When Rami Malek won the Academy Award for Best Actor, one of the people cheering him on was 73-year-old Bruce Murray, who runs a store selling musical instruments in London. The actor’s portrayal of rockstar Freddie Mercury was of special significance to him. After all, Mercury was his childhood friend.

“I had seen Bohemian Rhapsody and thought it was fantastic. Some of the sequences weren’t quite right but hey, it’s a movie,” he says.

Years before Queen – the band on which the biopic is based – was formed, Freddie was part of The Hectics, a school band in Panchgani in the 60s. He met Bruce at St. Peter’s Boys School, a boarding school that he attended between the ages of 8 and 15, back when he was still Farrokh Bulsara. With three of their friends, Derrick Branche, Farang Irani and Victory Rana, they played at school events, but never professionally.

The band was active for a year-and-a-half, says Bruce. Freddie later moved back to Zanzibar (now Tanzania) with his family, then migrated to London. He pursued a diploma in Art and Graphic Design and worked as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport while learning to play the guitar. Victory, the band’s drummer, served as a general in the Nepali Army and headed a UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus. Farang, the bassist, ran a restaurant in Pune, until his death a few years ago. Derrick, the guitarist, moved to Goa a few years ago, before which he acted in English shows such as The Jewel In The Crown.

Bruce reminisced about his time with the band, Freddie’s musical genius and the last time they met:

“I’m sure there must be some brilliant reason we got the name (The Hectics) but it was so long ago. If my memory serves me right we were sitting around and someone suggested we start a school band and we said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We went round to the headmaster Mr. Bason and told him our plan. He looked at us and smiled and said, “Okay,” thinking, “Not in a million years”. But we scrounged up some instruments. The teachers even donated some money. My mother gave me an acoustic guitar. Derrick had a harmonica and could also play a bit of harp. We had a marching band bass drum, which Victory played. We also bought a snare. The bass, which Farang played, was a tea chest with a stick and some twine. I had the good looks and the charm. I just looked good and posed.

The piano, which Freddie played, belonged to the school. Freddie was the only real musician in the band. As far as I can remember he did have music lessons but his music teacher gave up on him because he would only play by ear. See, teachers don’t know everything.

We loved pop music. We were influenced by Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Cliff Richard, Fats Domino, Little Richard and numerous other artists of the day. Even Frank Sinatra. Our concerts were funny. We used to have these Fates, which the girls’ schools in Panchgani were allowed to attend. They must have thought they had a part to play so they used to clap, stamp and scream. But it was fun.

Years later, I met up with Freddie when I saw him on Top Of The Pops, a British TV show at the time. I found out he was doing a gig at The Rainbow Theatre in London and went to see him. To be honest, I was blown away. I could not believe that it was the same shy kid who used to be my piano player. I used to say to him: Remember you were just my piano player? Haha. He couldn’t drive back then, so I used to be his free taxi driver. I saw him for the last time in Las Vegas in the 70s. He was doing a show and I went backstage to see him. We chatted for a while and then he was off, never to be seen again.”

(As told to Gayle Sequeira)

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