Sunday 15 Sept 02 11:15 am
Transcribed by Jen Tunney
SUE LAWLEY: My castaway this week is a rock musician. He’d planned on becoming an Astronomer, but while he was studying for his Doctorate, the music that had always occupied his spare time, took over his life. This was due not only to his dedicated professionalism – he’d made his own guitar out of hardboard and a lump of mahogany – but also to the recruitment of a charismatic lead singer, called Freddie Mercury. The band – yes, it was Queen – was formed in the early ’70s and the rest is rock music history.
This summer the man who started it all stood tall on the roof of Buckingham Palace playing ‘God Save The Queen’ as part of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations; a salute, it could be said, from one kind of royalty to another. He is Brian May. It was a great moment, Brian. You – up there, on the roof, banging out the National Anthem, and your picture was on the front of practically every newspaper the next morning – but you said it was an exercise in fear management. What were you frightened of?
BRIAN MAY: [laughs] I wasn’t frightened of falling off. That wasn’t the problem. Just the fear of messing it up I think that the chances of being really bad were very high… S
SUE:… ‘cos its live, and one time only…
BRIAN: It was completely live and there was no safety net in that sense.
SUE: But apparently it was your idea to be on the roof. They wanted you somewhere else, didn’t they?
BRIAN: Yes – they asked me to open the show, but not in that situation. They wanted me to be inside the palace, strolling around, playing the guitar, and I just couldn’t see that working. So…
SUE: You’re not exactly a Strolling Minstrel, are you?
SUE: It isn’t quite your image.
BRIAN: No. And I thought, well, if I am going to do this it’ll have to be ‘up’ there… and I have to be this Lone Piper sort of figure.
SUE. Well, that’s right, but there was something terrific about that. This kind of ‘icon’ of the Rock Industry, standing on the very roof of The Establishment, if you you like.
BRIAN: Yeah. I think I saw it that way. It was a symbol – for my generation, because of course when I started off it would have been unthinkable for somebody playing that horrendous rock guitar instrument – that loud thing, on top of the Queen’s Palace. [laughs]
SUE: And your horrendous rock guitar was that one I mentioned in the introduction, wasn’t it – the one you made yourself – The Red Special?
BRIAN: The one that I’ve had ALL my working life – yes – that I made with my dad all those years ago.
SUE: I calculate she’s 40 years old next year or something.
BRIAN: Yeah. She, she’s doing well for an old lady.
SUE: [laughing] I want to, I want to ask you much more about her, but none of this would have happened if you’d turned to Astronomy, would you? I mean…
BRIAN: That’s right.
SUE: What was your special field of Astronomy – was there – or was it Astronomy in general.
BRIAN: My special field was The Motions of Interplanetary Dust and I studied something called the Zodiacal Light, which is how you do that. Urm… it’s very beautiful. I mean, I think I liked Astronomy – well I know that it was from very early on – and I read one of Patrick Moore’s books and I was hooked forever and I still am. I’m still completely hooked into Astronomy, and when I was a kid I wrote a Monologue, which I used to – um – perform to this particular piece of music, called ‘Saturn – The Bringer Of Old Age’. Now its much more appropriate now. [laughs] Seems old age is getting very close, but it, it’s not a, its not a pessimistic thing at all. Its, its, you can hear a relentlessness in this music and a kind of timeless quality which makes you feel like you’re, you’re kind of walking into Eternity. And I think its a wonderful thing to, to hear, as you’re looking up at the stars.
SATURN – BRINGER OF OLD AGE – GUSTAV HOLST
BRIAN: Umm. Gets me every time.
SUE: It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Part of Saturn – The Bringer of Old Age, from Holst’s Planet’s Suite, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson. You say you wrote a Monologue to it – what about?
BRIAN: It was actually about one winter’s night, and the progress of the stars, so it was kind of an astronomical monologue.
SUE: And did you sing?
BRIAN: I’m sure I have it somewhere. No, I didn’t sing. I just spoke it.
SUE: But, but, did you sing as a child?
BRIAN: All the time. Apparently. That’s what my Mum used to say, apparently from the cradle I would toddle around or crawl around or whatever, singing. Yes. Terrible. [laughs]
SUE: And did you have curly hair?
BRIAN: Yes, always curly hair.
SUE: Always the big, curly hair.
BRIAN: I hated having curly hair. [laughing]
SUE: You were an only child. I mean, give me a sketch of, of home and parents and your aspirations?
BRIAN: Um – a very happy home. A very secure home with just Mum, Dad and me. I think I was lonely because I remember had imaginary friends that I would play with and make up stories and scenarios, where I’d be rescuing something or somebody, I mean. Um – but very happy, and Dad always used to come home at the right time with the newspaper under his arm and something for me, probably.
SUE: What did he do?
BRIAN: Um, Dad was a, a Civil Servant, but a Technical Civil Servant. He was an Electronics Draughtsman, but he could turn his hand to anything. He was just an amazing person. He could fix everybody’s equipment from radios to TV’s. Everything that we had in our house was pretty much made by him – the radio, the TV, the record player. Eventually, we made my guitar together.
SUE: And what were you like at school? I mean were you therefore good at Music there, or good at Chemistry or even your Physics?
BRIAN: Um, I was a bit of a swot really. I, I had a lot of application and a lot of encouragement from my parents and I liked achieving, so I was a bit of a swot really. I wasn’t particularly known for being good at Music. I didn’t have any, any encouragement whatsoever from school.
SUE: So if Patrick Moore was your astronomical hero, as it were, who were your musical heroes then?
BRIAN: Um, the first thing I remember was, my Dad brought a Lonnie Donegan record home, um, with the sound of the guitar and the voice and that sort of Blues feeling – and Lonnie was really the first person who brought, who brought Blues into England. Um, and then I used to lay under the covers with my little crystal set um listening to Radio Luxembourg and all the stuff which seemed very exciting and dangerous and forbidden – all those American records. So it was The Everly Brothers, Elvis I suppose, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly and The Crickets. First time I heard Buddy Holly was just chills up the spine and an electricity which I still have, and that’?
SUE: Record number 2?
BRIAN: Strangely enough [laughing] Buddy Holly and the Crickets, of course, and it’s Maybe Baby.
MAYBE BABY – Buddy Holly and the Crickets
SUE: Great, isn’t it? Buddy Holly and the Crickets and Maybe Baby. That hit the spot for you when you were seven – and were you actually playing then? Did you have a guitar?
BRIAN: I asked for a guitar for my seventh birthday and my parents obliged. I only realise now how much that cost them, because they had absolutely no money whatsoever, but somehow they got me a guitar and it was on the end of my bed when I woke up that morning of my seventh birthday. And I’ll never forget the look of it. It was very big, cos I was very small, so [laughs] I could hardly get my fingers around it, and it had that particular smell. I’ll never forget that sort of new varnish smell. Now I already kind of knew how to play cos my Dad had taught me some chords on the ukulele banjo.
SUE: He was a George Formby Fan.
BRIAN: He was a George Formby man, yes, and I quickly figured out how to adapt the chords from four strings to six strings in my own way and I kind of made up my own chords.
SUE: But you were a teenager before you and he made this guitar, the Red Special?
SUE: Just, you gotta tell me what it was made of, cos I mean its got everything to motorbike springs in it, hasn’t it?
BRIAN: Yes – the motorbike valve springs were sort of the driving part of the tremolo arrangement, but it was made out of just junk really. The neck is a piece of a fireplace of a friend of ours, an old piece of mahogany…
SUE: That’s the mahogany.
BRIAN: That’s the mahogany piece and its got little wormholes which are still there, plugged up with matchsticks, and the body was made out of a piece of an oak table, surrounded by blockboard, the tremolo arm is a piece of stuff that used to hold up a saddle on a bike [laughs], capped by a piece of my Mum’s knitting needle, and the mother-of-pearl dots on the fingerboard were all filed out, I filed every one out by hand, from my Mum’s button box. [laughs]
SUE: Amazing. And it’s lasted this long. Its lasted 40 years.
BRIAN: Still works, yeah. Looks like nothing else as well.
SUE: So you’ve never, you know, bust it up? You’ve never thrown it up in the air even for great effect in performance.
BRIAN: No, no, no. I did throw up a copy once, and there was no one there to catch it and it bit the dust. [laughs]
SUE: Another one bites the dust.
BRIAN: [laughs] Yes.
SUE: Record number 3?
BRIAN: Record number 3 – this doesn’t sound very rock ‘n’ roll really. Its Smokey Robinson And The Miracles and this really took me all through my college days. I was at Imperial College doing Physics Degree and then Astronomy Second Degree, and I was very lonely. My first proper relationship had broken up and I thought it was the end of the world. This was the girl that I was convinced I was going to marry from the age of sixteen, and – I’m smiling now, but I wasn’t then, you know, [laughs] and I think I saw myself as this great tragic figure and every time I heard this record it seemed to sort of move me into a place where I felt comfortably sorry for myself, as opposed to [laughs] uncomfortably, and I thought that the singer was a girl. I kind of fell in love with the voice, and it was much later that I got the record that I thought ‘Well, where is Smokey on the front of here?’ I imagined her as being this sort of dusky maiden and it turned out to be a bloke, [laughs] which is very strange but I still think it’s one of the most fantastic voices in the history of popular music – Smokey Robinson. And I think – you know the song is everything, the song and the singer. Okay, and its called ‘The Tracks of My Tears’.
THE TRACKS OF MY TEARS – Smokey Robinson And The Miracles
SUE: Smokey Robinson And The Miracles with ‘Track Of My Tears’. You say that really got you?
BRIAN: Still gets me every time, yeah. That’s what made me wanna write songs, you know, connection from heart to heart that can really grab you.
SUE: You want people to identify.
SUE: To say…
BRIAN: To express and to empathise, ah, s’wonderful.
SUE: Oh but honestly you’re deeply connected with your own emotions, I mean its…
BRIAN: Yes, I mean, I was brought up as a Scientist. It’s very odd you know. I have, there’s a side of me which is very factual and I can, I can sort out every problem, and, of course, the problems you can’t solve are the emotional ones and they turn out to be the most powerful things in your life. You think you can order your life, but you know, you know, the emotional side of my life has always been a roller coaster, I suppose you would say.
SUE: Bit of a nightmare sometimes.
BRIAN: Mm yeah, but if you’re hardened off, you’re not living. You have to be vulnerable I think.
SUE: But you were saying that’s sometimes why people want to become pop stars, to kind of overcome this emotional vulnerability.
BRIAN: I think so, yeah, yeah I mean, rather than stand around at a dance when you’re a kid and, and worry about rejection, it’s it’s much much better to get up on the stage and just pound something out. Then you’re in a very powerful position and you don’t have to worry about all that. [laughs]
SUE: Now you were doing that all the time you were at school at university, weren’t you. You had a band on the side.
BRIAN: Yes, I had bands of various kinds.
SUE: And indeed you went after university you went to teach briefly in a Comprehensive. I mean, did the kids then know that that’s what you did by night?
BRIAN: No, they didn’t. No. I was really doing three things at once. I was trying to write up my PhD, I was rehearsing what was to become Queen and I was teaching in the Comprehensive School to try and make enough money to finish off my PhD.
SUE: By this time, of course, you’d met Freddie, hadn’t you? He…
BRIAN: That’s right.
SUE: Freddie Bulsara as he then was.
BRIAN: I met him through friends once I was at Imperial College. He was a friend of our current singer, and he used to come along very flamboyant character even in those days. He kind of looked like a star, even though he obviously wasn’t, and he behaved like one and we thought ‘Well, a bit of an eccentric character.’
SUE: But you didn’t know he could sing?
BRIAN: No. No – well he said he could, but a lot of people say they can sing, don’t they. [laughs]
SUE: And did he think of the name ‘Queen’ for you? Was that his invention?
BRIAN: I think that was his idea. We had a whole list of names, which came from all of us, and we would try them out on friends and see what the reaction was, and when we said ‘Queen’, there was always a reaction. Not always a good one. But there was some kind of reaction.
SUE: Cos of its camp connotations people would say ‘You’re not gonna call yourself that.’
BRIAN: Yes, yes, you know it was a sort of odd thing, you know. Why would you want to call yourself that? And so is stuck and that’s what we went with. Yeah. It had other connotations, yeah. There was the sort of camp thing, which I was quite comfortable with – it doesn’t bother me – and didn’t at the time this sort of ambiguity thing. It was kind of fun in those days and everything was very… you know, ‘androgynous was cool in those days in Kensington Market and the sort of places we moved. [chuckle]
SUE: But it took you ages, didn’t it? I mean I think that first album was two or three years in the…
BRIAN: That’s right. Overnight success takes a long time. [laughing]
SUE: But then it happened round about, I think, ’73, something like that.
BRIAN: Gradually started to happen, yes.
SUE: And you in the meantime had turned down an offer of a job from Jodrell Bank, no less.
BRIAN: Yes, the crunch came. I had to decide between Astronomy and Music, and I had a couple of wonderful offers. Jodrell Bank was one of them and I could have gone up there to what was the state-of-the-art radio astronomy establishment of the world at that time, and it was a really hard decision. I have to admit now although I wouldn’t have admitted at the time, that I stayed in London for music.
SUE: Your Dad…
BRIAN: That would really have upset my Dad.
SUE:… must have been furious.
BRIAN: Yeah, yeah my Dad was upset.
SUE: I mean, it was not a proper job what you were doing.
BRIAN: A proper job is the word. He, he said ‘You know, you’re throwing up your education. How could you do this. You’ve got this wonderful education. What are you doing?’
SUE: When was he converted?
BRIAN: He was converted when I flew my Mum and Dad on Concorde out to New York and they came to see us play in Madison Square Garden – a mythical, magical place – and I put them up in I think it was The Ritz and said ‘Look Mum and Dad, you know you can order what you like. We’re rich.’ [laughs] – joking of course, and my Dad looked at me afterwards and said ‘Okay, I get it, I understand. I can see why this has got you and I can see that it’s worthwhile. I can see what it does to people and good luck to you.’
SUE: Record number 4.
BRIAN: Record number 4. This is well into Queen-time that this happened to me. This is called ‘Back On My Feet Again’, and its by a little-known group called The Babys, but this was my pick-me-up when I was in Munich much later on. Some hard times, which I won’t go into, but generally we used to drink till dawn, and around dawn-time my fantastic tech, who was called Jobby, Brian Zellis, at the time, used to drive me home and I’d generally be pretty sad [laughs] for one reason or another, and he’d put this on the car radio, and this would pick me up. I’d be like punching the air, and I’d be, I’d be ready for everything again.
BACK ON MY FEET AGAIN – The Babys
SUE: ‘Back On My Feet Again’ and The Babys, and your Dad charted your career ever after that. Wasn’t he your biggest fan? Didn’t he watch everything…
BRIAN: Yes – he was SO supportive. Everywhere we went in the world he was plotting our progress and he was plotting the progress of the records in the charts all round the graphs. Amazing, my Dad.
SUE: [laughs] Two years into your success you recorded Bohemian Rhapsody. Five minutes fifty-five second, I read it was…
BRIAN: Of pure magic. [laughing]
SUE: Short for an opera but long for a pop song. Revolutionary stuff. Everybody said it wouldn’t happen cos it was too long.
SUE: What made the difference? What made it catch on?
BRIAN: I don’t think we’ll ever really know. In this country Kenny Everett got hold of it and played it to death, which was wonderful. Before it was even finished he was playing it on the radio over and over again, so it gave us a massive start in this country, but I suppose in the rest of the world it was the video which gave the in, you know. Videos didn’t exist as such in those days as promotional vehicles. We made this very cheap little piece of ‘tat’ [smirk] as a video.
BRIAN: You know, I mean it was made on a shoestring and very sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it just put across the atmosphere of the sort of madness of the record.
SUE: Is that… Bodiless around…
SUE: Against a black…
BRIAN: That’s right.
SUE: …kind of backcloth, isn’t it?
BRIAN: Yes a very sort of iconic image.
SUE: And it was, obviously, an incredibly distinctive sound, because I mean you really do create a whole orchestra and a whole opera company on that track, don’t you?
BRIAN: Yes, and it’s just the four of us. Yes. It was quite a departure.
SUE: So a lot is done in the studio and a lot in post-production work. It’s kind of layered and layered and layered so that you’re all multiplied?
BRIAN: Yes, like painting a picture in the studio.
SUE: But doesn’t that mean, therefore, obviously, self evidently, you can’t recreate that on the stage. It means…
BRIAN: That’s right.
SUE: … that Queen, the recording artists, were quite different from Queen, the live band?
BRIAN: That’s absolutely true and we always treated it as separate, and it’s noticeable we never played the whole of Bohemian Rhapsody on stage. When it came to the operatic bit, we would go off and change our frocks and come bursting back for the last bit [laughs] and there would be a light show for the, for the middle bit. Yes we never attempted to recreate the studio sound on stage. It was separate.
SUE: But I wonder which gave you personally greatest enjoyment, ‘cos in that sense one feels you’re your Father’s son, ‘cos although you had great technicians, you’ve spent a lot of time, you have done, time and time again, over the decades haven’t you, in a studio?
BRIAN: I get great satisfaction from that. I like the sort of ‘craftsmanship’ side, but I think the greatest buzz is always the live thing and you know and that’s really, that’s not craftsmanship, that’s the sort of moment of, of spontaneity and art, if you like, and connection, and adrenaline and all that sort of stuff. It’s wonderful. There’s nothing quite like that moment when you connect with an audience and something is coming out of you which never came out before. They’re rare moments, but they’re just the most wonderful thing you can, you can experience really.
SUE: Next record?
BRIAN: Well, one of the most wonderful things you can experience. The next one [laughing] – record number 5 is my darling wife, as she is now – she wasn’t then – and she’s singing ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’. Now this is a re-creation of a Phil Spector song, originally done by The Teddy Bears, and the original’s damn, damn, good, but I’d have problems being on this desert island without her. you know. I would you know, it’s really – she’s such a big part of my life. She’s kind of welded to my soul and I would need to be able to hear her voice on the island, so I’ve chosen this, and there’s a bit of me playing the guitar on this as well, which I don’t often hear, I must say. But it was a moment – a moment of sort of wonder and terror I suppose, and magic and tragedy, because my marriage was breaking up. I didn’t know it at this time, but it was, and I was, we were irresistibly heading towards each other and trying to resist. But these things you can’t resist. There are certain things in life which you don’t have control over, I have discovered, and you can fight and you can struggle, but basically it happens and I’m happy to say we are married now, which is great. But this is when we were children really. [laughs]
TO KNOW HIM IS TO LOVE HIM – Anita Dobson
SUE: Anita Dobson, my castaway’s wife, singing ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’, and there you are, Brian May, playing guitar on there as well. You’ve been together since the late ’80s and Queen had stopped touring by then hadn’t they, because I think Freddie announced in ’86 that he didn’t want to tour any more. Did you, do you think he had AIDS then, or knew he did then?
BRIAN: Yes, I think he knew. We didn’t know until much later but yeah, he knew that at that time, and it was much later when he said ‘Look, you know what I’m dealing with and I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to get on with it and make music and be as normal as we can until it’s over.’
SUE: How great a… I mean obviously you deal with the personal grief of losing a very very close friend, but professionally, how great a blow was it?
BRIAN: Oh, huge. We were a family and we developed together. So its, its a gap which can never be filled, absolutely, and there isn’t a day goes by where a thought about that doesn’t pop into my head.
SUE: So that was one kind of family you lost. You’d also… your father had died, hadn’t he by then?
BRIAN: Yes, it was what you’d call a difficult time. My father died around that time too, my marriage broke up and I fell that I lost, I felt I was losing my kids.
SUE: How low did you get?
BRIAN: Absolutely to the bottom, and I didn’t get treatment, which in retrospect I should have done. I just kind of tried to swim through it. And – yeah – Hell – for years and years.
SUE: You did get treatment eventually, though, didn’t you?
BRIAN: Well I sort of got low in another period later on, and I eventually did get treatment, yes, which was great. It was the best thing I ever did. I went to this place where it was like a sort of rebirth really. Something between a University and, and a Treatment Centre, and whatever, but the best thing I ever did, yes, was to actually hold up my hand and say ‘Okay. I can’t cope. I think there was a fundamental lack of, loss of self in me, and that might sound strange from someone who’s strutting on stage, looking very confident or whatever. But of course that’s, that’s a show, you know, and there is a part of me which can find the strength to do that at any point, but when you’re alone later on, in your room or whatever, it’s a different story.
SUE: You were suicidal at one point, I read, or was that an exaggeration?
BRIAN: No, it’s not an exaggeration, really no. No, it’s not an exaggeration. I certainly didn’t want to live and that’s when I realised I had to check into some place and be sorted, and it was the right decision. I feel great these days. Grateful.
SUE: You always look in an artist’s work for this kind of thing, ‘cos obviously, if you’re not in your work, who is, and I suppose one looks as you talk like that at that song you wrote ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You In The End’? I mean, was that part of an expression of that?
BRIAN: Yes, yes. Those two solo albums were very straight from the heart and yes, it’s all in there some place, if you wanna get into that. I suppose the nice thing is if you’re writing stuff like that, you’re hoping again that you’re communicating with people, and if you’re expressing stuff like that, it’s expressing it for them too. So yes, I poured it all into the music and…
SUE: ‘Too much love will kill you if you can’t make up your mind’…
SUE: ‘Torn between your lover and the one you leave behind.’
BRIAN: Will almost kill you. [laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah – I’m glad we’re not playing that today. [laughs]
SUE: What are we playing? Number 6.
BRIAN: We are playing ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Rainbow. Again it’s a big uplift, ‘cos I’m on this desert island and I’m gonna get moments when I’m gonna get blue, and this always gets me – gets me up.
SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE – Rainbow
SUE: Rainbow and ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. You kind of implied that it was sort of therapy, going out on the road solo, as it were. Was it?
BRIAN: Partly. Yes I just plunged into it, you know, so I couldn’t tour with Queen anymore, and I just thought ‘Okay, I can still tour’, and I went straight out there. Well I suppose I went straight in the studio, finished the solo album and then went straight out on tour.
SUE: But you’d spent all those years kind of just right of centre, as it were, hadn’t you, looking very comfortable, but Freddie…
BRIAN: I was comfortable.
SUE: … Yeah. Freddie was the lead guy. He did the talking. He was the kind of the front man, he was the lead singer….
BRIAN: That’s’ right. He was the vehicle.
BRIAN: He was the medium in a sense. Everything flowed through him, and suddenly I had to sort of take that position in my own band.
SUE: That was hard, wasn’t it? I mean there are tales of you kind of going to play your guitar and you still got the mike in your hand or…
BRIAN: That’s right.
SUE: Getting stranded out on stage and not getting back to the mike in time to hit…
BRIAN: Yes exactly. Yes, it’s a whole re-education process, and I enjoyed it. It was a fantastic challenge and in that period I didn’t want to talk about Queen, I just wanted to talk about the new thing and my attitude was ‘Yeah Queen was this part of my life, and I now have another part.’ I decided in the end that I wasn’t a singer, I have to say. I don’t think I’ll do that again, because I don’t feel satisfied with the way I sing. I don’t have the right instrument. It’s great to try, and I love to sing, you know, but I don’t think that I’m a singer.
SUE: And you said you sort of felt sort of Freddie sitting there, egging you on – on occasions?
BRIAN: Definitely. In fact when I made ‘Driven By You’, I played it to Freddie and that was when things were, you know, as they were, and I said ‘Freddie, d’you fancy singing this.’ And he went ‘No, no, no, darling. You sing it perfectly well. Just get on with it.’ And in a quieter moment he said, ‘Look, I know you’re hesitating about this because of what’s going on, you know, but go for it. You’ve got your career ahead of you. Don’t, don’t let what’s happening here stand in your way. Put it out and get on with your solo career.’ He was very supportive.
SUE: Number 7?
BRIAN: Number 7 – ah yeah! Well I figure on this island there’s moments when I just need to get up and, and let it all explode out of me and do some Air Guitar. I’ll go to the highest point in the island and scream and shout and wave the fist in the air and this will be the record which I need to have with me. [chuckle]
SUE: Why does Brian May need to do Air Guitar, for heaven’s sake? That’s for the rest of us.
BRIAN: Oh, it, it’s fun really, I suppose. It’s just a body thing [laughs]. AC/DC to me are THE purest form and there’s nothing like an AC/DC concert to sort of clear you out and bring you back to basics. I love it.
HIGHWAY TO HELL – AC/DC
SUE: ‘Highway To Hell’ by AC/DC. So you’ve, Brian May, done a Musical of Queen’s music. You’re not gonna do any solo tours any more – what are you gonna do? You’re not that old.
BRIAN: I’m pretty happy wearing the Queen hat again for a while, surprisingly enough. You know I think the Musical brought Roger and I back together. We get on very well, and we done some playing. We played together at the Jubilee, so it’s on the cards we might do some more playing together. So can, we can’t be Queen like in the old days, but we can be in that area, and I feel finally, after protesting for years, happy with that again. [laughs]
SUE: Happy with Queen.
SUE: It was George Harrison who said: ‘I asked to be successful at what I do, I never asked to be famous.’ Isn’t…
BRIAN: A great quote. I use that often.
SUE: Do you? It’s, it’s how you feel, isn’t it?
BRIAN: It is yeah. I hate this ‘celebrity’ stuff. It’s, it’s a real millstone round your neck. I like being excellent at what I do, and I love doing it. I love playing and being out there, but the other stuff is a pain in the neck really.
SUE: So it’s the loss of freedom and the loss of privacy you don’t like.
BRIAN: It just makes everything more difficult, I think. You know, you’re trying to do things with your kids and somebody’s trying to make you do something, you know, sign bits of paper or take photographs or whatever. I wonder what happens to all these bits of paper really. [laughs] You know, if you say ‘No’, you’re a bastard, you know, and if you say ‘Yes’, you feel like… well if you say ‘Yes’ all the time, you feel like you’re not a person anymore. You don’t have any choice. So I treasure my choice.
SUE: But it does mean that the desert island is for you. It will suit you just fine.
BRIAN: It’ll do pretty well for a while, yes.
SUE: What are you gonna do there with yourself? How are you gonna occupy yourself?
BRIAN: I’d probably get busy. You know I like building stuff. So, I’ll build me house and everything and I’ll probably find some way to build a telescope. We’ll have to find some way to play guitar, ‘cos I have to play guitar. It’s part of my life.
SUE: Is there a day that goes by that you don’t play the guitar?
BRIAN: Yes, there are days, sometimes, ‘cos I get busy, and sometimes that’s one of the regrets I have. I don’t play as much as I used to. But I’ll get the chance here because there won’t be the desk with the pile of mail on it. [chuckle]
SUE: Last record?
SUE: Well this is you…
BRIAN: Ah yes. This was a last-minute thought. I wasn’t gonna put anything of our own in, but it does seem like a good idea. I’m proud of what we did in Queen. It was a great journey and it’s left the world with something and ‘We Will Rock You’ is heard all around this planet, at football matches and whatever, baseball matches, and in the streets, and it’s something that I am proud of. I must say that every time I hear it, I think ‘Ok, you know, at least something is there when I go’ and it’s something which does bring people together – make people feel uplifted and strong. It’s kind of a little protest song in its way, ironically, but it is a thing of strength. So it’ll help me too on the island and I’ll think ‘Yeah, I have this link still’ and somewhere, someplace this is being sung of performed. So this is ‘We Will Rock You’.
WE WILL ROCK YOU – Queen
SUE: ‘We Will Rock You’, written and performed by my castaway, Brian May and Queen. It’s sort of two minutes dead, no messing about, that one.
BRIAN: Absolutely. Three ages of man – two minutes.
SUE: If you could only take one of those eight records, which one would you take?
BRIAN: Oh, God. Now that’s an awful question. Um… d’you know, I think its gonna be number 1. I think it’s gonna be the Planets Suite, because there’s so much in there. There’s so much depth and there are still things, which I need to find out about it. I think I’d probably take that.
SUE: What about your book? You’ve got the Bible, you’ve got The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
BRIAN: My book is ‘Out Of The Silent Planet’ by C S Lewis. Written, I suppose almost as a children’s book, but it’s a very adult kind of children’s book. It’s a very spiritual thing. It’s on the face of it a science fiction story, but underneath it is a view of the Universe, which I really hope is true. [laughs]
SUE: And your luxury. Guess what? [laughs]
BRIAN: Umm…. Well…. it has to be the guitar really. Not just any guitar. It has to be THE guitar, which has been with me all my sort of working life – the one which me and my Dad made. It’s a great link back to my Dad. It’s very important to me. And I would have to play. I would have to be there playing. I hope I can plug it into something. My plan is to plug it into the record player.
SUE: It’s a wind-up gramophone.
BRIAN: Well, yeah, I knew you were gonna say that. [laughs]
SUE: Can you plug it into such a thing?
BRIAN: I’m gonna request a special wind-up one, which is gonna be one of things, you know these wind up radios which this wonderful inventor man brought into the world where so you can listen to the, to the BBC in the middle of an African jungle… well I’m gonna have one of those and it’s gonna be wind-up, but it’s electric, so I can plug the guitar in.
SUE: [laughs] Its a complete contradiction. It’s clockwork actually.
BRIAN: It’s clockwork but its… yeah, you know… it’s gonna work.
SUE: It’s gonna work. Brian May. Thank you very much indeed for letting us hear your Desert Island Disks.
BRIAN: Thank you Sue.
SOURCE: BBC Radio 4 transcribed by Jen Tunney