NEARLY HALF A CENTURY since their formation, Brian May reflects on the irresistible rise, tragic collapse and recent reshaping of Queen in the latest issue of MOJO magazine.
Recounting the problems his father had with his son’s abandonment of a promising science career, and how it compromised his enjoyment of the group’s early success, May also offers a poignant take on his relationship with the late Freddie Mercury, “the man who could paint a picture and step right into it”.
While Queen's route to success seemed smooth to outsiders, on the inside the experience was more arduous, with four big personalities each trying to tow the band in their own direction. “It’s like four different artists trying to paint on the same canvas,” May tells MOJO’s Paul Elliott, “not a comfortable situation”.
“Every time we made an album it seemed like we were about to break up.”
Asked if the band ever looked likely to split while Mercury was alive, May replies “Oh, it was breaking up the whole time! Every time we made an album it seemed like we were about to break up, because of this business of ‘what are we and where are we going?’ All of us left the band at some point, and not just one time – all the way through.”
May goes on to reveal the battle of egos that lay behind Queen's 1981 hit with David Bowie, Under Pressure. “Freddie and David locked horns, without a doubt”, the guitarist explains, “but that’s when the sparks fly, and that’s why it turned out great.”
May, whose perspective from the inside of Queen is expanded on in his new memoir (augmented by stereoscopic photography) Queen In 3D, brings out unsung sides of Mercury, especially as a composer and arranger of hard rock. Of Bohemian Rhapsody, says May: “Everybody thinks that I put in the heavy riffs – dang-dang-dang-dang, the Wayne’s World bit – but that was Freddie’s. He came up with a lot of our heavy stuff, like Ogre Battle.”
In 2017 a remodelled Queen, fronted by Adam (or “Madam” as May has nicknamed him) Lambert, sell out arenas, and May has yet to definitively rule out recording new material under the Queen name.
“We’ve talked about it a lot,” he says. “You can never say ‘never’.”
Also in the latest MOJO magazine: Nick Cave faces the future; Elton John’s stellar 1970; Mick Fleetwood’s intimate photo album; Billy Bragg on skiffle; Fleet Foxes return; Peter Perrett lives! Plus, Murder Ballads: a FREE 15-track covermount CD of the songs that inspired Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.