Justin Shirley-Smith interview and transcript


Excellent interview with Queen’s sound engineer:-


Justin Shirley-Smith worked from 1984 to 1991 with the rock band Queen. Lasting memories were the recordings he made of Freddie Mercury shortly before his death. What was it like to work with Queen? And how to work with a singer who you know might die soon?




“Working with Queen was always a great experience because they were just so talented, all four of them were talented, so whenever they came into the studio, not always together, but there would be someone working here on a new song, writing songs, and then when they were all together, then they would play in the big hall as a band and that was fantastic, you know. Hearing the band was like your own private concert. Amazing.

“The most obvious memory for me is the day I spent with Freddie by myself, well, just himself and me in here, when it wasn’t the last vocal that he recorded – that was Mother Love – it was A Winter’s Tale, which is the one before, only a few days before in April or May, I think it was, 1991. Everybody was away and Dave Richards the Engineer was ill, so Freddie said, ‘Well, you’ll have to record me”. So it was just him standing there, singing in the control room, and me recording him, and that was a very special day because it was one of the last vocals he ever recorded.

“Freddie and I knew each other from years before because he’d been here many times from, well, in the late ’80s, so at least 3 or 4 years him coming here, so it was fine. He knew me, I knew him, so it was very easy communication, and he was always very nice to me.

“He sang amazingly even though he was struggling physically. He’d be conserving his energy to try and get the most power out of his voice, which is there on the records. You can hear it on Winter’s Tale and Mother Love.

“But it wasn’t a sad time. People think it may have been sad, but I mean although we knew he was ill, everybody in the Queen organisation, the band and everyone else around and mostly Freddie, just said, “Look, forget all that. I’m just going to focus on the music and do everything I can.” And everyone else was supporting the man and doing the same. Just forgetting about het bad stuff and focussing on the good stuff.” 

INTERVIEWER: How was it for you to record, knowing you had to record as much as possible because that person’s probably going todie soon?

“Well I’m not sure we ever, I don’t think I ever thought that. I never had that thought in my head, really. As I said, we just put it out of our heads. “And he’d been ill for some years, so we’d had sessions from ’88, ’89, where he was coming in, the whole band was coming in every few months to record, so there’s a kind of continuation. We never, we didn’t know, exactly when it would happen, or when it would stop or the last recording would be, so I can’t really answer that.” [Sighs and smiles]

Queen sound engineer: Justin Shirley-Smth

Queen sound engineer: Justin Shirley-Smth