Queen: What it's like to perform as rock royalty
For all that many of us may sing into a hairbrush, very few of us get to live the life of a rock star.
But John Holden has an insight into what it’s like to belt out the hits in front of hordes of fans – as the drummer in a Queen tribute act.
John formed the band, called Flash, and had to travel the world to find the perfect Freddie Mercury to his Roger Taylor.
“I first joined a Queen tribute act in the Midlands back in 2005,” says John. “I had grown up listening to Roger Taylor’s drumming and had learned to play exactly like him. But in those early days I had one problem, and that was the Freddie Mercury I was working with at the time.
“You couldn’t share a dressing room with him and you could find him meditating two hours before a show trying to channel Freddie – it was all a bit much.
“So I left the band, but I loved playing Queen music and set about trying to form another band.”
It took a while to get the line-up right. John joined Nathan Mathers, Tom Bissell and Daniel Wilkes as Roger Taylor, Brian May, John Deacon with keyboards thrown in, but the band were missing the biggest piece of the puzzle – frontman Freddie.
“This was the birth of Flash, I set about taking parts of the best Queen tribute acts from around the country and Europe and creating this group,” says John.
“But we were lacking a Freddie and it was getting to the point we were going to give up.
“We had seen all kinds of Freddies but they weren’t good enough for what we wanted to be – they would have been good for pubs but not for a touring production.
“It was literally one last evening when I said ok, we’ll try one more time to find a Freddie and I hit the internet hard.”
But it was on that night that a thunderbolt of lightening struck and the band stumbled across Claudio Desideri in Italy.
“He was perfect for us to complete the line-up,” says John, who lives in Shrewsbury with his family and four young children.
The line-up complete the band hit the road and have even been called ‘as close as it gets’ to the real thing by the BBC. This weekend, they will be playing at Shrewsbury’s Fake Festival in The Quarry, but their tour dates take them all over the region.
Flash have two dates in Bilston and one in Wolverhampton lined up as part of a packed touring schedule for the rest of the year.
“This is now my full-time job, travelling up and down the country with the guys, selling out theatres and playing to festivals of over 20,000 people all over Europe,” says John.
“People always respond well and tell us they think we’re the closest thing they have ever heard to the real thing, which makes it all worthwhile.
“We all love playing Queen music, it can be quite lucrative, but the main reason we do it is because we love the songs.”
But what can people expect when they see Flash this weekend? John says it’s not just as simple as the bands picking their favourite Queen songs.
“We do shake up our set lists night-on-night but we always make sure we play the songs people will want to hear like Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust, Bicycle Race – and of course we have a big finish with We Are The Champions,” he says.
“It isn’t just a case of putting on a wig for me and the guys, we genuinely love our job and I think it’s what makes us a great band.”
Queen’s music has had a massive resurgence since the blockbuster biopic Bohemian Rhapsody came out last year. It also gave an insight into what the band were like off stage, although John insists Flash are not hedonistic.
“We’re the least rock ‘n’ roll band there is,” he said with a laugh. “When we tour we like to talk about cooking and things like that, I do listen to us and laugh sometimes.
“Gig days are long, they can be 14 to 16 hour days with the setting up of the show, travel, getting into costume, performing, then heading home.
“We have one ritual – once the stage and sound is set up we like to get food and we tend to look out for the nearest curry house that we can find. We enjoy a good meal, then we get ready to rock.”
Walking out on stage as Queen is a feeling like no other, says John. Although he admits his position on stage is maybe not the best for crowd interaction.
“I don’t often see what the audience are doing in a show because I am behind the drum kit, but there is one point of the show I always notice a change in them during the song These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” he says.
“It’s one of my favourite Queen songs and something always happens and it gets a little emotional.
“I do this job because I love it, and what more can you want from a job than that?
“We play the songs we love and we make people happy, and to be honest it is a total privilege to be able to do this.”
Flash play along headline the Fake Festival ahead of tribute acts for Green Day, The Rolling Stones, U2, Kasabian and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But if you don;t catch them then Flash are also due to play Theatre Severn in February 2020.