On This Day: A Band Called Smile Played a Red Cross Benefit Concert for £50 and Transformed Into Queen

Before Brian May and Roger Taylor connected with one of their earliest fans, Freddie Mercury, they were in a band called Smile. Mercury, still known as Freddie Bulsara, thought they could make their live performances more theatric, and the music more dramatic. Shortly after original vocalist and bassist Tim Staffell left the band, Mercury joined Smile in 1970, and suggested they change their name to “Queen.”

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A Night in Truro

Smile played their first show with Mercury at the City Hall in Taylor’s hometown of Truro, Cornwall in England on Saturday, June 27, 1970. Booked by Taylor’s mother, the show was part of a concert benefitting the Red Cross.

“That was actually arranged by my mother in aid of the Red Cross,” recalled Taylor of the show in 2018. “We were paid £50, which was quite a lot of money back then. I’m not sure many people turned up though.”

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Advert of Queen’s first gig at City Hall in Truro. (Photo: Courtesy Brian May / Facebook)

“Regal” Queen

Along with their supporting act, DJ Jeff Spence, patrons could see this band called Smile for seven shillings and sixpence. Though Taylor’s mom advertised the band in the local press as Smile, once Mercury, May, Taylor, and then-bassist Mike Grose hit the stage, they declared the band would now be known as Queen.

The setlist from that night was never officially documented, but the newly minted Queen performed “Son And Daughter,” which later appeared on their eponymous 1973 debut, and “Stone Cold Crazy,” from their 1974 release Sheer Heart Attack, along with some covers.

At first, some didn’t think Queen was the right fit for the band’s new moniker. “We would hitch a lift back to Cornwall from the start of the M4, and on one of these occasions Freddie walked us to the bus stop and said ‘What do you think of the name Queen?'” remembered Sue Johnstone, a friend of the band.

“We thought it was hilarious because he was always so camp,” added Johnstone. “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.'”

September 8, 1976: British rock group Queen at Les Ambassadeurs, where they were presented with silver, gold, and platinum discs for sales in excess of one million of their hit single “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The band is, from left to right, John Deacon, Freddie Mercury (Frederick Bulsara, 1946 – 1991), Roger Taylor, and Brian May. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Even before the band’s declaration that night, Taylor said they were always Queen.

“The sound of Queen was there,” said Taylor of the band’s name. “Brian always had that very distinctive guitar sound, even back then. We have been playing together, almost telepathically, ever since. You’re very lucky to be in a band and have the kind of musical relationship Brian and I have. We make a lot of noise together.”

[RELATED: Queen Scored Their First No. 1 Album with ‘A Night at the Opera’]

Queen’s “Other” First Show

In 2013, May and Taylor commemorated their first official gig after transforming into Queen, on Saturday, July 18, 1970, with the unveiling of a blue plaque at the venue, London’s Imperial College, where May had been studying physics and mathematics.

That night, Queen consisted of Mercury, May, and Taylor, along with Grose on bass, who was later replaced by John Deacon in 1971.

Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns

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