We will rock you (again!)


Last updated at 14:46 17 December 2004

Queen are going back on the road. To the amazement of the music industry and the delight of their fans, the group who arguably rank second only to The Beatles in British pop history this week announced that they will be touring Europe next spring.

These will be Queen's first dates since 1986, when they ended a triumphant European tour.

Their singer that night was the legendary Freddie Mercury, a man whose astonishing voice and musical ability was equalled only by his inexhaustible appetite for excess. Born in Zanzibar and schooled in India, the gay, flamboyant Mercury was a showman like no other.

Formed in 1971, at a time when rock bands boasted of their street credibility, wore scruffy clothes and played interminable guitar and drum solos, Queen were unashamedly middle-class, each with a university degree to their name. With their promotional film for Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975, they virtually invented the rock video.

The irony, of course, was that they could outplay and outwrite all the rock snobs who looked down on them as a mere pop act. Queen were serious musicians and, uniquely, all four members of the band wrote at least one worldwide hit.

Party band

Offstage, Queen were a legendary party-band. No post-show celebration was complete without naked girls mud-wrestling, or gallons of champagne served by dwarves. In 1978, they launched their Jazz album in New Orleans with one of the most decadent binges in rock history.

The band paid for their wildness. "Freddie, obviously, went completely AWOL, which is why he got that terrible disease," says Brian May. "He wasn't a bad person, but he was utterly out of control for a while. In a way, all of us were out of control and it screwed us up."

Freddie Mercury

Mercury paid the ultimate price for his lifestyle, dying of Aids in 1991 at the age of 45. Since then, his bandmates - each sustained by personal fortunes in excess of £50million - have kept Queen's name alive.

Each of them honours the memory of a man who was a much-loved friend as well as a working colleague. But the question must be asked: how on earth can they possibly replace a star as mesmeric as Mercury? For the three surviving members of the group are very different men from their lost leader.

Where are they now?

John Deacon

John Deacon, 53, the quiet, undemonstrative bass guitarist who wrote one of Queen's biggest hits, Another One Bites The Dust, has effectively retired.

He lives with his wife and six children on the outskirts of London, studiously avoiding the limelight.

Whenever he does emerge in public, it is to pour cold water on any attempt to resurrect Queen. Deacon will be invited to join next year's Queen tour, but it is reasonable to assume that he'll decline.

Brian May

Brian May, of course, is a much more public figure. Any man who can stand atop Buckingham Palace and play the National Anthem as a guitar solo, as May did to kick off the Queen's Golden Jubilee concert two years ago, clearly has a taste for public adulation.

Roger Taylor

May is a quiet, gentle man, prone to bouts of depression - "I live in my head too much," he said to me ruefully - his great love is astronomy. Clever enough to have written a PhD on Motions Of Interplanetary Dust, he could have become one of this country's leading space-experts.

He lives in a mansion in London's Holland Park with his actress wife and former EastEnders star, Anita Dobson. The couple's relationship is said to be idyllic, but it has not always been so happy. In 1999, it was revealed that May had been having an affair with his assistant, Julie Glover.

May and Anita split up before he flew to Canada, where she was starring in a show, begging her to return to him. A year later, they married. "There is a supernatural force at work, as far as I'm concerned, with Anita," said May. "Ever since I first set eyes on her, she's been an essential part of my life.

"When she gets p****d off with me, the world goes black, it really does. Any time that I've tried to turn my back on her in the smallest possible way, my guts fall out."

Roger Taylor

Drummer Roger Taylor, 55, meanwhile, is a far more outgoing personality. As one acquaintance puts it: "Of all the people one sees at rockstar soirees, he's the most fun to talk to. He's a really bright, interesting, funny man."


When not working on Queen projects, Taylor is part of a set of wealthy, sophisticated, upmarket rock stars who live in luxury deep in the Surrey and Sussex countryside. Their members include Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and former Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford.

When England play major football matches, Taylor puts a jumbo-sized TV screen in his barn and invites his fellow rock stars to a party.

This is the life to which Taylor has always aspired. As he told me: "He always said we wanted to be the biggest band in the world. Unashamedly, that was the object of the enterprise. What else are you going to say: 'We'd like to be the fourth-biggest'?"

Taylor has spent the past 15 years living the life of Riley. So why on earth would he or Brian May want to go to all the trouble of getting back out on the road?

Going back on the road

After all, it's not as if Queen are in need of work, let alone money. Every year brings new collections of hits or new live albums and then there is the hugely successful Queen tribute show, We Will Rock You, at London's Dominion Theatre, with which May and taylor are closely involved.

Perhaps it's hardly surprising if, as they watch other people sing their songs, they don't start thinking that it would be more fun to do it themselves.

New singer

What has come as more of a shock is their choice of singer. Over the years, all manner of possible vocalists had been suggested to fill the vast gap left by Freddie Mercury, with George Michael or Elton John always seeming like the best candidates.

But Paul Rodgers, 55, once of the band Free, was never on anyone's wish-list. Among his rock contemporaries, who remember how pugnacious he could be in the old, drug-and-booze-fuelled days, he is not - to put it politely - a universally popular figure. "A ghastly, horrible man," says one member of the gang.

Yet Brian May thinks that Rodgers could be the man to do the job for Queen. He feels the chemistry between his guitar and Rodgers' voice works well.

But Jacky Smith, of the Queen fan club, sounds a note of caution: "For years it's been enormously tough for the surviving members to get their heads around the question of how they can do this without Freddie.

"That's why this isn't Queen with a new singer. It's Queen, plus Paul Rodgers, singing some of their songs."

In other words, the band aren't really replacing Freddie Mercury, because you can't replace Freddie Mercury. But somehow, I think we already knew that.