Wednesday, 7 March 2012

'Is this man a prat?': NME's greatest headline gave Feddie Mercury a message from the New Wave

As the NME celebrates its 6oth birthday it's time to remember one of the mag's most combative interviews and greatest headlines.

It was June 1977 and the punk revolution was raging through the UK when Queen's Freddie Mercury badly misjudged the mood of the times in an irritable interview with the NME's Tony Stewart.

Stewart wrote: "That he [Mercury] agreed to do this interview in the first place was, in fact, something of a surprise, and the confrontation undoubtedly started with some mutual hostility.

"My recent report of a Queen Hamburg concert on their European tour had not been received warmly in the Queen camp. Mercury had taken exception to being described as a "rock 'n' roll spiv" who used the band "as a vehicle for an elaborate exhibition of narcissism". The basis of my criticism was that more importance was afforded their visual, than their musical presentation. And, Mercury had led them over the top with his self-indulgence, to the detriment of the group performance."

His answer is to make me feel as uncomfortable as possible when we meet. Firstly by insisting that his bodyguard, an intimidating bulk of muscle, is present, and secondly by his own attitude towards me. Seemingly he is determined that I should feel subordinate to him.

"I remember," he opens, "speaking to you three or four years ago. That right? So you're still working as just a writer. Don't they have such a thing as...aha...promotion? Life is not treating you very well, is it?

"I would have thought," he adds lightly, "that since the last time I met you, if you had any go by now you should have become...aha...editor of The Times or something."

Stewart attempted to enlighten Mercury about the "New Wave" revolution in music.

"At a time, I tell him, of great musical change - when the New Wave is at the very least causing us all to re-examine our rock credo - Queen are alienating themselves from this very culture. Worst of all they appear to be guilty of the cardinal sin: believing their own myth.

A rock gig is no longer the ceremonial idolisation of Star by Fans.

That whole illusion, still perpetrated by Queen, is quickly being destroyed.

There is nothing more redundant, or meaningless, than a posturing old ballerina toasting the audience, as Mercury does, with "May you all have champagne for breakfast."

"You hated that, didn't you?" He replies with a light laugh, colouring slightly. "I loved it, and I think that people love it. It's part of entertainment.

"God! You haven't an ounce of artistry in your veins really.

"Can you imagine," he asks, his voice shaking at the thought of such a horrifying prospect, "doing the sort of songs that we've written, like Rhapsody or Somebody to Love, in jeans with absolutely no presentation?"

The NME and Stewart got their revenge by headlining the article: 'Is This Man a Prat?' It symbolised the way the NME had turned on overblown rock stars and sided with the punks.

I couldn't find the interview on the NME site but you can read it here on the Queenarchives site.

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