Smile were really a semi-pro outfit. We hadn't made the big jump to go professional. I guess we couldn't because we were all still at college." That's how Brian May described the immediate precursor to Queen in the recent video documentary, "Champions Of The World". With May on guitar and Roger Taylor on drums, Smile featured half the members of the band which, with Freddie Mercury centre stage, went on to scale heights only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have ever rivalled.
By hook or by crook," continued May, "we got this gig at the Royal Albert Hall, which was at the bottom of the bill. We actually got our first review, which was in 'The Times', and said something like, 'the loudest group in the western world has unplugged and left the stage'. But it didn't say who it was."
The gig May described was a benefit concert for the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child on 27th February, 1969 - back in the days when bearing illegitimate children wasn't yet considered a crime against the state. Smile weren't quite bottom of the bill they played ahead of Free, then only recently formed - but if there was any truth in the Times' report, it was that the band was certainly loud.
"We wanted to be heavy," says Tim Staffell, the third and most vocal member of Smile. "Then we wanted to be intelligent. They were our criteria. But we had disciplined loudness, we didn't just rely on power to punch a song through. We made songs dynamic in the proper sense of the word."
Tim Staffell first met Brian May at Hampton Grammar School in Middlesex, and had been lead singer in Brian's schoolboy band, 1984 (see RC 195). That group lasted about four years, and counted a 1967 support slot for Jimi Hendrix at Kensington's Imperial College (where Brian enrolled to study astronomy after leaving Hampton) among its greatest achievements.
Very much Brian May's baby, Smile was a giant leap towards the sort of professional group 1984 dreamt about becoming. "Brian put an advert for a drummer on the student union board at Imperial and Roger came along," remembers Tim, who was studying graphics at Baling College of Art, a few miles west of Imperial. An audition at Roger's Shepherds Bush flat, followed shortly afterwards. "Roger was excellent, a good player," Tim says. "He was really confident and flamboyant. I loved the way he used to sit up and hit his crash cymbal and then deaden it immediately. He was funny, too. A good bloke."
Taylor had moved to London from Cornwall in October 1967 to study dentistry at the London Hospital Medical School in Whitechapel. As the leader of his own group, the Reaction (see RC 196), he'd progressed through R&B and soul to become a powerful exponent of the newly-emerging genre of 'rock' . Taylor had not only been drummer with the Reaction, but also their vocalist. With Smile, however, he seemed content to let bassist Tim Staffell take the lead. But his role was far from a supporting one. "Roger turned a straight line into a triangle," Tim recounted to Mark Hodkinson in 'Queen - The Early Years'. "He was lively and exciting, and ran on adrenalin. He was always 'up'. Smile were enhanced by Roger's energy."
"We thought he was the best drummer we had ever seen," Brian May has since said. "I watched him tuning a snare - something I'd never seen done before - and I remember thinking how professional he looked."
Coming together in the closing months of 1968, Smile were keen to adopt the trappings of a proper band. "A guy called Peter Abbey, a dental student from Roger's college, became our manager," recalls Tim, "although really, it was only a casual arrangement." Additionally, a school friend of Brian's by the name of Pete Edmunds became the band's roadie, driving them around in a green Thames Trader van, for which he'd traded in his MG sports car. Using his design skills, Tim Staffell created a distinctive grinning-mouth logo for the band, complete with pearly-white teeth and crimson red lips, which has since been likened to the Rolling Stones' lascivious tongue device, but has more in common with Dr. Feelgood's leery trademark. When Smile sent a demo tape (contents unknown, unfortunately) to the Beatles' new Apple label, the only feedback they received was that Paul McCartney liked their logo.
Brian May's connections at Imperial ensured a steady supply of gigs for Smile, supporting name acts on the burgeoning college circuit. The band also signed to the Rondo promotions agency. "We dealt with a guy who was really plummy," recalls Tim. "Rondo was in the same building in Kensington Church Court as Juliana's Discotheques, which was a real up-market, toffs disco for debs' coming-out parties. It's probably an oil company now. Rondo was more involved with Genesis than they were with us; in fact, I once designed a poster for Genesis: a really big illustration, printed on lime-green fluorescent paper with 'rock'-style writing."
As a newly-chic power trio, Smile played their inauspicious debut at Imperial on 26th October 1968, at someone else's auspicious gig: opening for Pink Floyd, who'd recently charted with "See Emily Play". Smile were billed as one of two "supporting groups", and were somewhat taken aback by these psychedelic pioneers. "They were strange," recalls Tim Staffell. "That wasn't something I could easily relate to. They were extremely English." Like their predecessors 1984 and the Reaction, Smile were essentially a covers band. They had few compositions of their own, and were content to reconstruct existing material to suit their own developing tastes.
Their music was "rather wild and unpopular," reported Jim Jenkins and Jacky Gunn in Queen's official biography, 'As It Began'. "They would play a cover version of a popular song, using every change in tempo they could fit in. Often songs would last as long as twenty minutes." Tim Staffell agrees: "We used to like Yes, and the way they varied their tempos and arranged their material. We also did a heavy piece by the Small Faces, 'Rollin' Over', which Brian rehashed on his 1992 solo album, 'Back To The Light'.
"I guess we wanted to be heavy rock, but make music which was a little more arranged than you might expect from a trio. There was pressure to try and appear virtuoso. But actually, it was all form and little content. We had to make ourselves appear, 'Wow! Cor, really clever, man!'. Was I rudely awakened when I moved on! I used a short-scale Danelectro six-string bass, which knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have touched with a barge-pole."
At this stage Brian May, who'd long since progressed from emulating Hank Marvin to apeing Jimi Hendrix, was also entrenched in the nuances of the new music, enthusing in an interview about the guitar 'tone' of Jethro Tull's Mick Abraham. Presumably, then, Smile were 'progressive'? Tim Staffell is not so sure. "That was more the Nice," he proffers. "I don't think we would have applied that term to ourselves. Because 1984 had started at school, that band was always going to be coloured with those school characteristics. We saw ourselves as the antithesis of cool. In Smile, we wanted to move on and be more grown up."
The Reaction's Mike Dudley kept in touch with Roger Taylor after that band had split - for a while at least - and saw Smile perform on numerous occasions. "They were completely different from the Reaction," he recalls. "Brian May was a far better guitarist than any of us, and they played fairly good rock. They were a bit like early Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, and had a heavy Chuck Berry-derived sound. They also played Hendrix tunes, along with a few of their own songs."
Whatever genre they slotted into, Smile's musical formula proved to be successful, and they went on to become a popular attraction at Imperial, eventually becoming the college's house band. As far as Tim Staffell was concerned, though, the musicians in Smile - himself at least - were still at the learning stage. "Initially we were quite a loose trio," he claims. "That was probably as a result of my bass playing. I wasn't as disciplined as I should have been. When I look back, I was all over the place."
Smile quickly became all-consuming for the trio, and Brian May and Roger Taylor began to doubt their chosen careers in astronomy and dentistry. At the end of 1968, Taylor dropped out of college (he has since said that studying dentistry was merely "a way to get to London"); although May continued his course for the time being, and to this day maintains an interest in the celestial world.
1969 brought a new face into the Smile camp, a walking clothes horse and college friend of Tim's by the name of Freddie Mercury. Freddie became a friend and supporter of the band, offering his advice whenever it was - and sometimes when it wasn't - needed, but he never actually performed with them publicly. Eventually, though, after accompanying them to gigs in their Trader van, he moved into Brian, Roger and Tim's shared flat in Ferry Road, Barnes, South West London. As the story goes, Freddie was desperate to join Smile at this stage, but had top be content to latch onto another trio, Ibex - a group from Liverpool who swung into the Smile circle that year.
In 1984 and the Reaction, Brian and Roger had been used to headlining their own gigs, albeit at a local level. In London, however, Smile was lucky to be offered support slots, and aside from Pink Floyd, all of their documented appearances in the capital were as an opening act. Among those committed to history are gigs with Tyrannosaurus Rex; the yet-to-record Yes (or Yes!, as they were billed at the time) at the Richmond Athletic Club in February '69; Family at Imperial on 15th March (a good eight months before their breakthrough hit, "No Mule's Fool"); and Mighty Baby, the psychedelic band formed from the ashes of the George Martin-produced Action.
By far the band's most prestigious appearance of 1969 was that Royal Albert Hall event Brian May referred to earlier. Immediately prior to the concert, Smile had been rehearsing with a fourth member, keyboardist Chris Smith, who attended Baling College with Tim Staffell. "He was a good bloke," recalls Tim. "He had a pink Vox Continental organ - not a wonderful instrument. But he wasn't a bad player, more boogie-woogie, a bit more American-influenced - kind of in the Dr. John mould. If I'd have met him later, I'd have appreciated his playing much more. We were more what you might call Britrock these days. We fired him the night before we did the Albert Hall. We were sitting in the back of the van going round a roundabout somewhere and I had to say, 'Chris, we'd rather do tomorrow night as a trio'. He's still around, up in Yorkshire somewhere. People tell me he goes around feeling like the fifth Beatle. But that's my prerogative."
With or without Smith, Smile saw the Albert Hall gig as the zenith of their achievements to date (although 1984 had played the same venue a few years before). Their short set included versions of "If I Were A Carpenter", "Mony Mony" and "See What A Fool I've Been", plus Tim Staffell's "Earth". The show, compered by DJ John Peel, wasn't recorded, although Roger Taylor did invite along a friend of his, a photographer by the name of Douglas Pudifoot. As well as shooting stills from the right of the stage, Pudifoot also captured around three minutes of the band's performance on a black-and-white, 8mm home movie.
The footage was silent and in far from optimum quality, but nevertheless survives as the earliest moving images of any of the members of Queen. Just over a minute's worth of the film was included in the recent "Champions Of The World" video, overdubbed with excerpts from "Step On Me" and "April Lady" (complete with a scratchy 'surface noise' for that added archive factor) from the "Gettin" Smile" mini album.
Tim Staffell - the one member of Smile not to make millions as part of Queen - has another reason to recall the Albert Hall event:
"I remember running out across the stage and my lead was too short, and the opening chord of the first song was minus my bass guitar. That has a strange irony about it, doesn't it?" With a ready-made network of contacts back home in Cornwall, Roger Taylor also secured regular gigs for Smile. Among those he sought out was Peter John Bawden, ex-guitarist with Cornish band the Staggerlees (backing band for singer Dave Lee on two singles for Oriole in 1963), who'd recently founded his own club, PJ's, in Truro. The gigs were coming-home events for Taylor.
"Those weekends in Cornwall were highlights of our time with Smile, because everyone used to make so much fuss of us there," Tim Staffell told Mark Hodkinson. "It became a great social thing with lots of drinking sessions." The camaraderie also extended to Mike Dudley, Roger's old friend from the Reaction, who would often join the band on stage. "It was fairly easy to play for a couple of hours after knowing each other for years and years," he recalls. But as Smile developed, eventually mutating into Queen, Mike's guest spots dried up: "It happened for one or two summers, and then the third it didn't."
Smile's adverts in the 'amusements' section of Truro's 'West Briton and Royal Cornwall Gazette' from this time were prone to London-style hyperbole: "Beautiful sounds once again from Smile", promised one; "The fantastic, beautiful Smile," added another. Did these descriptions fit the band? "Hardly", admits Tim Staffell. "That was probably more to do with what was being smoked than anything else. Or probably not. That was significant, you know. Smile wasn't a drug band at all. I've no idea what happened in Queen, although I suspect the old nose candy turned up a bit. That's not to say in Smile we didn't have the odd smoke now and again, but compared with some of the things I got into later on - you know, 'Can someone carry me out of the door, please' - it was quite an innocent, clean-cut little outfit. If the drugs squad had asked Brian to turn out the pockets of his cardigan, I can assure you that they'd have found nothing."
Further advertiser's license took place on 28th March 1969, when Smile played their debut at PJ's, billing themselves as a "Tremendous London Group", who had "appeared at top clubs, the Revolution and the Speakeasy and have recently broadcast on Radio 1's 'Top Gear'." True enough, Smile had played at the fashionable nightspots mentioned (and would continue to do so), but on Radio 1? It's difficult to imagine exactly what would have been broadcast on 'Top Gear' in March 1969, given that Smile's debut recording session was still one month away. Such an event would have been important enough to have made at least a small impression on the band's lead singer, but Tim Staffell suggests the ad was a ruse.
Although 26 years have passed since the alleged broadcast, 'Top Gear's presenter, John Peel, is similarly adamant that it never took place. "They didn't record a session, of that I'm certain," he says. "But it's worth pointing out that in far flung corners of the country, it wasn't uncommon for bands to make these claims." Just to make sure, Peel checked his alphabetically-catalogued record collection, in case a previously-undocumented Smile acetate had been lurking there unnoticed for the last quarter of a century The mystery was solved. The trail ended at Smiley Culture, and no such disc exists (at least in Peel's collection).
Back in London, Smile were given a break. On 19th April, they played another Speakeasy date (not the Revolution, as has been reported elsewhere), only this time they were introduced to Lou Reizner, A&R man for Mercury Records (Reizner later went on to produce Rod Stewart and mastermind one of the '70s Beatles tribute albums, "All This And World War II"). Reizner liked what he heard and offered Smile a one-off single deal.
Smile found themselves now having to transcend being simply a covers band - however much they re-invented other artists' material. "It had began to become important to write your own material," agrees Tim. "One summer, probably 1968,1 made a particular effort to write, and came up with two or three songs. 'Earth' was one of them, and ended up accepted as being the strongest of the bunch. There were no musical influences on that song at all. I wrote it because I was a bit of a science fiction buff. In fact, all of the songs I knocked up that summer - and most of them were cobblers - had science fiction-based lyrics. They're the kind of things which would be considered pretentious guff these days."
For the B-side, Smile chose one of the few other originals in their repertoire, "Step On Me" - one of Brian and Tim's first compositions, which dated back to their 1984 days (indeed, a version appears on 1984's Thames TV tape). "It's still a good song," reckons Tim. "The tune and most of the words were written by Brian. I contributed to the words."
Both songs, plus a third, "Doin' Alright", were cut in June 1969 at Trident, the Soho studio which became synonymous with Queen's early years. The session was produced by John Anthony, whose credits included Van Der Graaf Generator and Rare Bird.
Only U.S. copies of the single were pressed, and there's no evidence to suggest that 'Earth'/'Step On Me' was even intended for release in the U.K. "It was Mercury America, which was independent from Mercury in the U.K., who offered us the deal," remembers Tim, "so the contract wasn't for Britain anyway." The publisher of both songs was Shapiro Bernstein, another American company, but despite these connections, Smile's debut release stalled at the promotional-copy stage in August 1969. "Everybody hedged their bets," recounts Tim. "The record company wasn't willing to commit themselves to it. I don't recall the single being much of a big deal. None of us were over the moon about it, because there was no money in it. Had there been, I think we'd have thought that we'd cracked it. But we were aware that that record was going to have to be hawked around before anyone got behind it. And if a plugger did get on the case, it didn't generate much interest." There is reason to believe, however, that some moves may have been made to push the song in Britain: at least that's one conclusion to be drawn from the discovery earlier this year of a double-sided acetate of "Earth" / "Step On Me" at the London office of the now-defunct Shapiro Bernstein. As it turned out, however, the U.S. promo copy was the only commercially-produced recording of Smile, or indeed any of Freddie, Brian, John or Roger's pre-fame bands.
It's worth repeating here that the Smile single has been bootlegged on a 7" single credited to Iron Wire (similarly, the Larry Lurex 45, "I Can Hear Music", reappeared credited to Joe Perfect). And while we're on the subject: Brian and Roger's Smile has no connection whatsoever with a group by the same name who backed singer Denis Couldry on a couple of singles for Decca in the late 60s; nor the Smile who issued "One Night Stand" on Uni in 1972, who were an American band.
Despite their lack of success on the recording front, Smile were producing music worth listening to - at least according to Ken Testi, the manager of Ibex. He recalled spending an evening with them at a friend's flat, when, as he recounted to Laura Jackson in 'Queen And I': "Suddenly Brian, Roger and Tim began to play us their songs and talk about what they were looking for. I knew immediately that that I was in the presence of something extraordinary. They were playing remarkable stuff, and Brian's technique was outstanding. It was seminal Queen. They were special, and everyone watching them in the flat knew it."
Mercury must have thought the same, and in September booked Smile into De Lane Lea in Kingsway, Holborn, to record three more songs: "April Lady", "Blag" and "Polar Bear", produced by Fritz Fryer, former lead guitarist with 60s pop outfit the Four Pennies.
"De Lane Lea was a basement studio and it was a very late session," recalls Tim. "I seem to remember I was really shagged out. I believe there was a bloke called Keith Nelson on that session who played electric banjo. I don't know if there's any mention of him on the album cover, because I haven't got a copy of the record, but I think he was an American who had built his own instrument. It was a funny thing, and I remember thinking it didn't sound much like a banjo, but there was an immediate rapport with Brian, as regards the 'Red Special' - is that what they call it?"
"April Lady" was a ballad written by one Stanley Lucas, which had been presented to Smile by Mercury. "That was in 5/4 time, it was a bit clever," says Tim Staffell. "We responded to that, because we wanted to be seen to be capable. It had pretty meaningless words, but I quite liked it." Each member is clearly discernible on the recording: Tim Staffell on lead vocals and bass, Brian on an acoustic and the guitar they do indeed call the 'Red Special', and Roger Taylor on drums and backing vocals.
Interestingly for such an obscure song, two other covers of "April Lady" exist, both issued in the States as late as 1981. One is by a group called Wax, who recorded for RCA, while the other, faster version by modern soul singer, James Perry, appears on a new compilation "Carnival Of Soul" (Kent CDKEND 124). Although, on the evidence of Perry's version, Stanley Lucas seems to have written two different songs with the same title.
'Blag' was an instrumental written by Roger," continues Tim. "It was a riff he'd had lying around for ages and we eventually established it as a piece. I think that always went down bloody well at gigs. It was a vehicle for us to blow. There were some three-part vocal harmonies on it, which supported the rhythmic figure. It was a bit of a blaster." It was also the heaviest track Smile recorded, and with Tim's brief vocal section in the middle - despite any protestations to the contrary - anchored itself firmly in progressive waters. The track's "do-do-do" refrain owed more than a passing reference to Cream's "NSU", while Brian's proto-metal rifferama clearly paved the way for heavy outings like "Liar" (on "Queen I"), while bristling with the kind of tension Freddie later utilised on "Great King Rat".
"Brian wrote 'Polar Bear' and sings lead on it", adds Tim. "That's one of those numbers which I'd forgotten from that day to this. It was a gentle song about ... a polar bear. Hence the title! It was a bit out of character, actually. I suppose, though, that in the sense that Smile wanted to be dynamic, that meant we could be sensitive when called upon. But I'm not sure I'd ever be able to pigeonhole that as being suitable."
Nothing from the De Lane Lea session was released at the time, but did appear in mono on mini-album called "Gettin' Smile" (issued on 23rd September 1982, long after Queen had become internationally famous) - and then only in Japan. The mists of time had obscured the Smile era to such a degree, that the label listed two of the songwriting credits as "unknown", while initially, both Brian and Roger denied recording as many as six tracks with the band. (Earlier this year, 'reproductions' of "Gettin' Smile" appeared in the U.K. - on black and various-coloured vinyls. Each sells for about Â£25).
"Does the title, 'Gettin' Smile', have anything in common with the sort of English translations of Yamaha keyboard manuals that we've all come to know and love?", muses Tim. "You know, the kind of thing that goes: 'For the putting of battery up the compartment, make surely to rotate when polarity come to match required directions.' Because it doesn't make any sense to me!"
The three De Lane Lea songs were augmented on the LP by "Step On Me", "Earth" - or "Earth It" as the Japanese called it ("That's a much better title!" laughs Tim) - and the Staffell-May song, "Doin' Alright".
'Doin' Alright' ended up on the first Queen album (as "Doing All Right")," says Tim. "It has never bowled me over as being a particularly brilliant song, but it has got me out of a hole more than once. I've just paid this quarter's tax bill on the latest royalties." Thanks to Roy Thomas Baker's bombastic production, Queen's version of the song is heavier than Smile's. But its complex structure, harmonic arrangement and heavy-rock sensibility were obviously well in place on "Gettin' Smile".
But perhaps the most striking aspect of the Smile recordings is the vocal similarity between Tim Staffell and his successor, Freddie Mercury. Freddie won hands down in the falsetto stakes, but on "Doin' Alright" and "Step On Me" particularly, the two vocalists were almost interchangeable. But Staffell got there first. "My hackles rise at the suggestion that I might have borrowed from Freddie," he told Mark Hodkinson. "I was always very aware of what I was doing with my voice and how I sang."
Tim reflects: "I wasn't surprised when that other material wasn't released. I can't answer for Roger and Brian, but it wasn't really happening for me. We were 21-year-old guys, departing from our adolescence, becoming aware of personal responsibilities, being exposed to more sophisticated things. It was a gradual process of me going off heavy rock and getting into much more disciplined songs. Queen did the same thing in a way, but from an English perspective. Some of Queen's songs stand out as some of the best English songs of all time. There's much more cultural integrity with Queen, because you can't call them bloody American clones, like you can with virtually everything I ever did after leaving Smile!"
Smile's final recordings were unofficial. In September 1969, after their second De Lane Lea session, a mutual friend of Brain's introduced them to Terry Yeadon, who worked at Pye in Marble Arch. "I was actually a maintenance engineer," recalls Yeadon, "but we did whatever we could. The session took place at around midnight at Pye's Studio 2, and lasted for about six hours. We recorded 'Step On Me' and 'Polar Bear' on an Ampex four-track machine: first the backing track, then the vocals, then we mixed it. I was impressed by their sound. Roger might have been a little rough at first, but Brian had a guitar sound identical to what he used in Queen. A friend of mine, a cutting engineer called Geoff Calvar managed to cut an acetate just before the morning shift started. About half-a-dozen were done later, which we gave to the band." None of these, unfortunately, has ever surfaced.
Yeadon rejected to work with Smile more extensively, and saw nothing of them until 1973, when Brian May got back in touch around the time Terry happened to be looking for a band to test the new De Lane Lea Music Centre studio in Wembley. For his efforts, Terry Yeadon received a mention in the credits on the group's debut, self-titled album.
The next memorable event in Smile's calendar took place on 13th December 1969, at the Marquee in Wardour Street, when as a parting gesture, Mercury Records booked them as support for a showcase for Nick Lowe's Kippington Lodge (who'd been struggling to find a niche for the last couple of years and who, within a month, would relaunch themselves as Brinsley Schwarz). Smile played a 30-minute set, but by all accounts failed to whip up much interest. The concert obviously made no great impression on Tim Staffell, either. "Kippington Lodge was where they all lived," he says. "I remember that. It's a shame, but I can't recall anything about that gig."
The turn of the decade shed an all too harsh light on Smile's shortcomings. Astronomical studies took up much of Brian's time, and by February, he was spending weeks away from the band researching zodiacal light in Tenerife. Losing enthusiasm, the band began to peter out. "It understandably suffered from a lack of finance, just as most student bands did at that time," Tim told Laura Jackson. "But we'd played some notable gigs and supported some very big names. We'd also had a good time doing it. I think I'd say that at our worst, we may have been a little shaky, but at our best, I'm sure we were quite worth the admission price."
Freddie Mercury finally got his wish to join the band after his own outfits - Ibex, Wreckage and Sour Milk Sea - ground to a halt. When the last of these acts disintegrated in early 1970, he jumped at the chance to fill Staffell's shoes. "I left Smile because I was beginning to be seduced by the way the Americans made music," recounts Tim. "There is a radical difference to the way English people do it. Around 1970, I bought one album which completely changed my attitude towards music and that was Ry Cooder's first album. That was a real catalyst. I suddenly decided against English rock and the way it works." Speaking to Laura Jackson, he added: "Whereas I left Smile for my own reasons, in one sense I was moving out of the way, and the birth and evolution of Queen were a natural outcome."
While Freddie matched the power of Tim's voice, he couldn't even attempt to follow his bass playing, and it took two men to replace him. Mike Grose, a friend of Roger's from Truro (no relation to the Reaction's Johnny Grose), became the second new member of the band, and Queen's first bassist.
Smile played their last gigs in Roger's home town of Truro, and their mutation into Queen is documented in adverts placed in the town's 'West Briton' newspaper. Although the name-change had occurred a short while earlier, on 27th June 1970, at a gig at the town's City Hall, they were billed - for the last time - as Smile. On 25th July, at PJ's, they were advertised as "Queen (formerly Smile)". Queen's London debut took place the weekend before, at Imperial College, on the 12th.
"I went off looking for a band which could make an American sound," muses Tim, "which turned out to be Humpy Bong (named after the area of Australia where the settlers landed in 1840). Via them, I met Jonathan Kelly, who was a major influence on my life, both musically and intellectually." Initially at least, the move proved wise. While Queen continued the college circuit as Smile had done, "Humpy Bong got on 'Top Of The Pops' with our first (and only) single, 'Don't You Be Too Long'," recalls Tim. But after that: obscurity.
While Queen struggled on for the next four years (their first hit wasn't until March 1974), Tim Staffell moved out of Humpy Bong, via Jonathan Kelly's Outside ("an illustrious bunch of musicians -with Chas Jankel and Snowy White"), and into progressive band Morgan, featuring ex-Love Affair and future Mott The Hoople keyboardist, Morgan Fisher.
Smile's "Earth", written by Tim, was later incorporated into a side-long suite on Morgan's concept album, "Nova Soils". "The idea was that our star exploded, the earth became incinerated and the remnants of the human civilisation were scattered throughout the solar system without a home", proffers Tim with more than a hint of irony in his voice.
These days, Staffell is a commercial model maker, whose credits include the children's TV series 'Thomas The Tank Engine'. But even a career-change couldn't distance him from his former colleagues. "In 1981, after I'd packed in music altogether," he recalls, "I made a model for an album cover for the Hipgnosis design team. It was of a little alien head with glowing eyes. I didn't know what it was for, but it turned out - and I didn't discover this until years later - to be the front cover for Roger's 'Fun In Space' album! I had no idea. That was peculiar."
Although they are no longer close, Tim Staffell, Brian May and Roger Taylor remain in casual contact. Tim even took part in a Smile reunion of sorts on 22nd December 1992, when Taylor's band the Cross played the Marquee. Tim joined Roger and Brian on versions of "Earth" and "If I Were A Carpenter" - two songs Smile had played at their most memorable gig, at the Royal Albert Hall, back in 1969.