Queen The Greatest – Episode 47. Queen 2002: Brian May on the Roof

Brian May on Buckingham Palace Roof by Arthur Edwards
Credit: Photography by Arthur Edwards.

Queen 2002 – Brian On The Roof

“Queen The Greatest”: a celebration of 50 of the greatest moments from the Queen story so far. A 50-week YouTube series celebrating key moments in Queen’s history reminding us why Queen and their music continue to be loved across the world.

“…then I thought ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do it now!’ The enormity of what I’ve suggested comes through to me and I think, ‘Oh my God, can I really do this thing?’” Brian May

Queen The Greatest Episode 47. Queen 2002: Brian May On The Roof

Brian May looks back at the moment when an unusual request from Buckingham Palace turned into one of the most iconic sights in music history.

An invitation in 2002 to attend Buckingham Palace to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee would provide Brian May a heady opportunity to perform one of the most iconic and memorable live performances in rock history.

Queen The Greatest this week features the extraordinary moment that saw – Brian On The Roof.

In a new interview, Brian talks about that etched-in-time moment when he appeared high among the battlements of the roof of Her Majesty’s primary residence to perform a guitar solo to millions across the world. Not to mention performing it before some of the greatest names in music assembled for the concert line-up.

In 1975, Brian May’s arrangement of the British National Anthem, God Save The Queen, appeared as the closing track on the seminal A Night At The Opera album. And from that point onwards, a recording of the track has brought the curtain down on every Queen concert.

However, it was a piece the band never performed live, until an opportunity to change that came 27 years later.

In 2002, to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, Roger and Brian were invited to perform in a special concert as part of a lineup that was packed full of Rock and Roll royalty, and the organisers also had a special request for the opening number…

Brian May: “They said originally, would you come and play a version of God Save The Queen, strolling through the state rooms of Buckingham Palace and in the style of Jimi Hendrix? Now there’s a few things in that I didn’t feel comfortable about. I mean, trying to be Jimi Hendrix is one of them.”

“And then I had this thought, I remember waking up with the thought the next day, and I thought where I need to be is not strolling through Buckingham Palace rooms, but up the top. I need to be on the roof. I need to be the lone piper who’s been up there for the last 50 years in wind and rain. Grizzled old campaigner still playing. So I rang them up and suggested it and they went, Yeah, OK.”

“That is the moment which sticks in my mind because then I thought ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do it now!’ The enormity of what I’ve suggested comes through to me and I think, ‘Oh my God, can I really do this thing?’”

As well as the prospect of facing a television audience of 200 million, the logistics of not only playing from the lofty heights of the Palace roof but syncing with an orchestra on stage 80 feet below in the Garden presented some daunting challenges.

Brian May: “Of course, we went up there, on the day, and nothing worked, I couldn’t get a feed from the orchestra. I couldn’t see Michael Kamen who was conducting, because the little TV they put up there was too shiny and you couldn’t see because there’s too much daylight, etc., etc. Nothing worked. Except my amps and me, as Pete (Malandrone, guitar technician) had done a great job.”

Brian May: “I had these three AC-30’s in my face. It sounded colossal, huge up there. And then eventually, only a couple of hours before I was due to go up there, we managed to get the feed from the orchestra.”

Brian May: “So I had big speakers with orchestra on one side of me. Big speakers of my amps on the other side. It was an amazing feeling, I must say, the most incredible, energizing moment. But of course, terrifying. And the combination of that was just electrifying. I remember thinking, if this works and I pull this off, I will never, ever be scared again.”

The Golden Jubilee celebration concert is considered by many as the greatest concert in Britain since Live Aid and the most impressive collection of musicians ever on a single-stage featuring Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Annie Lennox, Joe Cocker, Ray Davies, Bryan Adams, Brian Wilson, Steve Winwood, and of course, Queen, among them.

Next week: Queen At The Movies – Take 3: Bohemian Rhapsody