17th April 2014

When I Met Queen by Ash Alexander - Part 1

When I Met Queen - Part 1

by Ash Alexander

The following note is something I’ve wanted to document for a while. It was spurred on by the Queen Fan Club asking for stories or gig reviews from fans that could be included in the Fan Club network. I’m not sure if this qualifies but it’s my story. I’ve tried to write the piece without pouring adulation upon the band members and describing how I felt at each event. If you’re are a fan you’ll be aware of how I felt.

My family had returned to London from living in Alberta, Canada in late 1976. My earliest memory of Queen may have been from this time as they played Calgary & Edmonton in 1974/5, both of which are very close to where we lived. I  remember a TV news clip of what must have been Freddie, walking onto a stage through dry ice wearing a back and white leotard.

Both my parents were musical in as much as they read music, played piano and sang, but never ventured into writing their own songs. I remember being taken to rehearsals of Gilbert & Sullivan musicals that they were in. I thought it was a terrible waste of time and hated the music. I couldn’t connect and had no interest in it at all. Later in the Summer of 1977, music that did catch my attention blared out from an open garage on our street, played from the record player of my friends older brother. 'We Will Rock You' & 'We Are The Champions' grabbed me like old friends.

I knew 'Fat Bottom Girls', 'Bicycle Race' & 'Don’t Stop Me Now’, that were released when I was 10. I was mesmerized every time I heard a Queen song on TV or the radio. I wanted to know who the people were that were making this music. How did they do it? Where were they from? How old were they? Who came up with the ideas? 

June 1979 - Live Killers

‘Live Killers’ was the first album I ever bought. I had turned 11 that August and had seen the LP in record stores (as well as the other albums the band had released.) Knowing it was a live ‘best of’, if I liked the songs, I’d buy the other albums; which is what happened.

The visual side of the ‘Live Killers’ was as compelling for me as the recording was. It was exciting. It drew me in and made me want to be on the stage with the band. It was a time when all you had was the record to look at and immerse yourself in, which is what I did. There was no internet. I’d read the sleeve notes on the album and imagine myself at the gig, usually playing along to the songs with my pillow drum kit.

Soon the Jazz album was in my growing record collection. I decided on this album because I knew some of the songs from ‘Live Killers’. I was also captured by the allure of the band hanging out in their centrefold recording studio. This is how I became aware & interested in recording studios. Something I was later to get involved in after leaving school in 1986.

1980 - The Game

Buying 'The Game' finally put me in sync with Queen's releases. I knew the album was available because the record shop we passed on the way to my Grandparents had a huge window display of the band. The album was bought. Reading through the LP there was an address for fan club membership. I joined and became a regular visitor. Jacky Smith was always welcoming when I called to see if it was ok to visit her at the Notting Hill Office.

By late 1981, the remaining 6 albums were in my collection, bought with my hard-earned cash from washing our car and cutting lawns. Their music became a constant.

1982 - Hot Space 

Fan Club members were sent an early warning that tickets were available for the tour. Queen at Milton Keynes Bowl was my first concert. My wonderful Mum drove me and two pals up from London. The show was incredible and the memories lived on through the betamax video I recorded from 'The Tube’ TV show. The eventual release on DVD brought my 14 year old self to life. Watching it now gives me the same thrill as it always did.

At some point in early 1983 on a visit to Jacky at the QFC, John Deacon wandered into the office. He came into the basement office and said hello as Jacky introduced me. He sat down and spent a little time reading through press clippings. He could easily have slipped away back upstairs from the awkward teen fan in front of him, but was comfortable enough to stay. It was a surreal moment, but one I really tried to keep calm through. I can’t remember what we spoke about. John was actually my favourite member of the band - I’m not sure why. Meeting him and realising he was just a guy with a job, slightly ruined my illusion of the band I’d conjured up. They were real, they had lives, they existed. He thanked me for coming to the office, said farewell and floated off back upstairs.

Another fan club letter arrived with good news. In November 1983, fan club members were invited to help in a video for the new single 'Radio Ga Ga' at Shepperton Studios. Again, my Mum stepped up and drove me down for the day. I took the day off school and had just turned 14. We arrived at the studio and were ushered into a huge hanger where we were kitted out with white body suits and then sprayed with a light grey stripe on each arm - even now I’m not sure what the spray paint was for as you can’t see it in the video. When we had all been prepared, we were taken into an adjoining hanger and were greeted by the band and an initial play through of the song. The rest of the day was spent clapping as you’ll see in the video. I wound up in the front row, opposite Brian. If you look closely and you know what you’re looking for, you can see me!

In between takes, I approached John Deacon who was surprisingly on his own. I remember trying to remain calm as I approached him. I didn’t mention our brief meeting; I asked him how to get a job in recording studios and that I was interested in pursuing a career as a sound engineer. He was really helpful and took time to explain the usual route.

On 22, March 1984 at Limehouse Studios in London’s docklands, the video for ‘I Want To Break Free’ was filmed, again with the help of fan club members. I went along with my brother Andrew. We were met by Jacky from the Fan Club and were given black bodysuits this time that were sprayed with yellow paint on the arms. We also wore a hard hat with a head lamp attached to it. The set was a big dark staircase that we all stood on.  The band were set in the middle of us all. After all the filming, we returned to the main building where we said hello to Roger. He’d come out to say thanks. Later, waiting for a cab down in reception, Freddie glided down the staircase and past us with his entourage. I remember wanting to get up and say thanks, but the opportunity was missed.

In early summer of 1984, on perhaps my last visit to the Queen Fan Club, Jacky asked me to come along with her to deliver a 1/2 tape. It was the 12’’ remix of 'Hammer To Fall’ and was needed across town. The destination turned out to be the video shoot for Freddie Mercury’s 'I Was Born To Love You’. We arrived during a break in filming. Jacky went through to the dressing room and delivered the master tape.  I was left waiting in the studio by the side of the set of mirrors. 

In September 1984, I went to see the Works Tour at Wembley Arena.

13th July 1985

'Live Aid’. I made it home in time to from my Saturday job to see Queen take to the stage and explode over the globe. I remember going to school on the Monday and the kids who used to sledge me for being a Queen fan all admitted that Queen were brilliant. I felt vindicated in some way.

I left school in June 1986 and soon after went to see Queen play at Wembley Stadium on their 'A Kind Of Magic’ tour.

Part 2 - Ash works on the Made In Heaven album...Coming Soon.