Playing Freddie ‘a kind of magic’

Milton rising . . . Steve Larkin will salute Freddie Mercury at the Milton Country Club on Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20. PHOTO SUPPLIED

NICK. [email protected]

Otago musician Steve Larkin never expected to front a band, let alone embody one of rock’s greatest legends.

‘‘I’m a little older than Freddie Mercury was at his peak, and the show is more a caricature of Freddie, with faithful performances of his greatest hits,’’ he said.

Larkin is originally from Dunedin and embarked on his musical career in 1978, mainly on keys and lending his voice to advertisements that still remind us to make it click, and who made cheddar better.

His skills had him sharing stages with some of New Zealand’s biggest names, including Ardijah, Midge Marsden, Ray Columbus, Dave Dobbyn and When the Cat’s Away, but his big solo opportunity appeared on the way to East Timor in 2000.

‘‘We were on a Hercules flight to perform for troops on deployment and we had a stop› off in Darwin.

‘‘There were hundreds of troops there too, so while we waited we put on an impromptu show just with voices and drums.’’

Larkin was persuaded to step up, and chose to lead with 1977 Queen hit We Will Rock You.

‘‘I’d never fronted before but I sang up and pranced around comically like Freddie and when the crowd took up the chorus and responded with a massive haka the energy was stupendous. I was stunned and afterwards people were saying ‘You have to do something with that’. The penny just dropped.’’

His take on Mercury would lead to a long successful career on cruise ships, performing in 800 to 1400›seat theatres twice a week, to more than two million people in total, as he and wife Sharon sailed around the world and perfected the magic recipes for his act.

‘‘It’s a tongue›in›cheek salute, like when actors reprise great characters from the past. I put in prosthetic teeth, change costumes, and when you’re not just doing songs but taking up a character and putting on a show you achieve a certain licence to let go of inhibitions and have fun and the audience gets it and become a part of it too. It’s a kind of magic Freddie was a master of.’’

Cruise ship gigs are back online and Larkin said a silver lining of the pandemic was artists rediscovering intimate gigs in local settings.

He’s performed dozens of ‘‘Mercury Rising’’ shows around the country, in the likes of Mosgiel, Upper Hutt, Ohope, Gisborne, Alexandra and Carterton.

The Larkins’ home is near Waikouaiti and the entertainer said he was excited about performing at the Milton Country Club.

‘‘I have very fond memories of Clutha — it’s very striking when you come over the bridge. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to see the changes when we come down for the Milton show on the 19th and 20th.’’