Updated 15 Jan – Updated 17 Jan
The Official Queen Podcast – Episode 10: Brian May Interview (Part 1)
Behind the Scenes on Tour with Adam Lambert
On the eve of the Queen + Adam Lambert European Tour check out Part 1 of the exclusive Brian May interview in which he talks about the current tour and gives some insight into hitting the road as part of a major tour.
Download and stream now on iTunes here.
PART 1 of TRANSCRIPT (by Jen Tunney)
BRIAN MAY: It’s the first time we’ve done this.
NICK WEYMOUTH: So we’re here in West London. Queen plus Adam Lambert is about to kick off again. The circus is back in town.
BM: Indeed, ready to go, almost ready to go anyway.
NW: So, what do you do, gearing up for another leg of a tour. Is there anything you go through at all?
BM: Well, if we were starting from scratch, we would do a week or 10 days in a small place just kicking ideas around and rehearsing ourselves into shape, but seeing as we’ve done America and Japan, Korea and Australia and the New Year’s Eve concert, we’ve done a lot of that already, so what we’ve done this time is go straight into production rehearsals, which means we’re rehearsing with the entire rig and this is a huge place. It’s always a thrill to walk in, I must say, to the production rehearsals, because the whole rig is up there and it’s huge. It only just goes in this vast warehouse.§ It’s great, you know, and you know that you’re standing on the stage that you will have wherever you are on tour, you know, whether it’s Birmingham or Newcastle or Paris or Milan or whatever, the rig will be pretty much as it is here, set up. So it’s a proper rehearsal. You have all the same lights so the lighting guy can practise his cues. You have all the same sound system so the sound guy can get all that together, same monitors, you know. There’s a lot of technical stuff to check out. Of course, there’s all the video equipment as well, so you know we have a large screen so we’ll be rehearsing all the video cues as well. Things like being able to see Freddie on the screen. So it is a thrill really.
This is as big as anything we’ve ever done, I must say, and I think as useful, if you wanna put it that way, and it gives us lots of room for drama. It allows us to get close to an audience, even though its a very big audience. A lot of these are very big shows, but we have this great walk-out and a B-stage, so we’re enabled to interact with the audience. That’s the idea. We have this – you know, I remember saying this years ago – but you get one chance. You’re in that place for two hours and you have to open the box and everything has to come out right, and you get that one chance to communicate with the audience and make them feel special, make them feel excited, make them laugh, make them cry, you know.
Yeah, we used to say “blind ‘em and deafen ‘em and leave them wanting more”. (laughs) You know, It comes from being boys. We used to go and see The Who and Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and we used to come away feeling like we’d been, we emotionally drained, we were so in it.
We used to love it, you know, and so that’s the kind of inspiration we have, if you like. That’s how we like our audience to feel when they go away and hopefully it happens. Yeah, I think we’re still boys, and that’s why this is still so exciting for us. It gives us that feeling of contact and there’s something about rock music. There is nothing quite like a rock band in full swing and then I have great confidence in the people that I’m working with. This band is a great outfit now. I really felt that doing live TV. Now live TV is very hard. There’s actually not that many groups – I don’t want to blow our own trumpet too much – but there’s not that many groups who can pull it off because of the amount of stress involved and because if you’re doing it completely live, as we are, that’s something unusual. The people, when we go into the BBC, or if we go into like a foreign TV show, in Germany or whatever, Vienna or whatever, people are always kind of shocked when they see us set up and do I think they go, “So you don’t have any backing tapes, you don’t have any hard disc, you don’t have any click”, and we go “No. It’s live”. So they go, “We don’t see this. We just don’t see people do this”.
Yeah, people do. They love it. Definitely the TV crews love it, ‘cos they don’t get the chance to do it that much, but it seems to be getting more that way. I mean, the generation’s gone – we’re old men now – we’ve been doing this for God knows how long – and those days of old are long gone and a lot of people we work with are kinda like kids to us, you know, and they have never seen what we’ve seen, I suppose. We’re unusual. we’re a kind of relic, but it is live, it is dangerous and the mistakes, if you like, the variations if you wanna call them that, (laughs) are part of the magic of the show, and I realise that. I mean, it’s taken a while for us to realise. I think we used to be very hard on ourselves if we kinda made a mistake or something.
NW Is it back to Freddie?
Yeah, I think so. You know I think we were very severe on ourselves. We had a sense of humour about a lot of things, but the live show had to be right, had to be right, be perfect – rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, but now Roger and I feel we have reached a point where we have an acceptance. We are what we are. What we give on the night will be the best we can give and that’s it. So if something goes wrong, very often it can lead to something good and the audience likes to see it. They like to know that this is real and this particular performance will never be seen anywhere else and it’s a one off. It’s a shared experience. Now everybody films concerts these days and I used to get kind of a little upset about that as well, because it does take away the mystery. People come and they’ve seen it on YouTube or whatever, but it’s not the same. You see someone on YouTube and you get a rough idea of what they’ redoing, but it’s not the same as the live experience. So I’ve found that i can relax about that as well. Yeah, people have seen it and they’ve seen me do it something right, they’ve seen me do it wrong, they’ve seen me do it different ways, and I don’t think now it takes away from that shared experience of live. People are beginning to realise there is nothing like a live show…
It’s like all the photographs. Everybody takes like a million photographs a year and they never look at on their iPhone or whatever. And I think the other side of it is it’s nice to be in the moment. If you go to a concert and you spend the whole time looking at your phone and trying to figure why it’s over exposing or something, you know, you miss the show. You just, you know, why is it distorting, whereas if you’re there and you just got your eyes and ears open and you’re feeling it in your body, that’s the experience you want, really. That’s what you want to take away.
The great parallel for me, you see I’m rabbiting on now, but I used to go to, I used to be an eclipse fanatic. I used to see a lot of total eclipses of the Sun all around the world. I was kind of a follower of total eclipses, and what tends to happen is you think, “Ah, this is a unique experience, and I gotta take all my camera gear and I gotta capture this moment”. Now normally you’ll get anywhere between like about 40 seconds and a couple of minutes of totality. If you spend that time taking the pictures of it, you miss it, you absolutely miss it. But there’s no way ‘cos….”Oh no, f***, it’s gone … [indistinct) – so I learned, but it took me a while to learn. You know, people told me but I didn’t listen, but you have to go there and you just have to be there and be in the moment and experience it and that’s precious. There is nothing like that.
New Year was great, ‘cos I really hate New Year most of the time. I find I’m sort of sitting there most of the time wondering what to do. Everybody’s doing something. Why aren’t I doing something? And usually it’s quiet for us. It’s another one of those moments where you don’t know which family member you ought to be, so you feel guilty and all that sort of stuff, so this year, no problem. We’re busy, we’re working. We’re working and we’re doing something great. I mean – what an opportunity to play the prime spot of the whole year on on BBC One, It’s just incredible, that moment around New Year, and we did get the biggest audience of the whole year, which is fantastic.
Well it was actually 13 million plus in the UK alone, which is the biggest audience of the year, but also for the first time the BBC were streaming this stuff around the world – forget what they call it – BBC Music or something, and strangely enough they hadn’t done this before. If fact they were a little bit iffy about it. They didn’t want to advertise it, ‘cos they felt someone was gonna stop ’em, ‘cos it hadn’t really been passed by the powers that be. But that show went out live to Bangkok, to LA, to New York, to Australia, and so I don’t think it’s really possible to estimate how many more people saw it, but probably another 20 million out there at least. So, it was great.
And of course you sit there. You’re in this pretty small place. You were there, right. Very small, very intimate, but you know that there’s millions of people out there who are joined to you, you know, and are aware of your every move. So it was – it’s great. I mean, the adrenaline rush is incredible
Yeah, we started out thinking, well what shall we do from our regular touring show? And of course that includes a long section where Roger and I do our thing, you know and we get very intimate with the audience, but the more we thought about it, the more we thought this is a time when people are drinking a lot, sittin’ around, and party and dancing or whatever. Really they want the hits – they wanna hear bang, bang, bang, you know. Let’s have a good time. So it was a party set. It was a little bit like doing the Live Aid show to be honest. You know, like play the hits and f*** off, you know. So you can edit that if you want, bleep that, but it’s like Bob Geldof said. Don’t mess about. Play the hits. That’s what… The trick is not to use it as promotion, not that we would anyway, I think we’re kind of sort of past all that, but just give people what they will instinctively want to hear at that time. So we kicked off with “Don’t Stop Me Now”, which is everybody’s Hen Party, Stag Party, or whatever.
Gotta say, I mean, in different situations I have quarrels with the BBC, because, you know, I do think in some areas they show a bias and you get so much sort of pro-government stuff and not enough of the dissent, and I think it’s crucial that be BBC must be impartial, so I have quarrel…. and we pay for it. I have a quarrel with that, but I gotta say the BBC crew who were with us through the rehearsal period and on the night were fantastic. They’re the best at what they do. The sound was done by our own Justin Shirley Smith, Kris and Josh, and everybody’s told me the sound was great on the radio and from what I hear it was. We have our own team doing the sound in the hall. We have the sound and lights and everything, and yeah, the BBC just locked in. They were so helpful – all those guys. I think their camera work was great. They never got in the way. They didn’t try to tell us what to do. They were very kind of respectful of what we needed to do. We are the same.
I think that’s one of the great perks in a sense of being a successful band, that you get to work with the best people. This team, they’re all top of their game. In so many ways it opens the doors to work with the best people and do the best things, so I’m very appreciative of that. The legacy that we’ve built up gives us the opportunity to always do things at the top level.
Yeah…, it comes from everywhere, but hopefully we are appreciative of the people and we stick with people. We have a great loyalty to people who are loyal to us. So, yeah, it’s vital. It’s like a touring family, and if you don’t get on with the people you work with it can be grim, so it’s very very important for people to get on. Yeah, we love our team. It’s really amazing you know. Things don’t change in some ways. You’re going out there. Once you press that button, you’re out there on tour, and while we’re in the UK we can get home occasionally, but once we get to Paris, we’re out, so for the next month you can’t be with your family, and your folks and your home comforts. You are in that bubble, which is a Queen tour.
And it’s great, you know. If it’s done well, it’s great. It’s a nice way to live. In a sense it’s simple because you have one aim and that’s and that’s to give the audience the best time you possibly can. Everybody is conscious of that.
Yeah. It never fails. You could never do this without getting excited, I must say. Sometimes things go wrong, you get a little, you know you get emotional about things, but generally we, as I say, we’re much more relaxed with each other and more forgiving to ourselves, and what’s left is just this incredible adrenaline and the energy that comes from the audience, coupling with our own energy, which is something incredible…
— Continued – where Brian talks particularly about Adam Lambert. —
BALANCE OF TRANSCRIPT
BRIAN: I have to say, we have the extra ingredient now which is Adam Lambert. Adam is a phenomenon and he has everything that you could ask from a frontman.
NICK WEYMOUTH: Nice guy too….
BRIAN: Well, that’s one of the things, you know. Yeah, if we didn’t like him, it wouldn’t work at all. He’s delightful to work with. He’s stupendous – I mean he’s equipped with this stupendous instrument, his voice, that I’ve never heard a voice like that in my whole life. His range is just extraordinary.
He’s also dedicated to his art in the same way that Freddie was, you know, so recognising that he has a gift from God, if you like, his voice, he doesn’t waste it. He takes good care of himself. I mean, he parties, till the ends of the Earth. He’s a guy very much like Freddie, he into enjoying life, but he knows when he can work and when he can play, so he’s always on it for the show.
And he’s got a natural way with the audience. He’s a born entertainer much more than just a singer. He’s also, which I really like, very physical on stage. I’m very aware where he is and he’s very aware of where I am. Now Roger doesn’t get the chance to move around, but Roger also interacts very much with him. Completely naturally, yes, the kind of thing you cannot choreograph and it’s great fun ‘cos it’s gonna be different every night. But there is this, kind of, you develop a flow – you develop a kind of sixth sense as to what the other guy is doing, and of course our music is physical. It’s not just in the mind, it’s in the body as well. So the way we kind of physically interact influences the way the music sounds very much. So yeah, and as you say, he’s very easy to get on with. He’s a total prima donna in the sense that he’s into his clothes and his look and his fitness. The same way as Freddie was. The same way as Elvis, I’m sure – I never met Elvis, but I get a strong feeling that Adam is very very much like Elvis in the way he conducts himself.
On Adam being his own person…
Well he’s more than that. He’s so, so – what’s the word. He’s kinda very much over qualified. You could have someone who kinda fits the bill and ticks the boxes, but Adam is way way more than that, and I think people, even people who come in who are a bit skeptical, after about three songs they’re eating out of his hand. They, you can see they just love him. And I think that by the end of the show, Adam has become that complete focus of the show that Freddie did as well. That’s a big thing. It’s almost like I feel very often that Adam is a huge part of the show, a massive part. He’s not just someone who’s filling a slot. He’s changed us. He’s brought us up to the 21st century in some ways, he’s re-energised us and in himself as a performer, I would go and watch him. You know, there’s not many performers of his generation or of his type that I would go and watch, but I would. I think he’s a wonderful craftsman and that voice is just beyond belief. Sometimes I’m standing beside him and I’m doing certain things in like Who Wants To Live Forever or The Show Must Go On…. yeah, and I never know how he’s gonna nail it, you know, and sometimes I’ll suddenly hear him go for a note and I think, “Jesus, is he really gonna do that?” And this all goes through your head while you’re playing. You know, you can’t lose your cool, but I feel like stopping and looking at the guy… what is he doing… and is he gonna pull it off? … Yes – he pulls it off every time. It’s never anything less than a million percent. I’m sounding too exclamatory now, but, you know, I seriously get shivers up the spine at some of the notes he hits, and I know Freddie would as well. Freddie’s watching somewhere, someplace, somehow, he’d be thinking, “God”.
On whether replacing Freddie….
Well I’ve sort of given up arguing with people. There’s a certain very small percentage of people who’ll go, “Oh, you know, it’s sacrilege. You can’t have someone else singing Freddie’s songs. Why?” There’s certain people who hate us for going out there at all. It’s like we built up this Queen thing for half of our lives and people resent us still doing it. But it’s a tiny percentage of the population… And of course, you know, if you don’t like it then it’s absolutely fine. I can respect that, don’t come. But to me it would be so stupid for us to try to be what we were. We are what we are now. We have this great guy we can interact with. We can entertain. We can put on a show which is absolutely on the level of any of the shows we’ve done in our lives. So for me it’s a great thing and I couldn’t possibly say no unless physically I wasn’t able.
It’s nice, yeah, and we have a lot of… it means a lot to me that we get approval from, I guess, the next generation like the Foo Fighters guys come along. They’re wonderful, yeah. They’re so enthusiastic about what we do and they still kind of look at us in the same way as they looked at when they were kids, I suppose, which is great for us and it makes us feel…
I’m happy to see groups of our ilk, you know. I love seeing Aerosmith, for instance. I remember taking a couple of my kids to see them and thinking, “I’m so happy to see this because I don’t have to explain what a rock group in its prime is anymore”. And the funny thing is, you learn a thing or two along the way. I think actually Roger and I are playing better than we’ve ever played, and I would say probably The Stones are playing better than they’ve ever done. You know you do learn. You learn how to handle yourself and you get better at playing your instrument, and you’re less precious about yourself, and that’s really important, you know, returning to what we were talking about at the beginning. You have to go through all the angst and whatever, the development process. You have to be hard on yourself, I suppose, to develop, but you have to get to this point in the end where you accept what you are and you are comfortable in your own skin, and then I think you give your best. That’s what people want you to be. If people see you enjoying yourself, they’re gonna enjoy [themselves]..
Did you enjoy yourself on these shows?
Yeah. Even on TV – that live thing – I suppose you look forward to it with a little bit of dread as well as excitement because so much could go wrong and you think, “Yeah, I could make an idiot of myself. It’s live and it would be too late to do anything about it. But, you know what – that’s what we do”.
On over-running New Year show by 10 seconds….
Yeah we overran, and that’s probably because the bagpiper was a little late. It worked out really well.