David Bowie, Annie Lennox and Queen perform Under Pressure
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Freddie would probably have a good chuckle that he might still remembered as being a bit of a diva – along with being one of this country’s greatest and most enduring icons, of course. The Queen frontman revelled in a little bit of drama, darlings, and certainly wasn’t going to let anyone upstage him – no matter how big a star. May fondly remembered one particular battle, although he admitted it was rather less fun to be part of at the time. On the 40th anniversary of Under Pressure, we look back at one of Freddie’s classic moments.
The classic song was released forty years ago this week and went on to become Queen’s second number one single after Bohemian Rhapsody.
It was a remarkable collaboration between the band and a fellow rock and pop icon, David Bowie.
Written primarily by Freddie, with John Deacon contributing the iconic guitar riff, the track had been recorded at Queen’s own studio in Lausanne, Switzerland, and May has spoken hilariously of all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes.
Both Queen and Bowie had homes and studios near Lake Geneva and the iconic recording of Under Pressure came about as the result of some chaotic jamming and recording sessions with rather a lot of drinking and carousing in between.
Freddie’s long-term PA Peter Freestone told Express Online Freddie actually used to pick fights with people on purpose when there was music to be made: “Freddie would provoke fights because that gave him the impetus to work, it got his juices flowing.”
May said: “It wasn’t easy because we were all precocious boys and David was very… forceful, yes. Freddie and David locked horns, without a doubt.”
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May added: “(They battled) in subtle ways, like who would arrive last at the studio. So it was sort of wonderful and terrible…
“But in my mind, I remember the wonderful now, more than the terrible.
“Those are the things that happen in a studio, that’s when the sparks fly and that’s why it turned out so great.”
More than one track was recorded during an all day and night session, but Bowie was reportedly unhappy with the results and would not agree to release them.
However, there were never any hard feelings and Bowie himself took to the stage at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert to perform the song, along with Queen and Annie Lennox.
Freddie and Bowie actually first encountered each other long before they were famous on two extraordinary occasions.
While studying fashion at Ealing Art College, Freddie would play the piano in the main hall and travel to pubs and venues where up and coming bands were performing.
One day in Spring 1969, the as-yet-unknown David Bowie swaggered in and Freddie rushed to make himself useful.
Bowie was booked to play a small lunch-time gig and a put a fascinated Freddie to work. Apparently, a little star-struck, he offered to carry the musician’s gear and equipment.
He was also put to use, pushing tables together to make a makeshift stage for hsi fellow budding star to perform on.
Meanwhile Freddie and Queen’s Roger Taylor dabbled with selling second-hand clothes at markets and were taken on by well-known Kensington Market trader Alan Mair, to help with his much more popular stall. Mair knew David Bowie’s early manager at the time and this lead to the budding star popping by one day.
Mair told the story in Is This The Real Life. “Space Oddity had been a hit, but he (Bowie) said he had no money. Typical music biz! I said, ‘Look, have them for free.’ Freddie fitted Bowie for the pair of boots.
“So there was Freddie Mercury, a shop assistant, giving pop star David Bowie a pair of boots he couldn’t afford to buy.”
All of that, of course, would change for both of them before long, and then 12 years later they would top the charts together.
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