❉ A welcome release from Cherry Red and a chance for people to appreciate some great, underrated gems.
If you look at the history of British popular music over the past fifty years, it is full of artists that really should have been huge but for some unfathomable reason, weren’t. Peter Straker – dubbed a cult icon by this very website – is a prime example of this.
Jamaican-born Straker is perhaps most well known for being one of Freddie Mercury’s closest friends (he appeared in drag alongside Roger Taylor and Freddie as a backing singer in the promo video for The Great Pretender). He also provided backing vocals for Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe’s 1987 album, Barcelona.
Of course, many of you reading this will no doubt recall Straker starring opposite Tom Baker as Movellan Commander Sharrel in the 1979 Doctor Who television story Destiny Of The Daleks. Reportedly, the only known Doctor Who story that Freddie Mercury specially tuned in for!
Straker is blessed with a fine voice and a theatrical delivery that, at times, brings to mind Freddie Mercury, David Bowie or Mick Jagger. In fact, he has been referred to as The Black Bowie due to his career straddling rock music, the screen and theatre. He shot to fame in the original London stage version of Hair in 1968 (playing Hud) and many notable West End roles followed including Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show and The Acid Queen in Pete Townshend’s Tommy. He also starred in the pioneering LGBT film Girl Stroke Boy alongside Michael Horden and Joan Greenwood. Although Peter Straker has had an undeniably incredible stage & screen career, it’s something of a mystery why he never became one of our biggest rock stars.
This 3 CD set from Cherry Red Records is a welcome release and a chance for people to appreciate some great, underrated gems. Peter Straker’s albums have been much sought-after on Queen fan forums over the past few years, after some tracks were included on Queen bootleg compilations. This is the first time they have been made available in remastered form.
The set starts with This One’s on Me (1977). Produced by Freddie Mercury, it features Straker’s almost hit, RagTime Piano Joe. A truly great single which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early Queen album (or indeed, the Bugsy Malone soundtrack).
Elsewhere on the album, I’ve Been To Hell and Back is a surprisingly heavy rocker that recalls Mott The Hoople and When The Talkies Came to Town is the best song that Sparks never made. Also included is a superbly quirky cover of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Alabama Song and an impressive version of Jacques Brel’s Jackie (Straker is considered to be a a leading virtuoso interpreter of the Jacques Brel songbook). The Annual Penguin Show is a slice of English music hall nostalgia that McCartney would have been proud to have written.
1978’s The Changeling album (produced by legendary Talk Talk producer, Tim Friese-Greene) shows no dip in quality. Ironically, despite the absence of Mr. Mercury on this album, it has a more Queen-esque vibe than This One’s On Me. Sweet Music channels Freddie and the boys and Straker shares his Mercurial friend’s ability to switch from a pure rock voice to cabaret falsetto in the flick of the wrist.
The hard-rocking stomper Legs proves that Straker would have had no problem fronting a metal band if that had been his wish, and on Star Circus you can hear his Rocky Horror past coming to the fore. Listening to this album now, you can’t help but wonder if he was ever approached for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds as he would have been a perfect choice.
The final album in this set, Real Natural Man (1979) was produced by Queen/E.L.O. producer Reinhold Mack. It’s easily the most straightforward, commercial and slick of the three albums. It’s by no means a bad album but lacks some of its predecessor’s variety and energy. The real standout track is the beautiful piano ballad Melancholy which perfectly showcases Straker’s vocal talent. Other highlights are the title track and E.L.O. influenced single Late Night Taxi Dancer.
This CD set is long overdue and is a must for fans of Queen, Bowie and Sparks and a reminder of a time when British Rock was at its most creative and flamboyant. These albums deserve a much wider audience and it’s time to re-evaluate one of our most under-rated artists.
❉ Peter Straker: ‘This One’s On Me’ (3CD) released by Cherry Red Records, 20 March 2020. Pre-order now.
❉ David Geldard is a contributor to We Are Cult and loves Sci Fi & Horror, Doctor Who, Starburst Magazine, Stranger Things, The 60’s Avengers, Twilight Zone, The X-Files, cult movies and weird shit. He tweets as @BungleSir.