The others had already begun without me, so it started off in a fairly stressful way, anyway. Basically, I spent the next two years of my life either sitting in front of a computer trying to make the most of the scraps that we had of Freddie's vocal, or arranging and producing and performing to fill in all the gaps. It was an enormous project and it's so much easier if you've got all the guys in the band around you. We didn't have that situation, but the aim was to make an album that sounded like we did.
In fact, when I went on the "Back To The Light" tour, I heard that the other members of Queen had already taken the decision to go ahead with this last album, without even asking my opinion. I was even more furious than before; I was not convinced that releasing this album was a good idea. As soon as I heard the news, I contacted Roger and John to make my disapproval known to them. To that they answered, that if it didn't suit me, they would go ahead without me! I was already fuming to have been treated that way, but even that was nothing compared to the anger I had after having listened to what they had put down on tape during my absence: it was truly catastrophic! It is because of that that I found myself in the studio again, with all tapes I had, of scraps and pieces that we had not had the time to finish with Freddie. I began to work on the scarce vocal fragments existing on tape, with the program Pro-Tools, and tried to reconstitute what could have been the final version if we had continued to record "normally". After several weeks, I reconciled myself with the other members of the group, and we got back to working together to finish the project. In total, we needed eighteen months in the studio and ferocious work on computers to achieve our aim. That year and a half of diving straight in to Queen, with all that it implies, like the emotions, and to spend thousand of hours in front of a computer screen literally exhausted me. After that I need to break off for some time again before I looked again at my second album. I would not have been able to link the two projects one after the other.
Doing the Made In Heaven album when Freddie was not around and hearing his voice every day. It was kind of torture some of the time. You would get through it after a while, but then it would come back. You'd hear him laughing on a little out-take or something and you'd think "Ah, shit, why isn't he here." It was very tough. Very sad. Um - but the album has his presence all through it. We worked very hard to achieve that and I think we managed to achieve a group album, even though he wasn't there. I would never do it again. It took (sigh) probably two and a half years of my life to - er - assemble some of that stuff. It wasn't easy.
As far as I can remember, Brian came to the studios one day, wrote down some chords and Freddie started to sing the song. Brian handed Freddie a little piece of paper with some lines on it, where the idea or inspiration came from, I can't tell.
We fulfilled Freddie's last wish. He wanted to make music till the last second, he wanted to sing. It was a difficult situation for all of us, but especially for Freddie, but he really wanted this project to be finished, even though he knew that the album would be released after his death.
We spent more time on the singing parts, cause Freddie needed a lot of rest during the recording. on the other side, Freddie wanted to be as precise as possible, because he knew there won't be anymore live tours for him, he wanted it to be perfect.
Let's say it took us about 4 weeks for recording, in this period the songs were written and recorded. After Freddie's death no one wanted to continue on MIH, they needed some time for themselves. In the years after Freddie's death they came together again and said: "Let's do some work, Freddie wanted that we add the missing parts to the puzzle". I think this work took them again 3 or 4 months. Some songs remained in the original way, others, like the 2 songs from Freddie's solo work, received a queen-arrangement which transformed them from a solo product into a queen product. This kind of work takes a lot of time. But as I said, the other 4 or 5 songs that were recorded in 1991 in Montreux remained like they were recorded, there were some additional guitars, but that would have been done anyway.
For two years we didn't want to face up to the question whether we were able to take it on. It was something too emotional for us... for two years we ran away from the project, until we finally decided to do it in 1993. We had to take a complete and total break to get ready for the work. Still now it is a delicate project.
[personal thoughts of the finished product] Very happy and proud, because we have done an excellent job on the different pieces which were at different stages of completion. Some were simply good, and others were fabulous. I only hope that the public will like it. I know that many people wished we'd hit the rocks, but that's not the case in my opinion. It is only human to wish that, but therein, there are some really good pieces.
A Winters Tale was the last song he [Freddie] wrote.
Towards the end, Freddie had already kind of moved on. Freddie was writing stuff which you will hear, which is very peaceful and already removed, and I think it was left to us to write the things which we felt about him and we felt about the way he was feeling. I think it would've been too painful for Freddie to get into that, but he was happy to sing the way we felt. That's kind of complicated - we were very much directed towards him and he knew it, but he would sing it with our words.
I love the last song he wrote, A Winter's Tale. It doesn't philosophise, it's just about how beautiful life is. He wrote it one morning, beside the lake and looking at the mountains.
John actually used [his amp] himself, multi-tracked, on his song Misfire on Sheer Heart Attack, and it features heavily in much of the more intricate arrangements I did for the Queen albums. Let's see... The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke was all triple-tracked and gated by hand using the old push-push buttons in the now defunct Wessex studios [sic]; God Save the Queen, Dreamers Ball, all those trumpet, trombone and clarinet sounds from Good Company... the solo on A Winter's Tale; I love these sounds - no electronic box can make this noise!
One of the last things I did under the name of the old Queen, if you like, was a track off the Made in Heaven album called A Winter's Tale. I had plenty of time to think about it because we had lost Freddie when we were making that album and we wondered what we would do with the tracks. So I worked very hard with the old Deacy amplifier and some other effects as well. I wanted the guitar to sound like it was in heaven. I'm pleased with how that turned out.
There was huge songwriting competition in Queen, no doubt about it. It was a major factor in pushing us onwards. We were very conscious that we had to reach inside ourselves to keep up. Occasionally Freddie would write fast, but a lot of the time he'd go home and scheme and scheme, and come back with stuff written all over a pad of his dad's notepaper. He'd spend time developing ideas. But there are exceptions, where he'd get the song in one bite. And often they're the ones that connect. Freddie mainly used the piano for songwriting, but there were times when he'd get inspiration when he wasn't around his instrument. It could be any experience; a skate on the pond. One of the last songs he wrote, A Winter's Tale, was written purely sat looking out on the mountains from the other side of Lake Geneva. He could obviously hear it all in his head, although he didn't have any musical instruments with him. I remember him coming into the studio and saying: “I've got this idea… just give me a few minutes.” Then he brought it to life. That's a beautiful track, actually.
Working with Queen was always a great experience because they were just so talented, all four of them were talented, so whenever they came into the studio, not always together, but there would be someone working here on a new song, writing songs, and then when they were all together, then they would play in the big hall as a band and that was fantastic, you know. Hearing the band was like your own private concert. Amazing. The most obvious memory for me is the day I spent with Freddie by myself, well, just himself and me in here, when it wasn't the last vocal that he recorded - that was Mother Love - it was A Winter's Tale, which is the one before, only a few days before in April or May, I think it was, 1991. Everybody was away and Dave Richards, the engineer, was ill, so Freddie said, “Well, you'll have to record me!” So it was just him standing there, singing in the control room, and me recording him, and that was a very special day because it was one of the last vocals he ever recorded. Freddie and I knew each other from years before because he'd been here many times from, well, in the late 80's, so at least three or four years him coming here, so it was fine. He knew me, I knew him, so it was very easy communication, and he was always very nice to me. He sang amazingly even though he was struggling physically. He'd be conserving his energy to try and get the most power out of his voice, which is there on the records. You can hear it on Winter's Tale and Mother Love. But it wasn't a sad time - people think it may have been sad, but I mean although we knew he was ill, everybody in the Queen organisation, the band and everyone else around and mostly Freddie, just said, “Look, forget all that. I'm just going to focus on the music and do everything I can.” And everyone else was supporting the man and doing the same. Just forgetting about the bad stuff and focusing on the good stuff. He'd been ill for some years, so we'd had sessions from ‘88, ‘89, where he was coming in, the whole band was coming in every few months to record, so there's a kind of continuation. We never, we didn't know, exactly when it would happen, or when it would stop or the last recording would be.
Between 1984 until 1991 I had probably spent more time in this room than anywhere else but, when I sat down here in June 2013 to test the speaker system and demonstrate this mixing concept for Queen: The Studio Experience, I didn't anticipate feeling quite so moved. That music… in this room… after all this time - Mother Love, Freddie's final vocal recording. I was working on that session in May 1991 as assistant engineer, and Dave was at the helm with Brian, Roger and John here too. There was one particular day however, not long before we'd started work on Mother Love, that was more significant for me personally. The other band members were not around and Freddie had been in Montreux for a few days preparing to record his vocal on A Winter's Tale. This song had been started that January but the key had been changed, the lyrics since finished, and Freddie was ready to sing. When the day came, Dave was suddenly taken ill, and, when I told Freddie, he just said “you'll have to do it then darling!” He was in the habit of recording vocals in the control room with minimal monitoring and no headphones - it was quite intimate - just Freddie and me - and everyone else banished for the afternoon. He sang three or four takes all the way through, then went back and focused on various parts he felt needed attention - so we had up to five versions of the most “tricky” bits ready to compile. In addition to his lead vocal, Freddie also sang some multi-track harmonies near the end of the song. I noticed he had a remarkably clear mental image of exactly what performance of each lyric was on each track. So, for example, he might ask to drop-in one line on a particular track to replace what he knew was his least favourite without checking it first - he just knew. And all the time, even when struggling to stand with his walking-stick and finding it difficult to reach notes he thought he should have made easily… he was still incredibly funny and upbeat. That is how I came to spend a day alone in the studio with Freddie recording one of his last vocals. Jim told me afterwards Freddie was very pleased with how the session had gone, so naturally I was too.
Winter's Tale was Freddie's last piece of songwriting. He knew he didn't have long and was singing about the beauty of the world. It's not maudlin at all. After he died, I decided nobody else could touch it until Roger and I decided to bring it to a natural conclusion.
I wrote the song for Joan Armatrading, actually, who's a friend of mine and she didn't think it suited her – stupid bitch. Freddie was in the studio and loved the song immediately, so I asked him if he wanted to try singing it. I think he did an absolutely brilliant job of it – damn sight better than I did. It really does suit his voice. It's my song and I'll do what I like with it. I happen to know Freddie sang it better than I did, and the only thing that counts in the end is the end result.
I was making a solo album, I think it was actually an album with my band The Cross, and Freddie came down to visit in the studio and he loved the song and he said, “oh God, you've got to let me sing that.” So he sang it and we got through a bottle of vodka, I think. And then eventually I think we, Brian and I, we replaced a lot of it and we re-recorded it so it had rather a long birth – a long and difficult birth. Freddie does an amazing job on the vocal, I think. Originally, I had sung this and when you then get Freddie Mercury to sing something you've sung you just realise your limits and how much further he could take something vocally.
Heaven for Everyone had some good stuff about love and dignity, the usual anti-war thing.
It was a long journey, and it was a much bigger job than anyone realised; we didn't talk much about it. We were able to work with Freddie on it, but hardly at all, and the object was to make an album that sounded like four guys in a studio. We knew that if we achieved that, then no one would ask any questions. And that's almost what happened. We started off with just scraps of tape. It was a huge job, two years of my life finding a way of developing the songs, but at the same time using the limited input we had from Freddie. Sometimes there was a complete first take vocal, while other times there were no more than three or four lines. It was a labour of love for me, working through the night perhaps on just one line. But if you can listen to, for example, I Was Born to Love You and say that it was a good performance, I'm glad it sounds so, but obviously it couldn't have been.
We had a jam session with Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck, and Freddie was about four times louder. He has marvellous projection.
This track started as rather a rudimentary scrap which was hanging around in the vaults, with very little in the way of Freddie vocals. (Big Secret - there IS a tape of us knocking the idea around with Mr. Rod Stewart and pals, dating from the Middle Ages!).
Made In Heaven is one of the best things he's ever done. I wish we had it on our album.
I LOVE the title track, MADE IN HEAVEN, which I think is possibly the best sounding Queen track ever.
The last thing I ever did together with him was that track, Mother Love, which is on Made In Heaven. It was never finished. He never came back to do the final verse, but to the end, even when he couldn't even stand, without propping himself up, he was just giving it his all. You can hear the, the incredible strength of his voice in that track, and the passion that's he putting into it. And we're making it up as we go along. You know, I'm scribbling words on pieces of paper and he's grabbing them and saying, "Roll the tape. I'll do this one." It's just, he knew that it might be the last time he was ever able to sing and, er, in that case it was.
The most significant collaboration I ever had with Freddie ..... alongside the one afternon I spent with him on an embryonic verse of "The Show Must Go On".
Mother Love is the last utterances of Freddie in the studio. It's hard to describe what happened during those final days. All Fred's troubles were left outside the studio. We became an incredibly close-knit family.
Technology offers us the possibility to arrange songs new, but in this case we didn't arrange the songs new, so the recordings could have been done just as well ten years back with an analog recording machine. In fact "Too Much Love" was recorded on an analog recording machine. Brian wrote the song at a time when we were still using those machines, Freddie recorded it, cause he liked the song very much, but the track was never used, so " Too Much Love.." ended up on Brian's solo album. It's interesting to compare that one analog song to all the other digital MIH songs. The clearness in the analog recording is remarkable. It always takes us some time till we see where new technology takes us. We follow every technological revolution without knowing where it's heading.
This is a song which I wrote, quite a few years ago with some friends, but it's never seen the light of day yet.
Eventually you will hear a Queen version of this song, actually, which is hidden away in the archives somewhere, because we did it – Freddie sang it, and it's great, it's wonderful, it's very, very different from [my solo version], and I think both versions will see the light of day eventually and people can make their own judgement. We did [the Queen version] very much on the lines of the way Queen are able to do things - it had all the breadth and the dynamics and a lot of power at the end, as you would kind of imagine the song would benefit from.
Too Much Love Will Kill You [with Freddie's vocals] is indeed the original finished mix which was originally going to be on The Miracle album, and was in fact sent out to some DJ's as a promo copy in America. But subsequently taken off the album due to contractual difficulties. It could have been taped off the radio, or from one of the existing DJ copies, which as far as I know are very rare. It's a bit of a shame that this is out there at the moment, since we are putting a version of it on the new album.
If there was ever a song for which I would have wanted to win a prize for, this would have been the one. Perhaps there are two kinds of song. Some songs happen, simply because somebody sits down and decides to write a song. But there is another kind, like this one, which has to be written, because the writer has no choice. This happened at a time when I was going through a very difficult period; it was written as a kind of therapy. In this case I was very much the patient and Frank was very much the therapist who helped me through it. The song was an important part of my life, and really still is, so this award means a lot to me.
We began using synthesisers and there were many excursions from us all into keyboard territory. My main contributions on principal parts were (in no particular order) in: Scandal, Was It All Worth It, Hang On In There, Too Much Love Will Kill You (which was done with Frank Musker up in his house in the Canyon in L.A. when we first sketched the song), No-one But You (again done on my own, originally for use on my solo album), One Vision (my first ramblings on a Kurzweil gave rise to the opening section), I Can't Live With You, The Show Must Go On (that sequence just got thrust into my head playing around with Roger - I will never know where it came from, but it completely took me over for a long time while the song was in development), and of course, Who Wants to Live Forever.
You Don't Fool Me, um, turned out quite well. That really was sort of um, put together after - it, was quite a skeleton that we had on that one and, er, that was really sort of made 'after the fact', if you know what I mean. Actually it became incredibly successful in um, or popular, in, over Europe I think, more so than this country. It's actually, I, I quite enjoyed that one.
As I remember, the bare bones of this song (and they were VERY bare!) were put down in the last sessions we did with Freddie in Montreux. When it came to piecing together "Made in Heaven", the album, David Richards was keen to make the fragments into a finished song. I wasn't sure there was enough to work on! He got a long way with weaving textures around the vocal sections we had, stretching things out a little. I think both Roger, and John who had had a lot to do with those original fragments in the beginning, went in and added some ideas. There came a point where finally I got enthusistic, and I spent a day or so, with Dave, putting down a lot of different riffy ideas that came to me while listening to the rough so far. Dave then moved a lot of things around, and worked his magic (mixing is his speciality - he 'rescued' a lot of stuff in the past, including Duran Duran tracks, for instance) - and then we all sat around and said, "Didn't we just play that perfectly!" ha ha! Well, that's probably an over-simplification.... but ... there you have it! I really like the track now - but not as much as I LOVE the title track, MADE IN HEAVEN, which I think is possibly the best sounding Queen track ever, and MOTHER LOVE, which is to me the most significant collaboration I ever had with Freddie ..... alongside the one afternon I spent with him on an embryonic verse of "The Show Must Go On". I think I wrote about these things earlier .... But I digress... right ? !