Queen Archivist: Greg Brooks Interview
What was your first experience of Queen?
My connection to Queen began in the summer of 1976. I was on holiday with my dad in the south of France, and there was a jukebox machine in a foyer area with 3 queen singles in it. That day, for some reason I decided to play just the 3 b-sides, and was staggered by them. I couldn't believe that such brilliant sounds and lyrics and dynamic music could be regarded as just b-sides. Flick of the Wrist, White Man and See What A Fool had me hooked right there and then. I played those tracks for an hour and I knew right then that this was a significant day in my life. I never dreamed I'd ever meet anyone in the band... Or even see them in concert.
How did you get the position of Queen Archivist?
I wrote a letter to Jim Beach in 1995 saying that I'd heard rumours the Queen archive was in disarray and might need sorting out...properly and thoroughly. I explained how this could be done... in great detail... outlined how I thought it would benefit future projects, etc. Then I said if the band thought it a good idea, I might be someone they could consider for that job. Jim invited me to London for an interview, and we chatted for an hour. I then got a call 2 weeks later to say I was hired, but to hold fire until some things were sorted. 18 long months passed and then in 1997 I started on a 6 month contract...with a bonus if I finished on time! That was 14 years ago!
What is a typical working day for you?
It could be labeling audio tapes or videos or film, allocating each tape a project and ID number, photographing tapes or track sheets, or logging tapes, or arranging a copy of a video for TV or documentaries.
I could be digging out certain tapes someone needs. Like for these current re-masters or the bonus material. I could be researching stuff for sleeve notes, or compiling reports or facts and figures and Queen stats for press releases and the like. I could be logging Brian's memorabilia, photographing his costumes or gold awards, in order to log them later (from the photos), or logging his personal collection, or moving stock around. Or I could be helping Richard Gray with a book or two, of checking artwork for spelling or basic oversights... Such as the song writing credits, etc . I spend lots of time checking text and basic detail. Sotherbys and Bonhams send me things to check, and sometimes I attend auctions.
I spend most of my time looking after tapes and making sure their content is findable on computer searches; that the right material is found when it needs to be. And I spend much time listening out for stuff that might be relevant to certain projects. I also put detailed proposals together, with my colleagues, to put to the band. I draw up massive lists of everything relevant so that we can all then try to whittle it down... knowing that nothing has been missed.
I am forever working on excel sheets and lists of everything that makes my work easier...lists that I can refer to if I get a random telephone call from Jim Beach or the record label or publicity people, etc. Recently I was involved quite a lot on the London exhibition.
I also research and write my own Queen material, much of which is yet to be published....they are in the pipeline.
Most people seem to think you just sit around listening to rare, unreleased material and chuckling because you have access to it and they don't.
That is a very small part of the job. The best part, but it happens rarely. Most of my job day to day keeping up with requests for Queen footage, and at the moment keeping up with all the re-masters... providing lyrics and sleeve notes and bonus material, and background info on the bonus material and finding suitable Queen video extras for the iTunes LPs. There is a small team of us.... usually under stress and usually juggling 6 jobs at once!
The Freddie Mercury Box Set was extremely impressive, how long did that take to put together?
I think about 18 months. There again we were all juggling ten jobs at once. I wrote 30,000 words of text for that, in less than two months... At the same time as sorting out bonus material, researching facts, checking endless details, and planning every track and how and where it might best feature. I think we worked 12 or 14 hour days for a year or more.... That's how it felt at the time anyway!
But I really love that product, and am hugely proud of our collective achievement there.
Would you like the Queen anthologies to get similar treatment?
Something like that might be good, yes. But I rather like the concept of a double cd per album, of rarities and studio out-takes... Maybe issued in batches. The early years first, then the middle period, and latter years, rather than one huge box, or two or three. I don't mind, just as long as all the great stuff makes it to public ears at some point.
How involved were you in the latest re-releases?
Very involved in the bonus CD material, writing sleeve notes and checking facts and text and credits. And the photographs in the booklets - ensuring that they're from the right period, etc, with help from Gary Taylor. Sorting out iTunes footage. Checking press releases. Writing stuff for web sites, and monitoring forums and what's being said. We also all chipped in ideas for Deep Cuts too, and suggestions for all kinds of things that Universal/Island were open to and appreciative of.
Can we look forward to some good bonus material on batches 2 and 3 of the re-releases?
Very much so, it's very exciting actually... rather startling. A few great surprises are in store.
You attend the Queen Fan Club convention most years what sort of material do you play or show?
It used to be audio rarities, now it's more video outtakes and unusual things. I try to show or play stuff that will make an impression; have impact... Things people will remember and talk about. Things that inspire them go spread the word and get the forums active and excited.
What is your favourite Queen album and why?
Jazz. It's so vibrant and energetic and manic and diverse. So many great songs. Freddie sounds totally wondrous and inhumanly brilliant... And inspired. The songs are strong and memorable. Let Me Entertain You, Dead On Time, If You Can’t Beat Them, Fun It. – four fab tracks, four different writers.
I think it sounds great, feels great, and has all the best that Queen had to offer at the time. I never tire of Jazz and of Freddie's incredible vocal skill and delivery. I think Queen were at their peak in 78.... one of them anyway!
You have written a book on Queen's live performances, I understand that it is being updated?
Yes it's been massively updated, doubled in size. It is now the book I always wanted it to be. EVERY known fact ever written about Queen live is, I believe, now in the text. I hope it will appear later thus year or early next.
What other band's or artists do you enjoy?
AC/DC, Genesis, Dixie Chicks, the Police, Blondie, the Jam, Mr Clapton, Kate Bush is my mega favourite. I could only ever have worked the hours i do, with the passion i have, for Queen or Kate Bush. Also like Tori Amos, Sarah McClachlan, Beatles, Pink Floyd. I love many artists and especially singer songwriters who play piano. I was listening to Dean Friedman and Gilbert O'Sullivan today. Remember them? Brilliant stuff!
Finally, as a fan, what would you like to see Queen release?
A Live Killers CD/DVD box set. The very best of all the wonderful stuff we have from that period. I think it would be truly great!