My Family and Other Rock Stars by Tiffany Murray review – Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and my mum

<span>Freddie Mercury, far left, with Queen bandmates John Deacon, Roger Taylor and Brian May at Rockfield studios in 1975. </span><span>Photograph: Andre Csillag/TBC</span>
Freddie Mercury, far left, with Queen bandmates John Deacon, Roger Taylor and Brian May at Rockfield studios in 1975. Photograph: Andre Csillag/TBC

Sometimes the most compelling family memoirs are not those that recount particularly extraordinary lives but which, rather, are told in the most beguiling voice. Tiffany Murray recounts hers from the perspective of an eight-year-old and so fills these pages with the giddy, carbonated fizz of prepubescence. She erupts frequently into different-sized fonts whenever she needs to convey maximum glee and trips into onomatopoeia (“ujjjjj aaah caaaah”) when normal words simply won’t suffice. In this way, she is able to smuggle into the narrative, almost unseen, a correspondingly piercing pathos that, in the hands of others, might just have tipped this towards misery memoir. Instead, the abiding tone is one of wonder and joy.

An author with three novels to her name, Murray is making her first foray into memoir with My Family and Other Rock Stars. It recounts the time of her growing up in and around the famous Rockfield music studios in Wales in the mid-1970s. This was where her mother, Joan, served as its resident chef, cooking for visiting bands such as Motörhead, Showaddywaddy and Black Sabbath, who, between them, were demanding, entertaining and often exasperating.

Freddie smells lovely, and he’s quiet, apart from when he sings or laughs, [when] he throws his head back like a thin heron gobbling a fish

A single parent still pining for the swinging 60s she’d so thrived in, Joan had ended up cooking primarily to keep the wolf from the door. “I’ve never seen a wolf,” Tiffany, from her childhood perspective, relays, “but I’d like to.” Nevertheless, within this bucolic corner of rock Valhalla, there is always incident. One afternoon, Tiffany is required to serve tea to a very polite man called David Bowie, whose unusual eyes she is utterly hypnotised by. On another, she bumps into someone called “Fred”, or “Freddie”, who repeatedly sings the word “Galileo” at the top of his voice. He fascinates her. “His front teeth press out of his lips in a way I can’t stop looking at,” she writes of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, there to record Bohemian Rhapsody. “He smells lovely, and he’s quiet, apart from when he sings or laughs, [when] he throws his head back like a thin heron gobbling a fish.”

While Rockfield is Murray’s adventure playground and the woods outside the perfect place to roam with her great dane, her mother is having an existential crisis over paella in the pan and smoked trout mousse. Her barbary duck is a firm favourite of the Teardrop Explodes.

This childhood tale, then, is Cider With Rosie, but fuelled with something far stronger – Lemmy’s Jack Daniel’s, perhaps. One night, out of his gourd, Ozzy Osbourne dances around the grounds naked, waking and scaring Murray. While he repents the next day by ordering her a lorryload of toys from Harrods, Joan is furious. But then Joan’s emotions are routinely stretched to breaking point.

“Mum’s shelling peas outside the dining room french windows,” Murray writes, “a band on the grass around her, a cafe creme in her mouth, and her dress pulled down to her waist and no bra, because it’s her sun, and she needs it.” Occasionally, Murray must avoid the kitchen altogether. “Mum is in a bad mood because she had such a good time last night; that’s how it works for adults.”

Another time, the two are on holiday in Sardinia when they appear to be kidnapped by a group of armed men and locked in separate rooms. Murray never found out exactly what happened until now, because throughout the memoir, like amuse-bouche between chapters, Joan’s voice pops up to recount either favourite recipes or else to offer an adult perspective and clarification. Here, on the page, she confesses all, dropping bombs as if to her they weighed nothing at all. Yes, she confirms, they were abducted. “The men had their wicked way with me,” Joan writes. “I had to play their game because I was scared stiff they’d hurt you.” Murray responds: “What about you, Mum?” Her mother’s answer: “As long as you were all right, I was fine.”

The fact that, back at home, Joan also found it necessary to affix a sign to the kitchen wall that read: “Don’t grab the cook’s tits” was simply further indication of the workplace hazards she regularly faced. Murray remains mostly oblivious and focuses on fun, such as the time Iggy Pop had a food fight with Simple Minds: “The cheese went missing.”

Ultimately, Joan did manage to keep that wolf from the door. She continued cooking, and watched over her daughter as she grew and blossomed. Life might have taken its toll, but then life always does. Onwards. Here, Murray, a sublime memoirist, has written the most beautiful of tributes to a fierce and indomitable spirit.

• My Family and Other Rock Stars by Tiffany Murray is published by Fleet (£22). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply