Interview: Adam Lambert, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen
"It's incredible to be playing in China. In the old days, we couldn't go. We weren't culturally desirable"
By Matt Fleming|
Prepare to tie your mothers down, Hong Kong. Queen is coming to town. Possibly the biggest rock band in history graces AsiaWorld-Expo on September 28 as part of an Asia tour that’s taking in Japan, Singapore, Thailand and China. This is the first time the group, the creators of super-hits like Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You, has ever played Hong Kong – or China, for that matter, with a gig in Shanghai too – and it should be a right royal performance.
Sadly, Freddie Mercury died a while ago and bassist John Deacon won’t be here but one of the world’s true guitar legends, Brian May, is leading the charge, as is superstar drummer Roger Taylor. And they’re joined by Adam Lambert, who first shared the stage with May and Taylor on the final of American Idol in May 2009, a series he was runner-up on. The team have already performed more than 70 sold-out shows together across the globe in the past few years, taking an awesome light show and special effects with them. Expect the same multi-sensory experience here alongside the same sense of nostalgia, the same singalong choruses and the same ter-riffic May lead solos. But don’t take that from us. Take it from Taylor, Lambert and the axe god themselves…
So, you’re playing our city for the first time... Taylor: It’s fantastic. We’re very excited about coming to Hong Kong for the first time ever. We’ve never played in China and never played in Hong Kong. We very much look forward to it. We’re really interested to see the reaction there and we’re very optimistic. It should be a great show. I have visited Hong Kong in the past and I have had some incredible experiences there so I’m very excited.
May: It’s amazing. It’s extraordinary that we never could make direct contact with China over all those years. We had fans there and we never really knew. It’s amazing that we can actually come now. It wasn’t possible in the old days. We wanted to come but I think culturally we were unacceptable at the time.
This is indeed a big treat for us. In fact, this Asian tour is following on from your recent string of festival shows in Europe and beyond. What was it like being on tour again? T: Yeah, we had a sensational tour in Europe. We did, I think, 15 shows in 15 different countries and it was fabulous. It’s great – with Adam Lambert we’ve kind of found a new lease of life. He’s a perfect fit for us. An incredibly gifted singer and performer.
Adam Lambert has actually played in Hong Kong before… T: Yes. He says it’s great. He says ‘I love China’. He’s obviously had good times there…
But now he’s here for the first time with Queen. What’s Adam adding to the band since the sad death of Freddie in 1991? M: The thing is he’s not Freddie. He doesn’t need to be Freddie. Not in any sense is Freddie imitated. Adam has an extraordinary instrument – the most wonderful instrument you could possibly find in this world, you know. There’s no dispute in that. He also has an ability with the audience. He has a natural way with the crowd. He is an entertainer.
T: He has a lot of things in common with Freddie Mercury. He has an incredible sense of humour, which is very important, and he has an incredible vocal range. Those two things really make him perfectly fitted for Queen. Brian and I didn’t expect to still be working under the name Queen but this is our fourth or fifth tour [with Lambert] and we’ve found ourselves absolutely loving it.
We should really address the question of filling Freddie’s shoes to you, though, Adam. What’s the toughest part of doing Freddie’s parts? Lambert: I think the toughest part is finding the balance between making the music my own and honouring the original recordings. But over the [past few] years it has become much easier to do that because I think, now, the music is sort of in my body.
When you were young, how important was Freddie and Queen’s music to you? L: Well, I didn’t discover Queen until a little bit later on in my life. I heard the big hits when I was a child but I didn’t really understand what they were like as a band but then, in my early 20s, I got really into music and studying bands. And there was Queen. I saw them performing on stage, in pairs of shorts [laughs] and with no shoes on. They were on fire and I was thinking ‘wow – these guys are the rockstars!’
Adam’s a great addition to the band, then… M: He’s a nice person to work with, which is vital because you can’t possibly tour the world with someone you don’t like. He has that camp thing, too. He has that delightful kind of lightness that people warm to and it really fits so well with us because we spent a load of years with Freddie, who also had that kind of lightness. So there we are! Finally we can make Queen music. It works and it makes people happy. So we decided we will do it one more time.
And now you’re able to do it over here… M: And now, to be able to do it in China, it’s just something incredible. I mean, in the old days, we couldn’t go. We just couldn’t. We weren’t culturally desirable. So, at the age of 69, this is a first. It’s just extraordinary. Yeah, and I’ve never been to Hong Kong. I have friends in Hong Kong, though.
From here, are there any plans to go into the studio together to make a new Queen album? T: I think that we should, actually. I don’t know why we haven’t got around to it. Of course, Adam does have a fairly busy career on his own but I think we should. But I don’t think people should expect radically groundbreaking things. But we could make brilliant music with Adam. We should do.
No concrete plans at this point, then? T: No concrete plans. I think that we’re just a bit too lazy really...
Do your setlists write themselves these days or is it hard for you to go back through everything and put one together? T: It really is hard and it will change according to the country that we’re playing in, knowing that certain songs were particularly popular or certain songs that were big somewhere else weren’t so big there, so we do change and vary our content.
And how does playing somewhere for the very first time influence those decisions? T: Well I guess we would look at what we would’ve thought would’ve been the most international songs that people would maybe know... I don’t know, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction [in Hong Kong]. I don’t know how people react over there in concerts like ours. But we always worry. We’re always concerned.
So, in a nutshell, what is music to you? M: What is music to me? Life. Without music, I don’t have life. I need music and love.
L: Music is my life! My career. My passion. It’s also my medicine, you know. If I’m having a bad day and I put on music, I feel better. When I am tired, music gives me energy. Music is so incredibly powerful.
Brilliant. Thank you, guys. To finish, then, now that the Queen and Adam Lambert live show has been going for a good few years, what does the future hold? L: I really don’t know how long it will keep going. But there’s no reason to stop! There are lots of people all around the world and we love performing the songs for them! It’s great. It’s very emotional.