By Amit Roy
ROYAL MAIL has issued a new set of 13 stamps to honour Freddie Mercury and his rock band Queen, but it is worth recalling a little bit of history.
English Heritage put up a blue plaque at 22 Gladstone Avenue, Feltham, west London, on September 1, 2016, to remember one of the most flamboyant and greatest lead singers in the history of rock music.
It says: “Freddie Mercury (Fred Bulsara) 1946-1991 Singer and Songwriter lived here.”
Actually, Mercury’s real name was not “Fred” Bulsara but Farrokh Bulsara, for he was born into an Indian Parsi family in Zanzibar on September 5, 1946. He spent most of his childhood attending schools in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Feltham was where his parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, settled with their son and daughter, Farrokh and Kashmira, when they first arrived in London in 1964.
Mercury changed his name to “Freddie Mercury”, formed the Queen in 1970 with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, and gained global fame as the band’s lead singer.
He wrote numerous hits, including Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions, Don’t Stop Me Now, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
In the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, there is a scene in which a family member scolds Mercury.
“So now the family name is not good enough for you?”
“I changed it legally,” Mercury responds. “No looking back.”
However, his sister Kashmira explained in 2014: “I think what his Zoroastrian faith gave him was to work hard, to persevere, and to follow your dreams.”
And now Royal Mail has brought out the stamps to honour Queen, whose success would not have been possible without the genius of Mercury. Indeed, one of the stamps shows Mercury live in concert in 1986.
“Celebrating their 50th anniversary, Queen becomes only the third music group to have a dedicated stamp issue – following on from the Beatles in 2007 and Pink Floyd in 2016,” Royal Mail has pointed out.
It said: “Few bands can match the breadth of creativity on display in Queen’s discography. Dominating over four decades with their cutting-edge music, the band’s legacy continues to inspire.”
Rusi K Dalal, trustee of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds Europe, has written to members of his faith, to draw attention to the stamps which will become available on Thursday (9), and which “celebrate the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the legendary band Queen and their masterful leader Freddie Mercury”.
He added: “I am also pleased to let you know that a museum has now opened in Zanzibar in the very house that Freddie (Farrokh) lived with his parents Jer and Bomi Bulsara and sister Kashmira.”
Philip Parker, of Royal Mail, said: “With their truly original, theatrical sound and effortless ability to mix musical styles, Queen are rock royalty. We pay tribute to one of the most loved bands of all time with these stunning stamps.”
Mercury’s former bandmate, Taylor, 70, said: “Wow… stamps featuring our albums! What an honour. We must be really part of the furniture now!”
And May, 72, added: “Since we precocious boys started out on our quest 50 years ago, our lives have been devoted to making our impossible dream come true. Sometimes it’s strange to wake up and realise the position in which we are now held – we have become a national institution!
“It’s particularly poignant to look at this collection of images – now that we are all in a world dominated by a coronavirus, in which none of this could have happened. Somehow it will be a way of persuading myself that it really did all happen!”
Eight stamps feature images of some of the band’s most popular and iconic album covers – Queen II, 1974; Sheer Heart Attack, 1974; A Night at the Opera, 1975; News of the World, 1977; The Game, 1980; Greatest Hits, 1981; The Works, 1984; and Innuendo, 1991.
Renowned for the extravagance of their stage shows, Queen’s live performances are celebrated in a miniature sheet of additional stamps, with images from: Wembley Stadium, 1986; Hyde Park, 1976; Hammersmith Odeon, 1975; and Budapest, 1986.
Royal Mail has provided a history of the band.
“Queen were in their formative stages when they were hired to play their first gig: a charity event at Truro City Hall, in June 1970, while still performing under the name Smile. By the time John Deacon joined the following year, the group had changed their name; the four-piece line-up that would remain together for the next two decades made their first live appearance at Surrey College on July 2, 1971.
“From the outset, the theatricality of Queen’s music found a natural outlet in their stage shows. As glam rock flowered alongside Queen’s rise to fame, the group would tap into the extravagance of the era – and then very quickly outstrip it.
“The band’s list of musical achievements is rivalled by few – countless platinum, multi-platinum and gold albums; numerous Ivor Novello and BRIT awards; induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Queen also hold the record for the biggest selling album of all time on the official UK charts with sales of over six million copies of their Greatest Hits album. With their 2018 feature film, Bohemian Rhapsody, they reinvigorated their core fan base and generated a whole new audience the world over. The film became the biggest music biopic in history and swept the Golden Globes and Oscars, with the soundtrack topping the charts the world over.”
Mercury’s interest in music goes back to his days in Bombay where he attended two schools – St Peter’s School, a British-style boarding school for boys, in Panchgani, and St Mary’s School. He showed an early passion for western pop music and also started calling himself “Freddie”.
After arriving in England, 17-year-old Farrokh took an A-level in art at Isleworth Polytechnic followed by a diploma in graphic art and design at Ealing College of Art, supporting himself with a variety of jobs, including washing dishes in the kitchens at nearby Heathrow Airport.
Gladstone Avenue was where Farrokh really began to explore his musical talent, listening to the likes of Cream and his hero, Jimi Hendrix in his bedroom at the back of the house. It was while studying at Ealing that Freddie met May and Taylor, and the rest is musical history.