Bohemia’s Rhapsody: Queenie
While the new biopic Bohemian Rhapsody encouraged a rush of renewed enthusiasm for Queen around the world, Prague has had another reason to love Queen for quite some time – Queenie.
Branding themselves as concert theatre, Queenie looks and acts the part, with lead singer Michael Kluch sporting Freddie Mercury’s signature mustache and guitarist Rudy Neumann’s flowing Brian May-esque mane of hair, not to mention the musical talent each member possesses and the often handmade costumes.
Lead singer Kluch, who is exactly forty years younger than Freddie Mercury, wasn’t always interested in music. In fact, growing up he was more interested in ice hockey. It wasn’t until middle school when a friend shared an album with him that Kluch discovered his love for music.
“I remember having heard a greatest hits album for the first time and realizing that all the top hits I knew from the radio were from the same band,” says Kluch. “I was 12.”
That band was Queen, who he had never heard of before that moment. After this moment, Kluch realized how brilliant Freddie Mercury was.
“I found out that Freddie was a gifted singer,” says Kluch. “I knew it was not easy to sing his songs, but I did it. I have practically the same voice range.”
This discovery led Kluch to the idea of performing as Freddie. However, learning his love for music did not deter Kluch from his studies. He had planned to study math and continued his schooling, ending up working at an insurance company and a bank before ever seeing Queenie as a viable hobby to pursue.
“I have never thought of it as a career,” says Kluch. “I just did what I enjoyed and what I was the best at.”
By 2006 Kluch formed Queenie with fellow students in Prague, including bassist/multi-instrumentalist Martin Binhack, guitarist Rudy Neumann, Petr Baláš on drums, keyboardist Michal David and sound engineer Martin Med.
“It was a gradual process. In the beginning, we did not want to make a tribute band, but as we met for the first time (thanks to an ad on the Internet), we knew we all loved Queen and started playing their music,” says Kluch. “We’ve stayed there. Since then, however, the band has changed to its present form. Today it is a professional project, although we still enjoy it very much.”
Their first show was a graduate party at Neumann’s school, quickly followed by their first open air public concert. The band has come a long way from that first performance, establishing themselves throughout Prague’s music scene.
Neumann is a founding member of the Czech alternative psycore metal band Dymytry, while Petr “Bali” Baláš founded the Czech pop-rock band LOLA. David has played the keys for various Czech bands and singers, and Med has worked for local venues including Chapeau Rouge and the Rock Café, arranging concerts for world-renowned bands such as KISS and Alice Cooper. He was also involved in Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Czech Republic.
To the members, Queenie is a performance in which each must perfect an act as his respective band member. They realize that Queenie is “concert theatre,” not a cover band, and that “each member in his specific role represents the work of another artist.” They base their approaches to the project on “music authenticity and live performance” in order to keep every show as realistic, energetic and entertaining as possible, all while performing the music of Queen perfectly.
“We practice our instruments every day,” says Kluch. “We also must understand the original artist in order to perform him on stage in accordance with the essence of his work.”
This approach has made Queenie one of the most beloved and successful tribute bands in the world. They’ve sold out concerts not only in Prague but also in Barcelona and Stockholm. In Prague they have performed in all the top venues, from Lucerna and the National Theatre to the Municipal House and the massive O2 Arena.
“Our favorite venue in Prague is the O2 Arena of course,” says Kluch. “But from time to time we have concerts at the Kalich Theater, which we really love.”
In 2008 they performed at the Freddie Mercury Memorial Day in Switzerland. The band was personally invited by Peter Freestone, Freddie Mercury’s personal assistant for over a decade. Although the band has not met Queen members in a working context, Kluch is the godfather of the Pirate Swing Band’s Queen cover album, which was endorsed by Brian May himself.
“In the last year we’ve played about 150 performances in 20 countries around the world,” says Kluch. “Including an invitation to perform at Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday celebration.”
This past year the band has also performed as the main role in the new musical novel, Freddie. Each member not only performs Queen’s music as they do in their solo shows, but also acts the part of each band member.
“Even if only for a moment fans feel that they have met the energy that Queen music contains, the mission is fulfilled,” says Kluch.