Freddie made no secret of how much he enjoyed the trappings of fame and fortune when they came his way. “Money may be vulgar but it’s wonderful,” he said. “What’s money for if not to spend? I just love being lavish and extravagant.” Of course, years before, the teenage Freddie didn’t have a penny, like every struggling artist trying to make it big. But he knew what was important and did what was needed to make that happen when he was in the band Ibex. Guitarist Mike Bersin lifts the lid on Freddie before he was the king of Queen.
Freddie used to hang around the art and music scene in West London. He was particularly impressed with a band called Smile, which included Brian May and Roger Taylor. They already had a lead singer, Tim Staffell, but Freddie was desperate to be part of the scene.
In the summer of 1969, a three-piece rock group from Liverpool called Ibex and their manager Ken Testi were spending the college holidays in London. They hung out with Smile at The Kensington Tavern on Elsham Road, between Shepherds Bush and Kensington Olympia.
One night at someone’s flat was the beginning of everything for Freddie.
SCROLL DOWN FOR AN INCREDIBLE PICTURE OF FREDDIE ONSTAGE AT HIS FIRST EVER PROPER GIG BEFORE QUEEN
Smile gave an impromptu few songs that night and Freddie, who knew all the words, sang along and harmonised.
Testi said: “It was obvious he wanted to be in the band.”
And it just so happened Ibex desperately needed a frontman.
Testi remembered how Freddie boldly made his move a few days later: “His opening gambit was, ‘I’m a singer but I haven’t got a band’. Looking back, it was a brilliant strategy.”
The band’s guitarist Mike Bersin said: “Freddie had no money, so he only had one outfit.
He always wore this T-shirt with a belt and trousers and before crashing out for the night, would take them off and fold them ever so neatly so they’d be perfect for the morning.
“At the time we thought it was a southern thing… ‘OK, men in the north don’t do that but men in the south do.’”
But Freddie was already a showman, he knew appearances mattered. Testi recalled that when Freddie got out of the van at the first gig, he automatically checked his hair and clothes in any available reflection.
After a slightly wobbly start on stage, Freddie warmed up and found his confidence.
Fellow Ibex member John ‘Tupp’ Taylor said there was a moment when Freddie became the great showman: “I thought, ‘F**k, yes! This is what we want.’”
Freddie was finally on the road to fame and such a fortune that he’d never need to wear the same outfit the next day ever again…