Queen drummer Roger Taylor tells Danny Scott about wearing silly outfits and touring with Freddy Mercury.
…Discovering Lonnie Donegan
Unless you grew up in the 1950s, it’s very difficult to explain what music was like back then. It was all Doris Day and the BBC Light Orchestra. Rather grey and austere, as was life in post-war Britain. Then, out of the blue, along comes Lonnie Donegan.
I saw him doing “Cumberland Gap” on TV; it must have been about 1957. When I got to school the next day, there was only one thing we talked about: “Did you see him? Did you see Lonnie?” Lonnie Donegan was as revolutionary as punk 20 years later. Listening to him was like opening the door to another world.
…Wanting to join a band
I went to a cathedral school on a choral scholarship, which meant that I did a bit of singing and my parents didn’t have to fork out for my education. But after the Lonnie experience, I decided I wanted to play drums in a real band.
I joined a few groups and music sort of took over my life. My parents were pretty straight-laced, but happily they were very forgiving when it came to my music.
…Moving to London
I was 18 [in 1967] and as far as my parents were concerned, I was going to get a grant and go to college. But all I was really interested in was forming a band. London was fantastic and full of music in the late Sixties—The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix.
I got into London Hospital Medical College, studying dentistry, but I used to hang out at the bar in Imperial College. One day, I bumped into this guy called Brian May, who was doing a PhD in astronomy. He told me he played guitar, so we got together a few times and, blimey, he was good. We immediately became mates and we’re still mates today!
…Running a business with Freddie Mercury
About 1969, I opened a stall in Kensington Market, which was one of the hippest places in London. I used to run it with this bloke, Freddie, who I knew because he regularly came to see Smile, the band Brian and I were in at the time. Me and Fred used to sell old Edwardian clothes and scarves that he picked up from various nefarious dealers.
Back then, I didn’t really know him as a singer—he was just my mate. My crazy mate! If there was fun to be had, Freddie and I were usually involved.
After we formed Queen, he used to come down and stay at my parents’ house. Mum loved it. He was always immaculately turned out and she could never understand how he got his trousers so perfectly creased. In fact, after he took them off, he would lay them dead straight underneath his mattress on the floor. He pressed them while he was sleeping!
…Recording 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
These days, success happens overnight. You have a YouTube hit or appear on a talent show and, bang, you’re everywhere.
For Queen, it really was a long hard slog. In the early days, we couldn’t even get gigs. But we stuck at it, had a couple of hits, a few more people came to see us and then, in 1975, we released “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
And that bloody video! I think we realised pretty quickly it had catapulted us into another league. We were no longer just a decent rock band. We were famous.
…Becoming a dad
I’ll admit my private life has occasionally made the headlines [Roger has been married three times], but that hasn’t altered the wonderful relationship I have with my [five] kids. I first became a dad in 1980 and I loved it.
People think that because you’ve got money, being a parent is easy. Sure, some things were easier, but I still worried about my kids, still wanted the best for them, still wanted them to work hard and do well. We regularly get together and it can be pretty terrifying when they’re all in the same room. They’re a rowdy bunch.
…Feeling unsure about live aid
We knew that it was an important gig—it was the first time I’d heard the phrase “global jukebox”. But we were added to the bill only at the last minute and we weren’t convinced that many people would be interested in seeing us play. Believe it or not, we were actually a bit worried; it wasn’t “our crowd”.
Fortunately, from the minute we walked out on stage, they went crazy. Because each act was only given a certain amount of time, we knew we had to give them a killer set list and we just did hit after hit after hit. And then there was Freddie. My God, he was absolutely on fire that day!
…Wearing some very silly outfits
Being in Queen has been a lot of fun, but I will admit that we did make some fashion mistakes. Do I regret some of the outfits I wore in the 1980s? Absolutely!
Everybody always talks about the video for “I Want to Break Free” [where Roger dressed up as a schoolgirl], but I have no problems with that at all. That was just us having a laugh. The one I really have difficulty watching is “It’s a Hard Life”. Feathers, gold lamé and even a Blackadder ruff. What were we thinking?
…Playing our final gigs with Freddie—but not realising it
We toured our album A Kind of Magic in 1986 and obviously, we had no idea they were going to be his last shows. [Freddie was diagnosed with Aids the following year.]
The strange thing about Freddie is that, although he was the ultimate showman, he was intrinsically a shy person. He was always saying, “Guys, I don’t want to tour anymore. I don’t enjoy it.”
But we never believed him, because we knew there was this whole other side of his character that loved being in the spotlight—this outrageous personality that he could turn on as soon as he walked out in front of a crowd.
For 20-odd years, I had the best seat in the house, watching the best frontman in the world. Do we miss him? Of course. Every day.
…Closing the Olympics
Queen have played their share of big gigs, but it’s difficult to top the Olympic closing ceremony in your own country. It really was a tremendous honour.
What was the TV audience for that show? Actually, I don’t want to know—it’ll freak me out.
Another thing I remember is that there were a lot of not-live performances that night. (Not mentioning any names.) We were live, of course.
…Recording songs with my son Rufus
I’ve just released a solo album, Fun on Earth, and had the pleasure of working with him—we co-wrote a song called “Be With You”. He’s a drummer, like his dad, and actually toured with me and Brian on some recent Queen dates.
Music is not something you can really push onto your kids—they either enjoy it or they don’t. And Rufus enjoys it. Most parents would probably get annoyed if their kids started hitting things, but I was always secretly chuffed when he used to whack the hell out of the furniture. I knew straight away that he was going to be a drummer.
Roger’s album Fun on Earth and The Lot, a box set of his solo work, are out now.
The full article featured in the print edition of the Reader's Digest magazine.
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