Although best known for his powerhouse role in Queen, Roger Taylor is anything but a drummer confined to his kit. With rock ‘n’ roll in his veins all through his schooldays, he has always been a highly active, vocal member of Queen. He famously wrote Queen’s landmark hits ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘A Kind of Magic’, amongst others, and was also the first to make a solo album, 1981’s Fun in Space. To date he has released four solo albums, which, aside from his work with Queen, further highlighted Taylor as an musician and writer with a strong sense of identity, a wide musical perspective, and – not least of all – a man not without a sense of irony.
Taylor’s active approach has not been confined to his music: when media mogul Rupert Murdoch made attempts to buy Manchester United football club, Taylor funded the club supporters in their attempts to block the sale, and historically helped them succeed.
Roger Taylor was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, on July 26th 1949. Roger became fascinated with music in the 50s, when his family moved to Cornwall. He learned his first instrument, the ukulele, at a tender age, and enjoyed a brief taste of things to come in a pre-teen skiffle band whose collective talent survived just two public performances, both apparently excruciating! So ended ‘the Bubbling Over Boys’! His music took on a different direction in 1960, when he became a rather reluctant member of the Truro Cathedral Choir — a prerequisite of his scholarship. He taught himself the guitar around this time, but by the following year had moved over to drums.
By 1966 Roger had not only progressed to drumming in Cornwall’s most popular band, the Reaction, but had also become their lead singer, with his drumkit placed — where else? — in the principal position, at the front of the stage.
In 1968 Roger formed another group, Smile, with Middlesex guitar ace Brian May and Tim Staffell. Smile played sporadically over the next few years and even issued a single in the United States. When Smile ended, Roger, with Brian May and Freddie Mercury formed Queen.
Roger began writing songs for Queen from day one, and each of the band’s 15 studio albums included compositions by him. History notes that all four members of Queen wrote No 1 singles: Taylor dutifully provided his with ‘Radio Ga Ga’, ‘A Kind of Magic’, ‘Days of Our Lives’ amongst the biggest.
1977 was the landmark year in which Queen released ‘We Are the Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You’. Roger became the first member of Queen to launch a solo career with the release of the single ‘I Wanna Testify’. His solo album Fun in Space followed in 1981, and was succeeded by 1984’s rock-based Strange Frontier. Both LPs reached the Top 30. In 1987 Roger formed his own band the Cross. After the tragic death of Freddie Mercury, Roger returned to his solo career with 1994’s Happiness?, an album on which he explored the theme of “dealing with life and looking for happiness”. The success of the album prompted further tours of the UK and Italy. Then came perhaps his most potent album, Electric Fire, which clearly showed Taylor as an acute observational songwriter.
That the Queen musical We Will Rock You came into being could be seen as something of a surprise taking into account Roger’s openly expressed view that “musicals are completely foreign to me. It’s a genre I don’t particularly like.” But after working closely with Brian and writer Ben Elton on shaping the musical, Taylor found himself deeply entrenched in developing the show, breaking the rules of musical theatre and taking on the role — along with Brian — as musical supervisor, not only for the first production in London, but for each of the subsequent productions throughout the world.
At the same time as setting up We Will Rock You, Roger and Brian played a central part in the formation of the Nelson Mandela 46664 charity, performing at the first two South Africa concerts, and providing several new songs to the 46664 album which saw them collaborate with many other international artistes.
Roger penned two new songs for the project, ‘Say It’s Not True’ and ‘Invincible Hope’.
In 2005, after an accidental encounter with former Free singer Paul Rodgers, Roger and Brian felt the time was right to put Queen back on the road. Billed as Queen + Paul Rodgers, Roger and Brian tested the water with a handpicked set of European dates. Such was the momentum built up over the six week European tour, a Japan and US tour was booked to follow, which saw Roger and Brian return to the USA to play for the first time in more than 20 years. The impact of the return to the road was summed up in a review of is closing night in Vancouver: “the night that arena rock officially made its comeback”.
Of being back at the kit — although the new live set sees him on vocals for a fair part of their set — Roger comments: “it’s given us a sense of rejuvenation. I’m even growing my hair long again. But I do have to remind myself of my age — and I think ‘Oh come on, behave yourself!’”
Given past evidence, did someone say, ‘unlikely’? PS: Hair now short! — bad decision!