Four years ago, Gareth Taylor was working as a physics teacher in Castleford but found himself starting to become disillusioned with the profession.
Taylor was also a singer in his spare time and, having been in various bands when he was younger, started playing gigs in and around his hometown.
Armed with a good singing voice and an acoustic guitar, he found himself gravitating towards playing Queen songs. “I knew my voice was similar to Freddie’s and I had been a fan of Queen’s music since I was about ten,” he says. “I loved the intensity of the songs and Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest showmen.”
He taught himself to play the guitar like Brian May, Queen’s lead guitarist, and found people warmed to his shows. “I had a really good response to the Queen songs and some of my friends suggested I become a tribute act.”
He decided to follow their advice and began doing gigs on his own. Then a few years ago Gareth bought a ticket to the Freddie Mercury official birthday party gig in Montreux, which attracts hundreds of Queen fans every year. “I had always wanted to go to Montreux and in 2016 I decided to buy a ticket and go with my wife Rachel,” he says. “I had a copy of Freddie’s harlequin leotard made to wear which just felt apt for the occasion.”
Each year there’s a karaoke which Gareth won. Only five people are chosen from the hundreds of guests to take part in the party’s karaoke competition and Gareth was one of them who sang in front of judges including Peter Freestone, Freddie Mercury’s closest friend and personal assistant. “I think the leotard helped me get picked and I couldn’t believe it when I won, it was unreal,” says Gareth.
Freestone was taken aback by Gareth’s voice, initially thinking he was miming as he sounded so like the legendary singer. However, while Gareth liked the idea of being able to pay a musical tribute to his hero, he was very reluctant to wear a costume and become a look-a-alike tribute artist. “I didn’t know what to do and my best friend Joel Levack who works in TV said ‘if you wear the yellow jacket would you get more money?’ I said ‘yes’ so the decision was made.”
But it was a decision Gareth wasn’t fully comfortable with but his act was doing really well and he was earning the equivalent of his wage as a teacher, which brought him to a life-changing decision.
“There were a few things going on in my life at the time. My mum had MS and her illness was progressing so I wanted to spend more time with her and I wasn’t enjoying teaching anymore.”
He wanted to change careers and sing full time – and admits it took a while to persuade his wife Rachel, with whom he has an 18-month old son, that it was a good idea.
“It isn’t the most secure way to earn a living but Rachel has been an amazing support,” he says.
Gareth got an agent and began doing more gigs but rebelled against wearing the yellow jacket that became synonymous with Mercury’s image. “I started wearing the jacket less and less and then I grew a beard. I knew I had the voice to perform as Freddie, if I didn’t have that I could understand the need to look like him but it didn’t feel right to me.”
He developed a clear vision of what he wanted his show to be and decided to leave his agent to pursue that dream with his own band. “My neighbour Dan (Gilson) played the bass guitar. He was about 20 and I’d known him since he was a teenager. I knew he was good and played in an originals band so I didn’t know if he would want to be in a Queen tribute band.”
Dan jumped at the chance and brought onboard his best mate and guitarist Robert Hudson along with a drummer they both knew called Steven Todd. “We started taking it all a bit more seriously and wanted to perform
Queen’s studio recordings rather than the live music. It is much more difficult but the quality of the musicianship is so fantastic.”
The songs, especially the studio versions also feature some challenging vocals, not least Queen’s anthem, Bohemian Rhapsody.
So after trying a few vocalists, they recruited Paul Foster who also plays guitar and Danni Rivett. The last addition to the line-up was keyboard and guitarist Chris McFarlane. And so Bulsara and His Queenies were born.
About a year after his Montreux karaoke win, Gareth was at a fan event held by Queen Productions at Metropolis Studios, where Queen recorded their Innuendo album, when he was pulled to one side by one of Queen’s senior producers. “I couldn’t believe it, he knew all about me and the band. I pulled up a video on YouTube to show him and he said he had already seen it. Then he asked me for a card and said he wanted to discuss something. We were so excited, we waited about four months for the call and when it finally came it was to ask us to headline Freddie’s birthday party in 2018.”
This was a real turning point for the band and Gareth decided it was time for a new strategy. Bulsara and His Queenies became a business and the band spent six months rehearsing for the Montreux show.
They took to the stage last September and performed a two-hour set. “It was incredible,” says Gareth. “We have found because we don’t dress like Queen it takes audiences around three songs to get what we are doing and here we were in front of around 800 hardcore Queen fans. But once they realised how like Queen we sounded they really get into it and two days later we were booked for 2019, it was unbelievable.”
Last year also saw the release of the film Bohemian Rhapsody and Bulsara and His Queenies were once again picked out by the Mercury Phoenix Trust – a charity set up in Mercury’s memory to combat Aids worldwide - for Champions of the Underground, a busking takeover of the London Underground to raise money for the charity.
On the day the film was released, three artists were chosen to perform a Queen song which was professionally filmed and uploaded to YouTube, with Gareth’s band singing Bohemian Rhapsody at Southwark Tube Station. “We started at seven in the morning and were in the station all day filming and then playing, the acoustics were fantastic.”
The Trust also invited the band to perform in Carnaby Street to mark World Aids Day where the actress Helena Bonham Carter stopped to listen and asked to meet them. “She was really lovely and we even got ‘papped’ which was in the papers the next day,” he says.
They’re enjoying their growing reputation in the music business. “We are really looking forward to everything we have coming up,” says Gareth. “For us it is all about the integrity of Queen’s music. We are all skilled at what we do, it just takes time for people to understand us.”
From Castleford to Montreux
It’s been a busy couple of years for Gareth Taylor and his bandmates.
This summer Bulsara and His Queenies will be jetting off to Lausanne in Switzerland to play for the Rotary Club of Great Britain at its A-list gala held in the Royal Savoy Hotel.
After this they will return to Montreux for the Freddie Mercury official birthday party gig which they will be headlining for the second year in a row.
Before all that they start a UK tour which includes four dates in Yorkshire, kicking off at The Church in Leeds, tomorrow.
They also play Fibbers, York, April 26, Square Chapel, Halifax, June 15 and G-Fest, Garforth on July 20.
For tickets and more information on the band go to bahq.co.uk