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James Barber
(1st Guitarist, WWRY, Melbourne)

- Part 1 -


June 2003

What do you do when an opportunity you have spent half your lifetime preparing for comes along, but at that moment your life is so confusing, you know even contemplating trying to fulfill that dream is almost impossible? James Barber, one of the guitarists for the Australian production of We Will Rock You, had to ask himself this recently.

Last week James and I talked about his enduring passion for Queen’s music, and how eventually he managed to overcome his doubts and achieve his dream of being selected for the WWRY band.

When James learnt We Will Rock You would open in Melbourne during August of this year, he started to investigate how he could get an audition. Eventually he e-mailed the OIQFC in the UK, and received a response with a contact name.
About this time though, things in James personal life began to get rocky, so rocky that James realized giving up his bread and butter job, and moving his family thousands of kilometers couldn’t be considered. Determinedly he deleted the email containing his only contact, and tried to rid his mind of his dream.

Fate however, sometimes has a way of ensuring that what is meant to happen, does happen….

James explained Queen’s music was one of his earliest recollections. “Thanks to Mum, I’ve had a lifetime love of music, particularly Queen. I took classical piano lessons, getting as far as Grade 4. Then as a teenager I rebelled, and picked up an electric guitar.”

At 16, the band, but more particularly its guitarist Brian May, became his strongest musical influence when he saw the movie Highlander. Listening to the soundtrack and realizing this was the same Queen he had heard as a child, he was “profoundly affected”.

Since then, James has remained true to his guitar hero, waiting for hours outside the venue where Brian May played his only Brisbane performance on his 1998 Another World Tour, and being one of the first to import the Burns Brian May guitar into Australia. James explained what appeals to him about Brian’s playing, “I don’t feel as though I’m copying Brian May. It would be closer to say that the way he likes to play is the way I like to play. The number one thing is his tone, the sound of his guitar. There’s no other sound like it on the planet. The Burns is the only way I could get close to it. Of course, there is also his innate talent as a guitarist to consider as well.”

James has spent years writing music and playing evening and weekend gigs with original and covers bands. Recently, he started to accept that the demands of his day-to-day job, along with his family responsibilities, meant his guitar playing would only ever be semi-professional.

Since being offered a place in the WWRY band, that acceptance has been thrown out, along with James’ self-doubts.

I asked James what had happened to change his mind about auditioning for the WWRY band, and how after losing his only contact, he had managed to get an audition? He revealed it wasn’t his idea at all. Instead, two of his friends, huge Queen fans themselves, were to blame.

In March of this year, Brian May and Roger Taylor visited Australia to choose the cast and band for the upcoming Melbourne season of WWRY. James’ mates, Brett and Daniel, heard there was to be a function at which fans were invited. Not letting the facts they had only a couple of days notice, it was 2000 kilometers away, and they had full-time jobs, stop them; Brett and Daniel took leave and organized to fly from Brisbane to Melbourne, planning to take with them – unbeknownst to James - a sample CD of him playing guitar. If it was within their power, they were determined to get their friend the audition they knew he deserved.

Knowing Brett and Daniel were off to Melbourne made James start to think again about the chance to audition that he had reluctantly dismissed as impossible. “The night before they left, I rang one of them and said ‘seeing as you are going, what do you think about taking along a CD of my guitar playing from the last Aussie Fan Club Convention and see if the opportunity arises to slip it to somebody?’ He replied, ‘I’m well ahead of you. We are so passionate about trying to get you an audition, that even if you weren’t going to do it, we were going to try and arrange one for you’.”

James continued, “During the Launch Party, they overheard someone making arrangements to leave a package for Jim Beach at his city hotel, so they decided to do the same. They left the Launch Party and dropped my CD off, uninvited, at the hotel reception, attention Jim Beach.”

“The next day, I’m at work and my mobile rings. It’s Jim Beach saying he has a CD with my business card in it. He wants to know what is on the CD and why I left it. After picking my jaw up, I explained that it was a mate of mine who dropped the CD off, that on it was a sample of my guitar playing and that I was trying to arrange an audition if it wasn’t too late. I then apologized for not knowing the ‘correct’ procedure to follow. Jim said he would pass it on to the right people and hung up”

“Amazing, I thought. Jim Beach just rang me, and he has my CD, and is going to pass it on! I couldn’t believe I had got this far, thanks to my two crazy, Queen loving mates.”

The unbelievable events continued later that day when James's phone rang again. This time it was the Australian Production Co-coordinator for WWRY, calling to inform him Brian May and Roger Taylor had heard his CD and would like to offer him an audition.

This was on Friday and the audition was for Monday. Again James’ mate Brett came to the rescue, organizing flights from Brisbane to Melbourne, somewhere to stay and offering to accompany a by now very nervous James, for moral support.

On Saturday James occupied himself brushing up his playing of the two set audition pieces, One Vision and Who Wants To Live Forever, and learning the alternate arrangements from the London cast recording. Sunday saw he and his friend Brett making their way to Melbourne.

Finally, after a long and sleepless night for James, the morning of the audition dawned. This was the day he would lay it all on the line, auditioning for the gig of a lifetime, trying to impress two of his all time idols with his interpretation of their music.


Check back next week to read what happened at the audition and how James found out he had a spot in the band.

'Bushfire Blonde'