From the archives, our cover feature from Uncut’s March 2005 issue (Take 94). Brian May and others talk us through Queen’s incredible story, right up to their controversial team-up with Paul Rodgers. Words: Jon Wilde / Additional reporting: Nigel Williamson
Halloween, 1978. Queen are preparing to party on a scale far beyond what might be considered practical, plausible or remotely possible. “Excess all areas” is their credo. Indeed, singer Freddie Mercury lays fair claim to coining the phrase.
On the back of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and subsequent albums (A Night At The Opera, A Day At The Races, News Of The World), Queen have become just about the biggest band on the planet. Not only are they insanely popular, but they’re absurdly wealthy and immoderate: “The Cecil B DeMille of rock,” as Mercury proclaimed.
Mercury has established himself as the ringmaster of Queen’s famed social gatherings. Every one of these is a no-expense-spared Freddie Mercury Production. And, he decides, the launch party for new album Jazz will be the most outrageous in history.
A budget of £200,000 has been decided upon, then conveniently forgotten after Mercury declares: “Fuck the cost, darlings, let us live a little.” A venue has been chosen – The Fairmont, an elegant hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A guest list of 500 has been drawn up, including rock and movie stars, friends and loyal journalists. The food and drink is ordered – oysters, lobsters, the world’s finest caviar, vats of Cristal. All that’s left to organise is the entertainment.
According to Bob Gibson, the LA-based publicist in charge of the evening’s festivities: “Freddie decided that he wanted to bring in a lot of street people to liven things up. I was instructed to find anyone vaguely offbeat who might bring a little, ahem, colour to proceedings.”
These include a man who specialises in biting the heads off live chickens and a woman who, for a price somewhere within knocking distance of $100,000, offers to decapitate herself with a chainsaw.
Not for nothing does the party become known as Saturday Night In Sodom. As they enter the hotel, guests are greeted by a troupe of hermaphrodite dwarves serving cocaine from trays strapped to their heads; the coke has been specially imported from Bolivia and quality-checked by Mercury.
Fortified by “lines of marching powder as long and as thick as your grandmother’s arm”, the guests are free to choose from a menu of exotic diversions. The hotel ballrooms, made up to resemble labyrinthine jungle swamps, are swarming with magicians, Zulu tribesmen, contortionists, fire-eaters, drag queens and transsexual strippers. Drinks are served by naked waiters and waitresses who politely request that any tips are placed not on trays but in bodily crevices. Naked dancers cavort in bamboo cages suspended from ballroom ceilings. Nude models of both sexes wrestle in huge baths of shimmering, uncooked liver, while 300lb Samoan women lounge on banquet tables, smoking cigarettes from various orifices. As a bonus, visitors to the hotel’s grand marble bathrooms are orally serviced by prostitutes of both sexes.
“Most hotels offer their guests room service,” quips a passing Mercury. “This one offers them lip service.”