“We didn’t come together with a view to forming a 25-year-running tribute band,” said Patrick Myers, frontman of the London-based Queen tribute band Killer Queen, prior to recent gigs in New Jersey. (They just put tickets on sale for another one, too, July 15 at the Ocean City Music Pier.)
“We were not familiar with the term ‘tribute band’ when we first thought of doing this, because there weren’t that many,” he continued. “As a matter of fact, there weren’t any, because there wasn’t a scene for that of any sort. It was as simple as the fact that we left home as kids and had just gotten a hold of a residence and about eight weeks later we had gotten the news that Freddie (Mercury) died. We realized that we were literally the first generation that wouldn’t see Queen live, because there wouldn’t be another tour.
“So we thought that we’d do a show for everyone our age, because I was so, so desperate to be in the audience and do ‘Radio Ga Ga’ with my hands in the air, ‘We Will Rock You,’ the whole thing. Do the call-and-response with Freddie. I couldn’t wait to do that, and it never crossed my mind that Freddie was in any kind of trouble at all, and that it would never happen. So when we got the news, we were really, really shocked. That sounds crazy today, because everybody follows everyone’s health in minute detail with social media, but back then in 1991, if you didn’t read the newspapers, you wouldn’t know.
“So, long story short, we thought we’d do a show or two. Through some weird things, we managed to get our first gig in front of a thousand people. They were all going to be at the student ball. It was great, perfect, exactly what you wanted to do. But there was no second gig booked, or third or fourth gig. There was nothing, and that could’ve easily been our first and last show, and we didn’t really expect too much from it, necessarily … and it was such a lovely warm reception. The guy who put us on there and took a risk said, ‘Look, I want to manage you, and I’ll book your tour tomorrow,’ which is virtually what he did. So we had a 25- or 30-day tour around the universities up and down England, which led to Europe, and then we started doing the West End, which is like Broadway, and that led to more arenas getting in touch. We really couldn’t quite believe it, because it just exploded very quickly.”
So why choose Queen, and what did they hope to gain from their early success?
“Obviously, Queen had recorded everything, so we were never after a record label. That didn’t even cross our minds. For us, it was the live work, and making the live show work as good as we can. People all want the same thing. The producers that we work with say, ‘Hey we want to put on a Queen show,’ because we all love Queen. People come to it from the same point of view. They want to do their jobs as producers, too, but at the same time, there’s a lot of heart that goes into it from all of the angles, really. So it’s been great fun and something that we couldn’t have predicted. So we remain dazed and delighted that it happened (laughs).”
Some classic rock bands, as they advance in years, lose some validity due to age, health issues or having only one member wanting to carry on the group’s legacy. Are these acts essentially tribute bands, or should they still be considered the original, despite only minimal authenticity?
Myers feels that Queen is smart in their approach as they have remained intact and haven’t tried to bill themselves as Queen when they go on the road.
“Queen was quite clever: when they go out as Queen with Adam Lambert it’s not somebody trying to be Freddie, and it’s someone with his own distinct voice. …
“I wish they’d put more music out, because Brian May and Roger Taylor are both extraordinary writers. I’m not sure whether that’s ever going to happen again, but I miss their writing, and I’m so glad that they’re touring.
“They tried (writing) with Paul Rodgers: They wanted to go out and push new songs, and they realized that no one wanted to hear them. They wanted to hear the other stuff. I think that’s partly the reason, but I think Brian is also so busy with other elements of his life that it makes it difficult. I can see why they might be thinking, ‘Well, if we do spend ages recording and making stuff great, we’re not going to be able to tour with it anyway, because no one is going to want to listen to it over and above the stuff we’ve already recorded, so let’s celebrate the stuff we’ve already recorded.’ I can see that, but at the same time I miss their writing because I just love that, and it’d be a shame if they decided to just close that off. Maybe they should record new stuff and just release it when they decide not to tour anymore —just quietly keep recording songs and when people want some new Queen, they can say, ‘Here it is.’ ”
So how does Killer Queen fit into the equation? What keeps the audiences coming to the shows?
“I think that Queen fans want to remember Queen as they were in their heyday, and get that feeling of going to a concert that they couldn’t get to, because they were born in the wrong time. … I think also it’s that the songs are so good and they were written in order to be shared live.
” ‘We Will Rock You,’ ‘We Are the Champions’ were written because they wanted to get the audience engaged. They were written in order to make stadium shows work, so that really helps.”
Killer Queen has performed in front of crowds as large as 25,000 and regularly sells out 10- to 12,000-seat arenas. How do they adapt to playing smaller venues with smaller audiences?
“It’s great getting to play big shows, but we kind of get off on any audience, whether it’s 20,000 or 2,000 people, because when you’ve got the whole crowd, no matter what size, and they’re really going crazy with their arms in the air and just completely releasing, that’s the stuff that’s exciting.
“I think what’s great about Queen music is it lets you do that. You’re dealing with really quality material and excellent writing that’s designed to work and slot into a live environment, so it’s just exciting. It’s not like having to muster up energy because there’s less people there. For us as a band, the music gives us any shot in the arm that we need, because it’s just really good stuff.”
When one thinks of Queen, stunning vocal harmonies and the intricacies that accompany them come to mind. Myers says that this part of the re-creation of their music is time-consuming but essential to the success of the show.
“It’s the thing that slows us down most: getting the harmonies right,” he said. “The arrangements are very tricky, but if you don’t have that signature Queen sound on the harmony block, then you’re missing a trick. So we work hard on that. It would be inappropriate to vary from them or any part, especially since I come from an acting background and I’d never ask an actor, ‘You’re playing this part, aren’t you tempted to stop and do it your way?’ You’d never do that in a stage play, it would be, ‘No, of course not, I’m doing this and presenting someone else.’
“Any musician is taught to play in a certain style. I mean, you’re not going to do a Van Halen solo in the middle of a ragtime song — although that sounds
like a good idea, actually, it might work very well (laughs). It’s not that difficult or complex. If I feel the need to do my own stuff, which I do from time to time, I can do it from my own studio at home. I can just do that, and that’s fine, but I don’t ever regard it as frustrating that I can’t sing in my own voice style, doing Killer Queen songs, because that’s not how I judge the success. The success is letting people think that they’re at a concert that they couldn’t ever get to.
“At the end of the day, the first thing they’ll forget about a tribute band is who on earth was singing. They’ll just think, ‘Was it live Queen or not?’ They’re not there to see me, particularly. They’re there to see someone who can do their rock ‘n’ roll hero well, because essentially, in their heart of hearts, they want to see their rock ‘n’ roll hero again, and they can’t.
“So you sort of write yourself completely out of the equation, and I kind of like that about it. Everyone kind of forgets everything eventually, and people aren’t going to remember a tribute band. They’re always going to remember the original, and I think that’s how it should be, because that’s the whole point of the thing.”
Terms such as “scarily real,” “uncannily accurate” and “very accurate, almost frightening” have been used in reviews of their shows. Since they are in such demand, what does their future hold?
“We’ve got a whole tour of America coming up again, then we’re back again next year; America for us is getting bigger and bigger and as we’ve discovered America is huge,” he said, with a laugh. “We’re delighted, but we’d held off on coming to America because we weren’t sure on how to do it. I don’t know if you’re aware, but if you’re a U.K. band or coming from abroad, it’s very difficult. Getting visas is very hard and very, very expensive, and it stops a lot of musicians from coming over. It costs thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds just to get a visa for the band. You can’t just turn up with your guitars, because it’s really quite difficult.
“We had offers, but we had to turn them down for quite a long time because we had to get some sort of prestige offers to make it worthwhile … It wasn’t really until we got an offer from Red Rocks (the Morrison, Colo. amphitheater), who had seen our arena show and said they’d like us to come there.
“Like I said, I never thought that it would last more than five minutes, 25 years ago and there’s a part of me that still doesn’t. There’s a part of me that still thinks, ‘Well, it’s going to stop at some point.’ I don’t want it to stop, but I’m thinking, ‘How long can it go on?’ It keeps building and growing and the audiences keep coming out and more and more different opportunities keep coming, and with the new film coming out recently, that helps, too. It seems like it never stops, and I think the film offers a fresh set of eyes. People who half know them or didn’t know them, they’ll know all about them with this film, and I think that’s great.”
For more on Killer Queen, visit killerqueenonline.com.