An Hour-Long Audience To Robbi Millar (Sounds Magazine, 1980)Sounds 1980
MR TAYLOR OF QUEEN GRACIOUSLY GRANTS AN HOUR-LONG AUDIENCE TO ROBBI MILLAR
Sounds Magazine 1980
STEPPING INTO the Queen world is a bit like missing the warning for a hole in the road and ending up on Bondi Beach. So much of a sweep from reality! The Queen world, here represented by the stylish interior of Roger Taylor's Fulham Road town pad, is one of opulence and cared-for chic, a wealthy, sturdy world of guaranteed success that bears not the slightest resemblance to the dirty, hopeful Marquee-market stages where countless fortune-hunters brandish their wares any chosen night of the week.
Perhaps they'd one day like to be another Queen. Quite likely, they would not . . .
I do not care for the comfortable world of Queen. I'm not just re-applying the dreaded press principle of despising anything that's big, and important - usually a misguided notion - but after all the traumas and heady possibilities of the brave New Wave, the violent, devil-may-care experience of it, Queen have little bite, scant fresh flavour, nothing really new to tickle the taste buds. Its like following a hot, spicy curry with a wedge of last year's Christmas cake.
For all their fans, all their successes, their possession of the number one album slot with 'The Game' and more kudos than even they can surely know what to do with, well, many would still say that Queen are just the undoing of all the good that's been steadily built up during the last half of the Seventies. I wouldn't disagree.
But - my memories stretch back to 'Sheer Heart Attack' and 1974. I think I'd like to talk to Freddie Mercury and I promise to steer clear of that moustache.
You can't talk to Freddie. He only speaks with the Sundays, daaahling.
Aww, never mind, I guess Mr Mercury needs a feature in Sounds like he needs piles and Roger Taylor's a good enough substitute. Mind you, lest scattered Fosters and Marlboro containers allow you forget that you're dealing with a superstar, downstairs lurks a man from a daily ragloid. Interviewing Roger Taylor is not the same as spending a few days on the road with Saxon. The thought!
As photographer Paul Slattery later observes, Taylor is too refined and nice a bloke for a ripping good argument and it seems almost a sin to thrust every complaint about Queen on to his lone person in the space of an hour. So I begin graciously.
*Imagine you're delighted with 'The Game'. How does its success compare with that of previous albums?*
Roger: "They say that record sales are supposed to be down in the country but it's done very well. It's sold more that the Rolling Stones?"
*What about worldwide?*
Roger: Seems to be better there. I just heard it's at number two in Germany, get as it's a very big market, and about five in America."
*Do you always expect your albums to go so far - or is it sometimes a surprise?*
Roger: Well, we have great fun laying down bets! The last didn't reach number one, it got to two or thereabouts, but there's something about the number one position that's much better. It's a nice feeling that you can still do it."
*Even if it gets a bit predictable?*
Roger: "Its a nice prediction. As long as we can keep making a living; as long as we keep enjoying ourselves."
*Through sheer lack of self control the famous moustache is dragged into the conversation and, although Roger isn't able to explain away any of Mercury's whims, he does entertain with a recollection of a gig in Los Angeles where dozens of razors were thrown on stage as a subtle hint to Freddie to get rid of his face fungus.*
Roger: "It's funny how he got more press out of growing a moustache than he would have done by walking naked down Oxford Street."
*Don't be so sure. The press mean sod-all to Queen nowadays anyway.*
Roger: "Yeah, when you start off you're dying to see your name in print, but that soon wears off, especially when virtually everything that is printed is not true in some way. We never really worried about what people said and never tried to be fashionable. We just went our own way."
*A way which people would maybe say has turned Queen into another nice band for nice ordinary couples in the ELO, Wings vein of things. That's what I think now.*
Roger: "Everything in England reeks of fashion-consciousness and class-consciousness!"
*But ever since, say 'Bohemian Rhapsody' I think you've become gradually more, well, bland.*
Roger: "Bland? I don't like everything that we do but I like a lot of it or I wouldn't be doing it. We're still a force; we're still doing well."
*And a lot has changed?*
Roger: "Around the world we're doing far better now because we're getting big hit records in places like Mexico and Brazil where you wouldn't expect and, as far as musical changes are concerned, we haven't consciously planned to change anything because it's death as soon as you think of doing that. But we have gradually evolved. Just let it happen, I suppose."
*Around the time I lost a lot of interest in Queen, the New Wave was beginning to take off. Did that force have any influence on the band?*
Roger: "It certainly did on me. We were in Wessex Studios at the same time as the Sex Pistols were doing this album - it was quite interesting. I love that album, the first one, but they seemed to lose direction after that."
*What about the survivors? The Clash, The Jam?*
Roger: "Don't like them! I think the Clash are the most fashion-conscious band I've ever heard in my life! All this shit about, I dunno, pseudo-politics and having their photos taken with the soldiers in Belfast. They're so conscious of the image. I like 'London Calling', it's a good single, but I don't think they play very well - in fact, they don't play very well - but they look the part!"
*Hmm. Do you think any of these bands will last as long as Queen have?*
Roger: "It's simple. It depends on how good their records are. If they make good records they will last. If they don't make good records..."
*And have they made good records?*
Roger: I thought the Jam's last two records were very well produced but there was a song on one of them - called 'Smithers-Jones' think - that was just awful. I don't like their material. It's not very original and I think the bloke takes himself too seriously."
*But at last bands like the Jam are writing about relevant subjects, pertinent to their audience - far more so than Queen!*
Roger: "No they're not! All that nonsense about 'put down your beer and collect your fags' is all class stuff again. What's it relevant to? If people wrote songs for the upper classes they'd be laughed out of the business - or songs for the middle classes. I suppose no-one wants to be labelled a middle class while some people are very proud of being labelled working class. So what?"
Let's try another one.
What do you think of heavy metal?
Roger: "We were labelled as a heavy metal band once, you know. Seems to me that it's a name that's attached to things and a lot of new bands are moulding themselves into that name. It's ridiculous as Motorhead have always been what they are... It's like the Americans having discovered the term New Wave. There's nothing new about it. It's three years old."
*It's new to them.*
Roger: "Yeah, at least they pick up on the better bands like the Pretenders. They certainly make better albums."
The gap I'm dealing with is further demonstrated when Roger Taylor hails Pete Townshend's album as "the best album I've heard this year" and the Who as "fucking brilliant". I think it's strictly dullsville and Slattery reckons Townshend should have left the Who years ago. Perhaps we can agree on synthesisers.
*Its the first time that you've used synths on 'the Game'?*
Roger: I've been using them for a while now - it's my synth on the album - and I'm working on a solo album that incorporates them quite a lot."
Will that be a step away from Queen?
Roger: "Yeah. There isn't enough room on Queen albums for a lot of the things I want to do so I'm expressing my own excess."
*Your production of New Wave chanteuse Hilary's single, 'How Come You're So Dumb?' on Modern records, fits in here?*
Roger: "I've known Hilary for years but I didn't know she could sing until an old girlfriend told me. She was singing with a band in pubs occasionally so I rang up to ask for a tape and though it was awful, her voice was really good. It's very deep sounding. I wrote the song with some help from Hilary and did the instrumental parts but by name isn't all over the sleeve. I don't want to do Paul McCartney!"
*Do the rest of Queen have alternative occupations too?*
Roger: "They all like relaxing a bit more than I do although they'll probably do something separate in the future. I prefer to keep busy as we haven't got the climate to relax."
*What sort of musical differences are there between you all?*
Roger: "Well, John (Deacon) is into funk and pure pop while I prefer more abrasive things. Freddie likes all sorts of weird things and at the moment he's really into Michael Jackson. Michael was going to come on stage for an encore at one of our shows to do 'We Are The Champions' because it's apparently his favourite song, but he chickened out. Brian (May) just likes heavy metal."
*Is it hard to set about a new album when you've done so many before?*
Roger: "In a way. This time, though, we just went to Munich as we like the city and put it together there, ending up with far too many songs. 'Crazy Little Thing' was the easiest and we had that out in a matter of hours and the rest was just a case of go in the studio, get a bit drunk and bash it out."
*The lyrics do suggest that, I mean, they don't say an awful lot beyond sheer entertainment.*
Roger: "We're not trying to solve the problems of the world and who isn't just entertainment? Who is writing anything more than that? I think it's very pretentious to say that there's great importance to it; that's what the press seem to spend all their time doing. This week's thing and you're nobody if you don't appreciate it."
*But entertainment can be mindless. Nice music that you don't have to think about.*
Roger: Oh no. Debussy's music is entertaining but you let it do with your mind what it will although it isn't solving vast problems."
*(I pick through the lyrics of 'Rock It' and 'Don't Try Suicide' )- . Where's the substance?*
Roger: "'Rock It' is totally elemental. It's the most basic song ever that just says you can enjoy rock and roll. That's all. 'Don't Try Suicide' says - just that - and I quite like that one, it's funny. You should never read the lyrics without listening to the album at the same time, you know. It isn't prose and they're not poems."
*Why print them in the first place, then?*
Roger: "Because people moan like fuck if you don't!"
To prevent people moaning any further (I do not expect this feature to please Queen fans any more than my Whitesnake feature pleased Whitesnake fans - the angry letter phenomenon that carries on for weeks after the journalist's supposed 'crime' always reminds me of a child screaming because his favourite toy has been taken away) Queen are likely to be touring in the Autumn and part of the European venture should take in the UK before Christmas - that's what Roger Taylor sez here.
*But one more thing. Me and Slattery both reckon that Queen could make any single do well in the charts.*
Roger: "No, you're totally wrong. If we made a bad record, people would not go out and buy it. There might be a certain hard-core of fans who'd buy it, but that won't get you into the charts. People won't spend money on things they don't like."
Which means an awful lot of people like Queen doesn't it. Help!