The year was 1974. I was a 13-year-old teenager back in the days when you had a bath twice a week and washed your hair in the kitchen sink.
It was a Sunday evening and my mother had the “stereo radiogram” on, listening to Tom Browne and the top 40 charts. This was a weekly ritual which really was my first introduction to “up to date music”, instead of having to endure the likes of Elvis Presley on a 78rpm disc, as thick as a roof slate, and as brittle, on the “record player”. Showing my age now...? Yes, I’m afraid so. I am a 57 yr old happily married man with 3 grown up kids and 4 grandkids.
This particular Sunday, my dad was washing my hair over the kitchen sink, something that I used to hate as he poured the water over my head with a plastic cup, most of it going up my nose as my head was bent over the edge of the sink. I could just hear the radio in the background between me coughing and spluttering as I gasped for breath thinking any minute now I was going to drown.
Gunpowder Gelatine, Dynamite with a laser beam...”Whats this Mam” I shouted from the kitchen. “It’s some group called Queen” she replied followed by “It’s a load of rubbish, it’s that heavy metal stuff with twangy guitars and synthesisers.”
Well, not to my waterlogged ears it wasn’t. This was the best thing I had heard since listening to this “up to date music” and my very first introduction to what was going to be something that would still be with me 44 years on.
I was hooked on those lyrics and that “twangy guitar sound” and started listening to the radio in order to hear it again. My parents had little money then and my pocket money wouldn’t stretch to buying the record. The more I heard the song, which of course is “Killer Queen”, (and may I add, NO SYNTHESISERS were used on the recording, and neither would be for a number of years to come) the more I wanted to know about Queen.
Before the days of internet and computers, it was difficult to find out much about the band. What did they look like, how old were they, how many were in the band, were they all blokes or was there a female with a falsetto voice as the lead vocalist? My questions were answered when they appeared on Top Of The Pops as a stand-in for the late David Bowie.
Wow, these are different, what a great sound, what a brilliant guitarist, what an amazing voice this male singer had, the fancy clothes, the hair and how it all blended together with the harmonies, this was brilliant. Needless to say, my mam didn’t agree to say, “This isn’t music, it’s just a blooming noise, look at the state of them”
So I had to make do with catching Killer Queen on the radio, the odd clip on TV, the odd piece in the paper in order to learn more about this band.
It wasn’t until early November the following year, when, out of nowhere, the epic single, complete with Beelzebubs, Galileos, Thunderbolts and Lightening and most certainly “Twangy and very heavy” guitars, burst on to the airwaves much to my delight. I can remember thinking to myself, “This is Queen, it’s them, this is that band again” I was so excited and like every other listener, confused, amazed, enthralled and bemused by the lyrics, the sound, the voice, the opera, the length of the song etc. I just couldn’t get enough of it, neither could the great British public as Bo Rhap stormed to number 1 and stayed there for what seemed like an eternity. Fortunately, I had some spare pocket money and remember cycling into York city centre, to Woolworths to buy the single.
That was it. The stereo radiogram never had it so good as at every opportunity I played it over and over again. Before I went to school, in my dinner break, after school, after tea, my mother still objecting profusely.
I couldn’t wait for Top of The Pops and when the video was unveiled, as the number one smash ended the programme, I was left astonished and smiling with glee. As the weeks went by even my mam was starting to warm to them, (but she would never freely admit to it.)
On Xmas eve the same year my mam and dad went to the WMC, (Working Men's Club) as was the in thing back in the day, to start their Christmas celebrations, leaving me at home to look after my younger brother and sister. I rifled through the TV Times Xmas edition, (the only time of year it was ever bought), to see what was on the box. I could not believe it when I saw advertised on BBC2, Queen Live at The Hammersmith Odeon. I was made up, parents out, Christmas Eve, younger ones in bed waiting for Santa and the TV to myself. What an evening viewing that was. After only ever hearing 2 songs by this new, fresh, charismatic flamboyant group, I was treated to what would become some of the biggest rock standards of all time and indeed one of the best concerts. It was one of the best Christmas Eve’s I had ever had and to top it all, on Christmas Day morning my parents had bought me a “Binatone Portable Cassette Player” and the Cassette of “A Night At The Opera” for Christmas.
That was just the start of it. I used to earn my pocket money by cleaning the bedrooms once a week and every weekend I carried out my chores carting the cassette player from one room to the next playing Queen over and over again until I practically wore out the tape. I managed to get a part-time job stacking shelves at a local supermarket and as soon as the money started coming in I was able to save up and start collecting the back catalogue of Queen albums. I signed up for the NME from my local newsagents and had it delivered on a weekly basis. Although I did find it a heavy read, it did keep me up to date with what was happening in the world of Queen, although if I recall, the NME weren't big Queen fans? I also joined the Official International Queen Fan Club and always waited in anticipation for the quarterly mag and handwritten letter from each member of the band to drop through the letterbox.
I can always remember eagerly awaiting the release of “A Day At The Races” and recall taking it to school to listen to it in the “Art Class” a fairly relaxed and chilled lesson where you could bring music in to listen to.
It was from then that my devotion to Queen grew and grew to collect anything I could afford and get hold of. I bought my own “Hitachi Music Centre”, from "The Co-Op department store" on HP, (hire purchase) and had it on my bedroom cabinet, mounting the speakers in the corners of the wall on brackets. Homework became a little more enjoyable and soon as I had done it, I cranked up the volume and just laid on my bed, following the lyrics from the sleeve notes, playing my air guitar and drums and reading every small detail on the album covers. I bought a red embroidered iron on “Queen” patch for the back of my Levi’s denim jacket and thought I was the dogs!
As you can imagine, by this time my mother was tearing her hair out with all this “Heavy twangy guitar music” rattling my bedroom floorboards, “Turn it down” being the regular yell from downstairs.
So by the time I got married and left home in 1980, my collection included every album from Queen up to Flash Gordon, including “Live Killers” which blew me away. I was desperate to see this band live and the long wait was over in 1982, when, after the release of Hot Space, at Elland Road in Leeds, I was treated to my first live performance of “Freddie and the boys”. Supported by Teardrop Explodes, Heart and Joan Jet and the Blackhearts. The excitement at seeing them live was something I had never experienced before and I was not disappointed. I didn’t have one of the best seats in the house unfortunately but it didn’t spoil the experience for me. A long and lasting memory, still with me today.
The concert coincided with a visit to York by the Pope and maybe, unbeknown to the remaining members of the band, hundreds of Queen fans were left stranded on Leeds train station platform, as the trains back to York had been cancelled due to security reasons. It was a very uncomfortable night trying to get my head down on a rolled up denim jacket (complete with embroidered Queen patch) and a carrier bag with programme and tour T-shirt in it.
Having flown the roost, it was now my younger brothers turn to take over from where I had left off. Having had his ears perfectly honed into the unique sound of Queen, by repetitive renditions of every album, which he heard from my bedroom. He also became an avid fan. I recorded all the albums I had onto blank cassettes for him, (sorry Queen, it was illegal I know!) much to the “Delight”? of my mother who thought she had heard the end of it. In fact what she did was write a letter into the Queen Fan Club telling the story of my obsession with the band, leaving home, thinking that she could be left in peace, only for my kid brother to do exactly the same. Jacky at the fan club was so amused and touched by the letter our mam had written in, that she arranged for 2 personally autographed, with our names on them, photographs of Freddie to be posted out. You can imagine the surprise and delight that this brought to my brother and I as she proudly gave them to us at a family gathering of some description. To this day we both have those signed photos, although my original has faded due to sunlight and many many years of a prime spot on the front room wall in every house I have lived in since. My father in law is a keen photographer and has recently managed to replicate the photo enhancing the colours and adding some text, my name and Freddie's signature is still there to see, and I still have the original upstairs.
I need to try and draw this tale to a conclusive close now summing up the last 30 plus years or else I will be writing this forever and a day.
So, every Queen album, Video, DVD, Book, Magazine, Boxed set, and as much memorabilia that I could afford, and that my wife would allow me to buy, has been collected over the years. A ticket to the Works Tour at Wembley arena in 1984, the Magic Tour at Wembley stadium in 86’(second night) the Freddie tribute concert in 92 after the untimely passing of the Greatest Front Man there will ever be! Annual trips to Garden Lodge on 24th November, (always wet, windy and freezing) and visits to the “Old Bakehouse” to the original fan club. A surprise trip to Montreaux for my 40th birthday, a personally designed full back piece tattoo of the band and the crest, which won best in show at a Tattoo convention in Blackpool. Brian May concerts, Roger Taylor concerts, Tribute Band Concerts, WWRY in London, Queen & Paul Rogers, QUEX and 2 Q&AL concerts. One in Sheffield 2017 and most recently in Barcelona in June earlier this year, my adoration for their music, live performance and total respect for Brian and Roger I still share to this day.
Unfortunately, our good old mam passed away last year after a long-suffering illness, which eventually led to dementia depriving her the chance to see 2 of her 4 great grandkids. The youngest, one year old this December, named after the great pretender himself, “Freddie”.
I had always wanted a “Man Cave”, “Bar” type construction in my garden, something which I had been mulling over for a while. I was given “Permission” by my good lady wife in the form of a Christmas gift on Xmas day 2014. It was a certificate scroll that she had typed up, accompanied with a hammer cum ice pick. That was all I needed and in the spring of 2015, started to demolish the old garden shed in order to make way for my bespoke building.
Having just about cleared the area and having seen a wooden sports bar on the internet, my project came to a sudden halt. On a bright sunny evening in June, I was knocked off my push bike by a car that headed straight towards me on my side of the road. I was on my way home from work and suffered serious head and facial injuries, 3 fractured ribs, 2 broken vertebrae and cuts and bruises all over. Luckily I am still here to tell the tale, making a full recovery, but delaying my project for nearly a year.
Autumn 2015 we got the landscapers in to re-plan the garden paths and build the decked area that was to form the base for my bar. 2016 came and as soon as the weather brightened up I ordered the sports bar and my project began. October saw it’s official naming ceremony and installation of the “Last Orders Bell” and the bar was “Established” in 2016, although a very long way off completion. Covered in tarpaulin I managed to work through the winter, dark nights and inclement weather making my vision gradually turn to reality. In May 2017, I invited friends and family round for an “Official” opening and unveiling of my DIY handiwork.
I had draped decorating sheets around the front and side. I had purchased a smoke machine and had flashing lights, music and all the glitz of an opening to a Queen gig. The widescreen TV was paused at the opening of the Magic gig at Wembley Stadium, the twin towers and “One Vision” ready to play through the surround sound as my masterpiece was unveiled by my son and son in law. As Freddie launched onto the stage, I launched out of my bar, complete in Freddie outfit and strutted my stuff around the back garden much to the amusement of my “Audience” and neighbours. A fantastic afternoon was had by all, the bar had been christened and “Kurgans Korner” was declared officially and finally open.
Thanks to my lovely wife, my family, my late mam, Tom Browne and the inspiration of The Greatest Rock Band that will ever walk the planet, my dream had become a reality. I had excelled even my own expectations, building more of a “Themed Pub” than just a wooden bar.
As I write this now, in October 2018, the project is still work in progress, my wife and I moving pictures, making adjustments, adding things to the collection of Queen, holiday and family trinkets. Will it ever be finished? I don’t know, but we have had some great times in it since it’s construction.
I am just short of a “Mini May" guitar to take pride of place inside it and have been throwing out subtle hints to the family as my birthday and Christmas approach. Perhaps when, and if I get one, Brian and Roger may pay me a visit when they find themselves in this neck of the woods? A cup of Yorkshire Tea for Brian and a nice cold Bierre Moretti for Roger will be waiting. In return for a couple of autographs, of course, my darlings!
By no means do I profess to be the biggest Queen fan in the world. There are some of you out there who have travelled the earth, bought everything possible and gone to extremes in order to follow our idols and I take my hat off to you all. I am simply an ageing, grey-haired, bespectacled old rocker wanting to share 44 years of my life and experiences as a modest, but dedicated Queen fan.
“It's been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise, but I thank you all”
Well I hope you have enjoyed reading my story and as the title states, “Those were, (but actually still are), the days of my life”
Seen the movie twice...Magnifico!
Long Live my family, Long Live my friends and Long Live “Queen”!!
(Dedicated to Florence Sylvia Potter 04/08/39 - 18/05/17 X)