During the early 1970s, the One Stop record shop was “London’s number one coolest record shop for those in the know in the contemporary music scene.” The store was crammed with a rich and diverse selection of stock from Zappa and Beefheart to US Funk and Soul imports. It was here you would regularly find Elton John rummaging through the boxes of 45s, Marc Bolan calling everyone “babes,” Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and David Bowie buying LPs, and an often drunk Vivian Stanshall offering to buy the entire stock for four pence (“New pence, no rubbish.”)
It was also here that an as yet unknown and undiscovered fifteen-year-old Danny Baker worked behind the till. As some of you will know, Baker had yet to make his name producing the Punk magazine Sniffin’ Glue with Mark Perry, before starting his career as an NME journalist and becoming the lovable star of TV and radio, we know today.
So, one afternoon, Queen came “tumbling into the shop, excited, babbling, and I think a little drunk,” as Baker recalled in his highly entertaining first volume of autobiography, Going to Sea in a Sieve. Queen carried with them advance test pressings of their eponymous-titled first LP, with which an imperious Freddie Mercury announced to Baker.
“We want you to play our record in your shop. Constantly! You can be the first!”
Two thick, white label acetates were then thrust into Baker’s hands. It was at that moment the shop’s manager, John Gillespie “drifted out from his office area and cut through the party with a loaded, “I’m sorry, can we help you?”
“Yes, you can,” briskly responded my presumed Freddie.
“You can fucking play this and nothing else for the next six weeks. We’re Queen and when it’s released you won’t be able to fucking stock enough of this.”
“Really?” John drawled back in a tone plainly designed to hose down their raging brio. “Can I hear it?”
Gillespie took one disc, placed it on a turntable “and rather archly put the needle on to track one of this allegedly momentous debut.” That track would be “Keep Yourself Alive,” incidentally)
He let it play for about a minute, all the time intently staring at the floor as if in solemn judgement. Freddie Mercury lustily sang to his own vocal in an attempt to clinch the decision. Then John calmly took the player’s arm back off the disc.
“Hate it,” he said, putting lots of breath into the H.
“You’re fucking joking!” said Freddie, or possibly Brian May.
“Hate. It,” repeated my manager and entered into a sullen stare-off with the group.
Then another thrust.
“You sound like Deep Purple or something. Can’t bear all that.”
Then he turned to me.
“Danny, you like rock. Was that any good?”
Oh, don’t do this to me, John.
“I thought it was, y’know…rocky. Bit like Stray, and I like Stray.”
“Stray!” exploded presumed Freddie. “Stray! Stray are a fucking pub band! We are going to be bigger than fucking Led Zeppelin!”
“Fuck you,” said maybe John Deacon.
“Well, fuck you,” said John the Manager.
Then everyone but me said Fuck you for a bit.
Leaving their record on the counter, the group beat a swift and noisy retreat with one of them—I recall some blond hair here, so let’s say Roger—yanking a handful of sleeves from their racks and letting them spill all over our floor.
In a final gesture, Freddie stood at the door and bellowed out into a bemused South Molton Street, “Attention, shoppers! If you have a scintilla of taste, you will never buy a thing in this dreadful shop!”
Then they were gone.
John, who enjoyed both style and drama, turned to me with a pixie-ish smile lighting up his eyes.
“Did you hear that? I like him. That was funny. Dreadful record though…”
This and many other tales from Mr. Baker’s wonderful life, can be found in Going to Sea in a Sieve, the first volume of his autobiography. Here you’ll also discover that the mysterious “Jungle-face Jake” from Marc Bolan’s hit “Telegram Sam” was not some drug-dealer, or even Mick Jagger but “..a battle-scarred old boxer dog who liked several saveloys at a sitting.” Baker knows this because Bolan told him.
Now, for the love of Freddie, here’s Queen in concert from 1974 at the Rainbow Theater.