Freddie Mercury was born a long way from Liverpool, over 7,000 miles in fact, but a series of events found the legendary singer living above a pub on Penny Lane in the late 60s, only a couple of years before joining Queen.
Farrokh Bulsara was born on 5th September in Zanzibar, an island off the east coast of Africa. Better known as Freddie, the singer-to-be spent much of his youth living with his family in India before moving to Middlesex where he studied and graduated in design.
Following graduation, Mercury pursued his interest in music and joined a series of bands, whilst also making a living selling second-hand clothes at Kensington Market in London.
In 1969 he joined a Liverpool band named Ibex, which later became Wreckage, who were moving back up north to perform. Freddie wasn’t keen at all about moving up to Liverpool but thought he would give it a go. The group consisted of Mike Bersin, John ‘Tupp’ Taylor, Mick Smith, Freddie Bulsara on vocals and occasional performer and roadie Geoff Higgins.
It was Geoff’s parents that ran a large family pub on Penny Lane in Allerton, called The Dovedale Towers. Freddie lived in a flat above this large pub for a short while only two years before becoming the frontman for Queen. It seems The Beatles aren’t the only world-famous band to have a connection to this iconic Liverpool street.
Ibex performed on 9th September 1969 at The Sink on Hardman Street, which later became the Magnet, another one of Liverpool’s great historic music venues. The gig had been recorded by Geoff on a reel-to-reel tape machine which later sold to a Queen collector.
Unfortunately, the tape ran out after 30 minutes, and missed the band’s encore which allegedly featured guest appearances from Roger Taylor and Brian May. This was the first time that the three soon-to-become members of Queen played together, and it took place in Liverpool!
Roger Taylor, who was classed as a ‘Hippie’ with his long hair, ran into some trouble on Hardman Street that night in the form of some ‘skinheads’. Rumour has it that the drummer escaped by pretending to be police and flashing a card (Student ID) and pretending to perform Black belt karate.
When Ibex failed to take off, Freddie joined a second band called Sour Milk Sea, whose name was inspired by the George Harrison's song although that was also unsuccessful and by early 1970 this group had broken up as well.
In April 1970, Mercury joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in Smile. He had met the band through their original bass player, Tim Staffell, whom he knew from Ealing Art College. Tim soon left the band and in 1971 bassist John Deacon took his place. At this point, despite reservations from the other band members and their management, Mercury chose a new name for the band – Queen.
Queen continued their affiliation with Liverpool throughout the 1970s, playing over ten gigs at venues such as the Cavern Club, Liverpool Stadium, Liverpool University and Liverpool Empire Theatre. In fact, the first time the band performed Bohemian Rhapsody in front of a live audience was in Liverpool, at the Empire Theatre in November 1975.
The band returned many times prior to their last Liverpool show in 1979, during which Brian played Mull of Kintyre as Wings had been performing in the city just days before them. Freddie joked that he would be Linda…
Brian May has since been awarded an Honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University, in 2007, and became Chancellor of the University from 2008 until 2013.
Sadly, we lost Freddie, but his legacy lives on around the world and no more so than here in Liverpool, where you can still visit Dovedale Towers, the site of The Sink club and the Empire Theatre.
To learn more about Liverpool’s rich musical history, join me on a music-themed walking tour where I’ll be covering Queen, the punk scene, Merseybeat, and of course, The Beatles.