If you want peace of soul, come to Montreux - F. Mercury
Since the very first time I came to Switzerland I was dreaming about a possibility to go for a trip probably every single fan of Queen is thinking of, a trip to Montreux. Why? It's a simple one, haha. Because the famous statue of Freddie Mercury is there. Why Montreux? Why the statue of such a flamboyant artistic figure, the king of rock, the No.1 frontman in countless rock magazines tops was decided to be installed in a quiet little town in the French part of Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva? Yeah, this one requires a little digging into history, which I think will bring up more reasons for going to Montreux.
(You may see the pictures from this trip here.)
When in 1996, the fan club was in the discussion concerning the creation of Freddie's statue and wanted to find a place for it in London the efforts were unsuccessful. Then, however, members of the band along with Jim Beach went to Montreux and tried to find a place there. We all know how it ended up. The statue sculptured by the Czechoslovakian sculptor Irena Sedlecka was unveiled in Montreux on the 25th of November 1996.
But why is Freddie so much connected to Montreux anyway? When in 1978 Queen came to Montreux's Mountain Studios in order to record their 7th studio album later named "Jazz" (as a tribute to the famous Montreux Jazz Festival) they were so impressed by the result they managed to get that they decided to buy the studio in 1979 (there was also another motivation, such as English tax office they owed to), and David Richards (who was working there), eventually, became their sound engineer and producer. It is also well-known that when D. Richards asked the band about what they were going to do with the studio in the future Freddie replied in his usual manner: "Dump it in the lake, Dear!". Even though Freddie didn't show much enthusiasm about Montreux in the beginning but after all fell in love with the town where he appreciated its serenity. Freddie used to say to his friends: "If you want peace of soul, come to Montreux". Later, in the Mountain Studio Queen recorded parts of "Hot Space" (1982), "A Kind of Magic" (1986), "The Miracle" (1989), "Innuendo" (1990) and "Made In Heaven" (1995) albums. Today, the Mountain Studios have disappeared. Due to the renovation of the gambling arena in the Casino building where the studios were located, it was unfortunately closed down in the late summer of 2002.
While I was taking care of some of my personal business in Switzerland in May 2011 I had just one free day, so I could fulfill my old dream. Montreux is located on Lake Geneva in the district of Riviera-Pays-d'Enhaut in the canton of Vaud. In order to get there (probably no matter from which part of Switzerland you're coming) you'd have to take a train to Lausanne and then change to InterRegio train to Montreux. After passing Vevey the railway path lie along Lake Geneva and I'm telling you, it's a really great view.
From the railway station I had to go down to the lake. Montreux is a place where you usually don't rush. It's too quiet and peaceful. However, I wanted to see the statue so I couldn't help being in a hurry. When I reached Quai de la Rouvenaz which lies along the lake I realised I didn't want to run anymore. The view of the Lake Geneva was incredible. Neither in Geneva, nor in Lausanne you can see it this way. It's a vast immense... misty lake with huge Alps behind it.
Yeah, I didn't expect that this light fog covering the lake would reduce visibility so much. Most of the mountains remained barely visible. Anyway, I walked down the street and was getting closer and closer to Freddie.
The triumphant figure of the rock legend in his famous defiant posture holding the bottomless microphone stand overlooks tranquil waters of Lake Geneva sharing the same view Freddie enjoyed from his lakeside home. Imperturbably, the statue stands as a magnificent and lasting tribute to a man who will always have a place in the memory of countless millions across the globe. The Municipality of Montreux (together with the members of Queen) chose this popular tourist site because of Freddie’s fondness for the lake. Two plaques (in English and French) with brief information about Freddie, Queen and their connection to Montreux read:
Lover of Life - Singer of Songs
1946 - 1991
Between them, there are special slots for flowers which fans from all over the world bring to honor the memory of the singer.
Next to the statue there is a round berth right on the lake. Even though there are usually a lot of people during the day, Freddie looks a little bit lonely, just like he was in his actual life.
Really close we can find a souvenir shop - "Bazar Suisse". Among others traditional Swiss souvenirs, a lot of Freddie Mercury and Queen memorabilia is sold: t-shirts, Mugs, LPs etc. Some of the official merchandising is available exclusively in Montreux. You can't buy it anywhere else. But the prices are quite high so I buy just an official coffee mug with Freddie and the mountains in the background and go for a walk.
I took some pictures of the statue and followed Grand Rue till I saw the street called Igor-Stravinsky. Then I decided to go down again to do a little promenade along the lake back to Freddie. Oh, I wish I had more time (at least a few days) to explore this wonderful town but according to my schedule I could not afford it, so I spent some time just sitting on a bench enjoying the lake.
I already said it but I will again: it's marvelous. I guess only having visited Montreux we can truly realise how much Lake Geneva and Montreux inspired Freddie.
Moreover, if it hadn't been a well-known fact that "It's a Beautiful Day" from Queen's "Made In Heaven" album was a result of Freddie playing around with the piano at Musicland Studios in Munich during "The Game" recording sessions in 1980, I would've thought that Freddie wrote it one spring morning in Montreux sitting behind the piano and looking at the lakeside through the window. Freddie was living in Montreux from 1990 until 1991 in the apartment block Les Tourelles, at Territet. Among his other property there was the Lake house, or "Duck" house, a little wooden chalet where he liked to go to find peace and inspiration and where he wrote many of his songs.
Interesting thing though... For many years (having seen the statue only in the pictures) I was thinking that the picture on the "Made In Heaven" gatefold outer sleeve was an actual photo. What a shame! It's not even close, it's a montage! Whilst the Freddie Mercury Statue is at Place du Marché next to the bazar, the mysterious Freddie's Lake
House (I say 'mysterious' because many people would like to see it but few actually have) is in Clarens, a small village in the municipality of Montreux and is located on a private property (it is also said that the current owners are not very happy with the people coming to "have a look"). Of course I had an intention to have a look at least from afar but unfortunately, even though I had an address and my GPS said it was only about 45 minutes on foot, I had to catch a train to Bern in an hour, so this thing is still to be accomplished next time.
It's hard to imagine the feelings of a man who knows he might be dead really soon, the man who is aware that he will never hear the songs he is recording at the moment, the songs which will only be finished and released after his death. Anyway, knowing all of that, Freddie Mercury wanted to work as hard as never before. Even though while recording the vocals for "Mother Love", his last recorded vocals ever, he was so weak that he had to do it in a control room as he could not climb the stairs anymore to get to the room where he would usually record, he was giving all the energy he had left. This masterpiece along with "The Winter's tale" turned out to be Freddie Mercury’s ultimate recording. He passed away at his house in London shortly after his last visit to Montreux.
Yes, all they say about Montreux is true. Freddie's "The Winter's Tale" is a sincere and nostalgic dedication to the peace and contentment he found there:
"...So quiet and peaceful
Tranquil and blissful
There's a kind of magic in the air
What a truly magnificent view
...Am I dreaming...
Am I dreaming?
Oooh - it's bliss."
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