On The Spot … Neil Murray

On The Spot Neil Murray banner

In addition to playing with a vast array of distinguished bands and artists, bassist Neil Murray featured in over 130 gigs with the Brian May Band, numerous Queen-related performances and We Will Rock You’s entire 12 year run in London. With Back to the Light having been reissued as part of the new Brian May Gold Series, Neil described his work on the original project to Dave Fordham in an exclusive interview that originally appeared in the summer 2021 issue of the Official International Queen Fan Club magazine. This article is reproduced by brianmay.com with permission and the full version is available in the fan club’s members only archive. For Dave’s exclusive interviews in the Winter 2021 magazine with Steve Howe of Yes and Darren Reeves, Queen Extravaganza musical director and keyboardist, join the fan club now at www.queenworld.com.

 

What was the lead up to you and Cozy Powell joining the Brian May Band?

Brian and I met in the mid-80s and got on well. After Cozy and I joined Black Sabbath, Brian guested with us at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 and 1990 as he’s great friends with Tony Iommi.

What was the lead up to you and Cozy Powell joining the Brian May Band?

Brian and I met in the mid-80s and got on well. After Cozy and I joined Black Sabbath, Brian guested with us at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 and 1990 as he’s great friends with Tony Iommi.

So Brian was very aware of what we were doing and wanted to use us for the rhythm section on his Guitar Legends show in Seville in 1992. From then onwards, we were kind of in Brian’s inner sanctum.

There had already been discussions by the end of 1991 about us being the basis of a touring band, quite soon after Freddie died. I don’t know if Brian decided to throw himself into work to blank out the horrific thing that had happened or whether it was already planned because of Queen’s inactivity.

Brian needed a strong rhythm section behind him and Cozy and I were both on his wavelength in different ways.

 

What can you tell us about the recording process for the Back to the Light album?

Brian invited me to the studio to play on the Back to the Light track. I had to borrow someone’s bass because my gear was somewhere else and as the session wasn’t totally satisfactory, what I played wasn’t used… but thankfully it wasn’t so bad that he didn’t want to work with me again and I was called back to play on Driven By You, I’m Scared and Love Token.

Before it was later converted into a really professional situation, Brian’s studio was in his snooker room with amplifiers and drumkits set up in different rooms. Being in a room by myself is not really my ideal situation; I would much rather be recording together in a band situation. There tended to be guide versions and I found it challenging playing along to a drum machine rather than real drums on I’m Scared.

Back to the Light album cover


How was it to witness Brian fronting a band for the first time on tour? Brian referred to it as a ‘whole re-education process’…

He really threw himself into it and wanted to prove that he could do it. Possibly, the idea of doing it was easier than actually getting out there and doing it, but we went down very well in most places.

There was originally some suggestion that others in the band might take over lead vocals for one or two songs, but I think Brian definitely wanted to go it alone no matter what.

We supported Guns N’ Roses in America and their huge audiences were a good showcase for Brian.

 

Was touring with Guns N’ Roses eventful?

Yes, most amusing incidents had more to do with them because in Brian’s band, we were all pretty sensible types! We arrived at one gig to find that following a screaming row with an engineer, Axl Rose had wrecked the monitor desk and fired the guy! So the next few gigs were cancelled…

And then the headlining world tour got underway later in 1993…

The group was great fun to be with. We were treated very well and the touring process was always very civilised, although private jets are not all they are cracked up to be…very cramped and bumpy!

A number of earlier gigs were marred with technical problems. Certain things about Brian’s equipment should’ve been brought up to date and made much more robust, but it took quite a few technical nightmares for that to be put into practice. Things got much smoother and we all thought the tour had been very successful… which made it rather frustrating that nothing happened in the following five years.

Another World album cover

But you did return to play on China Belle, Slow Down, One Rainy Wish and All the Way from Memphis for 1998’s Another World album, as well as B-sides such as FBI and It’s Only Make Believe?

Cozy and I had re-joined Black Sabbath and then played in Peter Green’s Splinter Group. During that period, I’d also worked with Brian on a version of No One But You and What Are We Made Of with Sissel.

The Another World sessions were more relaxed than Back to the Light and closer to being a band situation. We tried out many covers, such as His Latest Flame by Elvis and Morning Sun by Taste, but neither were done to anybody’s satisfaction. However, the album still featured too many covers and without a hit single, it didn’t really have a strong identity.

It wasn’t as successful as it could have been if it had been done earlier when there was more interest in Brian as a solo act. It was a real shame we hadn’t been out there playing because if you are such a gifted musician like Brian, you should be using your gifts as much as you can; he’s the only Brian May in the world and we deserve to get as much of it as we can!

But Brian had his own timetable and it’s amazing how he spreads himself out and devotes himself 100% to all his disciplines… and still manages to be such a nice bloke!

 

Cozy Powell’s passing after the recording of Another World must have been devastating?

Cozy was a great support to Brian. After he died, Brian certainly had to be talked into continuing the planned tour… but it was good for him to do so. Compared to Back to the Light, we only did one afternoon show in America so all we’d done there in 1993 seemed to count for nothing. My frustration with the tour was that every night was recorded and the Albert Hall was filmed… but nothing has been seen or heard yet.

 

Brian May Band, Colston Hall, Bristol by Jen Tunney
Neil, Brian and Jamie Moses at Colston Hall, Bristol with Eric Singer, the drummer
on 1998’s Another World tour (image: Jen Tunney).

What do you remember about recording the Live at the Brixton Academy video and album from the first tour?

Brian was very keyed up beforehand… but in the catering area, his hair caught fire from a candle!

I preferred the Hammersmith gig the following night because if you know you are being filmed, you can’t really relax.

 

Was it a surprise that Brian moved away from fronting his own band after Another World?

It just fizzled out. Brian probably realised his main calling in life wasn’t to be a lead singer fronting a band.

I think if you’ve been used to playing enormous gigs, you always want to get back to that situation as well as looking for other ways to be successful… which was probably the impetus for doing a stage musical.

 

How did your residency with We Will Rock You come about in 2002, later leading to a role in the current touring production that was only halted due to the pandemic?

Brian had the impression that as I wasn’t a West End musician, I wouldn’t be interested… but when Spike became involved and got in touch, I auditioned to prove I could follow a conductor and read music to some extent.

It was very unusual for people like Brian and Roger to be so involved and have so much say in not wanting it to be a typical musical. Certainly with the original band, it was really important that the musicians weren’t just reading the music with no interest or feeling for Queen.

 

How rewarding is it to perform in a musical compared to a rock concert?

In so many cases since Whitesnake, I’ve been copying someone else’s playing, which is not really a situation where you are expressing yourself.

In the early days of the Brian May Band, it was a case of being a real band… but in the end, it’s really Brian and his backing group, and even if he and the management don’t treat you like that, the fans do.

In an ideal world, I would still play with a band on stage but I haven’t been in that heavy rock type situation since 1998 and there comes a point when there’s too many downsides to doing it.

In a musical, it can be quite unnatural and frankly soul destroying to play the same notes eight times a week… but in many ways, WWRY has been very enjoyable to be part of and still is. It was a great saviour for me financially for 12 years and I played in other bands at the same time too.

 

Did you study John Deacon’s playing?

I played for a week during rehearsals for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 because John had a skiing holiday booked! He and I were there for one day together and interchanged playing. At one point, I was going to play on Las Palabras de Amor at Wembley, but eventually they didn’t perform it.

I’d bumped into John years before that and always got on well. He came to the premiere of WWRY and also our Party in the Park performance at Hyde Park.

Deacy had a great style of his own and compared to the Brian May Band where I put my own stamp on it, I studied his bass parts under the microscope for WWRY.

 

Playing alongside Roger as well as Brian, you were part of Queen sets at the Party at the Palace and Pavarotti & Friends in 2002-2003…

I’ve played with many great drummers and Roger is certainly one of them. I would love to play with him again.

For the Party at the Palace, we went straight to Buckingham Palace from a WWRY matinee performance. The bass was reasonably loud even though I wasn’t very visible.

Too Much Love Will Kill You with Pavarotti is my preferred heavy version where we crash in halfway through.

 

Was there ever an opportunity for you to be part of the Queen + Paul Rodgers line-up?

There was lots of speculation that I was going to get the call and I heard conflicting rumours. But I’m not a singing bassist and as that was a requirement, it was a good compromise to get Danny Miranda in.

Paul is probably my favourite rock singer and I thought it was a very exciting collaboration in theory, especially when it was going to be equal in terms of Queen, Free and Bad Company material. But it soon became apparent that the audience was for Queen. So when I went to see them, I was not as upset as I thought I would be about missing out because the focus was really on the front three (as it is with Queen + Adam Lambert) and the bass was not as loud as it would’ve been if Deacy had been in the band. I was expecting something slightly different… but what do I know as the audiences are always very happy!

© Zbyszek_Kaminski.
© Zbyszek Kaminski
Q+PR © Zbyszek Kaminski
An inaugural member of the SAS Band, Neil took part in The 25 Riff Tour Anniversary
show at Shepherd’s Bush in September 2019 in aid of The Mercury Phoenix Trust
image: © Zbyszek Kaminski.

To conclude, how would you summarise Brian’s musicianship?

The notes he plays as well as the thousands of sounds he gets from that guitar create such a unique sound. He is so recognisable and that’s a really difficult thing to do on the guitar. My ideal is to play with people who are inspiring and he’s definitely that. He’s also so nice to be with, so intelligent and has such a good heart that frankly you couldn’t ask for more. He will leave much more of a mark on the world than I ever will and I feel honoured to have known and worked with him.

SAS  Band Shepherds Bush © Zbigniew Kaminski
SAS Band, Shepherds Bush – Image: © Zbigniew Kaminski

This article is © Dave Fordham and the Official International Queen Fan Club and is not to be reproduced without permission. Join the fan club at www.queenworld.com.

Many thanks to Neil for his time and to Zbigniew Kaminski and Jen Tunney for permission to reproduce images.

The WWRY tour is due to resume on 7 February 2022 in Portsmouth (www.queenonline.com/wwry/uk_tour).

Back to the Light (2021 remaster) can be ordered:

Back to the Light album cover

“Back To The Light” album
Ltd Collectors Box Set
Deluxe 2-CD