QUEEN BEFORE QUEEN
THE 1960s RECORDINGS

PART 4: THE OPPOSITION - Continued

INFLUENTIAL

Towards the end of 1968, a crop of new groups began to have a profound effect on the maturing schoolboys: Jethro Tull, the Nice, Taste, and in particular Deep Purple. Ron: "We used to buy Purple records and learn to play them. We'd seen John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Downliners' Sect in Leicester, the Nice, King Crimson. These sort of groups. We learned a lot from just watching them. They were influential. There was always a big discussion in the band as to whether we should do a particular song. Once we'd decided that, they'd be another big discussion as to how we should do it. Everybody had their say."

Hair, too, had finally began to grow: "John grew his quite long." recalls Ron. "We all had longish hair, but not shoulder length. We couldn't look too unkept fo the normal side of life, but we didn't want to be too prissy for the other end of the spectrum. That was when we started playing universities, and we went a bit heavier. The audiences were far more serious minded about music and more enthusiastic. In some of the youth clubs we'd been playing, the audience would be moving around on roller skates, or peeling bananas all over the place, things like that."

"We felt we were making an impression towards the last year or two of the band," he continues. But it went no further. "We were at school, some of us had jobs, and there was an element of common sense overriding what we would have like to have done. None of us wanted to chuck in our apprenticeships or courses. If we'd had a flair for writing our own material, we might have taken off. But we just played what was popular, nothing different from most other groups. That wasn't a basis on which to launch ourselves. So it never happened."

"We didn't think that far ahead," admits Richard Young. "I just thought of playing and getting repeat bookings. John was probably the least ambitions of all of us, to be honest. I think he felt that there was no mileage in what we were doing, although it was good fun. I think he had the impression that this was a hobby, a phase he was going through."

Sometime in the Sixties, possible 1969, but maybe earlier, Art recorded an acetate. Whatever the date, the crucial point is that John Deacon was present at the session. "We weren't asked to do it," recalls Nigel. "We just wanted to make a disc. I think it cost us about five shillings."

The venue was Beck's studio, thirty miles south east of Oadby in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. "I'd never been in a studio before and it seemed awesome, really," recalls Dave Williams. "It was a farily decent-sized room for acoustics. It was all nicely low-lit, with lots of screens. The guy knew what he was doing." Richard Young was less impressed though: "I've been in studios all my life," he says. "That was just another session. Nothing about it stood out."

The "guy" Dave remembered was engineer Derek Tomkins, who informed the group that they could record three tracks in the time allotted. "We'd only gone in there with two, 'Sunny' and 'Vehicle'," says Nigel, "and we didn't want to waste the opportunity, so Richard knocked up a little instrumental called 'Transit 3' - named after our new van, the third one - right there in the studio. Although we were purely a covers band, everybody had a bash at writing, but we never did anything of our own on stage. The exception was the 'Transit 3', which was incorporated into the set after this session."

"'Transit 3' was about the only track we ever wrote," reckons Richard Young ("Heart Full Of Soul", as reported in 'As It Began', is in fact a Graham Gouldman number), "I initially had the idea, but I can't really remember anything about it. It's very basic. It wouldn't take a great deal of effort to write something like that." To the objective observer "Transit 3", taped in mono but well recorded, is a fairly uncomplicated, organ-led scale hopper, reminiscent of Booker T & the MGs. "Everybody was listening to 'Green Onions'," confirms Nigel, "so Booker T would have been an influence there." But for all that, it's well played, with memorable lead and twangy, wah-wah guitar passages courtesy of Dave Williams. And, crucially, John Deacon's thumping bass is plainly audible throughout. On this evidence, the Opposition were clearly a tight, confident outfit. "Tansit 3" could have been incorporated into any swinging 60s soundtrack, and no one would have jumped up shouting, "Amateurs"!

UNFAMILIAR

The other two tracks, covers of Buddy Hebb's 'Sunny' and the more obscure, soul-tinged 'Vehicle' (later a hit for the Ides of March), featured a vocalist, but an unfamiliar one: another of the Opposition's fleeting frontmen. "We had a singer for a while called Alan Brown," recalls Nigel. "He came and went fairly quickly. He was good, really good. Too good for us, I think. That wasn't him saying that. We just knew it."

On both songs, Brown is in deep, soulful voice, sounding not unlike a cross between Tom Jones and the early Van Morrison - if such an amalgam can be imagined. The Art's reading of "Vehicle" is edgy and robust, dominated by Richard Young's distinctive keyboards with Nigel Bullen's bustling drum work. Dave Williams is again in fine form, delivering more sparkling wah-wah guitar, while on the cassette copy taped from Nigel Bullen's acetate, at least, John's bass is very prominent, over-recorded in fact, booming in the mix.

"Sunny" goes one better, breaking into jazzy 3/4 time half-way through, before slotting back into the more traditional 4/4. It's an imaginative arrangement, with alternate soloing from both Dave and Richard, while the whole track is underpinned by swirls of Hammond organ and John Deacon's pounding bass.

"We did 'Sunny' as part of our stage set," says Nigel, "but I don't recall us ever going into the jazzy bit. That's quite interesting. We might have talked about that before we went into the studio, but I think it was just for this session. Dave had two guitars, a six-string and a twelve-string, or it could even have been twin-necked. I still quite like the wah-way he played on that track. By this time Richard would have been onto his second or third organ - he was heavily intp Hammonds and Leslies."

Operating as they did in a fairly ambition-free zone, and having prepared the listener for a mundane set of recordings with their trademark laid-back approach, Art's acetate comes as something of a revelation. Let any bunch of today's schoolboys loose in a studio for an afternoon and defy them to come up with something half as good!

Just two copies of the Art disc are known to have survived. John Deacon's mother is believed to own one and Nigel Bullen has the other. "I'd forgotten all about this record," admits Nigel. "We know that one copy was converted to an ashtray! We stubbed out cigarettes on Richard's at rehearsal one night." Although treated with anything but respect at the time, the importance of the disc is now apparent to Nigel Bullen: "This is probably John Deacon's first recording, apart from tracks he did in his bedroom on his reel-to-reel, which are probably long gone. Although, knowing John, they're probably not!"

The beginning of the end for Art came in June 1969, when John Deacon left Beauchamp. With a college course lined up in London, his days with the band were obviously numbered. He played his final gig with the group on 29th August at a familiar venue, Great Glen Youth Club. By October, he'd moved to London to study electronics at Chelsea College of Technology, part of the University of London.

Another blow was dealt in November, when the band's lynchpin, Richard Young, left to join popular loacl musician Steve Fearn in Fearn's Brass Foundry. "They were a Blood, Sweat and Tears-type of group," recalls Richard, "and paid better money than I'd been used to. I was out five nights a week on about 3 per night, against an average of about 10 between us." The previous year, Richard had played session keyboards on the Foundry's two Decca singles: "Don't Change It" (F 12721, January 1968, 10) and "Now I Taste The Tears" (F 12835, September 1968, 8.)

SAVAGE

Ron Chester departed shortly afterwards and gave up music: "I left in the early 70s, after John Deacon moved to London. John was replaced by a bass player who was called John Savage, who unsettled me. He had different tastes and drove us a bit hard. His approach was totally different to Deaks's, and he was much more interested in the financial side of things. We'd all been mates before, we didn't just knock about for the band. It just wasn't the same."

Nigel, Richard and Dave pushed on into 1970 with the new bassist, changing the band's name again, this time to Silky Way. They returned to Beck's studio to record a cover of Free's "Loosen Up" with anohter vocalist, Bill Gardener, but that was the band's last effort. Dave left after falling into Nigel's drumkit, drunk on stage at a private party one Christmas. "I waited for them to pick me up the next day," he recalls sheepishly, "but they never came."

Richard and Nigel moved into a dinner-dance type outfit called the Lady Jane Trio - "Corny, or what!", laughs Bullen - but Nigel left music altogether soon afterwards to concentrate on his college work. Richard turned professional, moving into cabaret with the Steve Frearn-less Brass Foundry, before forming a trio called Rio, finding regular work on the holiday camp and overseas cruise circuit. In the late 70s, he joined a touring version of the Love Affair.

Down in London, John Deacon caught a glimpse of his future world-beating musical partners as early as October 1970, when he saw the newly-formed Queen perform the College of Estate Management in Kensington. "They were all dressed in black, and the lights were very dim to," he told Jim Jenkins and Jacky Gunn in 'As It Began'. "All I could really see were four shadowy figues. They didn't make a lasting impression on me at the time."

While renting rooms in Queensgate, John formed a loose R&B quartet with a flatmate, guitarist Peter Stoddart, one Don Carter on drums and another guitarist remembered only as Albert. The new band was hardly a great leap forward from Art: they wrote no originals, and when asked to perform their only gig at Chelsea College on 21st November 1970, they hastily billed themselves - in a rare fit of self-publicity for the quiet Oadby boy - as Deacon.

A few months later in early 1971, John was introduced to Brian May and Roger Taylor by a mutual friend, Christine Farnell, at a disco at Maria Assumpta Teacher Training College. They were looking for a bassist, John auditioned at Imperial College shortly afterwards. Roger Taylor recalled Queen's initial reaction to Deacon in 'As It Began': "We thought he was great. We were so used to each other, and so over the top we thought that because he was quiet he would fit in with us without too much upheaval. He was a great bass player, too - and the fact that he was a wizard with electronics was definitely a deciding factor!"

How did the members of the Art/Opposition back in Leicester, view John's success with Queen? "It wasn't sudden," says Ron Chester. "First we heard he'd got into another group. We couldn't believe that - were they deaf? There were all these sort of jokes going along. Then we heard he'd got a recording contract and the next thing he had a record out. It was a gradual progression. No one dreamed he would end up the way he did."

"I don't think we expected success for any of us", admits Nigel Bullen. "Richard maybe. He was the first one to go professional. But when John left for London to go to college, he left all his kit here. I thought that was the end of it for him. He had absolutely no intention of continuing. His college course was No 1. It was only after he kept seeing adverts for bass players in the 'Melody Maker' that he became interested again."

He also seemed to lose some of that 'Easy Deacon' touch which so impressed Dave Williams in the 60s. "He'd ring up these bands," continues Nigel, "but when he found out they were a name act, he'd bottle out. When he went to auditions for anonymous bands, where he would queue up with about thirty other bass players, he had a bit of confidence. He just wanted to play in a decent band. Once I heard what Queen had recorded at De Lane Lea, and John played me the demo of their first album, I thought they were well set."

CABARET

By early 1973, Dave Williams had forsaken a career in animation to join Highly Likely, a cabaret outfit put together by Mike Hugg and producer Dave Hadfield on the back of their minor hit, "Whatever Happened To You (the Likely Lads theme)". While Dave was in the band, they recorded a follow-up single which wasn't realsed, before evolving into a glam rock outfit, Razzle, which later became the Ritz, who issued a few singles. "During Queen's early days, before they'd had any real success, John came to see us once," recalls Dave, "and said, 'I wish I was in a band like this which would actually play some gigs'."

Dave concludes: "I remember John coming round once around that time, saying 'I've got a demo'. 'So have I!', I said. So we put his on first, and the first track was 'Keep Yourself Alive'. My mouth dropped wide open and I thought, 'Bloody hell! What a great track'. I remember saying that the guitarist was as good as Ritchie Blackmore - who was still our hero then - and thinking 'they're serious about this. This is the real thing'."


Thanks to Nigel Bullen, Richard Young, Ron Chester and Dave Williams for their time and illustrations. Thanks also to Mark Hodkinson.

PICTURES TO COME SHORTLY
AND WRECKAGE, IBEX, SOUR MILK SEA ARTICLE

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