Every time Gary Mullen sings, he says grace. When he sings, he sounds like Freddie Mercury. Mercury is, arguably, the greatest male singer in rock’s long and distinguished history. But Mullen doesn’t have to do much to sound like him. He just has to sing. When he sang for a heavy metal band he put together many years ago (before he started a career singing as Mercury) people would tell him the band sounded like Freddie Mercury singing Black Sabbath.
His uncanny ability to sing like Mercury gave him a nice career as the frontman for One Night of Queen, a tribute to one of the greatest bands in history, one recently portrayed in the Oscar winning 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, serendipitously staring Best Actor Winner Rami Malek, a classmate of BandWagon’s editor.
“I don’t hear what other people hear,” Mullen said in a phone interview for BandWagon. “My voice is my voice. Luckily, people hear Freddie. I am so blessed to be able to do this.”
A Glasgow, Scotland native, Mullen started nearly 20 years ago, when his wife and mother secretly applied to the GranadaTV show Stars in Their Eyes. Mullen sang Queen and set the all-time record for votes on the show. He began performing and formed his band The Works in 2002. The band now plays 150 shows a year in many different countries and will play in Greeley on March 8 at the Union Colony Civic Center in downtown Greeley.
These days, tribute bands perform everywhere, and the best can make a nice living doing VanHalen, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath among many others. But back in the early 2000s, tribute bands were not only unknown, they were misunderstood. In the UK, where Mullen grew up and began his career, fans equated tribute bands with cheesy lounge acts.
“There’s a stigma to it in the UK,” Mullen said before launching into an imitation of a half-drunk lounge singer. “But what we do is a rock concert. We try to create a moment in time, and in America, people totally get it.”
Well, we didn’t get it right away. Mullen said when his band began touring in America a decade ago, they started in performance halls, much like the UCCC in Greeley. Americans were confused at first.
“They were saying, ‘What is this? Is it a play?’” Mullen said. “But they quickly understood it was a rock concert, and it took off, and other tribute acts followed. We showed that you could play performing arts centers as a tribute act.”
Mullen is proud to have blazed that path for other tribute bands. He hears from other Queen tributes that are playing Vegas. He’s not just a cover bar band, after all. His band looks like Queen. His guitarist plays the same red model that Brian May uses. Mullen acts like Mercury and loves to interact with the crowd the same way. He even moves like him, which isn’t hard, he said, because he’s danced like Mercury since he was 4, when he first saw Queen on TV and was blown away. “If you go to a Michael Jackson tribute and he doesn’t moonwalk, you’d feel cheated,” Mullen said.
But there are limits to the imitation. Mullen said Stars In Their Eyes made a set of prosthetic teeth for him so he could look even more like Mercury, who was known for his toothy smile as much the pipes behind it. “I wore them to the show, but I couldn’t sing with them,” Mullen said. “It was horrendous. I never used them after that. I think I have them in my attic somewhere.”
Queen remains Mullen’s favorite band. He still listens to them, and when he went to see Bohemian Rhapsody – twice – he went as a fan, not a performer. He was his 13-year-old self watching Queen, he said.
“You have to have a lot of passion to be a tribute band,” Mullen said, “and that’s not a problem for me with Queen. You simply can’t not enjoy it.”
Gary Mullen And The Works present: One Night of Queen will play at 7:30 March 8 at the Union Colony Civic Center, 701 10th Ave. in Downtown Greeley. Go to ucstars.com or call (970) 356-5000 for tickets.