Last Updated: 12:01am BST 31/08/2004
When Queen recorded their albums in Montreux, Freddie Mercury loved the Swiss town and made it his home, writes Christopher Middleton.
What could Freddie Mercury and Charlie Chaplin possibly have had in common? One the flamboyant rock star, the other a self-effacing little man with the moustache and bowler hat?
The answer is Montreux, the little Swiss town famous for its jazz festival, its comedy award (the Golden Rose, now moved to Lucerne), and for the way in which, over the past two centuries, it has served as a lakeside hideaway for the famous. "If you want peace for your soul, go to Montreux," Mercury apparently told the singer Montserrat Caballe.
Meanwhile Chaplin spoke of being "in the midst of happiness" when he sat on the terrace of his home at nearby Vevey, where he spent the last 25 years of his life. The two men's affection for this part of the Swiss riviera has been reciprocated; statues of both of them now stand looking out over the tranquil waters of Lake Geneva - Mercury in characteristically defiant pose, Chaplin unassumingly twiddling his cane.
Mercury and Chaplin are not the only two stars to have made Montreux their home. Look back further, and the list of luminaries takes in Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hans Christian Andersen, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene and AJ Cronin.
Plus, of course, Lord Byron, who in 1816 wrote an overwrought but hugely popular poem called The Prisoner of Chillon, in which he put himself in the shoes and leg irons of a Geneva patriot called Bonivard, who had spent four years chained to a pillar in Montreux's beautiful Chillon Castle (thick walls, but lovely views across the lake).
With typical self-promotional zeal, Byron scratched his own name (still visible) on the pillar where Bonivard had been bound, and to this day the Montreux tradition of "leaving your mark" is upheld by the hundreds of rock fans who come to scrawl their tributes on the doors of Mountain Studios. This - in case you're not up on your rock history - is where Mercury's band Queen recorded most of their albums, making it hallowed ground for the visiting faithful. "Freddie - Have A Good Time With Angels", writes one well-wisher on the studios' outside wall. "Thank You My Fairy King", writes another.
Messages duly left, it's a short step for Freddie Mercury's fans to Bazar Suisse, the novelty emporium which is the town's official Queen souvenir shop, as well as the starting point for the annual Freddie Mercury Memorial Day celebrations held every second or third Saturday in September. Last year, 250 fans paid £65 per head for a boat trip past Freddie's lakeside apartment block (Les Tourelles, at Territet), a lunch chosen by his former personal assistant, a concert by a Queen tribute group and a tour of Mountain Studios with owner David Richards.
"It was a great experience talking to all the fans at the memorial day," says Richards, who was Queen's recording engineer in the glory years, and who bought Mountain Studios after Mercury's death. "Between us, we knew every bar of the music - and of course they all wanted to know what it was like making Freddie's last-ever recording [Mother Love]. I explained how we had to do it in the mixing room because Freddie (suffering from an AIDS-related illness) was getting very tired by then, and couldn't keep going up and down the stairs to the studio below."