So much to do in one life time
So I'm living it all and I'm giving it all
(I want it all)
SEPTEMBER 5TH 1946
NOVEMBER 24 1991.
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on Thursday September 5th 1946
on the small spice island of Zanzibar. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara,
were both Persian. His father, Bomi, was a civil servant, working as a High
Court cashier for the British Government. Freddie's sister, Kashmira, was
born in 1952. In 1954, at the age of eight, Freddie was shipped to St Peter's
English boarding school in Panchgani, about fifty miles outside Bombay. It
was there his friends began to call him Freddie, a name the family also adopted.
As St Peter's was an English school, the sports played there were typically
English. Freddie loathed cricket and long-distance running, but he liked hockey,
sprint and boxing. At the age of 10 he became a school champion in table tennis.
Freddie was not only a good sportsman, his artistic skills were incomparable.
At the age of twelve he was awarded the school trophy as Junior All-rounder.
He loved art, and was always sketching for friends or relatives.
He was also music mad and played records on the family's old record player,
stacking the singles to play constantly. The music he was able to get was
mostly Indian, but some Western music was available. He would sing along to
either and preferred music to school work.
The principal headmaster of St Peter's had noticed Freddie's musical talent,
and wrote to his parents suggesting that they might wish to pay a little extra
on Freddie's school fees to enable him to study music properly. They agreed,
and Freddie began to learn to play the piano. He also became a member of the
school choir and took part regularly in school theatrical productions. He
loved his piano lessons and applied himself to them with determination and
skill, finally achieving Grade IV both in practical and theory.
In 1958, five friends at St Peter's - Freddie Bulsara, Derrick Branche,
Bruce Murray, Farang Irani and Victory Rana - formed the school's rock'n roll
band, the Hectics, where Freddie was the piano player. They would play at
school parties, at annual fetes and school dances, but little else is known
In 1962, Freddie finished school, returned to Zanzibar and spent his time
with friends in and around the markets, parks and beaches. In 1964, many of
the British and Indians, due to political unrest in Zanzibar, left their country,
although not under forcible pressure, and among those driven out were the
Bulsaras who migrated to England.
Initially they lived with relatives in Feltham, Middlesex, until they were
able to find their own small, terraced house in the area. Freddie was seventeen,
and had derided he wanted to go to art college, but needed at least one A
level to ensure he could get in. In September 1964 he enrolled at the nearby
During vacations he took a variety of jobs to earn some money; one was in
the catering department at Heathrow Airport, a stone's throw from home, and
the other was on the Feltham trading estate, where he had a job in a warehouse
lifting and stacking heavy crates and boxes. His fellow workers commented
on his 'delicate' hands, certainly not suited for such work, and asked him
what he did. He told them he was a musician just 'filling in time', and such
was his charm that those co-workers were soon doing the lion's share of his
He studied hard, although he preferred the aesthetic side of school life
to the more mundane academic side, and easily achieved his Art A level, leaving
Isleworth in the spring of 1966. His grade A pass and his natural skill ensured
that he was readily accepted by Ealing College of Art and, in September 1966,
Freddie began a graphic illustrating course at that college.
After Jimi Hendrix exploded onto the scene in 1967, and Freddie became an
ardent fan, he spent time sketching and drawing his hero; drawings he would
frame and use to decorate the walls of his flat in Kensington, rented by his
friend Chris Smith, where Freddie had moved from the family home in Feltham.
At that time Kensington was an important place to be for the art crowd - it
was the base of the famous Biba boutique and the home of Kensington Market,
frequented by the then 'in' crowd.
A fellow student at Ealing College was bass player Tim Staffell, with whom
Freddie became good friends. As Tim's and Freddie's friendship became closer,
Tim took him along to rehearsals of his band called Smile, with Brian May
on the guitar and Roger Taylor on the drums. Freddie got on famously with
Brian and Roger and loved the sound that Smile had achieved; he also had immense
admiration and respect for Brian's guitar-playing. Inspired by Smile, Freddie
began to experiment with music for the first time since leaving India.
He initially began to practice with Tim, another art student Nigel Foster,
and with Chris Smith. "The first time I heard Freddie sing I was amazed,"
recounts Chris. "He had a huge voice. Although his piano style was very
affected, very Mozart, he had a great touch. From a piano player's point of
view, his approach was unique."
"Freddie and I eventually got to write little bits of songs which we
linked together," adds Chris. "It makes sense when you consider
Bohemian Rhapsody. It was an interesting way getting from one piece in a different
key signature to another. But I don't think we actually finished anything.
Freddie certainly taught me a lot at those sessions. He had great, natural
sense of melody. I picked that up straight away. For me it was the most interesting
aspect of what he was doing."
Freddie left Ealing College in June 1969, with a diploma in graphic art
and design, and a few commissions for adverts in local newspapers. He moved
into Roger Taylor's flat, and that summer opened a stall with Roger at Kensington
Market, initially selling artwork by himself and fellow Ealing students, and
later Victorian or whatever clothes, new and secondhand, he could lay his
In the summer of 1969 Freddie was introduced to a Liverpool band called
Ibex, who had come to London to try to make a name for themselves. Ibex were
a three-piece, with guitarist Mike Bersin, John 'Tupp' Taylor on bass and
Mick 'Miffer' Smith on drums. They also brought with them their apprentice
manager, roadie and general dogsbody Ken Testi; part-time bass player Geoff
Higgins used to travel down for occasional gigs. Geoff would play bass when
Tupp, a great Jethro Tull fan, wanted to play flute.
Freddie first met Ibex on 13th August 1969. Such was his enthusiasm, that
just ten days later, he'd learned the band's set, brought in a few new songs,
and had traveled to Bolton, Lancashire, for a gig with them - his debut public
performance. The first date was 23rd August, and the occasion was one of Bolton's
regular afternoon 'Bluesology' sessions, held at the town's Octagon Theatre.
On the 25th August, Ibex appeared in the first 'Bluesology pop-in', an open-air
event on the bandstand in Bolton's Queen Park, and the proceedings were covered
in Bolton's 'Evening News'. This even featured an uncredited photograph of
While Freddie's trip to Bolton with Ibex was photographed, Ibex's appearance
at the Sink was recorded. This recording was made by Geoff Higgins; as he
says, tape is chronic quality, but it demonstrates Ibex's love of Cream, Jimi
Hendrix, as well as Freddie's favourite of the day, Led Zeppelin.
Somewhere between 9th September and the end of October 1969 Ibex underwent
a mini upheaval - at Freddie's instigation. "I recall him canvassing
the idea of calling the band Wreckage, but nobody was very enthusiastic,"
reveals Mike Bersin. "Then he phoned me one night and said, 'The others
don't mind. How do you feel?' I said, 'If they agree, then fine'. When I spoke
to the others about it, Freddie had phoned them all up and had the same conversation."
The name-change went hand-in-hand with the departure of drummer Mike 'Miffer'
Smith. He was replaced by Richard Thompson, the former drummer in Brian May's
1984. Despite flashes of true potential, the end of the 1960s also marked
the end of Wreckage. Gigs were few and far between, and while John Taylor,
Richard Thompson and Freddie remained in London, Mike Bersin was committed
to his college course in Liverpool, as he promised to his parents. Inevitably,
the band petered out.
Freddie started to search for another band for himself. He found Sour Milk
Sea after seeing a "Vocalist Wanted" advert in the 'Melody Maker'.
The pomp and ceremony were impressive, and the band he was auditioning for
knew he was the right man, especially when he got around to singing. Freddie
had a great voice, with terrific range. But there was not only his voice that
made his performances so attractive to people. "He knew how to front
a show," - Ken Testi recalls. "It was his way of expressing that
side of his personality. Everything he did on stage later in Queen, he was
doing with Ibex at his first gig." It wasn't anything that could be developed.
It was his charisma, his pure natural gift that was in perfect harmony with
his voice, his appearance, his delicate taste and his musicianship in the
wide sense of the word. The fact that he realized it himself made him absolutely
They offered him the job, and in late 1969 Freddie became the lead singer
with Sour Milk Sea. The other members of the band were Chris Chesney on vocals
and guitar, bass player Paul Milan, Jeremy 'Rubber' Gallop on rhythm guitar
and Rob Tyrell on drums. They did a few rehearsals, and then a few gigs in
Oxford (Chris's home town).
Freddie and Chris, who was about seventeen at the time, became close friends
and Chris moved into the house that Freddie shared with Smile in Ferry Road,
Barnes. The other members of Sour Milk Sea were more than a little peeved
Chris and Freddie spent so much time together, and felt rather insecure about
the future of the band. After just two months Jeremy, who owned nearly all
the equipment, derided to take it back and break up the band.
In April 1970 Tim Staffell decided to leave Smile, and Freddie join them
as lead singer. Freddie decided to change the name of the band to Queen, he
also changed his last name to Mercury.
The further biography of Freddie Mercury is to considerable degree a story
In 1970 Freddie met Mary Austin. They lived together for seven years and
remained good friends until his death.
In 1971 John Deacon joined the band and Queen were complete. Freddie designed
the band's logo using their birth signs: two fairies for him (Virgin), two
lions for Roger and John (Leo) and a crab for Brian (Cancer). Freddie was
the author of the first Queen song that entered the British charts (Seven
Seas Of Rhye), the first big hit (Killer Queen) and the most famous Queen
song that was on the top of charts for 9 weeks (Bohemian Rhapsody). Freddie
has always been considered the front-man of the band.
In 1975 Queen toured Japan. A crowd of screaming fans followed them everywhere.
They were taken by surprise at the strength of their reception. Freddie fell
in love with Japan and soon became a fanatical collector of Japanese art and
On October 7th, 1979 Freddie performed with the Royal Ballet. He had never
done any ballet before, but it was something he had always wanted to try.
The songs he had chosen to perform to were Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Little
Thing Called Love. Songs were played by the orchestra with Freddie doing live
vocals. Freddie's first dance was Bohemian Rhapsody, and he performed with
skill in front of a packed house of enthusiastic balletomanes, who loved him,
and he received a standing ovation for both his cameo performances.
In 1980 Freddie changed his image. He cut his hair and grew a moustache.
His fans began to send him gifts of nail polish and razor blades.
At the end of 1982 Queen all agreed they wanted to take break from each
other. They announced they wouldn't be touring throughout 1983. Freddie had
been thinking of making a solo album for some time, and at last he had time
to do something about it. He booked studio time at Musicland in Munich and
began work in early 1983. During that time he was introduced to Georgio Moroder,
who was working on a re-release of the 1926 Fritz Lang silent science fiction
film Metropolis. He wanted to put a contemporary musical score to the film.
He asked Freddie to consider collaborating on a track for the film to which
Freddie agreed. He had never before co-written with anyone outside Queen,
and had not recorded anyone else's compositions, apart from Larry Lurex. The
result of this co-operation was the song Love Kills.
In 1983 Freddie attended a performance of Verdi's Un Ballo In Maschera at
the Royal Opera House sometime in May. It was the first time when he saw Spanish
opera diva Montserrat Caballé, and the sheer power and beauty of her
voice mesmerized him.
On September 10, 1984 Freddie's first solo single was released. It was the
track he had co-written with Georgio Moroder for Metropolis, Love Kills.
The first single from his forthcoming solo album was I Was Born To Love
You. It was released on April 9, 1985. Three weeks later Freddie's first solo
album Mr. Bad Guy was released on CBS Records.
July 13, 1985 was a special day for Queen and Freddie. It was the day of
their memorable performance at Live Aid, a tremendous show at Wembley Stadium
in front of 72,000 people. Live Aid was also broadcast to over one billion
people worldwide. Queen secured their place in history, as every media person,
journalist, fan and critic unanimously agreed: Queen stole the show.
The early part of 1987 was very quiet for Queen, so Freddie took the opportunity
to go into Townhouse Studios to do some solo work. It resulted in a remake
of the classic Platters' song The Great Pretender. The single was released
on February 23rd.
In March 1987 Freddie flew to Barcelona to meet Montserrat Caballé.
He gave her a cassette with two or four songs. The Spanish opera diva liked
these songs and even performed one of them at London's Covent Garden. Freddie
was delighted. In early April, Freddie began work on the album he agreed to
record with Montserrat Caballé.
At the end of May the island of Ibiza staged a huge festival at the outrageous
Ku Club. Freddie agreed to be a guest of honour and closed the event with
Montserrat Caballé singing the song he had written for her and her
home city, Barcelona.
On October 8th, 1988 Freddie and Montserrat appeared at the huge open air
La Nit festival in Barcelona. They performed three tracks from their forthcoming
album - How Can I Go On, The Golden Boy and Barcelona, accompanied by Mike
Moran on piano. The long-awaited album, Barcelona, finally come out on October
October 8th was the last time Freddie Mercury performed on stage. At the
time, he was terribly ill with AIDS, although he didn't want people to know
about it. He announced that fact the day before he died. Being ill he continued
to compose and record songs and even took part in making videos. In my opinion,
I'm Going Slightly Mad video is his masterpiece.
On November 24th, 1991 Freddie died peacefully at his home in London of
AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia.
On April 20th, 1992 a tribute concert in Freddie's memory was held at Wembley
Stadium, and many famous rock stars took part in it. But the best tribute
to Freddie was the album Made In Heaven, released on November 6th, 1995 by
the three remaining members of Queen. We can hear the last songs that Freddie
composed and recorded.
Thank you Freddie. We love you. Thank you for giving the world the one gift
that lasts forever: music.
Jacky Gunn & Jim Jenkins. As It Began.
Record Collector #199