“They came on stage and killed it!”

New Queen pho­to­book fo­cuses on 1973-1985, their epic live years.

Classic Rock - - The Dirt -

Queen are the sub­ject of a new pho­to­book pub­lished in Septem­ber. Cov­er­ing 12 years of their his­tory, Queen – Per­for­mances 1973-1985 brings to­gether more than 400 pho­tos of the band taken by vet­eran mu­sic pho­tog­ra­pher Robert El­lis, who first saw them as a sup­port act to Mott The Hoople on their first ma­jor tour in 1973. From such hum­ble ori­gins it ends with Fred­die Mer­cury and com­pany head­lin­ing the Rock In Rio Fes­ti­val in Brazil in 1985 in front of a quar­ter of a mil­lion fans.

As well as the pho­tog­ra­phy, El­lis, who shot the band for NME, Melody Maker, Ker­rang!, Burrn!, Bravo Rock & Folk and oth­ers, gives an in­sider’s view of Queen’s rise from ob­scu­rity to be­com­ing one of the big­gest at­trac­tions in the world.

“Just like my pre­vi­ous books on Led Zep­pelin, Sta­tus Quo, AC/DC and oth­ers, it’s a per­sonal voice,” El­lis ex­plains. “I’m writ­ing from the stand­point of an ob­server, rather than claim­ing to have an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of Fred­die Mer­cury. I can’t stand that scur­rilous type of a book.”

El­lis says he knew that Queen were des­tined for su­per­star­dom the first time he set eyes on them. “Thanks to their early club gigs a buzz was be­gin­ning to build,” he re­calls. “At that point they had out­landish style but no­body re­ally knew who Queen were. They were f lam­boy­ant, they were show­men. With Mott they had the stage cleared and set up their equip­ment as if they were head­lin­ers, and that’s some­thing you never see. Play­ing on a postage stamp wasn’t their style. I was to­tally blown away by them.

“By the time Queen head­lined at The Rain­bow in Fins­bury Park the fol­low­ing year I couldn’t wait to see them again,” El­lis con­tin­ues. “They did the Rain­bow twice in 1974, in March and Novem­ber.”

At the sec­ond of those two shows [Fred­die solo pic, op­po­site page inset far left] “Queen were putting on the show they’d wanted all along,” says El­lis. “They were say­ing: ‘Here we are, this is us.’ It was such a stamp of author­ity. They came out on to that stage and killed it. That Rain­bow show an­nounced that they had ar­rived.”

And they would con­tinue stak­ing their claim. “The shot of Brian and Fred­die to­gether on stage [main pic, op­po­site] is from the Win­ter Gar­dens in Bournemouth, 1975,” says El­lis. “Punk was all the rage, but this pose tells you they’re real rock’n’rollers. I loved the fact that they were stand­ing up for tra­di­tional rock mu­sic, for pomp and cer­e­mony – ev­ery­thing the punks wanted to do away with. Queen were pre­sent­ing an al­ter­na­tive view. I wish some­body would come along in 2018 and kick a few asses like Queen did back then.”

De­spite shoot­ing the band so many times, El­lis spent “very lit­tle” time so­cial­is­ing with them. “They were very shut off,” he ex­plains. “If you met them in the bar or a ho­tel foyer, they were ap­proach­able but quite se­ri­ous. Queen were not a band that felt ter­ri­bly com­fort­able in pub­lic, un­less they were on a stage.”

But even ob­serv­ing them from a dis­tance, El­lis saw enough of Mer­cury to no­tice huge changes: “As the years went by, Fred­die took on more and more of the per­sona for which he be­came known. He lost the nor­mal­ity which I had known in him. He seemed to me to in­habit party land. It might not have been so, but he ap­peared lost to the real world.”

Queen were at the top of their game at Rock In Rio, where they topped a bill that also included Ge­orge Ben­son, Rod Ste­wart, AC/DC, Yes and James Tay­lor.

“Rock In Rio [1985, inset photo right] was the event that re­ally ex­ploded Fred­die’s per­cep­tion of what was pos­si­ble,” El­lis re­mem­bers. “That was a colos­sal show over seven or eight days. Queen pro­vided some of the real stand­out mo­ments. Their whole ex­per­tise went into stag­ing some­thing ex­cep­tional.”

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, El­lis says that Queen’s new film on the life of Fred­die Mer­cury, Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, which fi­nally hits the screens in late Oc­to­ber, played lit­tle part in the pub­lish­ing of his book.

“I’m not ter­ri­bly in­ter­ested in what Queen are do­ing now, and I didn’t even know about the film un­til quite re­cently,” he says. “I do hope they don’t think I’m try­ing to cash in on that.”

El­lis has not crossed paths with Brian May or Roger Tay­lor for quite some time now, but he says “they’ve al­ways been friendly and po­lite to me. In the early days, Brian in par­tic­u­lar al­ways made me feel as though I was be­ing well treated”. DL

Queen – Per­for­mances 1973-1985 by Robert El­lis is avail­able to pre-or­der from www.the­rock­li­brary.com, priced £95 (plus ship­ping).

Pho­to­graphs: Robert El­lis/The Rock Li­brary

“They were flam­boy­ant, they were show­men.Robert El­lis

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