Star Fleet Sessions: Meet The Band (Episode 2)
Having acted on impulse and put a whole new band together for his Starfleet Project, Brian May now gives an exclusive introduction to the friends he assembled.
Brian May – Star Fleet Sessions: Meet The Band (Episode 2)
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STAR FLEET SESSIONS – Episode 2 [122 June 2023]
– [EPISODE 1 and TRANSCRIPT – How It Began – HERE]
Ed Van Halen was a phenomenon and I guess that hardly needs saying.
I met him for the first time through Tony Iommi, my great friend from Black Sabbath, when I was watching the two of them and Van Halen, were opening up for Black Sabbath. I mean, that was something to see. It was in the Circus Kron in Munich. And I hadn’t seen Tony for a while and I’d never seen Van Halen. Luckily, I got there in time to see him play. And I was just, “Wow”, what is this? What is this guy? What is he doing? I can’t even begin to to figure out how his fingers are moving. What is he doing? It was a bit like seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, like, how does anyone do that? What has he got that is so magical that we’ve never seen before?
And Edward was incredible that night and we all got together Tony and me and Eddie, and I guess there was an instant bonding because Ed told us both that he’d been massively influenced by us, which is great. So we had lots to talk about. And I guess we became friends.
Phil Chen was a great character. He’s Jamaican extraction. I think he was born in Britain – full of sunshine – full of life. And as a bass player full of kind of tautness, and humour. He played with great kind of panache. He was in Rod Stewart’s band for a long time, so I got to see him fairly… … We used to bump into Rod and his band quite often. I mean, I’d spent quite a bit of time with him, having a drink or two – generally cups of tea with Phil. He wasn’t a big drinker. God bless him. Well, I wasn’t mostly – three were moments, but mostly not.
So Phil came along, and Phil had a great style to him. He is unusual, and there’s that thing called ‘Do you think I’m sexy?’ by Rod Stewart. He’s like, “ding ding ding ding ding ding – that’s Phil. He injected that into the song. Very recognisable his style. A sort of Jamaican influence – a bit of reggae influence, bit of rock and roll – and he was unique.
Alan Gratzer, yeah, the drummer for REO Speedwagon. Now, REO Speedwagon, were very much kind of parallel to us in the Midwest. We’re making our way in the very early days. There’s Aerosmith, The Styx. There’s REO Speedwagon, and a couple of others and Queen. And we were kind of the outsiders because we come from England, but we’re doing the same kind of circuit, working our way up from theatres into arenas. And, and it’s odd, and actually that we didn’t bump into REO Speedwagon because we didn’t, I don’t think I ever saw them live. So when I met Alan, I did a bit of quick homework to make sure I knew what they were about. You know, I mean, I’d heard a couple of hit singles – big hits – they had big hits.
Alan hits the drums pretty much harder than anyone I’ve ever known. He hits them with big, fat oak sticks. I think they’re oak, turned the wrong way around, so he’s hitting this… drums with a big part of the stick, as opposed to holding the fat part. So that doesn’t necessarily mean of course, that they’re easy to recall. It doesn’t necessarily follow that way. But he hits him very hard, very energetically. And it was actually hard to get his sound. I think the engineer kind of struggled to get his sound. And we’ve made a few corrections on the remixes to try and make the drums sit there better, and I know Alan likes what we’ve done because I’ve checked with him. He likes the new drum sound, which I do. But he’s killer. Again, from a world which was different from mine, but very much parallel.
And Fred Mandel. Well Fred is a character. Fred is a is a one-off stand-up comedian who just happens to be a virtuoso keyboard player. You know, he’s never switched off. It’s kind of like the life and soul of a recording session – and he was. You can hear him messing around in the Starfleet sessions. But keyboard-wise, especially piano, he had a fantastic touch to the keyboards and a slight classical influence, a bit like I suppose, you would hear in Elton. He played with Elton actually. Now there’s a thing. There’s a keyboard player who played in Elton’s band, and he’s got to be quite good to do that. He would play normally synths with Elton, but Elton obviously rated him and we did do. We used him very much for the sessions that led to radio Gaga and Machines and all that stuff. He did some great stuff with synths, which we weren’t able to do ourselves because we were quite new to synthesisers. He was very adept. Very beautiful player. Very, very good. And yeah, he’s my fifth man.