One Night of Queen

Stars in Their Eyes winner Gary Mullen is Mercurial.

December 3, 2018
Spectacular energy

New Theatre, Sunday 2nd December 2018

Like Julius Caesar and his entourage, Gary Mullen and The Works came to the New Theatre on a one-night stand, saw a huge crowd awaiting them and conquered them. As a non-rock music fan but with a fair idea of the Queen back catalogue (and having recently seen Bohemian Rhapsody) I was bowled over – no, flattened – by the volume and spectacle and sheer force of it. The house lights dimmed, then there was a swelling burst of portentous music, fit for the arrival of Alexander the Great at the gates of Babylon or Donald Trump arriving at the clubhouse of one of his golf courses.

Then on they came, first drummer Jon Halliwell sneaking in at the back in twilight, then bass Billy Moffatt and keyboards player Malcolm Gentles, then Davie Brockett on guitar (hair Brian May-style – or even Louis XIV) and then, the lights flashing scarlet, emerald, ultramarine and mauve came the man himself, caught in two swivelling floodlights: all in white, manicured moustache, lithe, long-legged body, black hair slicked back – it was Freddie Mercury himself, risen Lazarus-like from the grave, summoned by the clarion-call of the music.

Then they were away, pounding out the songs while the light and colour flashed and pulsed and the brass bar in front of me vibrated. Gary was straight into his routine with Another One Bites the Dust , every move no doubt honed in front of the mirror and from long practice (he's been hard at this for donkeys' years). Prancing like a colt faced by a filly on heat, twitching his right calf convulsively, doing the half-splits, kicking his heels up behind him, eating up the playing space in long strides, he was everywhere at once with his stick mike, using it like an épée, a back scratcher, a fly swat, a neck-stretcher and a surrogate penis.

The voice to my Queen-inexpert ears sounded just right, with a great range, and once he held a tenor top C for a very long time, as well as getting down to a deep growl. Perhaps he wasn't wholly at home on the ballad Love of My Life, voice a little harsh and volume too inflated for the song, but his audience patter was perfectly judged between in-rôle bombast – blowing provocatively pouting kisses left and right, deriding the non-dancers, threatening to go home early – and appreciation of his audience, leaping down off stage and wading into the adoring folk at the front who (I have it on the authority of one of them) follow him around the country from gig to gig.

Just two caveats: it was a pity there was never a single mention of Freddie himself, and on Bohemian Rhapsody the piano work was left to the keyboards rather than Gary, and I could have done with the authentic electric piano sound rather than the synthetic, slightly thin keyboard approximation.

We rocked to the big anthems, swaying madly, our hands above our heads, telling ourselves We are the Champions – and believing it - and we marvelled at Davie Brockett's astonishing guitar work, playing at breakneck speed, his fingers swooping up and down the frets faster then your eyes could follow. Gary covered every inch of the stage, generous too in allowing the band their collective and individual limelight, sweating profusely, giving every last ounce of himself to the performance, and somehow saving something for the late-on masterpiece Radio Ga Ga.

A triumph. We all flooded out in a state of dazzlement and once outside, the energy overload in me made me want to sprint all the way to Zanzibar!


January 14, 2008
New Theatre, Oxford, 12 Jan 2008
I find the whole tribute band thing very odd. Going to see tributes to bands such as the Beatles or the Doors can only be a painful reminder of what could have been. I remember seeing a fake Kylie about ten years ago and it was quite pleasant because if you found yourself having an especially good time you knew you could tootle off and buy tickets for the real thing (I didn’t, as it happens). However, Gary Mullen’s tribute to Freddy Mercury is so magnificent that ‘One Night of Queen’ has left me exasperated. I’ve never been much of a Queen fan but now all I want to do is see Freddy. If Gary managed to rock me, imagine what Freddy could have done.

Gary Mullen is the 2000 winner of the TV talent show ‘Stars in their Eyes’. He doesn’t look remotely like Freddy Mercury which in itself is testament to his talent: the typical ‘Stars in their Eyes’ winner draws in an average of less than 150,000 votes; Mullen had 864,838 and has gone on to achieve phenomenal success performing throughout the world. Fans of the show appear to be as much in awe of Mullen as they are fanatical about Queen.

Freddy Mercury must be a tough act to impersonate, with his unconventional looks and distinctive operatic, sometimes off-the-wall, vocal talents. Mullen did not sing a note off key and he performed some marvellous oral gymnastics, though he was by no means showing off. He was entirely bent on ensuring the audience was having a good time.

Mullen sprang around the stage striking Freddy-like poses (bending over and slapping your own bottom, etc.) while somehow remaining sincere; anyone else performing in such a manner would look silly or sarcastic. He’s quite prepared to joke around and tease the audience. Mullen also forces everyone to get off their seats and clap their hands. (I hate that kind of thing, it reminds me of being at primary school and I did feel at one point that I was in a theatre full of zombies.)

Mullen’s talent alone could carry the show; however, the band members, comprising two guitarists, a drummer and keyboardist, are extremely skilled musicians. The lead guitarist performed an awe-inspiring solo whilst looking like he was waiting for a bus (as I was exiting the theatre I heard a lady say of the band “I suppose they’re paid to be talented not entertaining” – personally, I think an award-winning guitar solo performed nonchalantly is entertainment).

One Night of Queen’ is a flawless concert showcasing some exceptional talents. Gary Mullen is a force to be reckoned with whose talent, together with exceptional musicians, enables even the most dedicated of Queen fans to celebrate and enjoy their heroes’ magic once more. If I was Freddy, I would take it as a compliment.
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