Added on 02-Nov-2013
THE legendary rock band are still the champions as their songs and the legacy of Freddie Mercury ensure the band's longevity as drummer Roger looks back on their success.
QUEEN are rock’s survivors. They came through the death of Freddie Mercury and the retirement of their bass player. They survived punk, dance, grunge and Britpop, remaining an enduring and much-loved band.
Drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May have steered the band into a brand that refuses to feel nostalgic, remaining as fresh and exciting as they did when they first released songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are The Champions, We Will Rock You and Radio Ga Ga.
Their songs are never off the radio and their 1981 Greatest Hits collection is the biggest selling UK album ever with around six million copies sold.
Every Saturday night on The X Factor their theme tune to Flash is used for an instant vote to find out which of the wannabes is in line to be booted off the show.
In London the musical We Will Rock You is still running after 11 years, while Roger and Brian played the London Olympics’ closing ceremony last year.
A biopic of the much-missed Freddie Mercury is in the works and next week a self-created and endorsed tribute band The Queen Extravaganza will play Scotland.
And 64-year-old father-of-five Roger loves every minute of it.
With that famous husky voice, he laughed: “I do wonder what’s hit me sometimes.
“I think, ‘Hang on a minute, aren’t you meant to be relaxing a bit?’ But it’s good to be busy.
“I prefer that than sitting back and enjoying life.
“I’ve got a lot of responsibilities so have to keep making a living.
“I think people think we put this huge sack of money away and live on it but it doesn’t really work like that.”
He is at pains to stress that he and Brian never had a masterplan for Queen, saying: “It’s been organic. It all seems terribly calculating but it wasn’t.
“People wouldn’t take it if you were shoving it down their throat.
“We’ve just been very lucky. We never thought We Will Rock You would still be running. We had no idea it would still be going years later.
“We are just continually surprised and obviously happy that the interest in Queen and Freddie keeps alive.
“It’s a constant source of pleasure for ourselves.”
With Freddie’s death in 1991, the remaining members of Queen had to decide what to do.
They could have gone their separate ways but as friends tried to stay together.
They released an album using vocals from his final recordings, four years after his death.
They played as Queen +, recording with guest singers such as Robbie Williams.
With bassist John Deacon’s retirement (Roger said that he hasn’t heard from him since), the remaining members of Queen teamed up with former Free singer Paul Rodgers for five years recording and touring.
In the last few years they have used American singer Adam Lambert for their gigs, although they were joined by Jessie J for last year’s London Olympics closing ceremony.
At the heart of all this, though, are the songs.
Roger, who wrote many of Queen’s most notable hit singles including A Kind Of Magic, Radio Ga Ga and These Are The Days Of Our Lives, said: “More than anything else, they seem to stand up to the test of time.
“We try to keep the profile up occasionally with things like the musical but the songs are still popular and still on the radio.”
He laughed: “Anthems R Us.”
The years have also been kind to Freddie. Many may have laughed at his theatricality and that monochrome spandex catsuit from the 70s or the high camp Village People image of the 80s but he’s now seen as one of the best, if not the best, frontmen of all time.
To Roger and Brian, though, he’s a much-missed friend. He said: “He’s part of our mental wallpaper. He’s a part of our fabric.
“All those years going around the world together and doing shows and making records, you get to know what each other thinks and we met him every day.
“I shall think of Freddie Mercury every day – maybe for a moment, maybe for longer.”
Even the band didn’t know just what an incredible frontman he is.
Freddie’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 is still seen as one of the greatest live shows.
Watch it on YouTube – you’ll be smiling, singing and clapping along like the audience within minutes.
Roger said: “We all got on pretty well but I didn’t really realise just what we had and how special he was – how he could galvanise audiences by sheer force of will.”
There is much relief from many Queen fans that Sacha Baron Cohen left the biopic of Freddie Mercury that’s currently in development.
Roger and Brian’s choice for the role would be Skyfall’s Ben Whishaw.
The drummer doesn’t want to make a big issue of the Borat star leaving but admitted the British comedian’s big character would have eclipsed the real Freddie.
He said: “It would have all been about him and not about Freddie.
“Brian and I have a power of veto because we have the music but our main job is to do the music. We are not producers. I wouldn’t have to make decisions about our band and our singer.
“We are involved because the music is a large part of it but we don’t make all the casting decisions.”
The next Queen legacy though is all him. The Queen Extravaganza is the ultimate tribute band, picked by Roger and created in the US.
Again, given he’s in his 60s, it’s not an unkind question to ask Roger if he and Brian are doing it so the young guns can tour and they can put their feet up.
Especially as fellow drummer Phil Collins, 62, had to quit drumming because of a spinal injury and has since retired.
Roger said: “I was very sorry to hear about Phil. It was terrible. I guess we are the same age.
“I get tinnitus occasionally, which I can deal with but I have to say you do take a little bit of a beating.
“The only thing I’ve got is that the ring fingers on both my hands have a little arthritis in each.
“It’s a worn out joint because of too much exertion and stress. But it doesn’t affect my playing, which is good.
“It doesn’t help guitar but doesn’t affect the drums. That finger takes the shocks. I honestly don’t know why. We have a tough gig, us drummers.”
But this hasn’t stopped him and Roger will continue to play live.
He said: “We are in a lucky position of doing things when we like it and when we want to do it. We played Las Vegas in September with Adam Lambert singing.”
Instead, creating the tribute band seems more about trying to undermine the market in pale imitations.
Stick a moustache and a yellow jacket on anyone and they could be recognisable as Freddie.
Roger said: “All these tribute bands are of mixed ability.
“It tends to be a bit of panto – dressing up with curly wigs and moustaches – the works.
“So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a brilliant band who can do our music brilliantly who aren’t trying to look like us?’”
As well as using footage from Queen’s vaults and arena band production values, they managed to find a singer who looks and, more importantly, sings like Freddie Mercury did.
Roger said: “We were very lucky to find Marc Martel.
“That voice. You listen, close your eyes and you think it’s Freddie. It’s really uncanny.
“But all the band are amazing. We have been very lucky.”
The Queen Extravaganza will play Glasgow on Monday, and Roger remembers Scotland fondly.
He said: “We found out we had gone to No1 with Bohemian Rhapsody on the bus going to Aberdeen.
“We celebrated with enormous amounts of drink.
“And I remember doing a show at Glasgow University with all these guys outside looking through this narrow window at the top of a dressing room shouting, ‘I can see you Brian May’.”
As well as keeping Queen at the forefront of our minds, Roger is also releasing his fifth solo album Fun On Earth on November 11.
It’s his first in 15 years and on the same day will release The Lot – the complete collection of his back catalogue including his solo albums and material from The Cross.
He laughed: “I didn’t realise I’d done so much. It’s taken about five years to get Fun on Earth together.”
He added: “My debut solo album was Fun in Space and this called Fun on Earth. I’m not sure if it’ll be my last one but it does feel like the closing of a circle.
“It’s rooted towards finding peace. Well, if I haven’t found it by now...”
He trails off a very happy and very busy man.