Queen Biographer: Jim Jenkins Interview
How long have you been a Queen fan and how did your relationship with the band start?
For nearly 40 years now - incredible. I never imagined it would last this long. I first met all of the band in Liverpool when they were here for a gig. When the original fan club ladies left and the new secretary took over I went down to meet her. I was one of the original fans to join the fan club and was known. Brian was there and I helped with the first fan club biography. I went to the offices quite a bit and saw the band there and went to a lot of gigs and got my face known, hoping I was never a nuisance. It all developed from that really.
Your name pops up on various Queen releases, could you explain how and why?
I first wrote the sleeve notes for the band’s second hits album, so I was credited for doing that. Then I did sleeve notes for other projects, video and CD releases. I also worked on the Champions Of The World video release in Vienna with Doro. That was fun looking at hours of live video footage and helping choose what would go on the release. Hans and Rudi christened me the 'creative consultant' and that is how I was credited on the release.
You followed the band for years up and down the country, that must have set you back a few bucks?
Up and down the country, across Europe and over to America. It cost quite a bit of dosh and it was worth every penny. Reflecting now, as you get older, you realise how exciting it all was, you took those concerts for granted, you thought they would be happening forever. The amount of money spent didn't come into it.
A tough question I am sure, what was the best show your saw them play?
Not tough, very easy for me - Hyde Park in 1976. I went on holiday to the States and came back the day before the gig. I originally had tickets to see Queen in Edinburgh before I went away and they changed the dates, I was unhappy at that, I missed Cardiff too. Thankfully went to Hyde Park. The UK’s biggest attendance gig and it was free. I had never been to a free concert before. Not the best of Queen’s appearances, but its the gig that means a lot to me. It was an experience. An event. I was there.
Were you a regular on the guest list when the band toured?
Yeah, I was pretty lucky. Gerry Stickells (Queen Tour Manager) got to know me as well and I would turn up at the gigs. I remember going to California to see them and Roger walked in and said "This is a long way from Liverpool".
I am sure you have plenty of memories of the band, but could you give us one for each band member?
John: A gang of us who became known as 'The Royal Family' went to Paris on the Live Killers tour and we did all the touristy bits as well as the gigs (now those Paris gigs were unbelievable!). We met John at the Eiffel tower. John was so nice to us all and he knew we had gone to Paris for the gigs. He thanked us all for traveling and the support we give to Queen. It was an unexpected meet and a strong Memory of Deaky.
Roger: Being in the recording studio with the band and Roger gave me a tour and explained the mixing desk and let me have a go of his drums! He didn’t have to worry I couldn’t play them! That day is a treasured memory for me.
Brian: When working on 'As It Began' I went to Brian’s house and couldn't believe all the memorabilia he kept. He had a poster of a Liverpool University gig from 1973. I can actually remember that poster being on display in Williamson Square in Liverpool city centre for years! The crest on the poster was the last bit to get covered up by other posters – must have been there 3 or 4 years all in. Amazing. When I saw that poster it gave me the idea for the cover of 'As It Began' - blue and silver. I have a lot of respect for Dr. May and he has always been generous with his time for me.
Freddie: One?! In a way I guess this is easy to answer too. After the Ally Pally gig on the Crazy Tour we were backstage. Believe it or not I hate asking for autographs, but a friend of mine had taken some photos at Liverpool Empire a few weeks earlier and I loved this black and white picture of Fred, so Dave blew it up to a 10" x 8" for me. I asked Freddie to sign it and he asked if it was for me. I said yes and he put 'To Jim' - which gave me such a shock! "You know my name?" I think I said and he replied "Of course I know who you are darling!". I will never ever forget that. He put ‘To Jim’ on a few things over the years without me asking him to do it.
Is it true that band offered you a job and you turned them down?
Well, yes, it is true. Paul Prenter offered me a job but I didn’t want to move to London! Some people might think I was mad but it was the decision I made at the time. Maybe it was a wrong decision I don't know, but that was what I decided. I can't have regrets on it, as I’m trying not to regret things that have happened to me anymore. A friend of mine moved to London and he got the job.
Did you ever get to hear early versions of songs?
Not really, but what happened once was 'The Royal Family' were meeting up and we were asked to listen to the recordings and see what we thought could be a single release. Fred sent us champagne to drink whilst listening.
You and Freddie once had differing opinions on one particular song didn't you...
Oh dear, I really put my foot in it one day. We were at a video shoot for "I Want To Break Free" and Fred was in such a great mood and was really friendly to us that day - there were only six of us helping out with the filming. Fred had his moustache shaved off and I was having make-up taken off my face which was put on us for the filming and I was sitting next to Fred. I remember him saying "I've lost all my strength" when he got up off the chair and I said "We've got our old Fred back. You might start writing some decent songs again".
Now I didn't mean it to come across as negative or me being nasty I just thought 'Old Fred - old style of writing songs'. He retorted "I always write decent songs" to which i replied "No you don't, you wrote Play The Game didn't you?". Oops. I could tell by his face I had said the wrong thing and friends I was with said I shouldn’t have said that. Oh well too late this big Liverpudlian mouth had said it.
Freddie just walked off and didn't say a thing. Later in the day he was fine with me and thanked us for traveling down from Liverpool to help him out with the filming. I never thought anything else of this until the year after we lost him when Peter Freestone mentioned this incident to me. Freddie was mad at me for saying what I did (the song is special to him) but said he admired me telling him the truth! Phew!
Hot Space. Discuss.
This album was released too early! It should have followed 'The Works' - the songs were way ahead of the time of the album’s release. I love the album and actually prefer it to 'The Game' (my Least favourite Queen album). Staying Power, Back Chat, Put Out The Fire and Calling All Girls are some of my favourite Queen songs. I think they still sound fresh today. I can't wait to hear the new re-mastered version. An uplifting album, that makes me feel good. It was great that the band experimented. It kept them fresh and not boring, but some people took it all oh so seriously. I for one am not sorry they did this album but still feel if it should have been released in 1985/6, 1982 might have been too early. Its strange, maybe the re-release will bring some new life into it.
You worked on the Stormtroopers In Stilettos exhibition earlier in the year, that must have been a trip down 'Memory Lane' for you?
Oh boy, to be honest it brought it all back - why Queen were so important to me and my obsession. I felt it was part of my past there as I grew up alongside Queen - from boy to man. It was a strange experience for me.
The exhibition was brilliant and Universal deserve a pat on the back for what they achieved with this. Everybody working on it felt passionate about the project. I have been rejuvenated since SIS and the re-releases of the albums has made me remember how brilliant these songs really are. The early period of the band is my favourite era, like many fans who followed them from the beginning.
Also with the exhibition finishing with my favourite gig of all time, let alone my fave Queen gig! It felt right to me. I felt justifiably proud to be a fan. Part of my life was at the exhibition too - god knows how the band must have felt but it had a big effect on me. I found the experience emotional, deep and once again something around Queen that will live in my memory always. It also made me realise how fantastic it would be if here was a permanent exhibition of Queen memorabilia in London. Liverpool has The Beatles and London has Queen – The two biggest bands on the planet.
A permanent exhibition would be another great achievement in Queen’s history. They have the longest running fan club in the World and most dedicated fans.
It must have been nice to catch up with Roger and Brian too?
You know what, it was great to see them both looking so well and happy. I was lucky enough to chat to both during the day and the evening. They were both so enthusiastic about the exhibition and re-releases it's fantastic after all these years the passion is still there. Long may they reign.
What is your favourite Queen album and why?
Another easy question to finish on - Queen II. One of two albums that has blown me away from first listen. The album experimented further than their debut on vocal and guitar harmony structures that the band became famous for.
March Of The Black Queen, which is my favourite Queen track ever and favourite song ever too, it is an amazing mega opus song that still sounds extraordinary in the 21st century. White Queen, Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, Loser In The End, Father To Son, Ogre Battle and Seven Seas Of Rhye still have a big effect on me when I hear them. Procession too, the way it builds for the album. I never tire of listening to this and have instructed that a copy of the album is put in my coffin when I bite the dust.