The last time I saw Roger Taylor play live was 37 years ago (it was with Queen at Wembley Arena on The Works tour) and he was 35 years old! The fourteen date England and Wales tour he announced in support of his ‘Outsider’ album is also his first solo outing in twenty plus years, and that last time around I still greatly regret not going to see him in Cardiff’s now long-lost Coal Exchange venue.
As a result, when it was announced that Roger would be playing St David’s Hall as part of this intimate (well by Queen’s standards anyway) run of dates, I didn’t really have to think too hard before snapping up my very reasonably priced ticket mid lockdown, not really knowing if tonight would ever really happen. Covid protocols aside though by the time Roger takes to the stage with his band tonight you could almost imagine the last eighteen months hadn’t happened at all. Such are the restorative qualities of live music as the band ease themselves into their two hour set with the title track from Roger’s 1985 album ‘Strange Frontier’.
Promising to play a mix of solo and Queen songs it’s not long before I get to hear my favourite singer in Queen play one of my all-time favourite Queen songs in the shape of ‘Tenement Funster’, a song which unveils Roger’s gravelly vocals in all their glory. Granted he may not have the full range he once possessed but with the band’s secret weapon (Tyler Warren) tucked away behind the drum stool if you close your eyes, you can almost believe it’s 1974 Queen giving us all an early set (sheer) heart attack.
As it stands Roger’s touring band is actually a lot closer to the 2021 Queen (with added Adam Lambert) lineup than you might first think, as the aforementioned Tyler Warren on drums, bassist Neil Fairclough and long term Queen keyboardist Spike Edney are all very much a part of both bands. Add in the unbelievable talents of multi-instrumentalist Tina Hizon and guitarist Christian Mendoza (who at times reminds me of the hugely underrated Robbie Blunt) and you really do have a very special musical unit indeed. The understated tunes from the new album like ‘We’re All Just Trying To Get By’ and ‘Gangsters Are Running This World’ in particular sounding truly wonderful with added Hizon and Mendoza.
It’s of course the prospect of hearing some Queen songs which will have lured many out tonight, and it’s a delight to hear ‘A Kind Of Magic’, ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ all resonating with the audience. However, having glanced at the setlist beforehand (naughty boy) it was the prospect of a mid-set run-through of ‘Rock It (Prime Jive)’ from ‘The Game’ that had really piqued my interest. Pity then that the version aired tonight is the one Warren and Fairclough put together to celebrate Roger’s recent 72nd birthday and is performed minus Taylor and Edney. It’s still a mighty fine version though especially with Warren doing a bang on Freddie Mercury on the vocal intro, plus they more than makeup for any initial disappointment I might have felt with an immense ‘I’m In Love With My Car’ complete with Roger on vocals later on in the set.
Of Roger’s solo tracks ‘Up’ from 2013’s ‘Fun On Earth’, ‘Surrender’ from 1998’s ‘Electric Fire’ and ‘Man On Fire’ from ‘Strange Frontier’ are all given a 2021 makeover and sound astounding as a result, whilst the likes of ‘Absolutely Anything’, ‘Foreign Sands’ and ‘Outsider’ (but oddly no ‘Tides’) all from the new album can’t help me but draw comparisons to latter day David Bowie, each one being a delicate work of art very close to Roger Taylor’s heart.
‘More Kicks’ is one of Outsider’s rare rocking moments and tonight it sounds positively Zeppelin-esque as Taylor takes his place behind the vacant drum kit set up next to Warren for what is a most welcome drum battle, and for once at a gig it’s a drum solo that sees not a single person leaving for a quick comfort break.
There can only be one song to end tonight (no not ‘Drowse’, ‘Fun It’ or ‘Action this Day’ that would have just been too surreal), which is of course ‘Radio Ga Ga’, easily Queen’s most famous Taylor penned song and this track is finally enough to get everyone up out of their seats to partake in the mandatory clap-a-long and thus making the foundations of St David’s Hall shudder for the first time in a wee while.
Encore time gives us a fantastic take on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock n Roll’ that has Roger sounding vocally just like a twenty something Robert Plant whilst the version of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ which sends us out into the night owes (not unlike ‘Outsider’ itself) a lot to the Thin White Duke’s latter day take on his Berlin period anthem.
I left tonight totally thrilled by what I had just witnessed, and whilst I would have perhaps liked to have heard a track or two from ‘Fun In Space’ or by Roger’s ‘90s side project The Cross this is only a very small gripe during what turned out to be one of the most cathartic gig experiences I’ve had post lockdown. Fantastic stuff!