A highly accomplished session musician and producer that has played with artists such as the Pet Shop Boys, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Paul Draper, Maisie Peters and Clean Bandit. Tina Keys stole the hearts of audiences when performing in Roger Taylor’s solo band in October 2021. In an exclusive interview with Dave Fordham that originally appeared in the summer 2022 issue of the Official International Queen Fan Club magazine, Tina discussed her role as multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist on the Outsider tour that she describes as ‘the best experience of her life’.
This article is reproduced with permission and the full version is available in the fan club’s members-only archive. For Dave’s exclusive interview in the winter 2022 magazine with Lenny Zakatek, vocalist in John Deacon’s solo venture The Immortals, join the fan club now at www.queenworld.com.
Ahead of the Outsider tour, how did you come to the attention of Roger?
They were looking for a female keyboardist/backing vocalist and through mutual friends’ recommendations, Neil Fairclough emailed asking if I was free for the tour dates. I had no idea what the tour was at the time, but responded, and before I knew it I was on the phone to Spike Edney being told it was for ‘The’ Roger Taylor.
I sent Spike a video of me performing a duet with The Pet Shop Boys, and some other live sessions/performances to show my capabilities. It was a very surreal moment when Spike replied saying that they wanted me to do the tour and I didn’t really believe it would happen until we started rehearsals.
Spike and I had actually met around 20 years ago when I was one of about 20 kids that sung We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions on a rock/pop compilation album called Kids Will Rock You that he put together for EMI France. We did the recording at Cosford Mill Studios at Roger’s home at that time. I showed Spike a photograph and he thought it was amazing!
So you were a Queen fan from a young age then?
My parents had the Live at Wembley album and I remember thinking it was incredible and not like anything else I’d heard; so musical with so many different elements to the songs. What I love about Queen songs is the more you listen, the more you hear... there is always something new to discover.
Before rehearsals, how did you familiarise yourself with all the Queen and Roger solo material to be performed?
The Outsider album was one of the first things they sent me and I loved it. It really captured lockdown and that whole period.
I freaked out a bit when Spike initially sent over a list of more than 30 songs and they were not easy songs to learn either. I listened to everything and familiarised myself with all the material but by the time we were in rehearsals, Roger and Spike had whittled it down to nearer 20 songs.
We were still trying to finalise the set list whilst on the road, which was a completely different experience for me. But I loved that because it was spontaneous and a great learning process for me. It was really nice to play with a full live band, without click and track, and to have freedom to change arrangements on the spot.
And in contrast to Roger’s solo tours in the 1990s, the set included a larger percentage of his own output compared to Queen material?
Originally there were going to be more Queen songs in the set but Roger and Spike thought that as it was a solo tour (not a Queen tour), it should be portrayed in the setlist. I really enjoyed the whole set as it covered different material/styles from different decades, and thought it flowed so well once we found the right order.
What do you remember about rehearsals and meeting Roger for the first time?
We had a week of rehearsals in Roger’s studio before the tour. There was a day to set up and we weren’t expecting Roger to come in early. I was programming sounds on my keyboard, looked up… and there he was! Roger Taylor!
My first impression was that he was such a lovely man, so warm and welcoming… just a normal guy! But then obviously he’s a legend, so it was just great to meet him and be in his presence. I remember messaging my agent and a few friends as soon as I met Roger, trying to act completely professional on the outside but on the inside I was absolutely fangirling!
More widely known as a world-class drummer, did Roger’s vocal ability and stage presence as a lead singer surprise you?
I love Roger’s voice and his tone. I never realised how beautiful his voice was and it seems to get even better with age. He was a great frontman too and you would never have known he was predominantly recognised for drumming.
What did you make of his prowess on the drums when he moved to behind the kit during the gigs?
Even on stage, I was still very starstruck just watching and listening to him play. Roger’s got such a unique sound and all drummers I know say it is so hard to emulate.
How was the chemistry between the band?
We all loved playing together. It was a good mix of people and we all just got on really well. We had such fun on stage and I think the crowd could tell. If we have a good time, then the audience will have a good time too; that’s why we do this.
During the tour we had to stay in our Covid bubble, so we all travelled together in a Splitter van… and if that doesn’t bond you then I don’t know what else will!
In your opinion, what were the qualities of the other band members?
- Christian Mendoza:
Christian is lovely and it was nice to both be new together. He is an amazing guitarist. I can’t imagine the amount of pressure it was to play the Queen songs, but I thought he absolutely smashed it.
- Neil Fairclough:
I think Neil might be the loveliest human being I’ve ever met and I hope we’ll be friends for life. He makes an effort with absolutely everybody, trying to learn everyone’s name no matter where we were. Apparently, he does this on the Queen + Adam Lambert tours too, learning all the names of the local crew, security etc and it leaves such a lasting impression. He genuinely cares. And he is so talented too… and such a big Queen nerd!
- Spike Edney:
On the first day of rehearsals I was nervous because he’s the ‘Big Boss’ and as a keys player, there’s an added pressure. I didn’t really know what he wanted so I think I over-prepared; programming all the sounds and charted everything out. I think it paid off as Spike loved delegating me different parts. As well as being a legendary MD and musician, he is so lovely – I love Spike! He always has great stories about touring because he’s been doing it for so long. I was just so happy that he was happy with my work and what I put into the band. And I am so lucky that he trusted me with so many things.
- Tyler Warren:
I honestly don’t understand how one person can be as talented as Tyler is. His drumming is insane and I’m still in shock every time he sings too – his range and his perfect pitch! It was just amazing to work with him and to learn from him. He knows all the little details and it’s great to have someone like that in the band.
Was it fun to join Roger and Tyler on drums during Up?
Everyone joked in rehearsals that Spike would delegate to me all the time… but Roger was the one that asked me to get on the gong drum for Up. I would never have put myself
forward for percussion, but you can’t say no to Roger Taylor, and it actually turned out to be my favourite part of the whole set! Playing percussion with Roger was just insane and I think everyone could see on my face how much I enjoyed doing it every night.
I’d also never played acoustic guitar on a gig before, so that was another new skill I gained during the tour. The best advice Spike gave me was to just say yes to all opportunities, and it taught me not to be scared of trying new things.
And you featured strongly on backing vocals too?
It was amazing to be in a band where everyone could really sing, and really enjoyed singing. I think everyone could tell and it brought a different energy to the whole show.
So you enjoyed duetting with Roger for Surrender and We're All Just Trying To Get By?
I was nervous to sing Surrender at the start of the tour as my solo part was so exposed, but once I got more comfortable, I really enjoyed doing it and especially loved when the harmonies came in during the middle eight. We're All Just Trying To Get By was really fun too, and I’m a big fan of KT Tunstall.
How was it to take centre stage on violin for Foreign Sand?
That section just grew and grew as we went on. Spike initially mentioned some violin for the song but we never got round to it during rehearsals. Then Roger’s daughter Lola thought it would be great if I played violin in the intro, and it ended up being a really nice moment in the set.
Did you realise just how much the Roger/Queen fraternity were taking you into their hearts as the tour progressed?
I think so, especially when I got a Tina chant! I remember it being quite daunting to perform to such diehard fans and I wanted to make Roger’s fans proud of what we did with the songs. But I am so appreciative of everyone’s response, and it means so much that you all accepted me.
When Brian May guested at the London gig, the roof nearly came off the Shepherd's Bush Empire! What are your memories of that night?
There were whispers from the beginning that Brian would play but it wasn’t confirmed until mid-tour and the songs were only decided a couple of days before Shepherd’s Bush. It was super surreal for me and even though it’s already happened I still can’t quite believe it.
On the day of Shepherd’s Bush I was sick with a migraine, which couldn’t have been worse timing. I certainly didn’t feel on my best form and was very fragile – but I remember seeing Brian and thinking “Oh my God, that’s Brian May! Get yourself together!”. He was so lovely! I told him how pleased I was to meet him and he replied that he’d heard so much about me - I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life!
After soundcheck, the tour manager and production assistant really looked after me. The adrenaline kicked in for the show and I think it was the best gig of my whole life. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout, and my cheeks hurt especially during the songs with Brian.
Were you aware of what it would mean to the fans to see Roger and Brian on stage together?
It must have been an unforgettable experience for the fans to see them both in a venue like Shepherd’s Bush Empire – I always think it’s a completely different vibe in smaller venues as it’s much more intimate, and you can really connect with the audience. From where I was standing, it looked like you were all having the best time - I’ve never seen a crowd go that wild!
How was it to record the live session for BBC Radio 2?
It was nerve-wracking because it took place on the second day of rehearsals! We were still learning all the songs and getting used to playing together just before we started recording. After it came out, we watched the YouTube video in the Splitter and were pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out… but I hope it got even better during the tour!
Apart from Shepherd’s Bush, did you have you a favourite night from the tour?
I remember Manchester being really fun, but I loved them all. Bath was a favourite too as it was my birthday and the crowd sang Happy Birthday! It was a great day and the whole crew made me feel so special. Backstage we had a little party and it was the best birthday I’ve ever had on the road.
Did you enjoy the gigs half as much as you appeared to?!
I was genuinely having so much fun. I was really nervous about doing the tour because I didn’t know anyone, was the only female in the band, younger and less experienced than everyone else… but it was so worth it and one of the best experiences of my life so far. Definitely a favourite tour and I learnt so much.
The songs were amazing, everyone was so lovely and I really felt appreciated. I was giving my all to the show; I had input and musical freedom, which was super rewarding and different to other gigs. To be able to share the stage with such legends was a real honour… and that is not lost on me.
Can you envisage playing with Roger again in the future?
I would do it in a heartbeat - you wouldn’t have to ask me twice! We all wished the tour had gone on for longer. One of the last things that Roger said to me after Shepherd’s Bush was that we would stay in touch and he gave me a big hug. That really meant a lot to me.
Finally, how was it to play at Spike’s SAS Band gigs in December 2021?
I loved playing with them and it was another real privilege considering the careers and experience they all have. Spike said I’m part of the family now and I love that!
This article is © Dave Fordham and the Official International Queen Fan Club and is not to be reproduced without permission. Join the fan club at www.queenworld.com.
Many thanks to Tina for her time and to Zbyszek Kaminski, Karen Neal and Thilo Rahn for kind permission to reproduce images. For more information on Tina’s activities, visit www.christinahizon.com.
The BBC Radio 2 sessions are available to watch here.