Initial research John S. Stuart. Additional researh and text: Andy Davis.
While at Chelsea College in 1971, John made his one and only appearance
in a quartet called Deacon, supporting Hardin & York.
The other two tracks, covers of Bobby Hebb's 'Sunny' and the more obscure, soul-tinged 'Vehicle' (later a hit for the Ides of March), featured a vocalist, but an unfamiliar one: another of the Opposition's fleeting frontmen."We had a singer for a while called Alan Brown," recalls Nigel. "He came and went fairly quickly. He was good, really good. Too good for us, I think. That wasn't him saying that. We just knew it."
On both songs, Brown is in deep, soulful voice, sounding not unlike a cross between Tom Jones and the early Van Morrison -- if such an amalgam can be imagined. The Art's reading of "Vehicle" is edgy and robust, dominated by Richard Young's distinctive keyboards and Nigel Bullen's bustling drum work. Dave Williams is again in fine form, delivering more sparkling wah-wah guitar, while on the cassette copy taped from Nigel Bullen's acetate, at least, John's bass is very prominent, over-recorded in fact, booming in the mix.
"Sunny" goes one better, breaking into jazzy 3/4 time half-way through, before slotting back into the more traditional 4/4. It's an imaginative arrangement, with alternate soloing from both Dave and Richard, while the whole track is underpinned by swirls of Hammond organ and John Deacon's pounding bass.
"We did 'Sunny' as part of our stage set," says Nigel, "but I don't recall us ever going into the jazzy bit. That's quite interesting. We might have talked about that before we went into the studio, but I think it was just for this session. Dave had two guitars, a six-string and a twelve-string, or it could even have been twin-necked. I still quite like the wah-wah he played on that track. By this time Richard would have been onto his second or third organ -- he was heavily into Hammonds and Leslies."
Operating as they did in a fairly ambition free zone, and having prepared the listener for a mundane set of recordings with their trademark laid-back approach, Art's acetate comes as something of a revelation. Let any bunch of today's schoolboys loose in a studio for an afternoon and defy them to come up with something half as good!
Just two copies of the Art disc are known to have survived. John Deacon's mother is believed to own one and Nigel Bullen has the other. "I'd forgotten all about this record," admits Nigel. "We know that one copy was converted to an ashtray! We stubbed out cigarretts on Richard's at rehearsal one night." Although treated with anything but respect at that time, the importance of the disc is now apparent to Nigel Bullen: "This is probably John Deacon's first recording, apart from tracks he did in his bedroom on his reel-to-reel, which are probably long gone. Although, knowing John, they're probably not!"
The beginning of the end for Art came in June 1969, when John Deacon left Beachamp. With a college course lined up in London, his days with the band were obviously numbered. He played his final gig with the group on 29th August at a familiar venue, Great Glen Youth and Sports Centre Club. By October, he'd moved to London to study electronics at Chelsea College of Technology, part of the University of London.
Another blow was dealt in November, when the band's lynchpin, Richard Young, left to join popular local musician Steve Fearn in Fearn's Brass Foundry. "They were a Blood, Sweat and Tears-type of group," recalls Richard, "and paid better money than I'd been used to. I was out five nights a week, on about £3 per night, against an average of about £10 between us." The previous year, Richard had played session keyboards on the Foundry's two Decca singles: "Don't Change It" (F 12721, January 1968, £10 ) and "Now I Taste The Tears" (F 12835, September 1968, £8 ).
Ron Chester departed shortly afterwards, and gave up music: "I left in the early 70s, after John Deacon moved to London. John was replaced by a bass player was called John Savage, who unsettled me. He had different tastes and drove us a bit hard. His approach was totally different from Deak's, and he was much more interested in the financial side of things. We'd all been mates before, we didn't just knock about for the band. It just wasn't the same."
Nigel, Richard and Dave pushed on into 1970 with the new bassist, changing the band's name again, this time to Silky Way. They returned to Beck's studio to record a cover of Free's "Loosen Up" with another vocalist, Bill Gardener, but that was the band's last effort. Dave left after falling into Nigel's drumkit, drunk on stage at a private party one Christmas. "I waited for them to pick me up the next day," he recalls sheepishly, "but they never came."
Richard and Nigel moved into a dinner-dance type outfit called the Lady Jane Trio -- "Corny, or what!", laughs Bullen -- but Nigel left music altogether soon afterwards to concentrate on his college work. Richard turned professional, moving into cabaret with the Steve Fearn-less Brass Foundry, before forming a trio called Rio, finding regular work on the holiday camp and overseas cruise circuit. In the late 70s, he joined a touring version of the Love Affair.
Down in London, John Deacon caught a glimpse of his future world-beating musical partners as early as October 1970, when he saw the newly-formed Queen perform at College of Estate Management in Kensington. "Thet were all dressed in black, and the lights were very dim too," he told Jim Jenkins and Jacky Gunn in 'As It Began', "All I could really see were four shadowy figures. They didn't make a lasting impression on me at the time."
While renting rooms in Queensgate, John formed a loose R&B quartet with a flatmate, guitarist Peter Stoddart, one Don Cater on drums and another guitarist remembered only as Albert. The new band was hardly a great leap forward form Art: they wrote no originals, and when asked to perform their only gig at Chelsea College on 21st November 1970, supporting Hardin & York and the Idle Race, they hastily billed themselves -- in a rare fit of self-publicity for the quiet Oadby boy -- as Deacon.
A few months later in early 1971, John was introduced to Brian May and Roger Taylor by a mutual friend, Christine Farnell, at a disco at Maria Assumpta Teacher Training College. They were looking for a bassist. John auditioned at Imperial College shortly afterwards. Roger Taylor recalled Queen's initial reaction to Deacon in 'As It Began': "We thought he was great. We were so used to each other, and so over the top, we thought that because he was quiet, he would fit in with us without too much upheaval. He was a great bass player, too -- and the fact that he was a wizard with electronics was definitely a deciding factor!"
How did the members of the Art/Opposition back in Leicester, view John's success with Queen? "It wasn't sudden," says Ron Chester. "First we heard he'd got into another group. We couldn't believe that -- were they deaf? There were all these sort of jokes going along. Then we heard he'd got a recording contract and the next thing he had a record out. It was a gradual progression. No one dreamed he would end up the way he did."
"I don't think we expected success for any of us" admits Nigel Bullen. "Richard maybe. He was the first one to go professional. But when John left for London to go to college, he left all his kit here. I though that was the end of it for him. He had absolutely no intention of continuing. His college course was No.1. It was only after he kept seeing adverts for bass players in the 'Melody Maker' that he bacame interested again."
He also seemed to lose some of that 'Easy Deacon' touch which so impressed Dave Williams in the 60s. "He'd ring up these bands," continues Nigel, "but when he found they were a name act, he bottle out. When he went to auditions for anonymous bands, where he would queue up with about thirty other bass players, he had a bit of confidence. He just wanted to play in a decent band. Once heard what Queen had recorded a De Lane Lea, and John played me the demo of their first album, thought they were well set."
By early 1973, Dave Williams had forsaken a career in animation to join Highly Likely, a cabaret outfit put together by Mike Hugh and producer Dave Hadfield on the back a their minor hit, "Whatever Happened To You (The Likely Lads Theme)". While Dave was in the band, they recorded a follow-up single which wasn't released, before evolving into glam rock outfit, Razzle, which later become the Ritz, who issued a few singles. "During Queen's early days, before they'd had any real success, John came to see us once," recalls Dave, "and said, 'I wish I was in a band like this which could actually play some gigs'."
Dave concludes: "I remember John coming round once around that time, saying 'I've got a demo'. 'So have I!', I said. So we put his first, and the first track was 'Keep Yourself Alive'. My mouth dropped wide open and thought, 'Bloody hell! What a great track!' remember saying that the guitarist was good as Richie Blackmore -- who was our hero then -- and thinking 'They are serious about this. This is the real thing'."
Thanks to Nigel Bullen, Richard Young, Ron Chester and Dave Williams for their time and illustrations. Thanks also to Mark Hodkinson.