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The Day Queen Played Their First Show

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In a few short years, they’d be putting out hit records and playing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but on June 27, 1970, the guys in Queen were just another struggling rock band showing up for a gig booked by the drummer’s mother.

As noted on guitarist Brian May‘s website, Queen were still going by their original name, Smile, when they were hired to perform at the show, which was held at the City Hall in the Cornwall parish of Truro and put together as a charity event for the Red Cross. Drummer Roger Taylor‘s mother was involved with the organization and booked the group well in advance — far enough ahead of time that when they finally took the stage, they’d moved on to a new band name.

Although the June 27 show ended up serving as an important milestone, marking the first time May and Taylor publicly performed with singer Freddie Mercury as Queen, the band members later remembered it as a less than auspicious gig in musical terms. The Queen Live website quotes the group’s bassist at the time, Mike Grose, as saying, “We tried to hide the gaffes, but to be brutally frank, we were rough.”

Many of the details of the set have been lost to time — “Stone Cold Crazy” and “Son and Daughter” appear to be the only songs confirmed to have been performed, although it’s considered likely that they also worked in leftovers from the Smile repertoire as well as some covers. According to the Queen Live site, Taylor also remembers the group as a work in progress — including its dynamic frontman. Saying Mercury “didn’t have the technique he developed later on” and “sounded a little bit like a very powerful sheep,” Taylor’s quoted as recalling, “Freddie had a natural musicality. It was a real gift, but he had a very strange vibrato when we first met, which some people found rather distressing. But he applied himself and forged his own persona. He invented himself.”

Queen would remain in flux throughout the rest of the year, gigging semi-regularly with new bassist Barry Mitchell taking over in August, and finally coalescing into its most successful lineup with the arrival of John Deacon in March of 1971. A little over two years later, they released their debut LP — and rock ‘n’ roll has never been quite the same since.

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