Dave Clark vividly remembers first discussing Freddie Mercury’s possible participation on the concept album of his 1986 musical, Time. “I chatted to Freddie and he reeled off all the names, saying, ‘You’ve already got Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Laurence Olivier, Cliff Richard… you’ve come a bit late there, dear!” Happily, however, Mercury was excited by the project, and the collaboration, on the song ‘Time’, was a triumph.
Mercury’s humour was one of the things that made working with the Queen frontman such a delight for Clark. The original recording of the song ‘Time’, which Clark co-wrote with John Christie, came out on the soundtrack for the musical, produced with layers of backing vocals and heavy drums.
Now, a previously unreleased stripped-down version, using its full title, ‘Time Waits For No One’, has become a bestseller again after being discovered in the vaults more than three decades after the original vocal was recorded by Mercury at Abbey Road Studios. Clark, who founded The Dave Clark Five – the band whose single ‘Glad All Over’ knocked The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ off the top of the charts in 1964 – told uDiscover Music the story of that memorable session with the Queen star in January 1986.
“Freddie liked innovative things, so that’s what we aimed to do”
Three months earlier, Mercury had laid down the first track for the Time project – ‘In My Defence’ – after flying in from his Munich home, bringing his own chef for a 12-hour session that was helped along by champagne and vodka. When he returned three months later to sing the title song from Time he was on fine form.
“When Freddie came into the studio and it was just Mike Moran on the piano and him,” says Clark, “it really was fantastic. It gave me goosebumps. Then we got into the track and we did 48 tracks of backing vocals, which had never been done in Abbey Road before. The final version was a 96-track production. I loved it, Freddie loved it. It was a joint idea to make it different that way. Freddie, at that stage, liked innovative things, so that’s what we aimed to do.
“Freddie originally wanted to use the boys from Queen on the recording,” recalls Clark, “but I wanted to do something different and I said, ‘Freddie, I would love to bring my guys in and if it doesn’t work, don’t worry I’ll pay for it and we’ll do it again.’ Mike had never met Freddie but it all clicked and years later he wrote the album Barcelona with him, which was the greatest compliment I could get about how good Mike and the other musicians were.”
“His playing was really amazing”
Moran has an interesting background. The Leeds-born musician studied at London’s Royal College Of Music, before working as a session musician. In 1974 he played with the great Verve and Blue Note Records jazz arranger and saxophonist Oliver Nelson on an album called In London With Oily Rags – along with guitarists Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock, better known as Chas’n’Dave – and Moran also co-wrote the novelty song ‘Snot Rap’ with madcap DJ Kenny Everett.
Clark remembers how he met Moran. “My mate Mike Smith, the late DC5 singer, was living in the Water Gardens in Hyde Park. I was up there once and he said, ‘Come and meet my neighbour. He is at the Royal College Of Music but he gives piano lessons to make some extra money.’ Mike Smith said to him, ‘Yeah, that’s all alright playing classical music, but I bet you can’t play rock’n’roll.’ Then Mike Moran just went for it and we were all gobsmacked. His playing was really amazing and we became great friends ever since that day.”
“I loved it when Freddie was on his own”
Though the final version of ‘Time’, with all those backing vocals by Mercury, Christie and Peter Straker, was a hit – reaching No.32 in the charts in May 1986 – Clark later pondered about the original stripped-down version featuring just Mercury and Moran. In the mid-90s, he made his first attempt to do something about it.
“In the back of my mind, I knew that the final version worked, and you can’t knock it because it is fabulous. But then I thought, I loved it when Freddie was on his own singing it. It was a decade after it was made that I thought I should try to find the other version, even if just for my own enjoyment. There were 96 tracks, 48 tracks of vocals, with everyone singing on different things. Could I find it? No.”
Clark, a determined character, did not give up. “Every few years I would say to my engineer, ‘Go down to Abbey Road and go through it all again at the vaults.’ We could never find the one that had only Mercury and no other backing. At the end of 2017, we found it in the tape archives and I thought, Wow, it’s great.”
Because Moran had played so many versions for the original, each one slightly different, Clark decided to ask him to redo the piano accompaniment to Mercury’s singing for the 2019 release. Moran recorded a new piano track at his Buckinghamshire studio, and Clark was able to produce the performance he’d always wanted to hear again.
“You can be ahead of your time and people don’t accept it”
Clark remembers that he was staying in his penthouse in London’s Curzon Street when he and Christie wrote the original lyrics for the song. “I have known John Christie, who is a very talented Australian songwriter, for about 40 years. Our song just worked and if you take away all the production of the original version, you can see the title track captures the message of what the stage show was about. Time doesn’t wait for any of us. It is easier said than done, but you have to try to enjoy every moment.”
Time, which mixed science fiction with rock music and futuristic special effects, including footage of Laurence Olivier, ran for two years at London’s Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road. The lyrics for the title song include the verse, “We’ve got to build this world together/Or we’ll have no more future at all/Because time/It waits for nobody.”
Clark is proud of the continuing relevance of the song and the musical. “If you saw Time, then that’s what it was about. We got some great reviews but we got negative ones from the so-called highbrow press. There were comments like, ‘How can you use Laurence Olivier to do this? How can you mention alternate sources of energy like the sea and the sun?’ We got into all that and they said, ‘That’s rubbish.’ But it wasn’t and people are doing those things now. It is a bit like Prince Charles, in a different way, where everyone laughed at his ideas on flowers and plants and clean air, and now everyone takes him seriously.”
“Freddie gave the most amazing comments”
Though Mercury did not appear in the musical, he was a fan of Clark’s production. “Freddie came to the opening night and he gave the most amazing comments on the musical,” says Clark. “Sometimes you can be ahead of your time and people don’t accept it, if they don’t understand it. Over a million people saw the show.”
The original video of Mercury was filmed at The Dominion. “When it came to the release of the new ‘Time Waits for No One’, I thought, I don’t want to cut the old footage together, even though that was the obvious thing to do, because Freddie is obviously not with us,” says Clark. “The show had only been running for a couple of weeks and the technicalities were very involved. When the show first came on, it was about 15 minutes longer. After a couple of weeks, it had been tightened up.”
Because of health and safety stipulations, and union restrictions over working hours, they were told that they had only 180 minutes to film the video before all their gear had to be cleared for the main show at the Dominion. “I was a bit worried we wouldn’t get the performance I wanted, so I got an extra two cameras to make it a four-camera shoot, using high-quality 35mm film,” says Clark. “I used one high camera and the ones underneath got his whole performance. We used a lot of the stage lighting as well as additional lighting. When it was done, Top Of The Pops wanted it for that week. They actually went straight to video, cut it together and it was out two days later. It was amazing.”
“A cross between Edith Piaf, Jennifer Holliday and Shirley Bassey”
The footage of Mercury, who is played by Rami Malek in the hit biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, is compelling, with the solo performer showing off all song’s emotion. Some of the footage was gathered for the award-winning 2014 documentary The Dave Clark Five And Beyond, but Clark knew that some of the negatives from the four-camera video shoot, as well as unprocessed film, remained at Rank Laboratories in Pinewood. “I got stuff sent up from Pinewood to see what was on it. Some of it had never been used, there was no print off it, just the original negative, which I didn’t want to scratch. There is a facility just outside London that specialises in film. I went with my editor and spent four days there and I thought, I can make this work. That is how the new video version got started.”
Clark, who first met Mercury in 1976 when Queen played at London’s Hyde Park, said that the singer asked, “How do you want me to perform this?” just before shooting started at the Dominion. Clark told him he wanted “a cross between Edith Piaf, Jennifer Holliday and Shirley Bassey”. There is some fantastic interview footage from 1986, in which Mercury is filmed recalling his response: “Well, dear. I have all the dresses. I can do it perfectly,” he joked.
“Freddie was a funny man, as he showed in that quip about my request,” says Clark. “Edith Piaf, who was even before my time, had that wonderful emotion. Freddie has vibrato and it reminded me of that, and I mentioned Jennifer Holliday, who was the hot thing at the time, and then Shirley Bassey, because she and Freddie were both larger than life. Looking at this new video for the song I thought, Wow, he actually took in what I said, because when he is on his own you can hear all those influences.”
“We used to chat a lot about the music we loved”
As a teenager, Mercury had been a fan of The Dave Clark Five, and the pair would regularly talk about their musical influences and favourites. “We used to chat a lot about the music we loved, and the best compliment Freddie paid me was when he said, ‘You know that Queen got the idea for “We Will Rock You” from your 1964 song “Bits And Pieces”.’ I asked him how, because that song was only recorded on four track and there was only one track of stamping. But Freddie said, ‘We definitely got the idea from that,’ which was lovely.
“He was always so enthusiastic about music. He used to show me videos of the operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé. It was great. What I loved about Freddie was that he was so forward-thinking. He did ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, then was so adventurous again with Barcelona in 1988, which was introducing opera to rock’n’roll. Pavarotti and ‘Nessun Dorma’ came after that. Freddie was an innovator.”
“My idol was Buddy Rich”
Clark, who stopped drumming after he broke four knuckles in a tobogganing accident in 1972, grew up listening to jazz – and believes that a lot of the pop stars from his era were influenced by jazz stars. “There were some real characters then. I think Mick Jagger stole a lot of moves off the singer George Melly. Those movements of the hands, the early stuff was all very George Melly,” Clark says.
As a drummer, Clark’s main inspiration was Buddy Rich, who made some magnificent albums, including Buddy Rich Just Sings, in the 50s for Verve Records. “When I was young I used to go for traditional jazz, because it was played at a lot of the music places,” says Clark. “Buddy Rich was my idol. I met him and I’ve got lots of pictures with him. He was lovely. He came to one of the Dave Clark Five concerts and he came backstage. I said to him, ‘Buddy, you are my idol. I could not play one tenth as good as you.’ And he said, ‘Dave, I can’t sell out 40,000 or 50,000 people and sell millions of records. What you are doing is great for us drummers.’ And that was a great compliment from the guv’nor.”
“Freddie always made me laugh”
Rich, like Mercury, was known for his showmanship. It is obvious that Clark, who was with Mercury when he died, in November 1991, truly misses one of the great characters of 20th-century music. “The lovely thing about Freddie was that he always made me laugh,” says Clark. “He was a great performer but also he was very clever. He storyboarded all his videos before they even brought anyone in to do production. He loved art and I always remember he had a Picasso painting in the loo. He was amazing. We got on great. Everyone told me he would be a nightmare to work with, because in a sense he is such a perfectionist. But I am like that. If Freddie didn’t like something he would say so, and vice versa. I thought it would be an interesting collaboration, but it was an absolute dream.”
In the first five days after its release, on 20 June 2019, the single of ‘Time Waits for No One’ sold in such huge quantities that it entered the charts. The video was viewed more than five million times in five days. Clark is proud that he captured a different side of Mercury.
“We were all simply aiming to make a special record. Now, nearly four decades on, it’s great to show Freddie off, and for people to see what he is like just on his own and not in front of 100,000 people, or with a band behind him,” says Clark. “Freddie’s performance on ‘Time Waits for No One’ was simply magical.”
The career-spanning Freddie Mercury box set, Never Boring, is out on 11 October. Pre-order it here.