Roger Taylor: O2 Academy, Liverpool

The iconic Queen drummer plays an intimate show at the O2 Academy that convinces Shaun Ponsonby to go out in the world again.

By Shaun Ponsonby
Sun 10 October, 2021

It’s been a long 18 months for this writer. Not going to gigs had become the new norm. There were a few times I nearly left the confines of my bedroom to see Nubiyan Twist, or Wendy James, or attend Positive Vibration, but chickened out and stayed home instead. It seems anxiety about large gatherings had set in much more than I realised.

If something was going to get me back out into the world, it had to be something I would never miss in a million years. Something special. And I guess this was it.

Roger Taylor. Drummer. Songwriter. Singer. Member of one of the most iconic bands in the world, and my favourite band since childhood; Queen. And he is playing a fairly small club. OK, this I have to see.

When Taylor tours with Queen + Adam Lambert, the size of the venues means that the set list can get a little predictable. If you’re playing to 20,000 people, you had best pump out the hits.

But on those early Queen albums, Taylor’s songs were often some of their most leftfield. When he took the mike, he more than held his own. In fact, in any other band he may have been the frontman. I see him as Queen’s George Harrison – a man capable of much more than his position in the band would have you believe. The thing that both he and Harrison have in common is that they likely have the best solo careers outside of the mothership, amassing a wealth of material left in the wake of proven hit machines, be it Lennon and McCartney or Mercury and May.

This is hit home tonight by the reaction to Taylor’s solo material. Of course, it is the Queen songs that receive the loudest ovations, but when Taylor opens the show with his 1984 fan favourite Strange Frontier, most of the crowd are singing along. 1999’s A Nation of Haircuts gets a similar reaction, as does Man on Fire. What is remarkable is how well the bulk of his solo material stands up against his other mighty legacy.

Strange Frontier also proved to be a scene setter. Always the most political member of the band, this tour (titled Outsider, after Taylor’s latest album) has a defined theme; trying to make sense of everything that has happened over the last five years or so, coming together once again as people should.

There was a full circle moment from the opening Strange Frontier – where he bellows “People say it could never happen here, but this is a strange frontier” – to the penultimate Foreign Sand (“It’s not a lie, it’s not a sham we play for keeps, it’s not a scam/No bigotry, we’re hand in hand, it ain’t a cinch, we make a stand/We learn to live on foreign sand”). We’re not just talking about lockdowns here. It’s Brexit, it’s Trump, it’s the rise of the far right. We said it could never happen here. But it is happening. Right now. Peppering this with new songs like Gangsters Are Running This World and We’re All Just Trying To Get By, and the message Taylor is airing becomes all the more explicit.

Naturally, it was the other legacy that most of the crowd came to catch a glimpse of. Luckily for the casuals, Queen have the unique distinction of having each individual member writing massive number one hits. Of Taylor’s more lucrative writing credits, we get to hear These Are The Days of Our Lives, Radio Ga Ga and A Kind of Magic. For the faithful, we get some deeper cuts; 1974’s Tenement Funster, 1975’s I’m In Love With My Car, 1980’s Rock It (Prime Jive).

There was one moment that was a little overwhelming. During Under Pressure – another well-chosen song to articulate the past couple of years – I turned to see everybody singing towards the end. Literally everybody; the crowd, security, bar staff. I had forgotten what these moments are like, when a thousand people are connected through the sheer love of music. I am not ashamed to say, I shed a brief tear. The hands went up in the air for the Radio Ga Ga clap. Everybody danced together to A Kind of Magic. Queen were once infamously referred to as a “fascist band” by Rolling Stone Magazine for this level of crowd control. But these moments make us feel connected to each other. Fascism is evil. Human connection is beautiful. And it has been missed.

We maybe would have preferred a couple more deeper Queen cuts, or perhaps even a resurrection of Stand Up For Love by Taylor’s other band The Cross instead of the Led Zeppelin and David Bowie covers that closed out the show, and it was confusing to see drummer Tyler Warren sing Prime Jive instead of Taylor (though, he sang it incredibly well), but these are minor quibbles.

This is exactly what I needed to get me out there again. Thanks, Rog.