Freddie knew he wanted to be a singer in a band, he just needed to find a band to accept him. In reality, he was already a huge fan of Brian May and Roger Taylor’s band, Smile and used to follow their gigs and sing along. When the idea of Freddie joining was suggested, Brian immediately shot it down. Was Freddie too outrageous, too difficult, not talented enough?
The answer lies back in their earliest days. In the late 1960’s they were all students but hooked into a vibrant emerging music scene in West London.
Freddie had toyed with starting a band at Ealing Art college but nothing came of it. He was scribbling song ideas and melodies on scraps of paper and hanging around The Kensington Tavern on Elsham Road, where Smile used to play.
Tim Staffell and Brian May started the band and recruited Roger Taylor and then keyboard player Chris Smith.
Smith remembers how clearly Freddie wanted to be part of it all.
He said: “Freddie was there in the wings when we first played.
“After all the gigs, he’d be like, ‘You know that bit where the drums come in? Well, why don’t we do this instead?’ He was always full of suggestions.”
Another contemporary describes going to a party at a flat where Smile started playing and Freddie harmonised with them.
So, why wouldn’t May let him join?
May and Staffell had started writing songs, which impressed Freddie but also made him doubt his own abilities.
Smith said: “Freddie was most impressed by that. I had the keys to the college music room, and Freddie would turn up with scraps of songs that he’d written and play them on the piano.
“Freddie would get annoyed with himself. Some days he’d have his head in his hands, despairing, ‘Why can Tim and Brian do this, and we can’t? Why am I so crap?'”
They were all contemporaries and would hang out in the area together.
Smith said one particular day gave him a vision of what was to come: “I can remember walking down Ealing Broadway with those three [Brian, Roger and Freddie] and thinking, That’s it, the band.’
“I said to Brian, ‘Fred is desperate to be in Smile, but Brian was like, ‘No, no, no. Tim is the lead singer. He’d never wear it.'”
Instead, Freddie would work on his singing, practising harmonies with Smith and Staffell, who little knew at the time Freddie would one day replace him in such spectacular fashion.
Freddie’s dreams were growing.
A fellow student, Aubrey Malden, saw he’d written ‘musician’ as his occupation in his passport. Freddie simply shrugged and told him: “because that’s what I’m going to be”.
Malden said: “He started telling everyone, ‘I’m gonna be a pop star’,”
On another day, Chris Smith walked in to find Freddie sat at his desk staring into space: “He just looked up and said, ‘I am going to be mega! You have no idea how mega I am going to be!’
“I said, ‘As mega as Hendrix?’”
Freddie’s reply? “Oh yes!”