Interview with Peter Hince - Part. 2
Dernière mise à jour : 15 nov. 2020
"They trusted me and that gained my belief into becoming a photographer"
Peter Hince started working as roadie for Queen as early as 1975, while they were recording the album A Night At The Opera. He left the band after their huge show at Knebworth on the 9th august 1986, what turned out to be Queen’s final performance with Freddie Mercury.
Here he looks back over his career and the way he now manages his archives related to Queen.
How did he become a photographer? What is his news and what are his projects? What relations does he still have with the band? And what did he think of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody?
You started photography while you were still working for Queen. You have taken many extremely well known photos of the band, some of which were used for record covers or posters.
How did you get the desire to become a photographer? Did the band encourage you? And why did you choose to turn to advertising rather than continuing to be a photographer in the music business?
Peter Hince : I’d always been interested in photography, even when I was a child I just loved the image of a printed photograph. We had a family camera, but that was only a little basic Instamatic and was only reserved for holidays or a special occasion. I came from a poor family, and it was expensive to buy film and then get to processed. Then when I was probably about 19, I got a half-decent camera and I just started experimenting with it and later when I was with Queen we went to Japan, where I could buy Nikon cameras - when they were much cheaper to buy in Japan, and bit by bit I taught myself. When taking photographs of the band there were certain rules -in the same way you did not talk about the band outside of the circle, you did not give away any confidences, you did not play music that was being recorded to anyone outside, those kind of things. In the same way they were your bosses so you didn't just take snaps at the wrong moment. You had to judge the timing. I was taking pictures just kind of for fun, and the band didn’t mind. I was then asked by some of the management. “Ratty, you've got a camera. Take some photos. We need some for the Fan Club magazine” or something like that. And then the next thing I’m taking Roger’s photo for the Day at the Races album sleeve because he didn't like the one from the group session, and it sort of built from there. However, it didn't give me the license to just go everywhere with my camera, particularly with Freddie.But for a band that was so visual, they rarely had photographers around. Never in the studio or rehearsals, things like that. We had photographers on tour, and so when we were in Switzerland and I did that gatefold shot for Jazz and I did some other stuff there, I never got paid for any of it, but it was how it was - and of course I got a buzz doing it. After that it was clear I can take good photographs and they trusted me on these occasions and all that gained my belief into becoming a photographer. A few years before I left the band, I'd also done a couple of things for one or two other bands and started photographing models. It's interesting you say, “why didn't I become a music photographer?” because when I left and I got my photographic folio together, which had some well known Queen photographs and I had some other music things too; I went around all the record companies, and I didn't get a single job - not one! I was quite surprised. I thought surely if I can do covers for Queen which you know, are still good photographs and I'm trusted by them, and also I'm a photographer who's been in the music business. I know how to deal with musicians, probably better than most photographers, and can put them at ease, talk about things, and yet it never worked for me.
But the record company art departments could be very cliquey, they wanted trendy people or whatever. And it wasn't for a lack of trying. I did try very hard. I got little bits of music work but nothing major. And then things just drifted into the advertising work, which was much better in many ways - interesting, well paid and I got to travel the world again !But I did do commissions for the band after I left, and Freddie particularly. He was great - supportive of me, and that was very gratifying. Of course the photography industry is totally different now. I mean a 7-year-old child with a phone can take great photographs - the craft is gone out of it.But it's been nice reliving things and looking recently at Queen negatives and noticing something that I never really saw before. I was due to have some exhibitions, but because of the pandemic have been postponed - one in South Korea, a couple in Italy, and one in the UK, but hopefully there will be one in Munich in the next year or 18 months or something, fingers crossed.We’re all living in unknown times, but during that time I’ve managed to reflect on a lot of my photographs and I've actually been really busy during lockdown with quite a few big TV specials on Queen coming out later this year.I’m fortunate that people ask me to do it, and they use my images too.I regularly license image from my archive and can be selective. They're not with any agencies or libraries at all. If you want those images then you have to come to me directly. Which makes them far more exclusive. It’s nice to be able to have that control and see that they go to the right places.
Benoît Clerc's book (Queen All the Songs : The Story Behind Every Track ) will be released in France on October 14th and it has many of your photos, some of which have never been seen before. Can you tell us about your part in the project? How did you become involved?
Peter Hince : I was contacted by the publisher which is Hachette in Paris. Hachette is a big international publishing house. And we just built up a really good relationship. They were very fair, very easy to deal with, and I said, “I can give you a lot of material, I can give you some things that haven't been seen before. And I can date them for you. I can give you the details”.Because in so many books the information is wrong. It's wildly wrong, and the same as Queen books other people have written which I find laughable, -how wrong they get it. It’s because they weren’t there - they didn’t live it.I like things to be done properly, so that it's correct. Queen fans are very fussy, they know if it's not accurate, they know if things are untrue or whatever. And the problem is that over the years, stories get told which are not exactly true, and then that story becomes even less true and so 10 years later, it's a totally different story. But because it's been in a book, people think it's correct. I just want things to be accurate, to be fair to the band. That’s my take on it. I hope the book will be successful. I think it's very good quality. Because from what I've seen, they've done a lot of research.I think there's some other ones coming out. I know Neal Preston, who was the tour photographer, has a book coming out too. Neal's a great photographer and a really great guy, and he took some wonderful stuff for the band, particularly in South America. I look forward to seeing his book*. But most books frankly are rubbish, they just use the same old stuff, cut and paste from interviews, or they make it up, use the same old photographs and they don't seem to care about quality.
*PRESTON, Neal. 2020. "Queen : The Neal Preston Photographs". Reel Art Press
Have you thought of putting out your own book uniquely of photos of Queen ?
Peter Hince : I've been asked on many occasions, and what I've always said is that I can't do the definitive book of Queen, because I don’t have photos from 1970 - 1974, or the later years after they finished touring (apart from some video shoots). So it can't be a definitive Queen book. There are many books out there that I have contributed to, but obviously they use other photographers and agencies. So if I was to produce a book, it would only be of a certain period and a certain type of photograph.
However, recently, there has become more interest, and I think, because my written book was so successful in many many territories around the world, that it could just be a kind of expansion of that book. So when I talk about Madison Square Garden, I've got a picture of Madison Square Garden in 1980 with people walking past dressed as they would be in 1980, or the streets of New York in 1980. Or Freddie in the studio during The Game sessions etc…Having those little cameo things of, like the tour buses that we had in America, and truck stops, just to try and give a flavor of what it was like on the road, along with pictures of the band. That would be I think what I would like to do, and I do have publishers interested.
I can't do another written book because I can't change the story, I did the paperback version which was four years after the original, and I was able to remember things that I'd forgotten, I was able to get rid of things I felt didn't work, and I could edit out stuff, add little bits to stories, and tighten the writing. So I think the paperback one that came out 2015 is a much, much better book. As you say, as soon as you finish writing a book and it’s gone to print - you want to change it. So I think that book is pretty good and I’m proud of it. Probably I would take it now and want to change things again, but I can't write another book. Some people say, when are you going to do your next one? Well, I can't, unless you’re interested in me after I left Queen, which people probably aren’t and understandably so. I think a picture book showing a little bit behind the scenes, you know the inside of hotel rooms for example, taking a little bit of a journey that way, being in Tokyo in the 1970s - using a few little photographs like that along with the other pictures of the band and the Stage setup - that kind of thing. It would be a fan book because the fans would hopefully buy it, but I'd like it to be interesting to other kind of music fans as I wanted my Queen Unseen book to be. What I wrote is what the experiences of any roadie working for big bands in the 70s & 80s would have had. That monotony of touring and recording and the ridiculousness of the situation, the madness, the drinking, other diversions etc. I just wanted to convey what it was really like. I have good friends who worked for other bands and we all share similar stories. It was just the era and how things were back then.
That would be a nice project to do and maybe another photo exhibition, possibly in Munich and maybe do something linked to Musicland* make it more of a German theme, add a few things, tour posters or something like that, which will give people a little more depth, and hopefully when we're out of this mess I can do those things.. People make offers all the time, but they don't realize what's involved and how much it costs. I did a big exhibition in Australia about 10 years ago and it was sponsored by the local City Council, in a city outside Melbourne, and it was very, very successful. It cost a lot of money but it was subsidised and sponsored. And it was fun to do and to relive all those things, and look through images of the band that I see differently now.
For example, this picture of Freddie on the cover when he is just looking down. Until I did an exhibition about 10 years ago, I’d never really seen that image, because on the contact sheet there's Fred and he’s giving it his macho pose and got a cigarette, and doing this (tough guy pose). And then he sort of relaxed for a moment and his head went down, and I took the shot. But when I looked at the contact sheet and what's marked up, it's all the other ones that were wanted because they were more like publicity photographs. But that’s not a publicity photograph.
*Musicland Studios : Recording studios in Munich (Germany) in which Queen has recorded several albums
That's really Fred.
Peter Hince : Exactly, that’s him losing control and just reflecting, you know. But you still got the leather jacket, you got the symbolism of the beer, slightly rude as one could say, and the shape of it. I remember clearly when I took it. I was doing portraits of the rest of the band just against a plain background in a corridor outside Musicland. And then Fred said, “dear I don’t want that” and I said, OK Fred, what do you want?
He replied that he wanted to look ‘mean and moody’. And there was a wall, unfortunately you don't really see it on the cover because they whited it out. It was a wall which was all dirty with bits of graffiti on it, and he said, ‘I don't want soft lighting’ so I just put a side light up and shot a roll of film. Then he said, “I've had enough now, I’m going back”, and that was it.
Looking at those pictures later on is more interesting than at the time, particularly images of Fred where you expect one thing but then you get something else. If I managed to get the images that I did, I think it's probably because he felt comfortable with me. He didn't feel threatened - I was his roadie. And also he knew that I wasn't going to do anything he wasn't happy with, and that we had a close bond. We were good friends as well as working together, and so I have a lot of photographs of him when he’s laughing and he's not being guarded. Because in several pictures he hides his teeth and he’s a bit stiff, and I like the pictures where he's enjoying himself and laughing. It's interesting the things you maybe see later, or can see in a different way, and that’s an ongoing thing. I'm happy to do those things now.
Today you are hosting conferences and photo exhibitions about your time with Queen. What is your current relationship with the band?
Peter Hince : Well, there isn’t really a band anymore, just two of the original four members. John is very private, and I have not spoken or seen John in many, many years. He doesn't speak to anybody. And that’s fine -people should respect his decision to leave the music business and live the life he wants to. I haven’t seen Roger and Brian for quite a long time, maybe 5-10 years. All our lives change, and time flashes past so quickly - I mean, it’s 34 years since I left Queen. There’s no bad feeling or anything like that. Just the opportunities haven’t been there.I’m still in touch with Mack, we’re good friends -I saw him two or three weeks ago. And also with Fred Mandel the keyboard player Queen had, who played on the Hot Space tour, and on the Works album. He did a lot of keyboard work on the Works album and Freddie had him play on his solo album, because Fred Mandel could do things Freddie couldn’t do, he could play really good rock and roll piano. He works with Mack still, and I know he’s in touch with Brian quite a bit.I have seen Mary, Freddie’s girlfriend - not for a while, but she’s still very gentle and as nice as ever. And a very good of friend of Freddie’s called David Wigg who was the only journalist Freddie trusted and did a lot of his interviews. He’s a friend I see quite often. So there are a few people. I’m also in touch with one or two of the roadies and sound guys, and one or two of the lighting guys occasionally. Sadly Gerry Stickells died last year, and so our tour manager and many others are gone.
What is your opinion about how Roger and Brian are carrying on their career after Freddie's death?
Peter Hince : When Freddie died, John felt it's the end of Queen. He didn’t want to carry on, and they didn't need the money. I can understand Brian and Roger wanting to continue because they're musicians and that's fair enough.
But it's not Queen - it was Queen with Paul Rodgers and it's Queen with Adam Lambert. And it's entertainment and they're still great musicians and they play well, and put on a great show for people who never saw the original band. So good luck to them, but it isn’t Queen. I totally understand why Brian and Roger want to continue playing, but I would have been more interested to see them do something really different you know, they’re capable of it musically. And you can't deny the success that continues.
Certainly Freddie would have continued, and he would have gone off and done all kinds of things, not just his solo projects or things like he did with Montserrat Caballe, he would have probably gone into doing film music you know, soundtracks maybe. He would have possibly done covers of classic greats with just him and the piano or whatever. He wouldn’t run around on stage when he was in his 40s - he always said he would never do that.
I Imagine him doing an album of standards, jazz standards...
Peter Hince : Oh absolutely, he could cover it you know, his range was so good and I think what is the most poignant thing is the tribute concert to Freddie in the April after he died.
I came out of retirement to help John because I had left the band 5-6 years before. Anyway John was nervous, I mean they were all nervous. So they had the same sound engineer, same monitor engineer, I came back to help John, and Brian's roadie was still there. But anyway they wanted, I think, just that comfort around them. Anyway we did rehearsals, and then people came in did their turns, they did the show.
Very few people came even close to matching Fred. I think you realize then how good he was, I mean George Michael was terrific. He nailed it. He was worthy. Elton was very good, a lovely man very good friends with Freddie and I think he did well. Lisa Stansfield was impressive when she did I want to Break Free. But then who is better than Fred as a vocalist?
But it's interesting what you said about Fred covering classics. I think that's something that he could have done. That would have suited him later in life, I think really well. He got a great producer that he was working with called Mike Moran who co-wrote Barcelona. Mike is a lovely guy, great piano player, great arranger and was a good friend of Freddie's too. And I think they would have continued working on projects and I’m sure Freddie would have worked with Mack again. Whatever Freddie would have done it would have been something creative. He might have designed something, he might have just painted and had an exhibition or whatever... but it would have always been something creative because that’s what kept him going. Being creative, fundamentally music of course, but he loved all kinds of stuff. His house was full of Japanese wood block prints, art deco bronzes all kinds of quality pieces of art. He had a very good eye and of course - a very good ear too !
Despite your feeling that the film was not accurate do you think that it helped bring Queen back in the United States, and Freddie as well ?
Peter Hince : I think it did definitely, but I think there were other factors throughout time. There were things like Waynes World, with Bohemian Rhapsody in. I mean Queen last toured in America in 1982, and then for various reasons, they never went back again, which was a real shame, because America and Queen sort of deserved one another. Both big and bold and brash at times and larger than life, and it’s a real shame that they lost that. But America is a fickle mistress, and mistresses - they like to be taken out to dinner now and again, bought flowers, chocolates, you know - courted…
It is good that the movie brought a whole new generation because it still amazes me how popular the band are. From little kids knowing We Will Rock You to grandmothers.
I now get asked to do talks about my time in the music business - something that just happened over time, I never planned it. A friend of mine who had a PR company said, come along and tell a few of your stories. And over time that has developed into what is maybe my retirement career ….!
I now do corporate events, such as private rooms in restaurants booked by law firms to talk to them and their clients about rock and roll. I even went to Poland, for Coca-Cola, to talk to the Coca-Cola bottlers of the four Baltic states. If you had told me that a few years back I would never have believed it !I adapt each talk to what the client requests, and occasionally they are ticketed events - that are available for the public to attend.
I say how amazing it is that the band are still loved so much. And over the years events have brought them back a little bit, but yeah the movie worldwide has taken I think over a billion dollars? You can’t argue with that !
It just hit a note with people and it’s about the music - a little bit like Live Aid, that kind of musical juke box - you’ve got all the hits and the sound quality is really good. They’ve worked on it and it’s fantastic. But as a piece of film though it neverreally gets close to the dynamic of the band, it never gets close to portraying Freddie as he really was.
Were there some aspects of Freddie’s personality that you would have preferred to see portrayed differently?
Peter Hince : Freddie's generosity, and his generosity of spirit and also with sharing his music. With John, Freddie drew out the talent in John, the songwriting talent, and you could tell that he knew John had it musically. John is very underrated as a musician. He developed slowly but Freddie could see that, because Freddie used to sing John songs - because John didn’t sing. They worked closely on them and there was great trust and respect between the two of them. And the film doesn’t capture Freds humour - he used to laugh a lot - but never in the movie.
Thank you very much to Peter Hince for trusting me for this interview and for taking so much time to share his experiences with me.
Thanks to Josia, Laurence and Eric for their support, and to Maxence for his precious help in English.
HINCE, Peter. 2015. "Queen Unseen: My Life With the Greatest Rock Band of the 20th Century". Music Press Books.
I highly recommend that you read Peter's book, which gives a good insight into the life around such a famous group. It's an unpublished, realistic and honest testimony about Queen behind-the-scene, but also a whole era in the history of music.
CLERC, Benoît. 2020. "Queen All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track". Black Dog & Leventhal.
Benoît Clerc details the history of Queen, album by album and track by track, in a book with period testimonials. You can find many illustrations, and in particular beautiful photos by Peter Hince (some never seen before).
About Peter Hince :
If you wish to contact Peter Hince for limited editions or original prints, a talk or presentation request (for private clients and corporate events) or a photo exhibition request, you can write to him via the "Contact" section of his website : https://www.peterhince.co.uk/index.php?f=394
© Destination Queen - No part of this publication may be reproduced without the permission of the author.