Look! Justin Hawkins of The Darkness had the faces of the members of Queen — as seen on the cover of their gayest album, Hot Space — tattooed on his fingers! Now that is dedication. Also, why is John Deacon missing an eye?
Earlier this past summer, British music journalist Mark Blake published his book Is This The Real Life?, an engaging biography of the band Queen. Blake’s book is crammed with amazing personal information on the band’s members – Freddie Mercury, John Deacon, Roger Taylor and Brian May – in addition to chronicling their success as a group. Blake had a good deal of assistance in gathering his researched material from a guy named Peter Hince, who was a member of Queen’s road crew for over a decade, in addition to also being the personal roadie to both Freddie Mercury and John Deacon.
In October, Hince published Queen Unseen: My Life with the Greatest Rock Band of the 20th Century, his own memoir of his career working for Queen, and though it is a true “insider report,” it couldn’t be more different from the book Blake put together. In a way, the two books are perfect companion pieces; one being a book where you can read about obscure biographical details such as Freddie Mercury’s childhood in Zanzibar and his attendance at private schools in India, and the other in which you will read in fascinating detail about all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into taking a Queen tour on the road, how the band behaved backstage and what it was “really like” from behind the scenes to truly witness Queen’s rise to phenomenal commercial success.
While Hince’s book lacks a tabloid feel that you might expect from someone who seemingly lived, breathed, ate and slept the world of Queen from A Night At The Opera to the band’s final live concert at Knebworth, it is nevertheless a deeply personal page-turner, being one man’s intimate diary of a lost time in the music industry, spent working for one of the greatest and most renowned bands in Rock history. Certainly, no one else but Peter Hince could’ve written a book like this one.
Queen Photographed By Peter Hince
Peter Hince – who was affectionately known by the nickname “Ratty” – met the members of Queen when he was still a teenager, working as a roadie for Mott The Hoople, a band that Queen famously toured with prior to breaking commercially with the album Sheer Heart Attack. He switched camps in 1975 and immediately went out on the road with the band, learning from the ground up what it took to put a Queen show together.
Through Ratty’s wide eyes, we get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of touring the world with a rock band back in the days when music was all about the magic and before it became merely a product to be sold. What you get with Queen Unseen then is a kind of Almost Famous-style journey of going out on the road on a global scale back in the 70s and early 80s; a time when things like cell phones, Fed Ex and the Internet did not even exist. From a logistics standpoint alone, the stories revealed here are often hilarious and just as frequently horrifying, as Queen and their entourage dealt with differences in culture, politics, quirky personal demands, local laws and Murphy’s Law, which states that whatever can go wrong will.
Although Queen Unseen is being promoted as a book about Queen, it is really Hince’s own autobiography, which is deeply colored by his experiences living and working with the members of Queen – both as individual people and as a phenomenally successful rock band. There’s certainly no shortage of sex (trust me, Hince got laid as much as any members of the band), drugs and Rock & Roll misadventure in the book, but that all has to do with Peter’s own experiences and those of his fellow road crew rather than any juicy gossip about his employers. Although there are similar stories in rock books such as Hammer Of The Gods and Bob Green’s Billion Dollar Baby (a story of the journalist touring with the band called Alice Cooper), I haven’t really read another rock book that goes into such detail about a group’s stage show and everything that went into making it happen.
In a lot of ways, it’s not so much about what you don’t know about Queen, as it is about what you don’t know that you don’t know about the band. And that’s what makes Queen Unseen so much fun! It’s such a different take on the Rock & Roll story and Hince’s approach is amazingly refreshing. For example, one of my favorite parts of the book comes in one of the final chapters, when Queen are touring South America – a dangerous and potentially very violent territory for a Western rock band to stage a tour at that time. Remembering a few dates played in Caracas, VenezuelaHince offhandedly remarks that this was “the first place I had seen a dead body lying in the street.” Rock & Roll!
Roger Taylor’s Drumkit Photographed By Peter Hince
These days, Peter Hince works as a photographer, a career for which he left the employ of Queen to pursue, but his camera was with him the entire time he worked for the group, and many of his never-before-seen photographs are included in the book.
If you are one of the innumerable Queen completist collectors out there, the photographs alone are reason to purchase this book, but even if there were no pictures it would be a must-own read. Ultimately, what stands out about Queen Unseen is Hince’s complete lack of any exploitative intention with regard to the members of Queen and any off-the-record details of their personal lives.
While he certainly witnessed every aspect of their Rock & Roll debauchery first-hand, his intention is to relate his own experience, rather than to reveal the titillating, off-camera circumstances, embarrassing or otherwise, of those he worked for. There really is virtually no real “dirt” on the members of Queen to be found in its pages. For example, while Ratty openly states early on that Freddie Mercury’s sexuality was never any secret to anyone, he never reveals the names of Mercury’s lovers (save for Mary Austin, who was Mercury’s girlfriend for years) nor does he reveal anything that could be seen as personally harmful, despite the fact that he surely observed these guys in some of their most vulnerable moments.
While there were times I wished that Hincewould reveal something more personal with regard to whichever band member he’s speaking about at any given time, the fact that he respects their privacy 25 years after ending his employment with the group reveals a certain state of grace that ultimately serves to give his story even more credibility. In fact, Hince is so careful to respect and guard the privacy of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon that he doesn’t even reveal the names of their wives or children.
Despite his refusal to dish the dirt, his book is full of love and honesty that reveals an essence about the unarguably enigmatic Freddie Mercury – who Hince clearly deeply admired and cared about as a personal friend as well as a famous rock star – that made me feel like I learned something new about Freddie to take away with me that I hadn’t gotten from another Queen book.
For not making me cry until I got to the last page, The Worley Gig Gives Queen Unseen Five out of Five Stars!
Queen Unseen: My Life with the Greatest Rock Band of the 20th Century can be purchased from Amazon Dot Com or wherever fine books are sold.
In Honor Of Freddie Mercury’s 65th Birthday on September 5, 2011, Queen will stream their historic 1986 concert Queen Live At Wembley Stadium for 48 hours on YouTube. The concert can be viewed at Queen’s Official YouTube Channel starting at 12:00AM EDT on September 5th. This is the first time in Queen has allowed an online stream of this watershed moment in the band’s career. The concert captures the group’s historic July 1986 two-night performance at London’s Wembley Stadium, where they gave an electrifying performance to 150,000 frenzied fans. The footage features stunning live renditions of many of Queen’s classic songs, including fan favorites such as “We Will Rock You,” “We Are The Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“STORMTROOPERS IN STILETTOS” GALLERY EXHIBITION AND MORE
Queen’s 40th anniversary is now upon us, and the band plans to pull out all the stops to celebrate this historic occasion. “2011 is an important year for Queen,” said Brian May “and there will be a lot of activity.” Adds Roger Taylor, “I can’t believe it’s been that long and that we are still around in such a big way. I’m amazed and grateful!” This yearlong event will be marked by a series of releases, re-releases, special limited-edition items and events around the world.
It was in March 1971 that bassist John Deacon joined May and Taylor’s buzzed-about London group, which had changed its name from Smile to Queen nine months earlier, following the addition of multitalented singer/pianist Freddie Mercury, thus completing the classic lineup. The four simpatico musicians proceeded to take the world by storm. The band has released a total of 18 chart-topping albums and 18 #1 singles, while selling more than 300 million albums worldwide, making them one of the biggest rock acts of all time. They’ve received seven Ivor Novello awards in the U.K., were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, the UK Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, and even received their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in October 2002.
As live artists, Queen literally conquered the world. Acknowledged as one of the greatest stadium bands of all time, Queen performed over 700 concerts, reaching into every corner of the world. They achieved rock history by being the first band to open up South America and the Eastern Bloc, with world record- breaking concerts in Argentina, Brazil and Hungary.
This is a timeless band whose music retains such immediacy and undiminished power that new fans continue to discover and embrace it, along the way inspiring a host of diverse artists from Lady Gaga (who took her name from Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga”), and Katy Perry, through to the Foo Fighters. It’s worth noting that Queen’s videos have collectively generated well north of 300 million views online—a remarkable figure that figures to expand exponentially with the launch of a dedicated Vevo channel this spring, in yet another iteration of the anniversary rollout.
As the centerpiece in the 40th anniversary celebration, Queen’s entire 15-album studio catalog is being reissued in a series of deluxe editions. Every note is being tweaked, every piece of artwork is being cleaned, freshened up and resourced, wherever necessary, with the legendary Bob Ludwig doing the remastering, working from the original source material. The albums will be released in three waves, staggered over the next year, with the first wave—comprising the first five LPs—coming this May.
The Champions of The World, Or Something Like That
The fine folks at East Portland Blog invited me to add an introductory paragraph to their daily featured video, an amazing hi-def clip of Queen performing “We Are The Champions” circa 1979. Get all nostalgic with me and check out this great vintage clip at This Link.