Montreux Memorial Weekend: Jim Jenkins Write Up
Montreux is part of the Swiss Riviera, a haven for anyone who wants to escape the hustle and bustle of life, a place of peace and serenity. It is located on the shore of Lake Geneva and is known to be a town of music. Each year the famous Montreux Jazz Festival is held there. Now there is another music festival the town is becoming popular for!
Queen and particularly their charismatic lead singer, the late Freddie Mercury had a special relationship with Montreux. Queen owned Mountain Recording Studios there and many of their popular songs were recorded at the studio such as the huge collaboration hit Under Pressure with David Bowie. Freddie bought an apartment there. It is clearly obvious to why he did. Freddie told his friends “if you want peace of soul, come to Montreux”.
On 25 November 1996, five years after Freddie’s passing, a bronze statue of him standing over 3 metres high, created by sculptor Irene Sedlecka was unveiled by opera legend Montserrat Caballe in the presence of his family, Brian and Roger and the Mayor of Montreux. Sited in-front of his statue overlooking Lake Geneva, suspended over the lake, is a circular stage known as the ‘frying-pan’.
Freddie’s life is celebrated at Montreuxmusic’s Memorial weekend. This year’s annual event was their 9th and was held between 2 - 4 September 2011.
There was a special private inauguration of many paintings at the Gallery En Beauregard dedicated to Queen and Freddie Mercury in the presence of the artists. Refreshments were made available for the guests along with some tasty nibbles. The exhibition was opened later in the evening for the general public and was open all weekend. Peter Freestone was in attendance who earlier in the day had welcomed fans for Tea At The Palace where cake and tea were enjoyed.
A reception was held at the Freddie statue where fans had started to gather early Friday evening. A Speech was given by the Mayor of Montreux who welcomed everybody to the event. There were stalls available selling tasty food and beverages. The smell was infectious. Tables had been set up along the promenade, a perfect place to sit, eat, drink, share special times with friends and enjoy. A special atmosphere is created.
The event is supported by local residents and is given an International boost as fans travel from all over the globe to be in attendance and remember the legend that is Freddie Mercury. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Eire, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Spain, Ukraine, USA and of course the United Kingdom to name but a few countries were all represented.
Live music is a key feature of the organisation with performances free of charge. The music on offer was extremely diverse and the Queen Unplugged Project from Hungary opened with a superb set of acoustic songs. They played on the ‘frying-pan’ in front of the statue as more and more fans converged on the statue.
The Montreux Tribute To Freddie, who are local classical musicians, paid tribute to Freddie, again in the ‘frying-pan’. They treated the gathering to songs such as Mother Love, White Queen and You Take My Breath Away and they were beautiful renditions of the songs. They could be heard on a warm evening and the stars and moon shining in the sky above.
The daytime entertainment was provided by Queen tribute bands. One from Spain, Ashen Crows rocked the afternoon away and on the following day, Italy’s Rock You had many partying. Both entertained the crowds and Montreux could hear the popular songs all over the town.
Swiss Folklore Meets Queen was an interesting musical extravaganza held in the Market Place. Nicholas Devenes, the Alphorn player treated everybody to this extraordinary musical instrument. There was an unprecedented mix of music to cater for everybody.
During the evening with well known and not so well known songs being played in a totally different style to which fans are accustomed! Czech Republics Jiri Sevcik and The Pirate Swing Band performed and had many dancing and singing along. Some Brits danced like they were at the Moulin Rouge! What a truly amazing show to watch and see how quickly you could ‘name-that-tune’. Marvellous!
There were boat trips made available on Saturday and Sunday with Peter Freestone in attendance with an acoustic band on board. Demand was so high extra boats had to be quickly arranged to accommodate the fans. The boat took in the Lake House, as featured on Queens Made In Heaven album and Freddie’s apartment. Other fans walked down to Chillon Chateau and some took a train ride up the mountain.
There were two conferences held in Hotel Helvetie where Freddie’s costume designer Diana Moseley talked about her career and how she started working with Freddie. She became a good close friend and the deep affection was clearly seen. Attendees were lucky to be shown some original drawings she did with Freddie. Jim Jenkins was on hand to ask some questions and then opened to the floor. The questions were different both days which helped open the mind to remember special times. Diana held a quiz at both and the lucky winners went home with collectors pieces for sure! Peter Freestone also talked about life with Freddie. A video presentation by Milan Solinovic Satnik showed videos and live concert footage on which Diana, Peter and Jim could all relate stories. A truly wonderful experience for all who attended and some attended twice!
A glass of wine was offered by the Commune of Montreux to all participants inside the Market Place and over in the local Church The Royal Squeeze Box from Germany and Soprano Karin ten Cate gave an outstanding performance and was one of the highlights of the weekend.
The Bejart Ballet For Life was projected under the covered Market Place - something cultural for a very cultured event. We were all treated to a spectacular Light And Sound Water show at the statue on the Saturday evening. Conceived by Swiss light artist Gerry Hofstetter. The images were impressive. A rapturous applause was given at the finale.
During the early hours many fans continued to surround the statue and the lead singer of the Royal Squeeze Box providing a musical impromptu performance and fans joining in singing. Many said it was a surreal experience sitting there amongst lighted candles.
There was a Scottish piper from Edinburgh playing songs on the bag-pipes and a fan proposed marriage to his girlfriend at the statue which was decorated with flowers and a huge garland and scarf placed around Freddie. Oh by the way she said ”yes”!
Norbert Muller of Montreuxmusic spoke and said he helped organise the event so he could see the happy faces of people attending. The event closed with the Royal Squeeze Box playing Queen songs. Peter Freestone spoke at the end of the 9th Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Weekend and reminded everybody that Freddie would be collecting his pension tomorrow and it’s thanks to him and Queen that we are all gathered here to help remember and celebrate what would have been his 65th birthday. He thanked everybody for coming and Montreux for hosting the event.
For many the weekend continued as quite a number decided to stay on. The obvious meeting place for the Sunday evening was the local White Horse English Pub, which might come as no surprise. Queen music was played in there all weekend. The bar ran right out of draught beer! At midnight fans converged to the statue to be there to bring in Freddie’s birthday.
The sun shone brightly on the statue on 5 September. This was a day of celebration for those in Montreux. A stream of fans were around all day, including Bec Sharpe dressed as Freddie from his Living On My Own video, even with the infamous moustache carrying out her ‘Freddie For A Day’ raising money for MPT. There were a number of tourists visiting for the day and were amazed at the offerings left at the statue. Messages that had been left all weekend were being read. Quite a few fans were sitting round, reflecting, some quiet moments at times watching swans floating by on the lake. Some fans had birthday cake and drank in honour of Freddie and sang “Happy Birthday”. One comment which could be heard from many was “I don’t want to go”. It sure is bliss.
What an annual celebration of Freddie’s life, who really was a lover of life and most definitely a singer of songs and we heard many over the weekend. Special thanks must go to Peter Freestone, Norbert and Rita Muller for organisation and their love and affection they hold for Freddie’s memory and for the Memorial event. A massive thank you to Diana Moseley for sharing her memories of the man we were here to remember. Thanks to all the musicians who entertained and performed for our pleasure. Thanks to Sound Factory for the sound and lights. Thank you Montreux for allowing the event to be held and for having the statue erected in the first place! Thank you to the ‘backstage/unseen’ helpers Petr Gajus Gajer and Milan Solinovic Satnik. Finally, thanks to THE FANS who attended and who the event was staged for. Freddie would be proud.
Freddie’s final recordings with Queen were included on his final album with the band Made In Heaven, with the cover photograph being taken in Montreux. It shows how magical the mountains and lake look. Part of Freddie will always be there. His memory lives on. He really has become the legend he wanted to be.