Roger Taylor's Truro
Roger Taylor visited Truro during the summer of 2011 to unveil 'The
Drummer' by Tim Shaw. Whilst Shaw's sculpture bears little resemblance
to the Queen drummer, its position outside the Hall for Cornwall is
uncanny. This is because it has ended up occupying a location that was
central to Roger Taylor's teenage world.
Living with his sister and parents in a bungalow in Park View near Truro
High School, in the sixties Roger would walk across Lemon Quay - or the
Piazza as its now known - on his way to Truro School where he was a
pupil for seven years. Later he would be accompanied by the likes of
Freddie Mercury and Brian May who visited Truro with him many times:
most famously in 1970 when Freddie sang with Brian and Roger in public
for the first time, at what is recognised as Queen’s first concert. The
gig was a charity event held at Truro City Hall - now the Hall for
Cornwall - organised by Roger's mother on behalf of the Red Cross. Then
comprising a longer, narrower auditorium with red velvet seats and a
high traditional stage at one end, Queen played at the hall on three
occasions in 1970 and 1971.
Roger Taylor's first performance there was as a 14 year old with his first
band 'Beat Unlimited', at an event compered by the late David Penhaligon
MP in 1964. Immediately following this, he was head-hunted by some older
boys from Truro School and asked to become the drummer for The Reaction:
a band that went on to play all over Cornwall between 1965 and 1968.
Whilst with The Reaction Roger learnt his craft. He also played the
length and breadth of the Duchy in marquees, on beaches, on boats, in
village halls, and in dance halls like The Flamingo or Blue Lagoon,
often as support to more famous bands like Gerry And The Pacemakers or
In fact the City Hall in Truro proved significant in the history of lots
of Cornish groups because, between 1960 and 1971, it was the venue for
the keenly contested Rock and Rhythm Championship. For Cornish teenagers
the competitions were the highlight of the year, and the Hall would be
packed with at least a thousand screaming kids. The Reaction took part
in 1965 - their first gig - and in 1966 they won it. They also made
appearances in 1967 and 1968.
Roger's all-consuming passion for performing was always apparent to
those that knew him, but away from his drums he would hang out with his
friends in the coffeeshops of Truro, particularly The Riverside, which
is now the Guild of Ten. Next to The Riverside was The WI Hall - now The
Office - which was one of the first venues in Cornwall to put on Rock
'n' Roll dances in the late 50's. Roger attended ballroom dancing
lessons there in 1963. Nearby is, of course, the Cathedral where Roger
was a choirboy for six months at the beginning of 1960. At the time he
attended the Cathedral School which was in an adjacent building.
At the bottom of Pydar Street was another important
location: Ford's Record shop - now WHSmith's - where Roger bought most
of his records, whilst further up the hill, in a two-storey breezeblock
building that was once an armoury, was a club called PJ's. This location
- now New Look - was particularly important to the early history of
Queen, because it was somewhere that Smile, the band that preceded
Queen, played 14 times. During 1969 guitarist Brian May was involved
with postgraduate studies at Imperial College and Roger with dental
studies at The Royal London, but they would travel to Truro for long
weekends in a van with friends. Though not accurately reflected in the
film 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Freddie Mercury was, for at least a year, one
of the entourage of 'Smile' supporters that would regularly come down in
the van with them.
PJ’s is also significant, not only because a gig there
was the first gig by Queen to be advertised in the print media, but
because the co-manager of PJ's - Mike Grose - became Queen's first bass
player (pictured above with coat collar up).
As well as The City Hall and PJ's in Truro, whilst staying in a cottage
in Devoran in 1971, Queen are also known to have played at The Garden
(Penzance), Tregye Country Club (twice), Hayle Rugby Club (twice),
Wadebridge Town Hall, Culdrose and The Driftwood in St Agnes. One of the
Tregye gigs was Queens' first appearance at a festival.
PJ's never had a drinks license, and so the members of Smile and Queen
tended to drink in various of the pubs in Truro. The pub that was most
regularly patronised by Roger and his friends was The Navy Inn on
Fairmantle Street which was also where Roger's girlfriend from Truro
sang with her group The Jayfolk. The Navy Arms was demolished in the
80's. Indeed many of the buildings associated with Roger's childhood and
the early years of Queen are no longer in existence or have been changed
beyond recognition. But, now approaching its 50th Anniversary, Queen's
music remains as popular as ever.
A version of this article was originally published in
'Cornwall Today' in 2011. Rupert White is
author of 'Queen in Cornwall'. For more information please visit Queen
in Cornwall facebook page.