Interview by Liz Barnes
Brian choses favourite tracks:
Queen – Hammer To Fall
Queen – Made In Heaven
Brian May – Cyborg
Brian May – Business
Yardbirds – Heart Full Of Soul
Little Richard – Long Tall Sally
Brian May – One Rainy Wish
Mott The Hoople – All The Way From Memphis
Queen – Tie Your Mother Down
Queen – Sheer Heart Attack
LIZ BARNES: Hello and welcome to “My Planet Rocks”.
I’m Liz Barnes and tonight my guest is, quite possibly, one of the most recognisable and brilliant guitarists in Rock. It’s Brian May. Brian, welcome back to “My Planet Rocks”.
BRIAN MAY: Thank you for having me.
LIZ: I feel like there’s, there’s never a time in your life when you’re not busy. You seem to get busier as time goes by. Does it feel like that to you?
BRIAN: It does, and the lockdown didn’t really stop that, and getting really, really, really ill stopped it for a while. But, yeah, you know you only get one life so may as well do stuff.
LIZ: Very much so, and we’re gonna live 1998 for the best part of the next hour, because you’ve just reissued your 1998 solo album, “Another World”. Tell us a little bit about this project, because it’s part of your Gold Series. Is that the right way to describe it?
BRIAN: Yes, it’s Brian May’s Gold Series of, yeah, supposedly reissues, but I think this stuff will be new to so many people out there because it hasn’t been available on Spotify and Apple – all those things – and there weren’t any videos made at the time. And I’ve been making up for that and making some videos over the last few weeks, which is going to be really interesting.
So, yeah, 1998 was a pretty rough year for me, I think. Still wrestling with the fact that Freddie wasn’t around anymore. I’d been out on tour all around the world as The Brian May Band, with Cozy Powell – all we did great stuff, but I was coming to the conclusion that – well, I was going to say I didn’t want to be Queen anymore. I’d already come to that conclusion, I think. You know, there was a kind of overreaction, I think, because we couldn’t be Queen. I just didn’t want to think about it. Much later came the recognition. Well, I think during the course of making this album, probably, I realised that Queen was always in me and I was always in Queen in some strange way. So, there’s a bit of a re-reassessment of myself as a person and as a musician.
We’d just finished the “Made In Heaven” album, which was putting together all those wonderful little bits, which Freddie left for us to work with after he’d gone, and that was a real labour of love, putting together all that stuff meticulously, carefully, beautifully – and getting great satisfaction out of making whole songs out of bits and pieces. But also painfully, because you’re listening to Freddie’s voice the whole time. Day in and day out doing little polishes on his vocal, trying to make the best out of what he could do at the time. And I love that album. I really think it might be the best Queen album
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You can also LISTEN to the conversation here – Transcript continues below….
The strange thing, and it’s ironical now, looking back on it, was one of the people who came in and rescued me – gave me energy – was Taylor Hawkins.
Suddenly he’s there. He’s drumming for this track which I’ve written for a video game called “Cyborg”, and he comes in full of joy and laughs and fun. Like a little monkey – climbing all over it and just full of this passion. And I love that track and I view it again with even more love now, because now we lost Taylor, which to me is such a tragedy. God, the world has lost a great force.
LIZ: The fact that Taylor Hawkins is on that album now it’s almost like a bittersweet tragedy and I hate drawing, [sighs] drawingt ragedy into the world of rock and roll, ‘cos rock and roll is so joyous and lifts up so many people’s hearts. But I feel that we always have to touch on a bit of tragedy. And in fact you’d lost Cozy and Taylor came in. Tell us how he made you feel when he came in, because, you know, remembering the happier times first. How was it having Taylor Hawkins to sort of lift you in those sessions for this album?
BRIAN: It was wonderful – not because he was the famous Taylor Hawkins of the famous Foo Fighters, because they weren’t famous by then. They were just starting off and they were great in those early days. There was a fantastic sort of raw magic. I remember seeing them at Brixton Academy, blowing the place apart with just… because they didn’t seem to take themselves seriously. They just kind of knocked down all the barriers, and Taylor was a kid, really.
He’d just come out of drumming for Alanis Morissette and he had an opportunity now do what he really wanted to do, which was play hard rock. The funny thing was he turned out to be the greatest Queen fan in the world and that was always a shock to me, because he seemed to be a lot cooler than we were, you know. I think Taylor Hawkins single-handedly made Queen “cool” to a new generation, ‘cos he knew everything about us – everything. At that point he and Pat Smear gave us an award at some ceremony. I can’t even remember where it was now. But it became obvious at that point, really early on, that they knew every… they knew more about us than we knew. It’s always been a great thing.
So, he was excited to come in and play. I was excited to have him in there, because, my God, I hadn’t really seen anybody hit the drums like that. Now I’ve seen a lot of the world’s greatest drummers and been very fortunate to work with them, but Taylor was like some kind of lightning. I don’t know what it was that he had in his body, but it’s extraordinary. And whenever I saw Foo Fighters’ concerts, I ended up just watching Taylor the whole time, because the way his body moves and the precision, the speed, the passion was extraordinary, you know. There are some extraordinary drummers around, and I know lots of them, but Taylor, I think everyone would agree, was [a] very special golden boy.
I was speaking to him a week before this terrible accident happened, and he’s full of joys, just full of laughs and full of fun, saying: “When are we going to get together. We need to make more music” – all this kind of stuff. It’s a, yeah, like you say, I don’t like to wallow in tragedy. I don’t like to linger there, but this is life. Life is full of pain and joy and grief, and you have to come through it all and just kind of live with it and live it. And music is the great way of healing, I think, more than anything else. We all heal by sharing stuff through music and, God knows, rock music is the best music for that. That’s why I do it. I don’t think there’s any other music, which is food for the soul like rock music is.
LIZ: That’s ‘Cyborg’, featuring Taylor Hawkins on the drums, from the remastered 1998 album “Another World” by Brian May, which came out on Friday. Don’t go anywhere. We’ll have more from Brian right after this…
LIZ: I think one of the things that really makes this album stand out, Brian, is the fact that you… it still sounds really fresh, because it’s like it’s listening to Brian May exploring a lot of things that we kind of forget you can do, almost. Because, you know, hearing you with Jeff Beck on ‘The Guv’nor’, it’s like, you know, you exploring that bluesy side, which we know you can do, but we just don’t see that sort of side of your personality that often. Tell us a bit about that track. I love that, and I love Jeff. I love the idea of you and Jeff, together.
BRIAN: Yeah, well you know, Jeff is one of those people who makes me NOT want to play guitar, because I just want to watch him. He’s incredible, and having him in the room was extraordinary. I wrote the track all about him and took it to him. He was sort of in disbelief. He’s like really: “No, no. It’s not about me”, whatever, you know, and I kind of sketched out the places where I wanted him to explore but, of course, gave him the very free rein of what he could play. And then once he came into the studio, plugged in, switched on – and those fingers just baffle me.
You know, I can’t figure out how that stuff comes out of those fingers. It’s like watching Mozart and thinking: “How does that happen?”, ‘cos Jeff is extraordinary. He’s, I would say, you know, I don’t like to put people in categories or whatever – and polls are always rather silly – but he’s got to be one of the greatest musicians on the Planet – ever. But Jeff is a phenomenon. He’s an absolute phenomenon of the world, and it was extraordinary for me to be able to interact with him in this way. And I’ve put a marker down. I’ve said that he is The Guv’nor. He is my hero and I would stand by that.
LIZ: Well, I guess you must have seen him play. You’re sort of back in the day way before you knew him, Brian?
BRIAN: Yeah, I saw him playing in The Yardbirds. I probably saw one of his, maybe his first ever show with The Yardbirds, and it was at The Marquee. I don’t know. We’d have to check with Jeff, but I remember he was playing this Les Paul, and I don’t think I’d ever seen a Les Paul like that close up, and he was making incredible noises. And he took the guitar off at one point and just stood it and rotated it on the floor, and all these feedback noises came out and it was like, well, – ‘magic’ doesn’t even go there. I just thought this is the way guitar needs to be played. The guitar needs to speak for itself. It’s like the guitar had a voice, almost independent of who was holding it.
I also remember that night, there were some people in the audience chanting for Eric Clapton to get back up, ‘cos some people were angered that Jeff had replaced Eric in The Yardbirds. And they were chanting: “Eric, Eric Clapton, Clapton”, or whatever. And Clapton was there and he got up and the two of them played together. So, I will never forget that.
<MUSIC> ‘The Guvnor’
BIRTH OF ROCK AND ROLL
I was just saying to someone this morning, how lucky I felt I was to be a kid in the 50s to experience the birth of rock and roll – those first screamings of Little Richard, and Elvis, and all that stuff – ‘Rock Around The Clock’… It was just the beginning of a new era, which we’re still in.
I think every rock and roll artist owes such a colossal amount to those pioneer rock artists of the 50s. ‘Cos it wasn’t normal. That wasn’t what people did. You know… Johnnie Ray. You had Frank Sinatra – crooned and sang, and put a bit of emotion in, but it was very smooth and kind of safe, I suppose. Suddenly, comes Little Richard screaming his heart out, and everything became dangerous. And danger is what rock is, apart from being, I think, it has these qualities of being very open, very honest, but danger is an important ingredient.
That’s why everybody loves Guns N’ Roses – with the danger. It shouldn’t be something that you learn at school. It should be something that comes out of your heart and is just about uncontrollable.
<MUSIC> Little Richard
LIZ: That’s Little Richard – the choice of my guest on “My Planet Rocks” – tonight, Brian May.