While I’ve been lucky enough to see Queen a few times with Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert, I’ve always dreamed of seeing Roger Taylor on a solo tour. He might be best known as Queen’s drummer (and songwriter, and occasional singer), but he’s also released six solo albums, as well as three albums with The Cross. I always thought a solo tour would be a great opportunity to see Roger perform in a smaller, more intimate venue, rather than from the other side of a massive stadium. I wanted a chance to see the charismatic frontman that I’d gotten glimpses of when he stepped out from behind the drums at the Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert concerts. But most of all, I wanted to see Roger on a solo tour because he has a wealth of solo material that I genuinely love, that stands on its own, and that I knew would be incredible to see live.
I had to wait a long time for the opportunity. Roger’s last solo tour took place in 1999, probably only a month or two before I first started getting into Queen’s music. More than two decades later, he has finally embarked on another solo tour to promote his latest album, Outsider. On Saturday October 2, 2021, I was able to see the opening show of the tour at the O2 Academy Newcastle, and it did not disappoint.
It was amazing to hear some of the awesome solo songs I’ve loved for years played live. Roger opened with the title track of 1984’s Strange Frontier, and later played “Man on Fire” from the same album—both highlights of the night. Both songs are energetic, frustration-fuelled anthems that work spectacularly well live. In a time when most of us could do with a catharsis for the angst we’ve collectively accumulated, these songs succeed in transforming anger and fear into a fun, upbeat experience. I defy you not to sing along to the bitter yet still exuberant chorus of “Man on Fire.”
“Surrender,” from 1998’s Electric Fire, is one of Roger’s darkest songs, but it’s so powerful, and I’ve always been blown away by live recordings of it. Seeing it in real life was no exception, as keyboardist/violinist Tina Keys joined Roger on vocals for a phenomenal performance.
It was a real treat to hear “Tenement Funster” and “Rock It (Prime Jive),” both underappreciated Queen songs that I’d never heard live before. Though they’re not as well-known as many of Queen’s hits, I’ve always adored both of these gems. Each song encapsulates Roger’s passion for rock and roll that so often shines through in the Queen songs he wrote. “Tenement Funster” is gritty and defiant, while “Rock It (Prime Jive)” is an excited celebration, but they each have an infectious energy that transfers really well to the stage. Roger’s drummer for the tour, Tyler Warren, took over lead vocals for “Rock It (Prime Jive)” and did a fantastic job.
One of the best things about seeing live music is that songs you’ve heard many times before can take on new meaning or impact you in a different way. Given the context of the pandemic, and the isolation and hard times that many of us have been facing, some of the Queen songs Roger chose to perform struck me as particularly poignant. “Under Pressure” resonates now more than ever, perfectly capturing all-too-familiar feelings of stress and desperation, but also urging us to reconnect, to care for each other and to stay hopeful.
Similarly, “These Are the Days of Our Lives” evokes thoughts of better times that are long gone, but then reminds us to focus on what we have now. Watching Roger perform this song at the first concert I’d been to since before the pandemic inspired me to seek out more moments like this, as we all try to return to something resembling normality—or at least move towards something positive.
While “Radio Ga Ga” is a much more upbeat—and less emotionally raw—song, the experience of clapping along to the chorus with a room full of Queen fans is always a powerful one. This fun, communal connection was something that I’m sure many of us needed, as occasions like this have been in short supply lately.
“Foreign Sand,” from Roger’s 1994 album Happiness?, has always been particularly meaningful to me. However, while it’s clearly written as a statement against racism and xenophobia, I always saw it as a kind of antidote to my social anxiety. I think it works either way, as the lyrics advocate for people to overcome apprehension and simply get to know each other. The song actually helped me a lot when I was trying to make new friends after dropping out of university and moving back home.
Roger has recorded a pared-down version of the song, titled “Foreign Sand (English Mix),” for his latest album—presumably as a reaction to Brexit and the associated racist, xenophobic attitudes that we’ve seen in this country. Of course, following on from the isolation of the pandemic, my social anxiety disorder is now at its all-time worst. Personally, hearing Roger perform this gorgeous song provided me with some much-needed encouragement and reassurance as I attempt to ease back into socialising.
“Absolutely Anything” is another highlight from the new album, with a lovely, dreamy quality, and it sounded stunningly beautiful live.
I won’t go through every single song, but each one was impressively performed. The setlist was as follows:
- “Strange Frontier”
- “Tenement Funster”
- “We’re All Just Trying to Get By”
- “Under Pressure”
- “These Are the Days of Our Lives”
- “Gangsters Are Running This World”
- “A Nation of Haircuts”
- “A Kind of Magic”
- “Absolutely Anything”
- “Man on Fire”
- “Rock It (Prime Jive)”
- “Say It’s Not True”
- “I’m in Love With My Car”
- “More Kicks (Long Day’s Journey into Night… Life)”
- Drum Battle
- “Foreign Sand (English Mix)”
- “Radio Ga Ga”
- “Rock and Roll” (Led Zeppelin cover)
- “Heroes” (David Bowie cover)
I would have loved to hear something from Fun in Space or something by The Cross, but Roger does have an awful lot of material to choose from, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to fit everything in. I’m so grateful that I got to see this concert—it was worth the 22-year wait, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Roger was an exquisite showman, and the rest of the band were fantastic. If you’re a fan of Roger Taylor, do yourself a favour and see this tour. If you’re not familiar with Roger Taylor’s solo albums, do yourself a favour and check them out—and see this tour.
Roger Taylor will be touring the UK until Friday October 22, 2021. He is joined by keyboardist Spike Edney, drummer Tyler Warren, keyboardist/violinist Tina Keys, bassist Neil Fairclough and guitarist Christian Mendoza.
Details of Roger Taylor’s 2021 Outsider Tour and new album Outsider can be found here.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the band members who joined Roger Taylor on the date in question.