Brian May: “Queen were breaking apart the whole time!” [MOJO]


2 June 2017 by Cal Cashin & MOJO Staff

READ MORE in MOJO Magazine – out now

The legendary guitarist reveals a band constantly on the brink in a brand new interview in the latest issue of MOJO magazine.

Queen - early days

NEARLY HALF A CENTURY since their formation, Brian May reflects on the irresistible rise, tragic collapse and recent reshaping of Queen in the latest issue of MOJO magazine.

Mojo - Nick Cave cover July 2017

MOJO 284 July 2017 cover

Recounting the problems his father had with his son’s abandonment of a promising science career, and how it compromised his enjoyment of the group’s early success, May also offers a poignant take on his relationship with the late Freddie Mercury, “the man who could paint a picture and step right into it”.

While Queen’s route to success seemed smooth to outsiders, on the inside the experience was more arduous, with four big personalities each trying to tow the band in their own direction. “It’s like four different artists trying to paint on the same canvas,” May tells MOJO’s Paul Elliott, “not a comfortable situation”.

“Every time we made an album it seemed like we were about to break up.” Brian May

Asked if the band ever looked likely to split while Mercury was alive, May replies “Oh, it was breaking up the whole time! Every time we made an album it seemed like we were about to break up, because of this business of ‘what are we and where are we going?’ All of us left the band at some point, and not just one time – all the way through.”

May goes on to reveal the battle of egos that lay behind Queen’s 1981 hit with David Bowie, Under Pressure. “Freddie and David locked horns, without a doubt”, the guitarist explains, “but that’s when the sparks fly, and that’s why it turned out great.”

Queen in 3-D cover

Queen In 3-D: a stereoscopic spectacular.

May, whose perspective from the inside of Queen is expanded on in his new memoir (augmented by stereoscopic photography) “Queen In 3D-,” brings out unsung sides of Mercury, especially as a composer and arranger of hard rock. Of Bohemian Rhapsody, says May: “Everybody thinks that I put in the heavy riffs – dang-dang-dang-dang, the Wayne’s World bit – but that was Freddie’s. He came up with a lot of our heavy stuff, like Ogre Battle.”

In 2017 a remodelled Queen, fronted by Adam (or “Madam” as May has nicknamed him) Lambert, sell out arenas, and May has yet to definitively rule out recording new material under the Queen name. “We’ve talked about it a lot,” he says. “You can never say ‘never’.”

Brian May - Mojo

EXTRACT: MOJO July 2017, page 41

Enduring hard times in pre-rock Britain, Brian May rose to co-pilot one of the most extravagant acts of all time.

“We sacrificed ourselves to the god of excess,” says Queen’s guitar hero. “And did ourselves a lot of damage…” Interview by Paul Elliott • Portrait by Tom Sheehan

ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF A QUIET VILLAGE in Surrey, off a narrow road lined by grand mansions, is a house that is the headquarters of the London Stereoscopic Company. Present on this sunny late spring afternoon is company director, Dr Brian May, CBE.

The Queen guitarist’s residential home is close by, hidden behind security gates and thick woodland. But in this rather more modest house are the products of his long-running obsession with vintage 3-D-imaging cameras. In one room, stacked high, are cardboard boxes stamped with his company’s name. In the lounge where May greets MOJO are various antique cameras and a copy of his new book, Queen In 3-D, featuring hundreds of previously unpublished photographs that he shot on stereoscopic cameras throughout his career with the band.

May turns 70 on July 19, and the years have been good to him. His lightly tanned face has a healthy glow, and his mane of curly hair, while silver grey, is unchanged in style since the early days of Queen. As tea with soya milk is brought to him by Denis Pellerin, a French expert in stereoscopy and a key researcher for Queen In 3-D, May leafs through the book to find his favourite picture, one he took in the early ’70s of the group’s singer Freddie Mercury. In it Mercury applies make-up before a show, deep in thought, a young man on the cusp of  profound meaning for May, a reminder of the days when the four members of Queen were still dreaming of conquering the world. “I love this picture,” he says in a soft voice. “It has the magic.”

Queen’s great worrier. By his friend Ian Hunter
“Brian is a brilliant, creative player who cares so much
about everything he does – not just his playing.
Queen couldn’t have done it without him. Powerful
and melodic – he plays to the song.
Always worried about something! I love the guy!”

What Queen achieved with Mercury was success on a monumental scale. Worldwide sales of more than 200 million records places Queen level with The Rolling Stones and  Abba. Only three rock groups have sold more: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. In the UK, Queen’s Greatest Hits is the biggest selling album of all-time, with six million sales, a million more than Sgt Pepper. And what made Queen unique among major rock groups was that all four members wrote Number 1 hits, among them Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody, bassist John Deacon’s Another One Bites The Dust, drummer Roger Taylor’s Radio Ga Ga, and May’s Flash.

In the years since Mercury’s death and Deacon’s retirement, May and Taylor have continued with two versions of Queen: first with ex-Free and Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers; and now with former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert. May admits he feels time’s passing – “Every day you wake up with a new pain and wonder where it came from” – but will be back on the road, playing a Queen show in Toronto, when he hits 70. “We all worked hard to create this wonderful music,” he says. “So let’s keep it alive.”

In creating Queen In 3-D, digging deep into your past, was it an emotional experience? …

(Continues in MOJO magazine)