My Family and Other Rock Stars by Tiffany Murray review – tales from a rock’n’roll childhood

<span>Queen at Rockfield Studios in 1975.</span><span>Photograph: Andre Csillag/Rex</span>
Queen at Rockfield Studios in 1975.Photograph: Andre Csillag/Rex

Would you like to know exactly what the members of Queen were eating as they recorded the endless “Galileos” of Bohemian Rhapsody? What David Bowie had for dinner, or which item was most prized when hardworking rockers had a food fight in the studio? The answers might all be found in Tiffany Murray’s highly entertaining memoir of a rock’n’roll childhood; or might not, depending what you think of the fallibility of memory.

Murray’s formative years were spent spying on 1970s rock nobility because her mother, Joan, was the prized cordon-bleu chef at two recording studios, serving gourmet dinners to sometimes unappreciative musos. Joan’s elegant cream-enhanced seafood dishes were regularly rejected by those whose facial hair alone precluded them from making judgments of taste. The bands with the most terrifying reputations were frequently the most polite, though Joan did have to issue certain rules: “No barging into the kitchen and chatting me up … And don’t grab the cook’s tits from behind.” Ozzy Osbourne was suitably chastened, having been spotted through the window by young Tiffany cavorting around the nearby churchyard at midnight, howling and unclothed. Her panicked tears were swiftly assuaged by a large consignment of fluffy toys from the soft-hearted hellraiser.

The story opens at the studio called the Vicarage, where the author, aged five, first encounters Queen and Black Sabbath. One night, Joan’s boyfriend, Jackson, fresh from the boozer, wanders into the kitchen and takes one bite out of every plated-up duck breast Joan is about to serve. Joan promptly transfers her skills to the legendary Rockfield Studios, and her affections to the bearded Fritz Fryer from folk band Horslips. Tiffany mourns the departure of Jackson’s great dane, Cleo, but at least Fritz comes with a dog called Boggle.

Even Freddie Mercury can’t muster the otherworldly atmosphere that surrounds David Bowie

If there’s any sex and drugs alongside the rock’n’roll, the child doesn’t register it, singing merrily along to Motörhead’s Vibrator as though it’s a nursery rhyme. It might be the 70s, but everyone behaves themselves around her. The gravest incident occurs on a holiday in Sardinia, when mother and daughter are abducted by two brothers with guns and taken into the hills. Questioned about the ordeal now, Joan is offhand, seeming more exasperated than traumatised; perhaps a hangover of 70s attitudes to male aggression.

The text features regular typographical flourishes: white space, differing typefaces, giant superimposed “Galileos” in greyscale to evoke Queen’s harmonies. Set lists, together with Joan’s corroborating memories and surprisingly simple recipes (“I don’t weigh”), are interspersed among the anecdotes. Lemmy from Motörhead will only eat bacon butties on Mother’s Pride bread; Graham Parker is unusual in enjoying trout. Tiffany’s lunch box typically contains “Half a Nick Lowe T-bone steak with mushrooms; a chunk of Ian Gillan’s poached Wye salmon”.

The childlike perspective, though endearing, means that the glimpses of musical creativity are few. Fritz diligently recruits a chapter of the Hells Angels to obtain the ultimate revving motorbike sound. It’s a rush job because “Animal the naked drummer has to redo the drums before he goes back to prison”.

Murray occasionally falls into the trope of the I was bouncing on my space hopper while Mum cooked crispy pancakes when Life on Mars came on the radio variety. It’s not just the perfectly recalled conversations. Take this paragraph: “I have a seafood pancake and Mum has a glass of house white and a pink, gold-tipped Sobranie. I count the ticks of the grandfather clock in the damp-smelling lounge-restaurant. A waitress in a white crown is filing her nails at the till … The radio plays Seasons in the Sun.” How can Murray remember so clearly? Though, admittedly, the sight of a bollock-naked Ozzy must have been seared on a young mind.

Overall, this is an enchanting account of a charmed period in recent musical history. The narrative charts the changing of the musical guard; while Fritz and Joan love Elvis, Tiff the young teen thrills to the arrival down the farm track of Siouxsie Sioux and Echo and the Bunnymen. There is one rock god who always commands awe: even Freddie Mercury can’t muster the otherworldly atmosphere that surrounds David Bowie, although the last thing he brings to the table is an appetite. All he wanted for dinner was milk.

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