19 April 2017
Brian May’s Top 5 Tips for Guitarists
1. Find a musical partner
2. Turn recording into live performance
3. Sing your solos
4. Always think of the vocals
5. Believe in yourself… and each other
“Riffs: who knows where they come from?”
He may be more than 50 years into a sparkling career, but Brian May admits that his knack for penning iconic guitar lines remains a mystery even to himself.
Somewhat reassuringly for those of us still grappling with the art of writing earworm riffs, May suggests that there is no secret formula that he is hoarding when it comes to creating the kind of magic that he has made a living from since Queen’s inception.
The latest grade-A hook hot off the Brian May production line is found in Roll With You, the lead single from May’s new album Golden Days. The record is the immensely affable guitarist’s latest collaboration with West End star-turned-pop-rock-vocal-powerhouse Kerry Ellis.
“I don’t know where [the Roll With You riff] came from,” he says. “I don’t know where my riffs come from. I was looking for something that I could play interactively with Kerry.
“I thought it would be great to have a riff that was insistent and was challenging Kerry all the way through. That riff just popped into my head. I was consciously searching for something like that, I think, but where these things come from I don’t really know. You hear it in your head first and you try to play it. Riffs: who knows where they come from?”
You won’t just find new material on Golden Days; there’s also a smattering of covers, including a reworking of Gary Moore’s Parisienne Walkways.
“I was asked to do a tribute to Gary Moore, and Parisienne Walkways hadn’t been chosen by anybody else – I thought that would be a great track for me because it is very lyrical,” May explains.
“I was always a great admirer of Gary. What we did was more or less recreate the track in a way that was not too dissimilar to the way it had been recorded before, but I also wanted to design it in a way that would suit Kerry and made sure it was in the right key for Kerry.
I thought it would be great to have a riff that was insistent and was challenging Kerry all the way through. That riff just popped into my head
“It was a bit of a step into the dark because I don’t think anyone had ever considered it to be a woman vocalist’s song before, but as soon as you hear Kerry come in on that vocal it sounds so natural but also so different. That was great. A lot of things fall into our laps and that was one of them.”
It may have landed in the laps, but it quickly became a track that defined the very make-up of Golden Days.
“It’s nice also, because [Parisienne Walkways] was the pivotal place where we decided that this album had to be myself and Kerry together rather than just Kerry’s album, as the guitar is the principle voice on that track. That song really works well for us in terms of it being a partnership.” s
May and Ellis may have been re-interpreting some classic tracks on Golden Days, but when it came to gear, the 69-year-old wasn’t reinventing the wheel.
“With gear, I am the same as I always was,” he says. “I haven’t changed that much in 40 years, really. I had an AC30 and a treble booster and my own guitar that I made with my dad. That is my sound most of the time.
“I don’t really like to use many effects. I use delay for certain things, but mostly on this album I don’t think there is any trickery at all. I just like to go in and play.”
That unmistakable Brian May approach to tracking guitar also remains reassuringly intact throughout the record.
“I like to regard my guitar as a voice really that stands beside Kerry and that has always been my way,” he explains.
“If you listen to We Are The Champions, the guitar is the second voice on that, and I remember Freddie very distinctly with his hand pushing up the fader on my guitar for the last chorus. Even I was thinking if it was a little too much, but he said it was the voice that was fighting with his, and it was essential that it was there. That’s how I view guitar.
“Guitar can do lots of stuff: it can make the nice background, it can make a nice rhythm bed for things to lie on. But, the guitar of the last 50 years or so, post-Hendrix, is a voice which demands to be heard in the same way that a human voice demands to be heard.”
Some sage words from a genuine icon right there. And he didn’t stop at that; Brian has a wealth of sage advice to share, as he reveals his top five tips for guitarists. Read on and learn… MUSIC RADAR
Golden Days is OUT NOW.