I remember being very young and walking downstairs to find that my mum was very upset. Freddie Mercury had just died. Before that, I can recall A Kind Of Magic and I have some vague memories of The Miracle video where kids were dressed up as the Queen members. But that day was literally the moment that my life as a musician and songwriter began. Before that, I was mainly into football, but in that moment something happened and I became fascinated with this amazing artist that had passed away. My obsession with Queen started there.
I would save my paper round money, and later my McDonald’s wage, and wait for the touring record fairs to pass through Derby. They would tend to be at the cricket ground and pretty much everything was economically way out of my reach. In the pre-Internet age and with collecting a band with an entire back catalogue you just didn’t know what you were getting, or even in what order the albums were released! So I’d always base it on the record sleeve. My first Queen purchase was Queen II which remains my favourite album.
The Freddie Mercury tribute was the event that cemented my love for Queen and my move from seeing football as my primary obsession to fully focusing on music.. Here you had the biggest bands of the day on the same bill all paying tribute to a man who they deemed so legendary that it necessitated a stadium to pay tribute. Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Def Leppard – just enormous rock monsters. Then you had David Bowie (a name that even as a child was a name that everybody knew) Annie Lenox, Extreme and Elton John all paying tribute. I still have the two VHS tapes it needed to record the entire event.
Before I met Brian May properly, he high five’d me as he took the stage to collect his award at a magazine’s ceremony one summer. I met him properly later that evening and again at a private party to celebrate 50 years of his guitar. I also met Roger Taylor who was hanging out with Jeff Beck. Roger is a hero to me too and I remember blathering something about how much I love his solo song Foreign Sand to which he said thanks but he felt it was too long and I replied, ’It’s just long enough, Roger’. I’m sure this is a conversation he remembers equally as well.
I’ve been to Montreux many times and like to visit the Freddie statue. It’s on Place du Marché and faces the lake near his home. The first time I went, I managed to convince our tour manager that Montreux was en route to wherever it is we were going, it clearly wasn’t. At that point, it was a mythical place to me that I’d only ever seen in documentaries and on the cover of the final (post-Freddie but with his vocals) Queen album Made In Heaven. I fell in love instantly and I hope to make it my home one day. When I return this Christmas it will be my 16th time since 2007. I’m very good friends with a lovely chap called Norbert who runs the Christmas market and so I eat like a king and lap up all the stories of Queen, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Bowie and loads of other classic artists who recorded in that sleepy little town.
How often do I listen to Queen? I have an extremely varied taste in music and don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Why be guilty about something that brings you pleasure? I put down my rich and broad taste to the fact that with Queen as my favourite band and just like in my writing, they taught me that every genre has worth. I listen to a lot of different music, 99% of the day. Queen always factors in. I have days that sometimes turn into weeks when something sparks a re-awakening. I’ll dive headlong back into solid Queen, usually on vinyl – and in chronological order.
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- Fly On The Wall: Behind The Scenes At The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
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When it came time to commit to my first solo show last month, I spoke to my booking agent Beckie and she threw a few dates at me. One of them jumped out immediately: November 24, 2016 – the 25th anniversary of Freddie’s death.
It felt really special to do my first ever show as a solo artist on that anniversary, and in a church as well. I’m not a religious person but it felt kind of biblical. This year has also seen the loss of some massive heroes of mine, including David Bowie and Prince, so I wanted to make my first show a bit of a tribute to all of them – even if only personally, in my own head.
So, in typical Steven Battelle style, when everyone arrived at the show they were given an order of service, like the kind you’re given at a funeral. It had the lyrics to one of my songs called Absent Magic that no one had heard before. I actually wrote the song in reflection of Bowie dying, but it could equally be applied to Freddie as well. I played it half way through the set and I taught everyone the chorus, then they sang it with me. It was a very beautiful moment and I dedicated it to Freddie.
It’s really difficult for me to focus on just one thing that makes Queen so special. For me personally, songs and artists are my best friends and I spend more time with Queen songs in my ears than I do with other human beings. They’ve been with me my entire life and the reason they stand out above everybody, for me, is that they touched upon all genres that the rock world would touch – everything from opera to disco – and they always did it with a kind of tongue-in-cheek seriousness. As a writer, and in terms of musical taste, I think that having Queen as a favourite band has allowed me to not be afraid or even see a problem in embracing the vast and bombastic as a starting point and move forward from there.
My music is serious, but there’s always a fun element to it, and I think that’s what the world needs – especially in 2016. I owe an awful lot to Queen.
Steven Battelle’s album Exit Brain Left is out now through Suffer For My Art. He was speaking to Matt Stocks.