– March 2011
Pubished 28 January 2011
WORDS BEN MITCHELL
A KIND OF MAGIC
A recent article in March edition of Q magazine [A Kind of Magic], featured interviews with both Brian May and Roger Taylor …”
[- See HERE for Roger’s interview.]
Brian’s interview followed on from speaking with Roger… we pick up here…
When Q comes to discuss our impending interview with Brian May, the drummer [Roger Taylor] warns that his band mate will talk about animals at great length. “I think he’s saving the ant next week,” Taylor says mischievously. May is indeed involved in activism concerning such hot rural topics as the culling of badgers (he is against it). However, come the day of our chat, it’s only when there’s mention of an early Queen magazine that lists one of the guitarist’s favourite things as prawn cocktails that his sensibilities become apparent. May ruefully explains that he no longer eats this classic starter – or any meat whatsoever – due to disagreeable farming practices. “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad animal,” he concludes. “Only bad people.”
A graduate of London’s Imperial College, May abandoned his PhD on dust clouds – later finished in 2007 – and a career in astrophysics when commitments to Queen combined with the rigours of teaching maths at a comprehensive school left no time for study and adequate rest. “I still don’t sleep that much,” says the 63-year-old. “I’d like to tell you that it’s good but it’s not always good. I tend to run myself into the ground a lot of the time.”
May is softly spoken and unfailingly polite with an academic’s inclination for responding to questions as fully as he can. By his own admission he has struggled with depression in the past but found comfort in looking up at the night sky and “getting a feeling of bravery from the stars”. Unlike Taylor, it is difficult to imagine this sensitive man whole-heartedly enjoying the more hedonistic aspects of rock superstardom. “I did and I didn’t,” he says. “I loved the social side of it, but there was a part of me that kept to myself and was much more private. I was perpetually on an emotional roller coaster of my own. Perhaps I was a little too much of an island but, on the other hand, maybe it kept me sane. It’s not a very definite answer, I’m sorry. Yes and no.”
Who did you have most in common with when Queen first got together?
That’s complicated. We had quite a complex, sort of multi-way interaction. That’s why it worked, really. I was very close to Roger in some ways because we’d already been in a band together. We were – and we are – kind of brothers. We were so close in our aspirations and the way we looked at music, but of course so distant in so many other ways. Like any pair of brothers, we sort of loved and hated each other all along the line. In a way I was very close to Freddie, particularly in the songwriting area. Some of my best times were producing a vocal out of Freddie, sort of coaxing him in various directions.
In what areas, as people, do you and Roger differ the most?
Anything you care to name. Once we got into details with the music it was in there as well. We would argue for days over one particular note.
What else apart from the music would you disagree about?
We had a lot of spats of various kinds. Once I’d just got a fabulous new fish-eye lens and I was sort of paparazzing Roger. He was making his face up at the time because we were glam in those days. He put this make-up sponge straight on my new lens and I wasn’t too pleased about that but you get over these things. Roger would fly off the handle fairly easily. You’d hear this clunk and it would be, “Oh, Roger’s thrown another TV out of the window.”
Did calling the band Queen seem like a good idea to you?
I had reservations but it was very democratic. We had a list of suggested names and Queen had come from Freddie. One of the others was The Grand Dance, which I don’t think would have been very good. Freddie was very much a dandy in those day, Roger was as well. Everyone was into dressing up but it wasn’t an expression of sexuality, it was just an expression of freedom. The most fancy of the peacocks strutting around would get called queens. At the time I didn’t know Freddie was gay and I don’t know if he did either; I think that he was finding himself at that point. So we were aware of all the connotations of the word “queen”, of course, but in a way that was an attraction because part of what we stood for was freedom and equality, whether it’s racial or anything else.
Is it true that you used to take your own personal tea and biscuits on tour?
No, but if my wife came out she’d bring items from home because back then you couldn’t get Digestive biscuits in America. Or Typhoo tea. I actually enjoyed getting into the culture of wherever we were. The Englishman is famed for not being very good at that.
Freddie’s moustache became a part of the band’s iconography. Did it make much of an impression on you at first?
If you want the truth, I think that the only significant thing was the music.
Your trademark hairstyle was very distinctive too, of course.
It is what it is. I generally hated my hair when I was a kid because it was curly. I felt like there was something wrong with me because it wouldn’t do what other people’s hair would do. Then, Jimi Hendrix made it OK to have curly hair and be cool and so from then on I just let it do its thing.
Would you say that how you each appeared in the video for 1984’s I Want To Break Free was an accurate reflection of your personalities?
Of course! Everybody thinks that was Freddie’s idea because it looks like something that he would love to do but it actually came from Roger’s girlfriend at the time, strangely enough. It was her idea to pastiche the Coronation Street women.
Was it her idea to have Roger dress up as a schoolgirl?
I think that was probably his idea [laughs].
Did you have any idea that Queen’s 1986 Knebworth show would be the last time that you all played live together?
No. Freddie said something like, “Oh I can’t f***ing do this any more”, but he normally said things like that at the end of a tour so I don’t think we took it seriously. “My whole body’s wracked with pain!”
Roger said that he never had a cross word with Freddie. Did you?
I never did either. I think that’s an odd juxtaposition with Freddie’s image of being a prima donna. Actually he was the great diplomat and if there were arguments between us Freddie usually was able to sort them out.
When you learned that Freddie was dying did you want to continue recording?
Yeah. He loved being in the studio and I think right up to the end that was his greatest escape. He was singing vocals when he couldn’t even stand. He’d prop himself up against the desk, knock a couple of vodkas down and go for it. The very last time we ever did that, me and him, was singing Mother Love, which is one of my favourite tracks on Made In Heaven. He never finished that. He said, “Oh Brian, I can’t do any more. I’m dying here” [laughs]. He never seemed to let it get him down.
Did you find those final sessions upsetting?
We developed such a great closeness as a band that they were actually quite joyful times. The thing is, there’s always a big element of disbelief. Yes, we knew the prognosis but I didn’t think we quite believed that it could happen to Freddie. He’s Freddie, after all. He’s invincible. So when the news finally came it was a real bolt from the blue.
Did you get to say goodbye to Freddie?
We were with him a lot in the final days but it wasn’t a question of saying goodbye, it was a question of just sharing a moment. I remember an occasion when he was lying in bed and he couldn’t see out into his garden very well. We were talking about his plants, which he loved. Actually Anita [Dobson, whom May married in 2000] and I were there. He said, “Guys, don’t feel like you have to entertain me. Just you being here is what’s important and I’m enjoying that.” So I think, in a way, that was him – amazingly – finding acceptance of the way things were. So, no, the word “goodbye” didn’t happen but we reached a very peaceful place.
Is it difficult for you because I’m thinking of Freddie Mercury, the great rock frontman, but to you, above all, he’s your deceased friend?
It is. One of my hardest moments was unveiling the statue of Freddie in Montreux . Obviously it’s a very nice tribute and the ceremony was very moving but I just suddenly became overcome by anger. I thought, “This is all that’s left of my friend and everybody’s thinking it’s normal and fabulous but it’s actually awful that I’m looking at a piece of bronze which is … [sighs] the image of my friend and my friend’s not here any more.”
What went through your mind when David Bowie started saying the Lord’s Prayer at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert?
What the f**k is he doing? [laughs] It hadn’t been rehearsed. I suppose it would have been nice if he had told us but maybe it was truly spontaneous. I never had that conversation with him afterwards.
When did you last see John Deacon?
Oh, a long time ago. He’s very private now and he communicates by emails when there’s a business discussion, but that’s it.
Can you understand the opinion held by some Queen fans that We Will Rock You isn’t right?
You know what, you can never please everyone. I remember when Queen II  came out a lot of these people said, “That’s not Queen any more. They’ve forsaken their fans!” That was probably half a dozen people. Everyone else went, “Whoopee!”
. . . .
After four decades as a member of Queen, Roger Taylor has given some consideration to retirement as he eases into his 60s with a fortune of around £70 million. “I think about it a lot, actually,“ he says. “I was just thinking, Why the f**k do I work so hard? I must be nuts, but it keeps you gong.“
Brian May is on similarly good terms with his bank manager but seems stunned at the suggestion that he might one day like to have more time to relax. “What would I do?” he considers. “I’m not one for sitting on beaches. I love to be creating, making things and solving problems and if I’m not, I’m not an incredibly good person to be around. If I’m not busy, it would be a disaster.”
Taylor can, at least, imagine a life of total leisure. “I might try and paint,” he says with a familiar grin. “But I’d probably be crap.” Q
Roger Taylor interview HERE