Roger Taylor fuses two Kinds of Magic – pure Queen bombast and wild solo wizardry

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Roger Taylor has embarked on a short solo tour while Queen are off the road - Charlie Raven/Alamy
Roger Taylor has embarked on a short solo tour while Queen are off the road - Charlie Raven/Alamy

Were it not for Covid-19, Queen would have spent the last year or so playing to packed arenas across Europe. The rock band’s twice-postponed tour – now rescheduled for next summer ­– will include an eye-watering 10 nights at London’s cavernous O2 Arena.

But with itchy feet and a new lockdown album to promote, drummer Roger Taylor decided to hit the road with a solo tour of small venues. The concerts mark the 72-year-old’s first live performances outside Queen in over two decades. The show, to quote Queen themselves, must go on.

Shorn of the pyrotechnics, hydraulics, walkways and general bombast of a Queen concert, there was a danger that Taylor’s solo outing would feel a touch insubstantial. After all, Guildford’s G Live venue (capacity: 1,000) is hardly the O2, and Taylor is not a born frontman. But despite size restrictions, Taylor managed to shoehorn enough stadium-rock tropes into the venue – dramatic introduction music, dry ice, frenetic lighting – to make it feel like a spectacle. And he played a bold set that took in, as he put it, an “avalanche of music” comprising delicate ballads, all-out stompers and Queen classics including ‘A Kind of Magic’ and ‘Radio Ga Ga’, both of which Taylor wrote.

Part of the night’s success was down to Taylor’s superlative five-piece backing band, which contained three members of Queen’s touring troupe. Drummer Tyler Warren displayed astonishing versatility, managing somehow to sing David Bowie’s part in ‘Under Pressure’ and drum at the same time. Indeed, this concert was effectively Queen, just without guitarist Brian May or singer Adam Lambert (who replaced the late Freddie Mercury a decade ago).

With his distinctive white beard and hair, black suit and paternal air, Taylor came across like an amalgam of Gandalf and Logan Roy from Succession. He sang ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives’ – another of his Queen compositions, a ballad looking back at the forks in life’s roads – with the wistfulness of a man in his eighth decade. His high voice, ever so slightly frayed, was genuinely affecting, as were contemplative new songs such as ‘Absolutely Anything’.

The old wizard also gave us some bangers. Taylor’s always been one for the high life. It was his band, after all, that held a swamp-themed party in a New Orleans hotel in 1978 that involved dwarves, drag queens, female mud-wrestlers, snakes, fire-eaters and a model being paraded on a silver salver of raw liver. Hard-rocking songs such as ‘Strange Frontier’, ‘A Nation of Haircuts’, ‘Surrender’ and ‘Man on Fire’ reflected this.

The highlight, though, was ‘More Kicks’. It started with the mid-paced drumbeat from Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’, added keyboardist Tina Keys on a frenetic violin, then saw Taylor get behind a second drumkit for a tempo change and some full-on sonic battery. There followed a drum duel between himself and Warren, who was – in Taylor’s own words – “embarrassingly talented”.

Taylor finished with a cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. If this concert proved anything, it’s that big shows don’t need big venues: this was a hugely enjoyable rock romp. And it laid bare the songwriting prowess that has always lurked behind one of music’s most famous drumkits.

Until October 22. Tickets: ticketmaster.co.uk