When exactly did Queen play their first ever gig?

18 July 2020, 15:59 | Updated: 18 July 2020, 17:34

Freddie Mercury and Brian May of Queen perform on stage in London, 1974.
Freddie Mercury and Brian May of Queen perform on stage in London, 1974. Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images

It's 50 years since the legendary rock band first performed in front of an audience, but what was the exact date and what did they play?

There's no doubt that Queen are one of the most successful bands to ever come out of the UK. With classic songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust, I Want To Break Free and many, many more, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor have earned their place in the music hall of fame.

Queen are celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2020 - they first went out before the public under that name in the summer of 1970. But when are we supposed to celebrate their Golden Jubilee?

Google "When was Queen's first gig?" and you'll be shown the date 27 June 1970. But, as with a lot of things on the internet, the actual truth is a bit more complicated than that.

Queen posed in a cafe in the Netherlands on 22nd November 1974: John Deacon, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and Brian May.
Queen posed in a cafe in the Netherlands on 22nd November 1974: John Deacon, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and Brian May. Picture: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty

Queen's roots lay in a band called Smile, which was formed by guitarist Brian May and voclaist and bassist Tim Staffell in London in 1968. They were soon joined by drummer Roger Taylor, while Staffell introduced the group to a singer he knew from Ealing Art College - Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara.

When Staffell left Smile in 1970, Bulsara - now calling himself Freddie Mercury - was such a fan of the group that he put himself forward as a replacement. With Freddie now on board, Smile were booked to play the City Hall in Truro, Cornwall on Saturday 27 June 1970.

Smile in 1969, before the arriva of Roger Taylor:  Bruce Sanderson (with eye patch), Paul Humbertone, Brian May (sitting on bonnet), Pete Edmunds, Tim Staffell, Clive Armitage and Paul Fielder.
Smile in 1969, before the arriva of Roger Taylor: Bruce Sanderson (with eye patch), Paul Humbertone, Brian May (sitting on bonnet), Pete Edmunds, Tim Staffell, Clive Armitage and Paul Fielder. Picture: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images

Cornwall may seem like a strange place to perform for a relatively new band that had formed in London, but Truro was where Roger Taylor had grown up. He told Cornwall Live: "That was actually arranged by my mother in aid of the Red Cross. We were paid £50, which was quite a lot of money back then. I’m not sure many people turned up though.”

ON 27 JUNE 1970... QUEEN PLAYED FIRST GIG AS "QUEEN" - though billed in Cornish Press advertising as "Smile" - Truro, UK (Mike Grose on bass) READ MORE: http://tinyurl.com/q32cyd5 

Posted by Brian May on Saturday, 27 June 2015

The drummer's mum had booked adverts in the local press, billing them - as usual - as Smile. However, when the band - Mercury, May, Taylor and bassist Mike Grose - arrived at the venue that Saturday, the singer announced that from henceforth, the group was to be known as Queen.

A friend of the band, Sue Johnstone, laughed at the audacity of the name. "We thought it was hilarious because he was always so camp," she told Cornwall Live. "And we just laughed and thought of the gay connotation immediately, but he tried to make it more acceptable by persuading us that it was ‘regal’.”

Queen rehearsing for their first major tour, 8th July 1973
Queen rehearsing for their first major tour, 8th July 1973. Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images

For 7 shillings and sixpence - about a fiver in today's money - you could have seen the newly-christened Queen perform with DJ Jeff Spence as "support". Sadly, nobody thought to take note of the whole setlist, but it's believed that the band played Son And Daughter, which would later appear on their debut album in 1973, and Stone Cold Crazy, which wouldn't be recorded until 1974's Sheer Heart Attack LP.

But here's where things get messy. In March 2013, Brian May and Roger Taylor appeared at a ceremony at London's Imperial College to unveil a blue plaque which was to commemorate... Queen's first ever gig. On Saturday 18 July, 1970.

This show - at the college where Brian May studied Mathematic and Physics during the formation of the band - was the their first pubic performance under the new name Queen.

Returning to the venue in 2013, May told the BBC: "It's very nostalgic. It hasn't been that long for me because I came back here to finish off my PhD in 2007, so it's a familiar place."

2013: Roger Taylor and Brian May pose with a plaque marking their first public gig at the Imperial College London Student Union on July 18,1970.
2013: Roger Taylor and Brian May pose with a plaque marking their first public gig at the Imperial College London Student Union on July 18,1970. Picture: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

That night, Queen were Freddie Mercury on vocals, Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums and Mike Grose on bass. Grose would be replaced in August 1970 by Barry Mitchell, then bass duties were taken by Doug Bogie briefly in early 1971, before John Deacon came on board that March to make up the final, famous quartet.

While the earliest Queen setlists haven't been recorded for posterity, one possible running order for a support slot of this period is for January 1971:

Queen at Ewell Technical College setlist, 9 January 1971

Keep Yourself Alive
Doin' Alright
Liar
Great King Rat
Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll
Son And Daughter
Hangman
Jailhouse Rock medley including Stupid Cupid, Be-Bop-A-Lula, Big Spender, Bama Lama Bama Loo

The setlist was recalled by bassist Barry Mitchell - and this was his final appearance with Queen, before John Deacon arrived. Mitchell recalled in 2018 that he had no idea how massive the band would become.

"The music wasn't my kind of music. I didn't see it progressing. Freddie at the time didn't have great command of his voice. His singing was a bit off and a bit squeaky sometimes.

"For me, I saw Freddie as their weak link then, but you couldn't have foreseen what happened. He developed his voice, he got his technique right, and we all know what his voice ended up as."

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