Did you keep up with Queen’s catalogue as their output and global popularity rapidly grew?
My wife bought a few of their albums, but you have to remember that in terms of listening and playing, I was immersed into a very different style of music to Queen’s.
Is there a particular Queen song to your taste though?
I’m fairly obsessed with structure in songs and if I was going to cover a Queen track, it would be Somebody to Love… but it would be a very different version! I still actually know only a fraction of their material and when I hear Queen songs from time to time that I haven’t been aware of, I am frequently highly impressed!
Moving into the 1980s, you remained in contact with Brian, Freddie and Roger?
At about the same sparse level as before, really… on and off, which has remained to the present day. We move in different spheres. It’s always nice to see them, but it’s always something that requires a rational synchronicity.
I last saw Freddie in 1989 when Queen threw a party at the Groucho Club in London. I had so many phone calls from the press in the months leading up to his passing that I knew it must be imminent. My father died at around the same time and it was a curious year…
Did you ever meet John Deacon?
I never did. I met his wife a couple of times, but never John. He lives very close to me and I don’t know why but I always imagined that we’d get on rather well!
Did you watch Queen’s Live Aid performance?
Yes, but some time afterwards because over that whole weekend, I was locked away shooting a pretty ground-breaking animated commercial… funnily enough in a studio in St Anne’s Court where Smile recorded!
What do you remember about the Smile reunion in 1992 during the two Cross gigs at the Marquee?
It worked out well and I guess there was still some chemistry. We didn’t do a bunch of rehearsing and I was a little unfamiliar with rock gigs by that time. To be honest, I drank too much on the first night… but it was still pretty cool!
With Queen seemingly drawing to an end at that time and The Cross also close to disbanding, was it ever on the cards for the Smile reunion to become more of a permanent arrangement?
No, not at all… it wouldn’t work. We’re on different wavelengths.
But more than ever these days, there would certainly be an audience for future one-off Smile reunions…
I can’t imagine how that would work. I don’t much like the idea of ‘legacy’ gigs. I know it’s what the guys do all the time, but that’s because that’s the kind of music they play. I haven’t functioned that way since I left the band; I thrive on improvisation and a much looser approach.
Fast forwarding to 2003, Brian was one of the guests on your aMIGO album, contributing to new versions of Earth and Doin’ Alright…
I actually asked Roger as well, but he declined. I didn’t think I would make more than one album, as I sort of wanted it to ‘round off’ my musical career… but it worked out great and actually started me writing again.
15 years later, what was the recording process for the new version of Doing Alright for the Bohemian Rhapsody movie?
I know that some folk imagine that we all got together and played as a band again… but it didn’t happen that way. For a start, there was no guarantee that I’d be able to cut it as a vocalist, in which case, the gig might have gone to someone else. But broadly, it was important that the character of Smile as portrayed in the movie needed to have a bit more of the rawness of the late sixties about it. The band had created a hybrid backing track composed of elements of Queen’s version and, so I believe, samples of the original Smile cut. Jack Roth (the actor from the movie) sang it pretty well initially, but perhaps with a gentler response to the track that they had produced. My mature voice was obviously adequate in providing a more authentic vibe… and since I also played a bass part on it, the resulting hybrid clearly fitted the bill.
What did you make of your characterisation in the movie?
Well, blink and you’ll miss it! I think, given the time restrictions, the narrative worked fairly well. Some folk got irate because it was creatively condensed, but given the timescale, you can’t drag out small significances for the sake of strict authenticity.
Does it surprise you that Brian and Roger still have the desire to tour extensively today?
It sure does surprise me! I hated touring in the seventies, and I know I would hate it now. Fortunately they have achieved heights that allow it to be undertaken with the maximum comfort, but I just don’t like the idea of playing songs the same way all the time… and I was never much of a performer, so I won’t be choreographed.
Did you enjoy playing with your current band at the 34th Official Queen Fan Club Convention in 2019?
Yes, but I wonder if folk would be surprised to know that it was a really big gig for us? We’re much more used to smaller clubs and bars and I did feel that the character of how we play is a little strained for larger audiences… but people seemed to like it.
Finally, what can you tell us about your next solo album and can the fans expect any nods to Smile?
My latest album, How High, is the first studio recording from my partnership with Paul Stewart and is a blend of original songs written by us. Following aMIGO and Too Late (released in 2018), my third solo album in the ‘Songwriter series’ has been delayed because of the pandemic and I’m currently deciding whether to call it ‘MarginS’ or ‘No Margin’. As for a nod to Smile, I’ll have to see what I can do… but it would be a good plan to include something, wouldn’t it?
In addition to Tim’s albums being available on all streaming and download platforms, signed copies and a selection of Smile merchandise can be found at www.timstaffell.bandcamp.com
This article is © Dave Fordham and the Official International Queen Fan Club and is not to be reproduced without permission. Join the Fan Club at www.queenworld.com