Paul Rodgers kicks off his UK headline tour in Blackpool tonight, supported by the fabulous Down N Outz, and to celebrate we’ve bagged an exclusive with the Voice Of Rock!

The Free and Bad Company crooner talks solo shows, a new album, Queen, Aerosmith and Gary Moore in one of the most revealing interviews you’ll read all year.

rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth will be bringing you more of the biggest names in rock in the next few weeks with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Glenn Hughes all lined up for your reading pleasure. 

rushonrock: Tell us about the band you’re bringing along for the UK tour…

Paul Rodgers: Well Howard Leese is still on guitar – we go back a long way and he’s become a permanent fixture alongside me. The same goes for Lyn Sorensen who’s been with me for the last five or six years. And I’m very pleased and proud to have Jason Bonham on the drums. We hooked up at the Ahmet Urdingen tribute show at the O2 Arena and then I saw him again just before Christmas. We did a charity show in LA with Joe Perry and I asked him what he was up to in April. Not much was the answer so I offered him the seat for the tour. He just puts so much into every performance. He’s certainly a chip off the old block.

rushonrock: You’ve been working with Howard as a solo artist and as part of Bad Company for a decade now – how important is he?

PR: I know he may be underrated but I don’t underrate him. He’s the songwriter responsible for all of Heart’s biggest hits and he loves to play Hendrix songs and get as close to the Free and Bad Co. originals as possible. All of that’s good enough for me! When he plays All Right Now he delivers something that’s authentic with a modern twist. And we’ll be playing songs from throughout my career in this show – including some new songs. I’ve already been in the studio demoing a couple for an album next year.

rushonrock: With a Paul Rodgers solo show do you discuss the setlist as a band or is it down to you?

PR: It’s pretty much my call. It’s pretty much the singer’s call generally when you’re putting the songs together for a show. When you’re putting a setlist together it’s like putting a song together but on a far grander scale and so it has to be right for the singer. You want to come out with a bang and then you want to get intimate and make the audience feel part of the occasion. I always go back to the early club days when it was close-up and sweaty and magic. Wherever I play now that’s the kind of atmosphere I like to replicate. And I rehearse as hard as ever. We rehearsed in Las Vegas to make sure were on top form for these UK shows.

rushonrock: How on earth do you decide what to include in the setlist beyond the obvious Free and Bad Company classics?

PR: There are so many songs which mean so much to different people. But my main job is to please the bulk of the audience because they want to have a good time. Of course there are some staples which I just couldn’t leave out – All Right Now, Shooting Star and Fell Like Making Love spring to mind. There are songs I feel I must put in the set but it’s where I put them? I always try and make the setlist different even if many of the songs are the same. The rest of the band are always really supportive of what I decide to do.

rushonrock: Your Newcastle show was upgraded from the City Hall to the Arena almost immediately – are you a little disappointed you’re not visiting one of your favourite old haunts on this tour?

PR: I can see why some fans will be a bit upset because that venue holds so many good memories for me and them. I miss the club days but I can’t complain that this thing I’m doing gets bigger and bigger. It’s either play a bigger venue or some people who really want to see this show will miss out. If, as an artist, you can create a really good atmosphere wherever you set foot on stage then that’s the best you can do. I like the fact that the bigger venues give you room to play with. I like to have good lights. Nothing too flashy but just right for the occasion. Human beings are very visually orientated. I like just enough visual stimulation to create the right atmosphere.

rushonrock: How is the new solo album progressing?

PR: It’ll probably be out in 2012 now. I’ve been touring a lot lately and travelling and I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and get the record organised. I’m playing all the instruments for the demos so it takes some time but it means I get to build up the sound from scratch and get it just right. It’s interesting what you can do with drums these days and I have a lot of fun playing the percussion parts. Of course it’s not the same as using a real drummer but I get by. And I play the bass and guitar. I love playing the bass! I’ll be in the studio later this year to get it done.

rushonrock: Roger Taylor has been talking about writing a new Queen album – will you be involved?

PR: Everything is possible. I found that I want to different things and Queen was absorbing so much of my time. I really enjoyed my time in Queen but it’s a full-time job. It was very mid expanding and challenging. I like Cosmos Rocks as an album and I enjoyed working with Brian May on that record. It was a culmination of everything that we’d done together and I’m very proud of it. We toured the world twice and put out live albums and DVDs and I enjoyed doing all the original material. But Roger is a great singer and could do very well on his own as Queen’s vocalist. I’ll play the drums!

rushonrock: Can you just remind us how the chance to play with Aerosmith came about and why did you turn it down?

PR: I met Joe Perry at an awards ceremony. It was the Classic Rock Magazine songwriting awards. Joe came up to me and suggested that Steven [Tyler] would be doing the American Idol thing and would I be interested in fronting Aerosmith if that was the case. I said to him that I was very flattered – it’s a huge honour to be asked to sing with such a big band. But I felt they would always get back together again and I said to Joe ‘just wait and see’. The next thing I know they’re headlining Download! The other thing is I really like Steven Tyler. I went to see the band in Vancouver and he was up there doing his stuff and it looked right.

rushonrock: Finally, how did you feel when you heard Gary Moore passed away?

PR: I was deeply, deeply sad. I loved Gary. He was such a down to earth musician’s musician. Last time I played a solo show at the Albert Hall he cane up and set the stage alight. We always meant to do something together and, darn it, now it’s too late. It’s something I really, really regret.