Don’t stop me now – I had such a good time

LOOKING BACK Harry Doherty has written a book on the history of the band Queen.   Picture: Malcolm Wells (113583-1849)
LOOKING BACK Harry Doherty has written a book on the history of the band Queen. Picture: Malcolm Wells (113583-1849)
Mike and Elaine Friend pictured on their wedding day

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The date was July 13, 1985. One after the other, bands took to the stage at Wembley Stadium to perform for Live Aid. And then, at 6pm, Queen took to the stage for a 20-minute set.

At times frontman Freddie Mercury had the 70,000 crowd singing in unison, while many millions worldwide watched on TV.

CHUMS Freddie Mercury, Harry Doherty and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy

CHUMS Freddie Mercury, Harry Doherty and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy

Twenty-six years on and the band’s performance that day has been voted by more than 60 artists, journalists and music industry experts as the greatest live performance in the history of rock music.

And Harry Doherty was right there with Freddie and the boys.

The music journalist, who lives in Emsworth, has followed the group every step of their career. Now he has written a lavish coffee table book called 40 Years Of Queen (Carlton, £30).

Harry, 58, says: ‘This time last year I was away and had this message on my Hotmail e-mail account. There was a subject name called Queen Writing Project from Carlton Publishing. It basically said the band had asked for me and would I be interested in writing the book.

‘I wrote it while I was doing my day job (managing director of Books & Media, a guide to books in the media), so I had a lot of early mornings and late nights. It’s amazing really because it just shows you should always check your junk mail.’

The book tells the story of Queen through Harry’s words, but includes many previously unseen photographs and fascinating memorabilia including replicas of concert stubs, handwritten lyrics and posters.

He says that, because he knew how ‘fussy’ Queen are, he half-expected them to throw the whole thing back at him to redo. But they accepted it.

Considering how long Harry has been involved with the group, it’s little wonder he knows them so well.

After working for the Derry Journal in Ireland, he went on to write for music paper Melody Maker in the 1970s.

It was here, in his early 20s, that he started speaking to bands. He has since gone on to write for the Capital Radio magazine and was the launch editor for Metal Hammer magazine.

He explains: ‘In 1975 I was lucky because all the bands like Queen and Thin Lizzy were young bands having their first records. I was a young journalist and I grew up with them.’

Although Harry has countless memories of going on tour and interviewing groups, the band he was closest to was Queen.

Looking back, he remembers the first time he met them.

‘I was with Freddie when they were promoting their Sheer Heart Attack album, in their PR’s house in London,’ he says,

‘They’d just got back from America then. Brian (May) had hepatitis at the time and I remember Freddie looked around at me and said “Sorry darling, but Brian can’t make it.”’

‘That was the start really, it was such an exciting time with so many good bands coming through. I was there every step of the way.’

But there are some amazing moments that really stand out.

Harry says: ‘I remember when Thin Lizzy and Queen went on tour together in America, and it was just wonderful. We went to the Colosseum in Boston and Madison Square Garden in New York.

‘I saw Roger Taylor and Brian backstage and Brian said “You didn’t meet us last night because you left with Thin Lizzy in their limo”. He told me that “no-one goes off”.

‘When we first listened to Bohemian Rhapsody we all knew it was something new. That’s the thing with Queen, they’ve always been so close.’

A highlight for the fans of Queen was Live Aid, and it’s no different for Harry.

‘It was one of those great moments,’ he explains.

‘I wrote about it in the book. They sent their sound guy around the night before and he set up all the sound especially for Queen. So when they came on it was incredible.

‘They made sure they went on at the right time at 6pm. It meant America was just waking up and it was just before everyone settles down in the UK. It was fantastic, I’ll never forget it.’

But it wasn’t all smiles. Harry recalls fans mourning Freddie’s death in 1991 from bronchial pneumonia, which was brought on as a result of Aids.

Harry says: ‘People dying was always difficult. I remember when Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy died. We always thought he was invincible. Then Freddie died, but everyone knew a long time before what was happening, Queen being as close as they are.

‘He had said “I want to work right to the end so use me”. So they went to the studios and would work all the time, with Freddie saying when he was ready to work, for maybe three hours a day. He didn’t announce his illness because he didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for him. It was a sad time.’

Since then Queen have carried on in various forms, with John Deacon retiring from live music soon after Freddie’s death. But Brian and Roger went on to different projects, including creating the musical We Will Rock You in 2002.

This has since been performed to more than five million people the world over. There’s also been a concert tour with Paul Rodgers, the lead singer of Free, in 2004/2005 performing all the Queen hits.

Harry has remained in contact with the group.

He says: ‘Me and Brian keep in touch, and we bump into each other sometimes and talk about music.

‘I asked him once how they speak to John about wanting to perform their songs, and he said they e-mail him and if he doesn’t e-mail back it means that’s a yes.’

The launch of Harry’s book was in London last week and among the guests was Brian. Harry says: ‘It was fantastic. I never considered myself a book writer but I loved it. It was one of those great moments of your life.’