Last year, Gary Mullen & the Works played their first-ever shows in Mexico. The audience, Mullen says, had a surprise for the popular Queen tribute band.
“A lot of them couldn’t speak a word of English,” recalls the lanky vocalist. “And when we got to the song ‘Love of My Life,’ I actually stopped singing and let the audience sing. Because they knew every single word. Like 8,000 people, in English. That nearly brought us to tears.”
Mullen and friends’ show, One Night of Queen, visits the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater April 21. One Night of Queen reproduces a full concert by the eccentric, explosive rock band that gave the world “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Are the Champions,” “Killer Queen” and so many more greats that pureed pomp and power in the 1970s and ‘80s.
From Germany to Japan, France to Finland and here in the United States, the fans know the words.
“It just shows that music is universal,” adds Mullen. “It touches people’s souls. That’s why people request certain songs at their wedding, or ask that a song be played at their funeral – they can relate to a moment in time with that song. And for me, every song I sing onstage, I can relate to some moment in my life when that song meant something to me.”
A native of Glasgow, Scotland (he speaks in an accent thicker than a tree trunk), Mullen grew up idolizing Freddie Mercury, Queen’s mercurial (pun intended) singing/songwriting frontman.
Queen disbanded (for all intents and purposes) after Mercury’s 1991 death, but for millions – including Gary Mullen – the music continued to live and breathe.
He took first prize on a British TV competition show, doing his Freddie impression, and shortly thereafter Gary Mullen & the Works – and One Night of Queen – was born.
Even after 17 years singing “We Will Rock You” almost every night, Mullen says lighting a fire under the ghost of Queen has yet to get old for him. “It’s like being a kid in a candy store,” he insists. “You get to go around the world, play these amazing songs, meet other Queen fans and just have a lot of fun.”
Two weeks ago, in Boston, “there was a young girl, 14 years old, and Queen’s her world. She came backstage to meet the band, and she was crying! I mean, she was shaking, ‘Oh my God!’ I was like ‘We’re a tribute band,’ and she said ‘Yeah, but you’re the closest thing to Freddie I can see and touch.’” Mullen says he was genuinely moved by her story.
Mullen believes he owes it to that girl – and others like her, and to the lifelong Queen fanatics – to be as Freddie-tastic as he can, every night.
That means reproducing the raw energy of a genuine Queen concert.
“You’ve got to be in a certain place,” he says. “You can’t just go on and sing a few songs – it’s not that kind of a show. You’ve got to be pumped and ready to go.
“We all stand at the side of the stage, almost like caged tigers, like ‘Let’s do this!’ You want to get yourself in that mindframe, otherwise you’re cheatin’ your audience.”
One Night of Queen
At 8 p.m. Friday, April 21
Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Street S., St. Petersburg
Tickets and parking here