Brian May with Steve Wright (broadcast 30/01/2019)
As reported last week, on 23 January, Brian May was interviewed by Steve Wright at BBC Radio 2 about his many projects: Steve Wright, who played New Horizons on his show 22 January and referred to Brian as a genius live on air. The interview looks into the story behind the song and it will be aired next today, Wednesday 30 January between 3.30pm – 5pm. Steve will also broadcast an extra special version of the song. Brian’s other creative projects also discussed, including “The London Stereoscopic Company”, “Mission Moon 3-D”, “Queen in 3-D “and the success of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie.
TRANSCRIPT by Jen Tunney :
STEVE WRIGHT: He’s got a big guitar and big hair and he’s coming on next. Here comes Brian May ‘New Horizons’.
Brian May CBE is busier than ever. There’s music, there’s astrophysics and astronomy, his 3-D book company and a hit film that’s up for some awards. Brian May is here. And you know Tim of course over there.
Now the very start of this year, so Brian released his first solo single in 20 years, which we’ve just played. It’s called ‘New Horizons’ and it combines his two greatest passions – music and astronomy – and was co-written with Don Black. So tell me how that came about. It’s different isn’t it?
BRIAN MAY: Yeah where the Hell did that come from? Well [I don’t know]. I’ve been friendly with these NASA guys for quite a while. There came the point where they said “Well how about if you do some music for us”, and this was Allen Stern who’s the head of the “New Horizons Mission” and in case you don’t know what “New Horizons” is, it’s the fastest thing ever launched from this planet At about 30,000 miles per hour, it sped past the planet Pluto and took this amazing set of pictures of it. For the first time ever we saw what Pluto looked like. So I was there with them and I got invited back to see the next part of the adventure, which was that they carried on and 4.2 billion miles away they rendezvoued with another object which is called a Kuiper Belt Object and did the same thing – they did a flyby.
He said “Can you write a song about this particular part of the adventure ? They’ve called it “Ultima Thule” and I went “What the Hell rhymes with Ultima Thule? How can I write a song about this?”, but then I thought “Well what’s going on here is man’s incredible curiosity “- the same thing which powers explorers in the Victorian age is powering us now to find out what is out there and strangely enough I came across a little quote from Stephen Hawking, where he says “We explore because we need to know”, and I thought, “Well this kind of defines what I’m talking about”. So I wrote this song about human endeavour and curiosity and the spirit of exploration, which is called“New Horizons”.
STEVE: Now you, I know have been interested in astrophysics, In fact you have a PhD in astrophysics. This is your field of interest and to that end there are two books to mention, on which we might need the special glasses for, which are in the back of the book, “Mission Moon 3-D – Reliving the great space race”, done by yourself and David J Eicher.
STEVE: Okay, so what’s in there, bearing in mind this is sound only so…
BRIAN: It’s hard to explain stereoscopic photography on the radio, you know.
BRIAN: Basically it’s looking back at the Apollo missions and it’s the 50th anniversary of the first moment when man walked on the Moon. This is the first time there’s been a book illustrated with 3-D photography. Now the astronauts were trained to take 3-D pictures by going ‘click’, and moving a few inches to the right and go and ‘click’ again. Mostly they forgot as there was too much going on…
STEVE: Were busy.
BRIAN: .. but what happens is you get a lot of accidental stereoscopic pictures because people actually do take pictures on the run. So what we did, me and my colleagues, we went back into the NASA archives and dredged all through everything and chose things which could be made into 3-D pictures. Now what’s 3-D you’re saying? Well it’s the same as “Avatar”. You’ve seen it in the movies. 3-D photography for me has always been magic and I always wanted to have the ability to bring it to the 21st century.
STEVE: It’s like magic in a sense because it gives a sense of realism. You’re not expecting.
BRIAN: It totally does, yeah. And I see it, you know. I take the book to people and they go: “What’s this then? Why is there two pictures here and what’s this viewer?”,when they look through and they go, “Errrr” and they get “Oh!!! now I see it”, you know that eureka moment – that “WOW” moment. So that’s what we offer now. I am now The London Stereoscopic company and we issue books which have 3-D pictures in.
STEVE: And the way the book unfolds is interesting as it’s each mission and tracking back the history of the earlier missions right up to the later missions. What do you make of the way it’s all turned out? I mean they stopped the Apollo. They cut the money and now of course private companies. Where are we at with it? Do you think – space exploration?
BRIAN: It’s a very interesting question, yes. Space exploration has transferred into unmanned missions. All these NASA missions at the moment are robotic and controlled from from Earth, like the New Horizons mission, the Rosetta Mission to the comet recently. Obviously men haven’t walked on the Moon in 50 years, which is incredible.
STEVE: `No – but there is an interest lacking I think because of the lack of person space flight. Is there any prospect of that happening? They talk about going to Mars don’t they?
BRIAN: Yeach they do and there is a commitment. I don’t know how far it’s going to go. You can go to Mars.
STEVE: Can you come back?
BRIAN: You can get back. Personally probably I wouldn’t, although I did spoof of it on Patrick Moore’s “Sky At Night“. (Laughing)
STEVE: Oh my goodness. We miss him, don’t we,
BRIAN: We miss Patrick.
STEVE: Oh my goodness. Tell you who we like – we like Maggie. Maggie Pocock, yeah.
BRIAN: Indeed yeah.
STEVE: Yes, she’s fantastic. Anyway Brian we’re gonna come back in just a second. Don’t go away…
<PLAYS TRACKS: ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘These Are The Days of Our Lives”>
STEVE: Now we’re back. Brian May. 3-D books and just before the music we were discussing “Mission Moon 3-D”. Let’s move on, Brian, to the other book if we may. It’s called “Queen in 3-D” and basically does for Queen what you’re doing for Space, I suppose.
BRIAN: It does. I turned my stereoscopic eye in a different direction and being a geek as I am I always carried a stereoscopic camera all through those Queen glory days.
STEVE: Did you?
BRIAN: Yes, and so the pictures that you see are kind of candid in a way which a paparazzi never could achieve. It’s just, “Bri, don’t let’s pose around. Let’s just be normal.” So you get some lovely pictures of Freddie in there and Rog and John fooling around. Also what I would do was I would give my stereo camera to some guy and say, “See what you can get of us live on stage”.
BRIAN: So there’s a lot of live pictures of us on stage as well.
STEVE: Is it in sequence or is it just throw stuff when you found it?
BRIAN: It is pretty much in sequence, yeah. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t think this book would ever come to fruition. I didn’t realise I had the amount of material that I ended up but my partner in crime, Denis Pellerin, in stereoscopy went through my entire house and he found so much material which I’d squirreled away. We realised we had actually too much material for the book, so there it is.
STEVE: We’ve spoken in the past about Queen, obviously, and we’ve spoken also about the movie.
STEVE: … and congratulations, okay, and what have we got? – Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes, nominated for seven BAFTAs, five Oscars. Did you kind of expect all of that would happen?
BRIAN: No, we had no idea.
BRIAN: No, no. I mean you never know, do you, and it’s new territory for us. We’ve made music for films before but we’ve never actually produced a film. Having said that we didn’t make the movie, you know. Fox made the movie and whatever,’re but we were kind of the Uncles, I suppose, because we nurtured this idea for ten years. From what I can tell that’s quite a normal thing in movies. You’re walking a tightrope but what developed with the team was this incredible feeling of loyalty and momentum and belief in the project.
STEVE: Is it fair? Is the movie a fair depiction of how it was?
BRIAN: We believe it is, yeah. I discovered on the journey the difference between a documentary and a biopic. I didn’t know that before,. It was halfway through the eleventh script, we realised what it was. It’s about trying to figure out what drove Freddie, what inspired him, where his passion gave from, where his fears were, where his weaknesses and his strengths were and to explore his relationship with the world and particularly with music and with us, who were his family.
BRIAN: So it’s a big kind of remit to take on and it’s no longer a documentary, it’s a biopic. It’s an attempt to portray a person’s spirit.
STEVE: So some things had to be condensed … combined.
BRIAN: Yeah, It has to be.
STEVE: What about the portrayal of yourself in this film?
BRIAN: Yeah, I was really nervous. Roger and I were both nervous, because you think people gonna believe this. They’re gonna think this is exactly what happened and this is gonna become us and then, once I met Gwil, I mean Gwilym Lee portrays me in the film, and he’s phenomenal.
STEVE: He is. He’s exactly like you.
BRIAN: Yeah but if you meet him in real life, of course, he’s not. He’s that good. I mean he fooled my kids… (laughing) All three of my kids saw the trailers and they said, “Oh he’s really good. Obviously you must have done his voice, Dad, right?” No. He is an Actor and he’s that good.
STEVE: Yeah, yeah.
STEVE: Here’s the thing though Brian, I mean, Queen are still an entity. You go to and fro don’t you really.
STEVE: Who comes to see you? Is it people that from the old days, you know, cos you do new stuff now?
BRIAN: It’s very mixed. Yeah, we have a lot of people from the old days and they’re still with us, which is wonderful. I think what this film has showed up from the response, that we get to a new generation every time we go out.
BRIAN: … which is incredible. I don’t know how we got that lucky to be honest. Obviously I do Instagram and Twitter and everything these days that has become a big part of our lives and I get so many letters from 16 year-olds or whatever saying, “We’ve discovered this and we love it and we want to play guitar” and all this kind of stuff. It’s wonderful to see that it crosses every generation.
STEVE: Alright – let’s recap what we’ve done everyone. Okay. (clears throat) Brian May’s single “New Horizons” is available for download right now and his stereoscopic books, “Mission Moon 3-D” and “Queen In 3-D” are also out now and if I could just describe them. I mean this is kind of coffee table size, beautifully photographed. I mean this is ideal for me. I love Queen and I love Space. I’m in heaven. You’re my pal and I love you.
BRIAN: And I love you.
STEVE: Brian May everybody. We’re all loved up.