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BBC TwoNewsnight Review
Last Updated: Monday, 4 April 2005, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Queen Revival
Paul Rodgers with Queen
Paul Rodgers, the singer from Free and Bad Company, has joined Queen as their new frontman for a European tour.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

MARK LAWSON:

Paul Rodgers breaking free from Free to sing I Want to Break Free with Queen. Is it all a good idea?

JOHN HARRIS:

No. A terrible idea. I mean, people suggested that this might be Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, but on the live stage Freddie Mercury so dominated Queen, you only have to look at the footage of them playing Live Aid which is majestic to see, that this is actually the Jimi Hendrix Experience without Jimi Hendrix. I feel sorry for Paul Rodgers, because Paul Rodgers was/is a great singer. The problem is he only suits two facets of Queen's repertoire. The blues/rock things like Crazy Little Thing Called Love and he can just about carry off some of the stadium belters like I Want it All and The Show Must Go On but what you are missing is the camp vaudevillian aspect. So you have not got Killer Queen, Don't Stop Me Now. None of that stuff is really suited to his vocal style. So I thought the whole thing kind of got lost, really. It must be very frustrating for Roger Taylor and Brian May. Because Freddie didn't write all the songs by any means, they were equally divided. Once he was gone there was nothing they could do. I would argue what they should do with Paul Rodgers or whatever is call themselves Taylor Made - if you want a pun - and play Shepherd's Bush Empire and play intimate shows and what they are trying to do is to get the Queen arena and stadium experience back and it ain't Queen!

LAWSON:

One of Freddie Mercury's songs was called I'm Going Slightly Mad and I felt, John, watching it is the most peculiar thing I've seen in a long time, because it's somewhere between a tribute band and a comeback tour.

JOHN MULLAN:

You sit there or stand there wondering what they will do with Bohemian Rhapsody and sure enough when it comes to Bohemian Rhapsody they beam in Freddie on a back projection and Paul Rodgers comes on to sing the slightly shouty rocky bit at the end. I agree that Queen's redeeming virtue was its campness, that has gone now. But clearly, as kind of rock star therapy, it did work. I mean it seemed to me...

LAWSON:

For the rock star and not for us.

MULLAN:

And maybe also for all the die-hards in the audience. There were a lot of people, I think John was down with the real rockers, I was up with the VIPs and there were lots of grannies up there and kids and they were all up on their feet and clapping along. I think there was a sort of family reunion thing. There were sing-alongs and a karaoke sort of atmosphere.

LAWSON:

I noticed the grannies - though they were VIP grannies. Perhaps they were relatives of some of the band. I thought I would be oldest person and actually I was one of the youngest. It was very odd, the whole thing.

JULIE MYERSON:

I did not enjoy it. I was quite bored a lot of time. But everyone around us was really enjoying it. I could not see why. It worked as a tribute for Freddie Mercury because I grew up in a house where I didn't really know Queen but the boys I lived with were playing it. I didn't know the numbers really, I didn't know which ones were Queen and which ones weren't, but when Freddie Mercury comes on the screen the whole thing catches fire and you think 'Yes, he was actually amazing'. But my feeling about Paul Rodgers was how uncharismatic he was. But there was a lot of goodwill there and he seemed very un-arrogant, so by the end of the evening I was rooting for him and thinking he was doing a really good job. You shouldn't feel that at a rock concert.

HARRIS:

I'm being very grand and pretentious here, but the condition that has befallen rock music in its old age is effectively one of mass denial. Nobody wants to say that anything is impossible. So in 1995 The Beatles said we've made a record with John Lennon because we found an old cassette. Well that's not really the ticket, you know. Thin Lizzy toured without Phil Lynott. The Rolling Stones when you go and see them, as I did and paid a huge amount of money to do so about two years ago, are a pretty creaking, third-hand facsimile of what they used to be. It is amazing to see that level of, I wouldn't go so far as to call it delusion, but that kind of willing it on to be Queen when it palpably isn't. That was the problem I found.

LAWSON:

That's an important point because, as I say, this week we have Eric Clapton saying he is going back on the road with Cream. They have got the three of them but even so these people in their late 50s, is it sensible to do this?

HARRIS:

On occasion. Bob Dylan is still an incredible live performer who brings these endless interpretive skills to his repertoire and is still evolving and is still making some of the best records of his career, ditto Neil Young, so you should not necessarily write people off. I would argue that if Freddie Mercury is out of the frame, the same as if Jimi Hendrix is out of the frame, then a)don't revive the Jimi Hendrix Experience and b)don't revive Queen!

LAWSON:

I felt sorry for Paul Rodgers. But I thought it was touching how carefully the whole thing was negotiated. There were little bits for Brian May, Roger Taylor starts singing, but also it is rather touching the way when he first came on, Paul Rodgers, he turned the microphone to the crowd, they sang the song first. As you say, he does not take on Bohemian Rhapsody - it's sung by Freddie on the screen. So it is not arrogance. I thought he did it in a very humble way.

MULLAN:

You could see the negotiations that had gone on. You imagine they must have had to get on quite well to be able to talk honestly about, well 'you have to leave at this point, mate, because you can't do Freddie'. There was something quite sweet about the whole occasion. It does seem to me that, talking about these bands going on, I hope I die before I get old, it seems to be the opposite now. Every band seems to need, not even financially, just sort of emotionally need...like Duran Duran, they are all going on and on.

LAWSON:

What would be the nightmare comeback band?

HARRIS:

When I saw Thin Lizzy were touring, without Phil Lynott, who in my estimation was Thin Lizzy, I thought that was pretty strange. But I am sure stranger things have happened.

LAWSON:

We enjoyed it probably more than we've let on. The new Queen tour - they tour Europe in April and Britain in May.


Newsnight Review, BBC Two's weekly cultural round-up, is broadcast after Newsnight every Friday at 11pm.


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