Rock Royalty unveiled: Queen Extravaganza’s lead singer Gareth Taylor on embracing rebellion, honouring legacy, and the magic of Queen’s music

As Queen Extravaganza, the official Queen tribute band produced by Roger Taylor and Brian May, prepares for their eagerly anticipated UK tour in 2024, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gareth Taylor, the band’s lead singer. Gareth, with his warm Northern English accent and undeniable charm, graciously serenaded me during our conversation, leaving me convinced that Freddie Mercury would be proud.

gareth taylor queen extravaganza on stage

Although I wasn’t initially a Queen fan, witnessing their electrifying performance at Hammersmith Apollo last year in February changed everything. Growing up, Queen’s music was the ubiquitous soundtrack of my teenage years, and now, every time I hear their songs, I’m transported back to those incredible moments. Despite my initial allegiance to hard rock, Queen’s timeless melodies have woven themselves into the fabric of my memories. The band, comprised of a rotating ensemble of exceptionally talented musicians hand-picked by Roger Taylor and Brian May, delivers an unforgettable 90-minute show featuring over 20 Queen classics, captivating audiences across the globe. Renowned for their spectacular performances and unwavering devotion to Queen’s legacy, Queen Extravaganza has garnered immense love and respect from their ever-expanding fan base, with millions of fans declaring it the closest experience to the original. As they prepare to embark on their latest tour, it’s clear that for Queen fans worldwide, every Queen Extravaganza concert truly is A Kind Of Magic!

queen extravaganza

Q: Can you tell me about your role in Queen Extravaganza and how the band came together? As the lead singer without trying to fill in Freddie Mercury’s shoes, how did you prepare for it?

Gareth Taylor : Well, Queen’s music seems to be more omnipresent than ever these days, wouldn’t you say? It’s practically mainstream now, and being part of Queen Extravaganza feels like hitting the jackpot. As for me, I’ve been blessed with a powerful voice. You might find it interesting that for 14 years, I was a Physics teacher. However, in 2014, I found myself doing local gigs where I sang Queen songs, albeit without any fancy costumes. Surprisingly, I started earning more from these gigs than from my teaching job. So, one day in October, I made a bold decision: I told my wife, “I’m going to quit teaching and become a professional Freddie Mercury act.” She thought I was mad, but there was more to it than just the money. My mum was ill at the time, and I saw an opportunity to spend more time with her during the week while working gigs from Friday to Sunday. It was like a snowball effect – things just kept getting bigger. Eventually, I formed my own Queen band, and we were solely focused on the music, not on dressing up. Then, in 2018, we got our big break. Every year, in Montreux, Switzerland, they hold the official Freddie Mercury birthday party, drawing thousands of fans from all over the globe. Montreux, nestled by Lake Geneva, is practically the Queen capital of the world – they even recorded their last album there. The event raises funds for the Mercury Phoenix Trust, and they always feature a headline band. In 2018, my band was chosen to headline that party, and that’s when I caught the attention of the Queen camp. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, I find myself front and centre in Queen Extravaganza.

Queen Extravaganza tour poster

Q: What inspired the creation of Queen Extravaganza, and how does it pay homage to Queen’s legacy? As a tribute band, what challenges do you face in recreating Queen’s iconic sound and stage presence?

Gareth Taylor : In 2011, Roger Taylor and Brian May grew increasingly frustrated with the abundance of Queen tribute bands, prompting them to establish their own. In North America, they held auditions, ultimately forming Queen Extravaganza. Their debut performance on the American Idol TV talent competition featured the exceptional singer Mark Martell. From there, the band soared. Roger and Brian are deeply involved in managing the band, with Roger taking the lead in decisions such as setlists and wardrobe choices. It’s essentially Roger’s brainchild, and all equipment used belongs to Queen. This attention to detail and authenticity underscores the band’s commitment to honouring Queen’s legacy.

The concept behind Queen Extravaganza is to continue Queen’s legacy in an official capacity, particularly as Roger and Brian transition into the winter. stages of their touring careers. This endeavour reflects Freddie Mercury’s desire to avoid predictability in performance. His dying wish was: “Do what you want, but don’t make me boring”. 

Knowing that in 2024 there are two official Queen bands touring would undoubtedly have pleased him. While many unofficial tribute bands prioritise appearance, Queen Extravaganza focuses on musical craftsmanship and authenticity, recognising the complexity of emulating Queen’s sound and stage presence. This sets us apart from the average tribute band experience.

Q: What criteria do you use when preparing for Queen Extravaganza shows?

Gareth: Roger and Brian play a significant role in the audition process. Currently, there are six of us in the band, and it’s the same line-up as last year’s tour. I have no doubt that it will continue to evolve. They are fully involved in the selection process, attending rehearsals and shows. What’s particularly reassuring is that they’re always there to offer support and encouragement. Once you’ve been chosen, it’s for a reason. They don’t micromanage us; instead, they trust us to deliver. The expectations are incredibly high, and with last year’s tour comprising 60 dates in roughly 75 days, it’s no small feat. Not even Freddie or Adam Lambert would take on such a demanding schedule. We’re under a lot of pressure, and that can be challenging.

 

Q: You stay true to the band’s spirit and authenticity. Queen’s music often explores themes of rebellion and non-conformity. Can you discuss some of Queen’s songs that embody these themes?

Gareth: Queen was unique in that all four members of the band contributed hits. Particularly, John Deacon wrote ‘I Want to Break Free’ and ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, and was quite instrumental in ‘Under Pressure’. Two songs that stand out in terms of rebellion are written by Freddie. They are “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “We Are the Champions”, which are very hedonistic: ‘I don’t care what you say because I’m the best …’. The lyrics of these two songs are iconic and popular, but I wonder how many people pay attention to what these lyrics really mean. Freddie was particularly adept at writing songs that he knew would become anthems in stadiums and arenas around the world. He did this over a 15-year period. In addition to themes of rebellion, many of Freddie’s lyrics also show his fragility and vulnerability in love and in life. From what I’ve read, as I never met Freddie, he was a really shy guy who liked his own company. But as soon as he put on his costume and got onto a stage, he became somebody different. He became a stage animal.

 

Q: In what ways do you see Queen as rock rebels, both musically and culturally? They underwent significant changes between 1971 and 1991. What do you consider to be the band’s most significant impact, and why is Queen so influential in our culture?

Gareth: The evolution of the band played a crucial role. Unlike many artists who followed fashion trends, Queen’s journey through various musical genres over the 15-year period was driven by their collective creativity and intellect. It wasn’t just Freddie; all four members were highly creative and intelligent individuals. Their ability to evolve as a four-piece ensemble was remarkable. For instance, when Freddie adopted a new look in 1980, transforming into a true gay icon, it marked a significant shift. Albums like “Hot Space” in 1981, which ventured into funk disco, were initially met with mixed reception among Queen fans. However, their return with “The Works” in 1984 yielded major hits like “I Want to Break Free” and “Radio Ga Ga.” The latter, with its simple yet iconic hand claps, always gets the audience clapping along, even if not everyone has perfect timing.

Monica: I remember “Radio Gaga” playing on the coach coming back from school trips in the 80s in Italy.

Gareth: Then we move onto “It’s a Kind of Magic”. To move with the times, to evolve takes bravery. When you’re writing and recording an album, there’s going to be a delay before its release, sometimes up to 9 months or a year. So, you’ve just got to be brave. These guys must have been so united, brave, and supportive of one another to keep coming up with hit after hit after hit.

 

Q: How does Queen Extravaganza carry on the tradition of rock rebellion established by the original Queen band? 

Gareth: We’re granted the freedom to express ourselves as individuals. The concept of rebellion spans a spectrum. While it’s not about smashing guitars or tossing drums off stage – that wouldn’t quite hit the mark – it’s more about infusing our personality and performance with a rebellious attitude. It’s in the way we sing the songs, perhaps with a hint of aggression. You can be rebellious by delivering “Lazy on a Sunday Afternoon” delicately or tackling “Killer Queen” in falsetto. It’s about presenting with grace, attitude, and confidence on stage, delivering a captivating performance that resonates with the audience. This theatrical approach, reminiscent of Freddie’s love for opera and ballet, is something that shines through in Queen Extravaganza.

Q: What is your favourite Queen song?

Gareth: “Somebody to Love” – written by Freddie and also his personal favourite song. He was inspired by Aretha Franklin and the gospel genre. It’s a difficult song to sing, with lots of falsetto and control. I’ve got recordings of Freddie’s isolated vocals for all the songs. For “Somebody to Love,” it’s quite remarkable as it sounds almost imperfect. When you listen to the track, it sounds perfect, but when you hear Freddie’s isolated vocals, you can detect imperfections and breathiness. (Gareth sings beautifully to demonstrate it to me).

I’ve been a Queen fan since I was 10 years old. I was into football, and Kevin, my best mate, gave me a cassette of Queen’s greatest hits. “Bohemian Rhapsody” blew my mind. Over the months, I listened to all the tracks. They were all so different. At that age, I didn’t even know what an album was. I thought that cassette was all there was until Kevin told me that his dad had more albums by Queen. I was so impressed. Over the next few years, I collected all the albums on cassette and subsequently on CD. I fell in love with Freddie and what he stood for. When he passed away while I was in sixth form college, it was a spiritual moment for me because I drew a lot of strength from Freddie. I was skinny, spotty, and a bit different. I studied theatre, physics, and maths, and I was a bit geeky. I liked to wear different clothes and wasn’t part of the in-crowd. But Freddie gave me the confidence to just be myself, to be an individual, and to stop worrying about what other people thought. “Just be yourself, be an individual, and do what you want, as long as you are kind to people.” That’s what Freddie inspired my entire life, really.

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