Freddie Mercury’s friend and collaborator Dave Clark knew the power of Mercury’s voice — with or without Queen. Mercury recorded one of Clark’s songs, “Time,” for Clark’s 1986 multimedia project of the same name. “He wanted to use Queen [on the song], and I’m a big fan of Queen,” Clark tells Billboard. “But in the back of my mind, I got goosebumps just thinking of him on his own.”
We don’t often hear Mercury’s voice sans the rest of the band. Queen rarely did one-on-one intimacy; their lot was sweeping gestures in roaring stadiums. When the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody reintroduced the public to the skyscraping band, the film naturally used hits like “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” to soundtrack Mercury’s triumph. But his lone solo album, 1985’s Mr. Bad Guy, is dismissed as his substance-fueled nadir.
Clark, the leader of British invaders Dave Clark Five, wants to throw this narrative into reverse. Today, Clark shared a new version of “Time,” renamed “Time Waits For No One,” set to long-lost footage of Mercury at Dominion Theatre in London. Stripped back to piano and voice, it shows that Mercury could lay you flat without his legendary band or an audience of thousands.
Check out the video for “Time Waits For No One” below and read on for an interview with Clark about the power of his late friend’s solo voice.
What was it like to record the song now known as “Time Waits For No One”?
When I was doing my project Time, I wanted Freddie, but the record company said there’s no way he’d ever do anything like that. Even though I had Stevie Wonder, Laurence Olivier and you name it. I got in touch with his girlfriend, Mary Austin, and she gave me his number in Munich. I phoned Freddie, and he said, “Oh, I’ve read all about it. You’ve got these amazing people. But you’ve come a bit late, dear.”
I said, “I’ve got a track that I think is very you. I’m quite prepared to fly over. If you don’t like it, don’t feel embarrassed or whatever. We’ll have a drink or a bite to eat and I’ll fly back.” He loved the track, he flew over a week later from Munich and we recorded at Abbey Road.
He wanted to use Queen, and I’m a big fan of Queen. But I wanted to do something different. I said, “I’d like to use my guy. If he doesn’t work for you, I’ll pay for him to get Queen in.” It worked beautifully. He started at six in the evening or later at Abbey Road, and he finished at six in the morning. He was just singing like he’d sing to 100,000 people or more.
He used to bring his personal chef down, Joe Fanelli. We did it over several evenings, and he’d come out with these big hampers of amazing food, specially cooked. Loads of Cristal champagne and vodka. The nice thing about Freddie, he provided even for the tape op. It shows what a real person he was.
It was a hard slog, but a fun, hard slog. We were both aiming for the same thing, to make something special.
What made the performance special to you?
Freddie said to me, “How do you want me to sing ‘Time Waits For No One?’” I said, “Well, a cross between Edith Piaf, Jennifer Holliday and Shirley Bassey.” He said, “Well, I have all their dresses, I can do it perfectly.” My delivery is not Freddie’s. But his were wonderful one-liners.
When you listen to it, it’s got all the emotion of [those three], but it’s Freddie. The nice thing about it is taking away all the things he’s surrounded with. The original “Time” was 96 tracks in all, 48 of them just the vocal backing. When he did his concerts with Queen, he’d say “The bigger the better.” One hundred thousand, he’d love it.
But to take all that away and have that emotion of just him and a piano, in the back of my mind, I got goosebumps just thinking of him on his own.
Why did you have Mike Moran record a new piano track, rather than using the original take?
When you’ve got 96 tracks, you play a little more to make all that work. I just wanted it simpler. We didn’t alter anything. It just worked better for me. And who better than the original piano player?
How did the footage of Freddie come about?
They wanted to do a promotional video for Top of the Pops, which was the biggest television music show in England. I wanted to do it on 35mm film. We wanted to do it in the theater where Time was. The unions in those days were very strict and they only allowed three hours of filming, an hour prior to that to get all the equipment in, and an hour after to get out.
I didn’t want to cut together old footage. It’s all been done so many times with Freddie and Queen. It’s exciting, but I wanted it to be organic and real. So I got the negatives from Pinewood Studios and I had to go to a special place because the negatives had never been developed. I went and I viewed it over four days with my editor, and I said, “I can make this work.”
This video is obviously well-timed. Why do you think Queen are having such a cultural resurgence right now?
Yeah, because of Bohemian Rhapsody. But I’ve been trying to do this for decades. I was trying to get it together for myself and I couldn’t find it until the end of 2017, when I heard they were starting to film. I thought it would be wrong to bring it out [when] the film came out. It was so big I waited until it petered off and died down a bit.
It was never a monetary thing to me. It’s the only unreleased Freddie Mercury track. We all know how good he is. But this shows how extra-special he is when nobody knows and there’s nobody else accompanying him.