Queen Productions: Rhys Thomas Interview
First things first, who are you and what is your link to the Queen family?
My name is Rhys Thomas. I am 32 and I have co-produced every Queen DVD, the odd video and the recent "Days of Our Lives" documentary.
Producing DVDs and documentaries is not your regular job though is it?
No. I am a writer and an actor really - although I am so proud of the Queen DVDs I have helped make over the years, it shows there's more to me than just being an idiot on TV.
How do you juggle your real job of acting and comedy, with that of working with Queen?
It can be hard. Usually I can do both at the same time as Simon and I share the load and if I am writing something, I can work my own hours. Annoyingly, I got the part in 'Sirens' a few days into making the Eighties part of 'Days of Our Lives.' I had to move to Leeds for three months. I was pretty gutted because the Eighties aspect of the Queen story is the most interesting and I couldn't really be involved. Luckily we'd spent two months prepping both episodes so the structure was there, and we had interviewed the band, but Simon basically cut that himself with the editor Chris as Matt, the director, got ill. Simon uploaded the latest cuts weekly for me to watch in Leeds and give notes. So after a 13 hr filming day, my treat was coming back watching what Simon and Chris had done - and it was always brilliant. Simon and I have very similar ideas and tastes, what he cut was exactly what I would have done too, so it's great. I loved the bit about 'Under Pressure' where John forgets the bass line, they go for a pizza and the bass line cuts - then Roger remembers it and then the song re-starts. Touches like that were very funny and all Simon's work.
When did you first realise that Queen were your favourite band, and what brought you to this conclusion?
It was after the Freddie Mercury Tribute. I went with by brother Dean, who was a Queen fan. I remember he had The Game, The Works and The Miracle. He would play me the 12" version of 'The Invisible Man' to show off his speakers in 1989/90. I was impressed. Anyway, we went to the concert, I'd never been to a real concert before, well, apart from the Flying Pickets at the Cliff's Pavillion in Southend and Tammy Wynnette - also at the Cliffs, circa 1985. I was a big fan of George Michael in 1992, I loved the 'Listen Without Prejudice' album and he was one of the main reasons I went to the concert. I hadn't heard 'Somebody To Love' before and it blew me away. I didn't even realise that '39 was a Queen song. That summer I bought Greatest Hits I and became obsessed and realised that as good as everyone was at that concert - none of them were Freddie. However, 'Spread Your Wings' on LIVE KILLERS was the one for me at that time. .
How did you originally link up with Queen?, How did you approach the band?
In 2001 I was working on the second series of a sitcom I wrote called 'Fun at the Funeral Parlour.' Simon Lupton was the producer and we both loved Queen. In fact we slipped as many Queen songs into the series as we could, 'Another One Bites The Dust,' 'Stone Cold Crazy,' 'Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy' etc. Anyhow, Anita Dobson guest starred in an episode and we plucked up the courage to ask her to pass a message onto Brian and ask if he was willing to write us a theme tune. I had in mind a kind of multi-layered version of 'The Death March', very much like his 'Wedding March' on 'Flash Gordon' and also I loved 'Procession' from Queen II which had an equally sombre feel. Anyhow, he agreed and expanded the idea and composed, what I think, is one of the best TV theme tunes ever. Shame no bugger watched it. He was kind enough to invite us to his house to watch him record it, he played all the instruments, bass, guitar, programmed the drums - the lot. It was amazing to watch. A childhood dream come true.
That evening, we had some food and I'm sure and Simon and I asked if there were plans to make any Queen DVDs, at that point there were none. We suggested some ideas and as a Queen fan, I particularly felt tired of the same old Magic Years / recuts that were often re-packaged in documentaries like 'Champions of the World' - and interviews with the likes of Dave Lee Roth, Paul King and Elton John from 1985 recycled. The same montages re-surfacing. It was time for a change and we tried to convince the band that we were the men...Luckily for us, we were.
Brian introduced us to Jim and Roger and gradually we went from there. At first I think Roger and Jim must have thought 'who are these two blokes Brian is banging on about?' We had to prove to them that we were not just fans but good at our job.
As mentioned you work with Simon on most of the Queen projects, it must be fun shifting through tapes and interviewing the band together?
Oh yes. We both have the same excitement and it has never diminished. I remember how we both yelped and cheered when we first found the footage of 'We Are The Champions' being recorded in 1977. It's like winning Euro Million Jackpot, without the money. We have had many moments like that. Interviewing is great. On Days of Our Lives, Simon interviewed Brian and I threw on the odd question and I interviewed Roger and he threw in the odd question. However, seeing Roger and Brian rehearsing is the best thing. We both filmed the rehearsals for the 2005 tour and again the Prince's Trust Concert last year and you cannot believe how great they sound. We were singing along to 'Seven Seas of Rhye.' We are also lucky enough actually be their friends now. The fact we have known them for so long and they trust us as friends is what made 'Days of Our Lives' such a success as they opened up to us more than anyone before. I think the best moment, however, was making the ad for 'Greatest Video Hits II.' Simon and I directed and wrote the ad where Brian and Roger are seen working in a DVD shop. It is very funny and they were so enthusiastic and willing to send themselves up. They're both good actors and have an excellent sense of humour. We did have a laugh making that.
You must be thrilled at the response of the Days Of Our Lives documentary?
It's unbelievable. From day one, our dream was to make the ultimate Queen documentary and we did it. So many people, fans, friends, people in the industry loved it. I had so many texts that night from people saying how great it was. Ultimately, for us, the greatest compliment came from Roger and Brian who both said it was the best documentary anyone had ever made about them. They gave us the freedom to get on with it. We wanted to make something that was dramatic and funny. We wanted to capture the humour of Freddie and the band and we deliberately wanted it to have no voice over, no celeb talking heads - it was Queen's story told by them and the people who were there. All members of Queen are very frank and honest. It beat all channels on the second night, 2.8 million at its peak. Every time I watch it I cry at the end. I know it took Roger and Brian by surprise too. They are the best band in the world, there's a younger audience out there who love them more than anyone else. Queen are cool! In their 40th year! Seeing the reviews of the re-mastered albums, they are getting better reviews now than they did at the time. Rightly so.
Without giving too much away of course, you are currently readying a DVD version, correct?
We are making an extended version. We had to cut sections for timing, for example, there's a whole section on the period between 1986-1989 which is great. There's at least 30 mins of extra material over both episodes.
Apart from Days Of Our Lives, what other Queen project are you most proud of?
The Live At Wembley DVD is great. We put a lot into that and Greatest Hits II. I still wish we'd included the 'Innuendo' videos on there. I'd love to hear them in surround sound. There just wasn't the space.
The Stormtroopers In Stilettos exhibition included some of your work too didn't it?
That became a bit of a nightmare as what started off as something small escalated into a major job. Great fun though. Luckily we were making 'Days of Our Lives' at the same time, so I'd have a separate edit suite cutting together all of the special videos (Simon was busy on the documentary so couldn't be involved). I also wrote everything on the walls, largely adapted form the sleeve notes I'd written. I was very chuffed to see my name fifth on the list of credits after Roger, Brian, Freddie, John and jim Beach. I thought it was fantastic. I never got to see 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 3D sadly.
Mastermind - congratulations on the triumphant score last Christmas, but mostly congratulations on the leotard!
It was specially made and cost £300. The lady who put it together purely by coincidence, made outfits for Freddie back in the day! I still kick myself about the one question I got wrong - I knew it but misheard the question. Bollocks. It would have been even more of a record.
It is very exciting being a Queen fan right now, would you not agree? So much going on...
It's brilliant. The re-mastered Albums are fantastic, it is like listening to brand new records. I have been listening to the 'Sail Away Sweet Sister' demo over and over. And the Flash Gordon stuff is out of this world, 'The Kiss' and 'Football Fight' with piano, no synths. I can't wait to hear what's coming on the last five albums.
As a fan, rather than someone who works closely with the band, what would you like to see released?
I'd like to hear the Anthology obviously. I am very jealous of Greg Brooks that he gets to hear all of that stuff and I don't! 'Live Killers' boxed set and surround sound versions of all albums not just 'A Night at the Opera' and 'The Game.
OK, lastly what is your favourite Queen album?