Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Queen

Excerpted from Chapter Four, “Strange Vibrato” of Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Queen, by Mark Blake. Copyright © 2011 Mark Blake. Reprinted with permission of Da Capo Press. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

‘When I joined Queen I had sod all to do.’

— Mike Grose, Queen bass guitarist

for three months

‘I thought they were going nowhere.’

— Barry Mitchell, Queen bass guitarist

for six months

‘Can’t complain, nice house, great family and a fancy car

… but it would have been nice.’

— Doug Bogie, Queen bass guitarist for two gigs

‘When I first joined Queen, the other three argued like mad and I just kept out of it.’

— John Deacon, Queen bass guitarist

since February 1971

In 1970, Woodstock the movie opened in cinemas but not every budding rock musician was a fan. ‘When I saw that film it was a shock to realise how little I related to it,’ admitted Brian May. ‘Queen weren’t the sort of band that would get stoned, go on and shuffle around. In a way, we were a reaction against it.’ To some in their social circle, Bulsara, Brian May and Roger Taylor had always been an obvious combination of musicians. ‘I can remember walking down Ealing Broadway in 1968 with those three and thinking, ‘That’s it, that’s the band,” ’ says Chris Smith.

Initially, though, Smile’s drummer and guitarist were wary of their new recruit. ‘I remember thinking, “Good on showmanship, but not sure about the singing,” ’ admitted May. ‘Fred had a strange vibrato,’ chuckled Roger Taylor, ‘which some people found rather distressing.’ Just as it had been with Ibex and Wreckage, it was Fred’s persistence that ultimately won the day: ‘Freddie was there, saying, “I’ll sing and I’d do that,”’ said Brian, ‘and we gradually went… “OK.” ’

Book: Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Queen

Author: Mark Blake

Publisher: Da Capo

Publication date: 2011-04

Length: 432 pages

Format: Hardcover

Price: $25.00

Affiliate: (Da Capo)

Image: Staffell’s exit had also left Smile without a bass player. They recruited Roger Taylor’s friend Mike Grose, who had been the co-owner of PJ’s, the Truro music venue where Smile and The Reaction had been regulars. PJ’s was facing closure, but Grose was a bass guitarist with the added bonus of owning a Volkswagen van and a Marshall amp. Better still, Grose had played briefly as a guitarist in The Reaction and previously understudied for Tim Staffell at a Smile gig at PJ’s, after a row between the bassist and Roger Taylor.

Grose moved up to London and into a billet at Ferry Road. May hustled his Imperial College professors into signing the forms needed to let the band rehearse in one of the lecture theatres. Taylor had promised his mother that Smile would play a Red Cross fundraiser at Truro City Hall on 27 June. Neglecting to tell anyone that this was a very different ‘Smile’, May, Taylor, Bulsara and Grose managed to muddle their way through an uneven set in front of around 200 people in the 800-capacity hall, for which they were paid £50.

The origins of the Queen name, are, much like Freddie’s sawn-off mic stand, steeped in all kinds of myth and hearsay. ‘The name was mine,’ maintains John ‘Tupp’ Taylor. ‘I used to call Fred “the old queen” and I used to say to him that if he was ever in another band after Wreckage he should call it Queen, and he used to say, “Oh, do you think so?” ’ However, Mike Grose remembers sitting in the garden at Ferry Road when Freddie first pitched the name. Ken Testi remembers being told of the new band’s name in a telephone call from Kensington Market. ‘It made perfect sense to hear that he was with Brian and Roger. It should have been that way all along. I told him it was great news, and then he told me the name: Queen. I said, “You’ll never get away with that, Fred.” But he was like, “No, it’s wonderful, dear, people will love it.” ’

Other contenders for the group’s name included Build Your Own Boat, The Rich Kids and The Grand Dance (the last of these taken from C.S. Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy Out of the Silent Planet). But they were no competition. ‘The concept of Queen is to be regal and majestic,’ Freddie later told Melody Maker. ‘We want to be dandy. We want to shock and be outrageous.’

‘The name was Freddie’s idea,’ said Roger Taylor in 1974. ‘It was just a reflection of the social world we were in at the time, when he and I were working together on Kensington Market. In those days there was a pretty eccentric crowd there, and a lot of them were gay and a lot of them pretended to be, and it just seemed to fit in. I didn’t like the name originally and neither did Brian, but we got used to it. We thought that once we’d got established the music would then become the identity more than the name…’

Queen wouldn’t be the only name-change that spring. ‘Freddie had written this song called “My Fairy King”,’ said Brian May. ‘And there’s a line in it that says, “Oh Mother Mercury what have you done to me?” And it was after that that he said, “I am going to become Mercury as the mother in this song is my mother.” We were like, “Are you mad?” ’

Though no official documentation has ever surfaced at the Deed Poll Office, from now on Fred Bulsara’s passport would read Frederick Mercury. The transformation from gauche immigrant schoolboy to extrovert butterfly was complete. ‘Changing his name was part of him assuming this different skin,’ said May. ‘The young Bulsara was still there but for the public he was going to be this god.’

Before long, though, Mike Grose had grown weary of the struggle. May, Taylor and Mercury had been students since the mid-sixties, and were used to living in diminished circumstances. The 22-year-old Grose liked earning a living and found what he called ‘the empty days’ at Ferry Road depressing: Freddie was an art student used to doing nothing; Brian and Roger still had months left to go on their courses. But Grose was used to working a day job and playing gigs in the evening. That summer, in the garden at Barnes, he had watched as his three bandmates teased out ideas for songs that would eventually find their way on to the first Queen album. Queen had written the whole of what would become their debut, and the song ‘Father To Son’ (from what became Queen II). Grose thought the band had potential but wasn’t prepared to wait. He quit after a few months, returned to Cornwall, played briefly in a group called No Joke with, bizarrely, Tim Staffell, before forming his own haulage company and dropping out of the music scene.

Mike Grose’s replacement would be found after a chance meeting in Cornwall. Barry Mitchell had grown up in Harrow, West London. By 1965, he was bass guitar in a soul covers band called Conviction, also featuring a young Alan Parsons on guitar. Parsons would go on to engineer Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and front his own ensemble, The Alan Parsons Project. Conviction changed their name to Earth in 1967, made one unreleased album and secured a residency at the Coffin Club on London’s Gerard Street.

By August 1970, Mitchell was considering giving up music altogether. His most recent group, Black (featuring a black South African Hendrix lookalike) had stalled, and he was working a day job in Soper’s department store in Harrow. ‘I had a good friend called Roger Crossley who worked there with me,’ says Mitchell now. ‘The two of us used to hang out at the art college looking for pretty girls. Roger Crossley went to Cornwall in the summer and he met Roger Taylor. They got talking and Roger Taylor said he was looking for a bass player… So my mate gave me his phone number.’

Mitchell made the call, caught the tube to Kensington and auditioned for Queen at Imperial College. His first thought was how blessed the group were to have access to free rehearsal space and storage; the twin holy grails for any struggling band. ‘We had a couple of plays,’ remembers Barry. ‘We ran through some Hendrix and [Willie Dixon’s] “Do Me Right”, and that was it, I was in.’

Idiosyncratically Dressed but Well-Behaved Friends

Queen had a gig booked at Imperial in three weeks’ time, for an audience of invited friends. A few hours before showtime, the group convened in Brian’s bedsit. Here, Barry discovered that they were cooking homemade popcorn on the flat’s single gas ring, which they intended to serve with fruit juice as refreshments for their guests. ‘It was all quite sweet and innocent,’ he grins. ‘But, yes, you could say they weren’t rock ’n’ rollers.’

Queen’s set now included a smattering of old rock ’n’ roll tunes, Smile’s ‘Doing Alright’ and ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, a song Freddie had worked up in Wreckage and which Queen would make their own. Their wild cards were covers of Shirley Bassey’s ‘Big Spender’ and Cliff Richard and The Shadows’ ‘Please Don’t Tease’ (Mitchell: ‘I remember thinking, “What?”’). John Garnham, 1984’s ex-guitarist, saw the Imperial College show, and was struck by the originality of doing ‘this completely straight version of a Cliff Richard song right in the middle of the set’. Garnham was also struck by Freddie’s individual performance: ‘His voice wasn’t that dissimilar to Tim Staffell. But Tim was not a good frontman. He was always quite introverted and saying, “Oh, I didn’t do that. Shall I do this or shall I do that?” But Fred just took the bull by horns.’ That evening, John also remembers Queen road-testing a new song ‘Son and Daughter’. His verdict matched those of many who saw Queen at the time: ‘It was very Led Zeppelin.’

‘Brian was this fantastically nice guy and a unique guitar player,’ says Barry Mitchell. ‘Roger was a bit of a lad, and while his drumming was OK I thought it was a bit wishy-washy. Freddie was very sweet, but hard to get to know and incredibly self-conscious about his teeth.’

Also in the audience was John Anthony, now working as an A&R rep and in-house producer for Charisma Records. ‘Roger and I had kept in touch,’ he explains. ‘It was always Roger that used to call me.’ He knew lots of women: ‘One of them gave me crabs… even had them in my eyebrows. But Roger would always let me know what he was doing with Smile, and then one day I got the call saying they had found a new singer and was I interested.’

Anthony vaguely recalls having seen Freddie at Kensington Market before Queen. ‘He was very gushing and camp, but I didn’t think anything of it. Onstage, though, he filled the whole room. It was such a difference from Smile. They more or less had their sound together, but they had a dodgy bass player. He looked like he’d be better in a heavy metal band. I said to Roger afterwards, “Look, it’s not working visually, but you’re three-quarters of the way there.” ’

In the meantime, Queen’s ‘heavy metal bass player’ was getting to know his new bandmates. ‘Brian was this fantastically nice guy and a unique guitar player,’ says Barry Mitchell. ‘Roger was a bit of a lad, and while his drumming was OK I thought it was a bit wishy-washy. Freddie was very sweet, but hard to get to know and incredibly self-conscious about his teeth.’ Mercury had played the Imperial College gig in a black, figure-hugging, one-piece outfit (designed by ex-roadie Pete Edmunds’s wife, Wendy). He called it his ‘Mercury suit’, as the ankles and wrists sported little wings. ‘I remember first seeing it and thinking, “Oh, you brave, brave boy,” ’ recalled Roger Taylor.

Prior to the show Barry had also been taken aback to find the singer teasing his hair into place with heated tongs and sporting black varnish on the fingernails of one hand. ‘There was a difference right there,’ he admits. Mitchell’s look, such as it was, comprised jeans, T-shirts and a mop of long blonde hair. ‘There’s Freddie with his tongs and there’s me thinking, “Here’s my hair, right let’s go.” ’

In rehearsals, too, Mitchell witnessed the band’s painstaking attention to detail and willingness to bicker over those details: ‘There were lots of disagreements. You could lose half an hour with them just arguing over four bars of music.’ A great leveller in such situations was John Harris. Harris had been introduced to May and Taylor by Pat McConnell the previous summer. Smile’s former driver/roadie Pete Edmunds was no longer with them, and Harris had stepped up as road manager, electronics wizard, sound engineer and ‘fifth member’. ‘He was a lovely guy who drove this long-wheeled transit van and really looked after us,’ says Mitchell. ‘He was always there in rehearsals and he was great at stepping in and saying, “Oh, for fuck’s sake! All this over four bars. Get it together!” ’

If Mitchell had any misgivings, at least Queen were working. The Imperial College gig was followed by a show at an American private school in London’s Swiss Cottage, where Roger regaled Barry with stories of his romantic derring-do: ‘Roger was having a thing with a young lady living in student accommodation in Kensington, and apparently he’d scaled two or three balconies to get to her room.’

On 18 September 1970, Jimi Hendrix was found dead at his girlfriend’s room at the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill. Rehearsing at Imperial, barely a stone’s throw from the scene of his demise, Queen abandoned their own set and began jamming Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Voodoo Chile’, ‘Purple Haze’ and others. Chris Smith had seen a newspaper headline announcing Jimi’s demise while travelling on the tube to Imperial: ‘I was shell-shocked,’ he remembers. ‘And as I walked down the corridor to the lecture theatre, I could hear them playing “Stone Free”.’

Mercury and Taylor closed their market stall for a day in honour of Hendrix. Despite the noble gesture, they could hardly afford to lose the money. Fred’s illustrative work was strictly piecemeal. ‘He got an offer to illustrate a book about Second World War aircraft,’ remembers Richard Thompson. ‘So I lent him my collection of Air Pictorial magazines. I remember him doing some drawings, but I think he gave up on it, as it was too much like hard work.’ Furthermore, any cash Queen made barely covered their overheads. They needed proper day jobs.

Alan Mair was the proprietor of the clothes stall opposite Freddie and Roger’s at Kensington Market. ‘They were both lovely, but that stall of theirs never cut the mustard,’ he says now. ‘There was more and more competition on that aisle. You had the first denim jackets with white fur collars coming in, and people were making jackets out of chamois leather, but those two were just selling a few loonpants, nothing unusual.’

While Mercury and Taylor’s profits dwindled, Mair’s grew. He had begun making his own leather boots in a workshop and selling them at the market. Before long, he’d enlisted Freddie to help keep an eye on his stall. Lunchtime trips to the Greyhound pub on Kensington Square found the three striking up a rapport. While Mair knew that Freddie and Roger played in a band, they didn’t know that Mair had played bass guitar in a sixties Glaswegian combo called the Beatstalkers. ‘One night, at my flat, the Beat- stalkers memorabilia came out, and I started getting invited to all the Queen gigs.’

The Beatstalkers had been managed by David Bowie’s mentor Ken Pitt, and covered a few early Bowie songs. When Bowie himself breezed into the market one day, he made straight for Alan’s stall. Mair offered Bowie a pair of boots on the house (‘“Space Oddity” had been a hit, but he said he had no money. Typical music biz! I said, “Look, have them for free” ’). Freddie fitted Bowie for a pair of boots. It was probably the first time the two had met since Mercury helped build Bowie’s stage at the Ealing college gig: ‘So there was Freddie Mercury, a shop assistant, giving pop star David Bowie a pair of boots he couldn’t afford to buy.’

In October, Mair and ‘everyone else in the market’ descended on Kensington’s College of Estate Management for Queen’s weekend gig. ‘And it wasn’t very good,’ says Alan. ‘Freddie had this nervous energy that would make him push his voice, and he sang sharp the whole set. He looked awkward onstage and wasn’t very rhythmic. It was the first time they had enthusiastically invited everyone down from the market, and on the Monday we were all saying, “Oh, it was OK.” And Freddie and Roger were like, “Is that all?”’ Mitchell, too, concedes that during his time in Queen, Mercury’s voice left something to be desired: ‘There wasn’t a lot of depth there.’

Gig bookings stopped when Brian, still studying for that PhD, took another trip to the observatory in Tenerife. On his return, Queen’s Liverpool connection picked up the slack. Ken Testi was still social secretary of his college in St Helens, and booking bands through his friend and fledgling promoter Paul Conroy (who would go on to become managing director of Virgin Records). Testi offered Queen two shows: a support slot at St Helens on 30 October and The Cavern the day after.

With a few hours to kill before The Cavern show, Queen trooped into a local cinema to watch a low-budget soft porn film. According to Barry Mitchell, the action and dialogue was so desperate, the group began laughing uncontrollably, ‘so they threw us out’. As The Beatles’ spiritual home, The Cavern still had a romantic cachet. ‘It was this basement with a low ceiling and sweat everywhere,’ says Mitchell, ‘but it was still an iconic place.’ Ken Testi thought differently: ‘The Cavern DJ Billy Butler wasn’t very welcoming to Queen. Having a band in seemed to be an interference to him playing his records. I hated The Cavern and still do.’

Between gigs, Queen stayed at the Testi family’s pub, the Market Hotel, in St Helens. ‘It is worth mentioning,’ says Ken, ‘that for a Northern lad to be able to introduce such idiosyncratically dressed friends from London to his mum and for them to be so well- mannered was fantastic.’ Ken’s sister, then aged four or five, still remembers sitting on Freddie Mercury’s lap and being taught to play noughts and crosses. At Queen’s next booking a fortnight later, at a teacher training college in Hertford, the group chanced their luck by requesting a bigger fee. The reason? They’d played The Cavern and were now more famous having been on the same stage as The Beatles. They were refused.

The Queen Thing

Christmas 1970 came and went. In January 1971, Queen supported art-rockers Audience at the Marquee, and Barry Mitchell found enough space on the graffiti-daubed dressing room wall to write his name. It was a watershed moment of sorts. He’d made up his mind to leave. May, Taylor and Mercury had a shared history and social circle. Mitchell was living in Kingsbury, North London, miles away from Kensington. The morning after most gigs he’d have to drag himself out of bed to start his day job as a park keeper. There was another issue. ‘Their music wasn’t what I wanted to do,’ he says. ‘I wanted something more bluesy and soulful, something with a brass section.’ By now, too, Queen were playing songs that would end up on their debut album, including ‘Keep Yourself Alive’, ‘Liar’ and ‘Great King Rat’. ‘But it was all a bit airy-fairy,’ confesses Barry. ‘I didn’t like that stuff. They were still like Led Zeppelin meets Yes. I didn’t think they’d found their mojo yet.’ It was a strange reprise of Tim Staffell’s earlier misgivings about Smile.

‘… it was all a bit airy-fairy,’ confesses Barry Mitchell. ‘I didn’t like that stuff. They were still like Led Zeppelin meets Yes…’

Mitchell played his last Queen gig opening for Kevin Ayers and Genesis at Ewell Technical College on 9 January. As with Mike Grose, his bandmates didn’t want him to go. In the dressing room after the show, Genesis’ lead singer Peter Gabriel sidled up to Roger Taylor with a proposal of his own. Genesis were on the verge of firing their drummer, had yet to discover Phil Collins and needed a replacement. Was he interested? ‘I told Roger he should take them up on it,’ laughs Barry. ‘But he was having none of it. He was totally committed to Queen.’ At the time, John Anthony had just produced Genesis’ second album, Trespass, but Anthony now emphatically denies ever trying to lure Taylor away from Queen.

In spring 1971, Barry Mitchell re-surfaced in a trio called Crushed Butler, soon renamed Tiger, whose street image and untutored hard rock was about four years too early for punk. Later, he turned down a job with what became The Glitter Band. Barry saw Queen opening for Mott The Hoople a year after he left, and watched without rancour or regret. When ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ became a hit, he was managing an electrical store. As the song blared out, he told his incredulous staff that he ‘used to be in that band’. On the journey to Liverpool to play The Cavern, Mitchell remembers Brian May fooling around with a new camera and training the lens on his bandmates as they huddled in the back of the transit. ‘But there are no pictures of me onstage,’ he shrugs. The lack of photographic evidence, some memento from those times, still frustrates him.

When Mitchell left Queen, it was Freddie’s girlfriend that tried to persuade him to change his mind. Mary Austin had become a familiar presence, and would go on to become the most significant relationship of the Queen singer’s life. According to Freddie, the pair met in 1970, when the nineteen-year-old Mary was working as receptionist for the fashion boutique Biba, then located on Kensington High Street. Biba was the brainchild of clothes designer Barbara Hulanicki, and had been at the hub of London’s fashion scene since the mid-sixties. ‘Part of the attraction of Biba was that the girls were so beautiful,’ admitted Brian May. ‘So we went in there to enjoy the scenery.’

Before Biba, Mary had worked as a trainee secretary, and had grown up with two deaf and dumb parents, learning sign language from a young age. It was Brian May that first asked her out after meeting her at a concert at Imperial. They went out on a few dates, but the relationship never went any further. Before long, Freddie begun asking Brian about her. ‘He would come in to Biba, usually with Roger, and he would smile and say hello in passing,’ remembered Mary. ‘This went on for five or six months and finally he asked me out on a date. Five months later we were living together.’

Initially, Mary believed, wrongly, that the ‘wild-looking’ singer was more interested in her friend. Freddie took her to see Mott The Hoople at the Marquee that summer, and the relationship slowly grew. ‘Freddie was very confident and I had never been confident,’ she explained in an interview in 2000. Like Rosemary Pearson before her, Mary talked of finding safety and security with Freddie: ‘We knew we could trust each other and we knew that we would never hurt each other on purpose.’

‘Freddie’d had relationships with other girls,’ explained May. ‘But, looking back, his heart wasn’t in it. It worked with Mary because they were both shy.’

Freddie moved out of the Fulham flat he’d been sharing with Roger (Taylor: ‘We used to wait for a weekly hamper from his mother’) and into a tiny second-floor flat at 2 Victoria Road, Kensington, with Mary and their cats, Thomas and Jerry. Freddie’s small record collection included The Who’s Tommy, Led Zeppelin I, The Beatles’ White Album and The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow (Mary was a friend of Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor’s then wife Melissa), plus the soundtrack to Liza Minnelli’s Cabaret. Says John Anthony: ‘Cabaret was Freddie’s favourite film. He used to see it repeatedly. I always thought he took the idea of painting his fingernails from Liza Minnelli.’ The flat was a short walk from the market, the rent was £10 a week, and they shared the bathroom and kitchen with another couple.

Ken Testi, now back in London, helped the couple move in. ‘I was driving a Mini at the time,’ recalls Testi. ‘So I helped taxi all their stuff to the flat in several trips. A few days later we were invited round for dinner. Mary and Freddie didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together, but what money they had they’d spent on these really nice plates! As there was no kitchen, they just served salad.’ It was a momentous occasion: ‘As a Northern lad, I’d not had much salad.’

For Ken and others, Mary’s presence in Freddie’s life scotched any doubt about the singer’s sexuality: ‘They were 100 per cent a couple back then.’ Barry Mitchell, too, had always regarded Freddie’s camp behaviour and effeminacy as a guise, ‘an act, like calling the band Queen’. There could, however, be no disregarding Freddie’s regal tendencies and his ability to create a scene, however reduced his circumstances. Visiting the couple’s bijou flat one morning, Mike Bersin found Freddie holding court from his and Mary’s bed: ‘My impression of the bed is that it was a) vast and b) festooned in blowsy swags. It almost certainly wasn’t but that’s the effect Freddie had.’

With Barry Mitchell gone, Queen found themselves seeking their third bassist in less than twelve months. That third bassist would become the tiniest of footnotes in the group’s history. Until now. In Queen: As It Began, the band’s semi-official biography, Barry Mitchell’s replacement was referred to only as ‘Doug’. He lasted just two gigs before being fired for his behaviour onstage. ‘He jumped up and down in a manner most incongruous,’ protested Brian May.

Referred to since as ‘Doug X’ or, erroneously, ‘Doug Ewood’, Queen’s mystery bass guitarist was actually an eighteen-year-old trainee telephone technician named Douglas Bogie. ‘I was a serial auditionist,’ says Douglas now. ‘I saw an advert in Melody Maker, made the call, popped my Telecaster bass in a rucksack and got on the 716 Greenline bus from Weybridge to the Albert Memorial.’

The audition, inevitably, took place at Imperial, where, remembers Bogie, ‘Freddie wandered in, accompanied by a really nice girl, presumably Mary, and wearing his signature grey rabbit-skin jacket.’ With John Harris smoothing the way, Doug spent the next few days learning most of the songs on Queen’s would-be debut album. ‘I came away amazed at the strength and vitality of Roger’s voice,’ he recalls now. ‘He was just fantastic. Speaking as a Jeff Beck fan, he would have blown Rod Stewart off the stage.’ After hours, Douglas hung out with Freddie at Alan Mair’s boot stall. ‘This went on for a few weeks, and I thought it was all going well.’ Sadly not.

On 19 February, Queen played beneath The Pretty Things at London’s Hornsey Town Hall. The day after, Queen opened for Yes at Kingston Polytechnic. ‘Mine and everyone’s first gig with a W- Bin PA, which Queen told me they’d bought from Iron Butterfly,’ remembers Douglas. ‘I thought I’d done really well. These guys were older but I had energy and I was leaping about… Unfortunately, no one told me that what Freddie wanted was a quiet thumper at the back.’

To spare Bogie’s embarrassment, Freddie instigated what Douglas now describes as the ‘I don’t want to do this anymore – we’re breaking up discussion’ in the back of the van after the gig: ‘Freddie was having a conversation along the lines of “That was a terrible gig, the world is against me and I’ve had enough… I don’t want to do this anymore…” I guess he was being nice to me being the youngster and the new boy while letting the others know that he was the leading light and needed to be consoled and massaged.’ With sleight of hand and a lack of direct confrontation, Douglas Bogie was, indeed, let go after just two gigs.

In 1973, Douglas Bogie began working as a sound engineer. Two years later he signed a one-off deal with Ringo Starr’s Ring’o Records and cut a novelty single as Colonel Doug Bogie (‘Harry Nilsson took a liking to it’). Later, while working as an engineer in Edinburgh he secured a deal with A&M for his new band RAF (‘It stood for Rich And Famous,’ he laughs, ‘and we had a very produced Queen/Foreigner sound’). RAF made two albums ‘so hugely successful that we were never asked to do a third’. Tracking the debut RAF album at London’s Air Studios in 1980, Bogie bumped into Brian May.

‘I never went on about the Queen thing,’ Douglas explains now. ‘I was embarrassed at being dumped and felt a bit sorry for myself, and I sometimes thought that the few who knew about it might think it was a bullshit fairy story.’ It wasn’t. A successful career in video production and ‘a nice collection of guitars’ has sustained ‘Doug X’ ever since.

Photo (partial) by © Ross Halfin

Mark Blake is the author of Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. A former Assistant Editor of Q magazine and a longtime contributor to its sister title, Mojo, he lives in London with his wife and son.

© Mark Blake