“It’s like dipping a toe in the water after not having had a bath for many years,” says Roger Taylor in typically affable fashion, as he prepares to tour solo for the first time in two decades. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Playing alongside flamboyant figures Freddie Mercury and Brian May may have distracted fans from the Queen drummer’s virtuosity, but Taylor has also enjoyed a parallel music career since the late 1980s, as lead singer and guitarist in The Cross – his very own rock band.
“The good thing about songs,” he offers. “Is that if they are good, they live forever. There they are. It’s not like being a famous chef where you have to do it every night!”
Taylor lives in a converted priory in the village of Puttenham in Surrey with his second wife, Sarina Potgieter, but spent lockdown holed up at a second home in Cornwall This is where the idea of Outsider, his first album of new solo material in nearly a decade, began to take shape. “We had space to stroll about – but not everybody did,” he recalls. “I remember seeing pictures from Milan of people stuck in their apartments singing some of our songs out the window. It was wonderful in a way but I remember thinking, ‘God’. And it went on for months. It was pretty scary actually.”
The first song he wrote during that time was called Isolation and it features on the record. You can easily guess its subject matter. Soon he had an entire album’s worth of material ranging from direct stadium rock to meditative psychedelia and more. “It was the stimulation of boredom and also borne out of the strange period of not knowing what was going to happen,” he recalls. “You are feeling that your freedom is curtailed. Everybody has this. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. It put everybody on the same level in a certain way, apart from Dominic Cummings obviously,” he adds, taking a swipe at the Prime Minister’s former top adviser.
“It was an odd period and it also focused the mind. I just thought, ‘I’m going to make some good use of this period of enforced semi-imprisonment’.”
Taylor is delighted by the success of the vaccine roll out, in part because it means he can get back to his raison d’etre: playing to fans. “The anti-vaxxers I don’t get,” he growls. “I don’t understand that at all. It seems to be borne of pure ignorance and an amount of arrogance and the conspiracy theories. It’s pathetic actually. Of course vaccinations work and we are so lucky to have them, to enable our own bodies to fight the virus. I know people that think it is some giant conspiracy. I just don’t understand them and to be honest I just think it is idiotic not to be vaccinated.
“And as for people only doing concerts for people who are not vaccinated, that is even more stupidity.”
Lockdown has only reinforced Taylor’s desire to perform – and at 72 years old, age is no barrier. “I don’t get tired at all. I really enjoy seeing the audience enjoying itself. It is a feedback thing. It lifts you every time. Of course, we know some of those songs backwards. It sounds like we are playing them backwards sometimes! But that’s the thing, it’s the audience interaction. You never get tired of playing We Are The Champions. It is such a b***** great song and you can see it lifting an audience.”
Taylor describes the idea of “endless retirement” as “horrendous”. “Tick tock, time is rushing by, when you get to the age of Brian and myself,” he laughs. “We are just getting older and I don’t think we will be able to do it that much longer, and while we still can do it, we intend to keep doing it. And same applies to Queen actually. We realised this is what we do. This is what we love doing. And while we still can do it at a good level, we will.
“As soon as we can’t, we shall retire with some shred of dignity.”
Queen are enjoying a resurgence in their career. This is in part down to the success of 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which starred an Oscar-winning Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury and reinforced the band’s place in the modern musical canon. Now Queen concerts attract a broader demographic of fans, from those in their 20s to older listeners with their young children. “It’s brilliant,” he enthuses. “It’s such a mixture of ages.”
During lockdown, Queen earned their first number one album in 25 years with Live Around The World, a compilation featuring highlights from their decade of touring with former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert on vocal duties. So far, however, there has been no new music from the group and their new singer, although they have apparently been experimenting in the studio. “It’s the right material,” Taylor says when I ask what the band are waiting for. “It’s got to be good. It’s got to stand up to our old stuff, which is very strong.”
Taylor remains as enthusiastic about music as ever. He admits, with gentle self-deprecation, that this urge might just be driven by insecurity. “You don’t want to feel superfluous,” he admits. “I was going to say ‘useful’ but that would be a bit cruel – there are an awful lot of retired people in the country who have earned their rest, their retirement. But life is good and it’s nice to be working.”
Outsider is out now and Roger Taylor’s tour of the UK kicks off with a performance at Newcastle’s O2 Academy on October 2 and ends with a performance at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on October 22. Tickets are available online.