Queen exhibition launches in Montreux
Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor were in Montreux on Monday evening (December 2) for the opening of a new exhibition dedicated to the band’s long relationship with the Swiss city. During their visit, May also spoke about the forthcoming feature film based on the life and times of Freddie Mercury.
The event coincided with the renewal of Queen’s partnership with Universal Music Group, with the promise of rare and unreleased material to be released. The deal was first struck in 2010, when a major catalogue reissue programme was launched that saw Queen material released on the Island label for the first time.
Queen: The Studio Experience focuses on their long history in Montreux, where they worked at Mountain Studios and created six albums between 1979 and 1995. The exhibition includes a wealth of Queen memorabilia, costumes, instruments, original handwritten lyrics to songs such as One Vision and Tie Your Mother Down, and other artefacts.
It also contains a small cinema and, as the centrepiece, the original control room of the studio, in which fans can sit at the desk and work the faders to create their own mixes from the master tapes of Made In Heaven and Mother Love, the last vocal take recorded by Mercury before his death from AIDS in 1991.
The exhibition, sponsored by the Fondation Barrier, is free to enter but encourages donations in support of the Mercury Phoenix Trust that was subsequently set up by Queen and manager Jim Beach.
“Montreux holds many memories for us, mostly good, some gastronomic, some musical, some alcoholic,” said Taylor. “We’ve just seen the exhibition, and we feel very honoured. We hope it will be part of the many attractions of this beautiful part of Switzerland.”
Brian May spoke about seeing the exhibition for the first time. “It’s very strange for Roger and I to walk in here and see the place somehow tantalisingly real, like it used to be,” he said. “The biggest shock for me was seeing the casino downstairs, which really is a casino now. That’s where we set up all our gear. It’s full of slot machines now.
“Everybody’s saying to me, why Montreux? It’s a very beautiful place and it was very inspiring to us, I think particularly to Freddie in his last days. It’s also been a very private place for us, a place where we could be very intimate with each other. The people of Montreux have always been very welcoming and yet very discreet. They’ve never been invasive, so we do feel like we belong here, it’s like a family thing.
“We came here kind of on spec, not knowing what it would be like,” continued May. “The first thing we did was meet [engineer and co-producer] Dave Richards, and I have to say a huge thanks to Dave because somehow he became a part of our family. He’s the biggest reason we stayed. Secondly, the whole team, [engineer] Justin Shirley-Smith was here. I was able to poach him later and take him back to England. But the whole team was fantastic for us.
“I notice we give lots of completely contradictory advice, which is typical. You have to understand, we’re like brothers, but we fight like dogs and cats. Freddie would be the first to say that. So you can get this whole atmosphere, sit there, twiddle the buttons, and join our family. We hope this exhibition brings us closer to Montreux.”
May also gave an update on the progress of the Mercury film. “It’s taken us a long time, partly because we need to get the right people together, and the right script. The script of course tells the story of Freddie’s time, some of if here, some of it earlier on, and our time.
“We had a problem knowing what the film was actually about, but a few weeks ago we sat down with who we think is our great new director, and it dawned on us all that what it’s really about is a family. A group in these situations becomes a very close-knit thing. We spent more time with each other than we did with our kids, our mums and our dads and our partners. The story of the film is the story of a family, how it evolves and what happens when it gets disrupted, what happens in the end.”
Queen performed with frontman Adam Lambert on a star-packed bill at the 2013 IHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas on September 20 and 21.
Close to the exhibition and the city’s famous waterfront, a statue of Mercury looks out, arm raised, on to Lake Geneva. The statue further reinforces the band’s relationship with Montreux, said May. “When Freddie died, there was a huge movement to get his statue in Hyde Park in London, but it was turned down. This city said yes, we would like the statue.”
As they enter the exhibition, visitors are soon greeted by a typically effusive quote from their former frontman. “Let’s face it darlings,” says Mercury, “we’re the most preposterous band that ever lived.”
WORDS: PAUL SEXTON