'Queen At The BBC' Radio Programme
This programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 4 January 2014, from 5pm to 6pm. It included two advertisement breaks, reducing the actual running time to approximately 54 minutes.
The programme features a total of 10 tracks, recorded by Queen at the BBC between 1973 and 1977, with one from session 1 (1973), three from session 2 (1973), two from session 5 (1974) and four from session 6 (1977). The tracks are all the complete versions but don't always fully fade out. At the time, only three tracks had been officially released ('My Fairy King', 'Spread Your Wings', and the fast version of 'We WIll Rock You') but all tracks have since been released as part of the 'On Air' album in 2016.
The programme is divided into three sections, lasting 26, 11 and 17 minutes. The first two feature the BBC tracks, separated by excerpts from the band's 1977 Radio 1 Interview with DJ Tom Browne, where they discuss forming the group, early days, songwriting, song selection, controlling the group's affairs, and Brian's guitar. The final section features three tracks from their final BBC session, played back to back with no dialogue between. There is a small amount of narration from DJ Ken Bruce at the start and end of the first and third parts.
['Keep Yourself Alive' from Session 2 is played]
Ken: That's Queen, from 1973, and a BBC version of their very first single, 'Keep Yourself Alive'. I'm Ken Bruce, and for the next hour, that's the sort of thing that you're going to get as we look back at Queen's sessions for the BBC, all six of which took place between 1973 and 77. We'll also be hearing the band remembering those years, as told to Tom Browne in 1977. And, here they are.
Freddie: Freddie Mercury
Tom: On guitar, and arranging and writing
Brian: Brian May, I'm here
Tom: On drums
Roger: And occasional vocals, Roger Taylor here
Tom: Welcome Roger, and on bass and electric piano
John: Er, John Deacon
Tom: Right, together they've sold over forty million records worldwide, that's quite something. Now first of all, let me ask you, Freddie, how did it all begin
Freddie: Ahh, very sort of briefly, Brian and Roger they were in a sort of very up-tempo, raucous band called Smile, and I used to be in another band um, called Wreckage, or something
Roger: Even more up-tempo, with a name like Wreckage
Freddie: Even more up-tempo, and we used to be friends, I mean, you know, going to college together and sort of met up, and after sort of couple of years of knowing each other we just decided um, we'd form a band together really, as simple as that, we thought our musical ideas would um, blend, and then we met John, and decided to call the band Queen
Tom: Roger, can we go to the beginnings of the group, you and Freddie were working, or you had a stall right in the Kensington Market
Roger: Ah, yes, partners in crime, um, yes, it was really just a, it was more of a sort of social centre I think at the time, at the time that Queen were sort of in it's informative stages, we were going through all the traumas with trying to find somebody to manage us, and find a record company etc, we sort of slogged our way round, made some demo tapes, etc, through some friends, and then sort of hawked them round the business, as it was, and still is, eventually sort of securing ourself several companies who were interested, we then did a gig, I think it was at King's College, somewhere down in South London, and er, got a load of record companies along, and then we started to sort of er, try and wheel and deal a bit our way into sort of good recording situations
Tom: How long did it take you from the time that you'd made the demo to the time that you actually got a recording contract?
Roger: It felt like about eighty years I think
Brian: It was a long time, it was about two years
Roger: Yeah, it was about eighteen months, two years, yeah
Brian: There was a (Tom: Brian, this) great deal of, feeling of frustration at the time, the first album was really old songs by the time it came out, as far as we were concerned, and it put us in a strange position, because there were a lot of, we were sort of one of the groups who came along with a show and a sort of an idea of a complete production as a stage show and everything, which by the time the record came out and particularly by the time it got played by anyone and all this, and it took so long to get things going, it was all sounding like old news, you know, so people were inclined to tag us as the tail end of glitter rock or something
['My Fairy King' from Session 1 is played]
Tom: You, you don't like the music press, I understand?
Roger: No, to be perfectly honest, no (laughter)
Freddie: But from the very sort of beginning, I think as far as the musical press are concerned, I mean they, they like, I mean even now they like to sort of, put sort of up and coming bands into a sort of particular bag for, for what they think, and I think we sort of just rebelled, I mean we wanted to sort of do what we thought was right and not sort of go along with what they were saying, and I think since the very early stages, we've, there's always been this sort of um, fracas between us and the press
Roger: Yes, it started from day one (Freddie: day one) with the release of our first album, plus the fact that before our, our first actual release, we were virtually totally unheard of, and then suddenly we were, not particularly famous, but heard of at least, and er, they always like to think they've got one up on you, and they always like to think that they've predicted something (Freddie: yes, true), you know, and there, all of a sudden there we were, and, and we were playing to quite a lot of people, and er, it took people rather by surprise I think
Tom: Was the style though, that you had created, was that thought out from the outset, or did it just evolve as time went by?
Brian: There were certain kind of ideals which we had in our heads, definitely, certain patterns that we wanted to try and live up to
['Liar' from session 2 is played]
Tom: John, can I come to you now, we haven't heard from you I'm sorry, you've got a degree in electronics, did this, er, mean that the group all came to you and asked you questions when they had complicated bits of machinery to look at?
John: Not particularly, um, I used to help a little out in the, in the, in the early days, you know, when we were, basically when we started out there was just the four of us and one guy, our roadie John Harris, who's been with us right from the beginning, and um, between me and him we used to do a lot in the early days, but now we have quite a, a larger crew of about twenty who look after it all for us
Tom: Well, being in a thirty two track studio, with all the marvellous space age electronics all around, do you find it difficult to sort of keep your hands off little buttons and saying 'what's this, what's that'?
John: Er, well we do, we all, I mean we all of us um, try to learn what the studio does, I mean, because it helps to get the sounds and the ideas and to do what you want, and we've all taken interest in what it is possible to do in a studio technically, you know, because I mean, I think if a musician doesn't understand that, it limits, you know, the ideas that they can actually put down on tape.
Tom: Now, you were playing bass, er, first of all with Roger?
John: No, no, I um, basically I came down to London to university, and I was here for about two years, I wasn't playing at all. I used to play like, before I came to university, in sort of groups at school and things like that, and then I gave it up when I came down, and after I was here for about two years, I bumped into, I think it was Roger and Brian, somewhere, wasn't it (Roger: yeah, yeah, yeah) and I heard just socially, because they happened to be at different colleges around the same area in London, and I heard they were looking for a bass player, so I said I was interested, and um, went along for an audition really, and it happened like that. I think you'd been together for about six months previously, hadn't you?
Roger: I think longer, actually
Roger: Oh, you mean Queen, yeah, Queen had (John: as Queen, actually with the name Queen, no, yes, yeah) yeah, going through about three bass players a week at the time (John: yeah), and er, we eventually found er, John
John: Yeah, and I seemed to fit in and, you know
Tom: Did you immediately agree on the kind of music you wanted to play?
John: Well, um, I don't know, I mean, they, they were already formed, them, I mean to me they had the, the, they had all the musical ideas then of what they were trying to do, and I just you know, I basically, you know just fitted in really, at that time
Brian: He's very modest
John: Yeah, well my development came later, it took me a few years to settle in
['Son And Daughter' from session 2 is played]
Ken: This is 'Queen At The BBC', and more Queen after this.
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['Now I'm Here' from session 5 is played]
Tom: You have a rather surrealistic approach, is that the right word, could I say to your lyrics?
Freddie: An imaginative approach yes, I suppose you could
Tom: Imaginative, yes, no but I mean it's a
Freddie: It's an easy way out
Tom: But there's, there's a
Freddie: It covers such a lot of area, it really depends on what kind of song really, I think um, I think at that time, I was, I was, um, learning about a lot of things about actual song structure and er, and as far as lyrics are concerned, they're very difficult as far as I'm concerned, I find them quite a task, and er, my strongest point is sort of like say melody content, and um, I basically sort of um, concentrate on that first, the melody, and the song structure, and then the lyrics come afterwards actually
Tom: Are you influenced by Salvador Dali?
Freddie: Not really, I sort of um, I admire him yes, he's sort of, it's not as um, involved as that, I don't sort of take things like paintings too literally, the only time I did do that was in a song called 'Fairy Feller's Masterstroke', where I actually sort of, was, I was thoroughly inspired by um, a painting by Richard Dadd, which is in the Tate gallery, and I thought that sort of, er, did a lot of research on it, and it sort of inspired um, me to write um, a song about the painting, depicting what I thought I saw in it
Tom: What did you discover in your research about this painting?
Freddie: Um, it's just because I mean I've come through art college and things like that, and I just, I basically liked the sort of artist, and the sort of like the painting, and I thought I'd like to sort of write a song about it
Tom: How do you sort out which songs are gonna go onto an album, because you all write, don't you?
Freddie: We row
Freddie: We do write individually, so I mean like we go our separate ways for, when the tour's over our whatever, and then we sort of have a teething period where we sort of get together and sort of play each other the new songs, and then what happens is a sort of, a very huge sifting process, where we sort of find out what songs
Roger: Like, 'no way am I'm gonna play that' or 'forget it'
Freddie: Things like that, and we sort of work in, also we, in indi-, as far as the individual song is concerned, and also what will go with, how the songs will sort of sound with each other, so it's basically sort of, looking in terms of an album
Tom: It's very obvious that you're a painstakingly thorough, very methodical group, I mean you're a perfectionist
Roger: God, that sounds really boring doesn't it?
Tom: No, but I mean I, I think it's much to be admired, the fact that you go into every facet of production, not only just the music, you know, you see it right down to the last dot, as we were talking about earlier.
Brian: We always thought that was essential, not only in the production, but in, in every detail that we're, we're involved in
Roger: We learnt through hard experience really
Brian: Yeah, I mean right down to the last bit of print on the record cover and the way it's cut on the album which is crucial, right down to um, the way the tours are set up, everything, we try to keep control of, and it's not easy
Roger: Because when there's a lot of, there's so much money involved these days, I mean it's, it's, it's almost sordid to talk about the amounts of money but they are involved, and people are very clever and nothing corrupts like large sums of money
Tom: You in fact learnt on a ukulele, right?
Brian: Yes, that was the first instrument I ever played, um, my father had a genuine George Formby ukulele, George Formby was the er, really the originator of that kind of style of playing, er, which is rhythmic and slightly melodic at the same time, because he plays across the top and bottom strings to make little melodies, and er, I'm really a pretty poor imitator of that style, but I got interested in it (group: ahhhh; Roger: makes you sick doesn't it) oh sorry (Roger: modesty)
Tom: And, and I believe your father also, er, was instrumental in, in making your first guitar?
Brian: Yes, my father and I made the, the guitar together, which is still the one I use all the time
Tom: What was it made out of?
Brian: Um, lumps of wood, and bits of pieces, it cost about eight pounds to make in the beginning
Tom: I, I read in a press biog or something it was saying about an armchair or a fireplace
Brian: A hundred year old fireplace, the legendary fireplace (laughter) yes it did (Freddie: the things that are coming out of that fireplace quite staggering) yes that's the thing, the neck was made out of a, an old fireplace yes
Tom: My goodness, he must have been quite a craftsman
Brian: Well, we just worked at it for a couple of years, because I, I was at school, and it was evenings and weekends and things
Tom: I see, and that's still the one you play now?
Tom: Oh, terrific, well it must be worth a fortune in years to come, so
Brian: I don't know really, it's, it's really not worth very much to anyone except me, because everyone finds it difficult to play
['Stone Cold Crazy' from session 5 is played]
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Ken: Queen's last BBC session was broadcast on Radio 1 on November the fourteenth, 1977, and featured one of the band's best loved songs
['We Will Rock You' (slow version, reading and fast version) from session 6 is played]
['It's Late' from session 6 is played]
['Spread Your Wings' from session 6 is played]
Ken: Queen with 'Spread Your Wings', recorded in October 1977, their last session for the BBC, and the one that wraps up 'Queen At The BBC'. I'm Ken Bruce, and this is BBC Radio 2, online, on digital radio, and on 88-91 FM.