyone else at the time, already realised Freddie had a unique presence and star quality.
He later said: “I remember thinking, Good on showmanship, but not sure about the singing.”
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Ibex became Wreckage at Freddie’s behest and continued to perform at small gigs through to the end of 1969.
Brian May once described Smile performing a joint gig with Wreckage at Imperial College: “I remember Freddie being very ebullient and making a big noise. We could hardly keep up with it.”
By 1970 Wreckage was over and in the Spring, Mercury answered a ‘Vocalist Wanted’ advert in Melody Maker for a new teenage band called Sour Milk Sea. They hired him on the spot.
Guitarist Chris Chesney also echoed many of the other comments about Freddie’s lack of polish but clear potential: “When Freddie fired up with us, he was fantastic… He didn’t quite have the voice then, but he sang falsetto, and I liked that.”
With a few months, the band was over and history was about to be made.
Smile’s lead singer Tim Staffell finally threw in the towel after their deal with Mercury Records failed to produce anything which touched the charts.
On June 27, 1970, Smile took to the stage at Truro City Hall in Cornwall with May and Taylor. They were joined by new bassist Mike Grose and a certain Mr Freddie Mercury.
Grose didn’t last long, but Freddie had finally found where he was supposed to be.
By the time the band appeared on Top of The Pops in 1974, he had become the consummate performer and singer he was always destined to be.
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