Interviews: Brian May: BBC Radio 2 '98
Interview with Richard Allinson - Monday 6 July 1998 11.03 pm.
Transcription by Jennifer Tunney
Richard: Make a note of that one. OK Brian May's with us next.
Track plays: "YOU'RE MY BEST FRIEND"
Richard: You're My Best Friend, from Queen, and I wanted to play that one 'cos I wanted to find out how Brian: May made his guitar sound EXACTLY like that as Brian May's with us on Radio 2. Welcome along.
Brian: Thank you Richard. Nice to be here.
Richard: The first time I heard that I was about 16 years old and it was on Medium Wave ..
Richard: on the radio
Richard: a long long time ago.
Brian: It was a long time ago, wasn't it? (laughs)
Richard: and then I bought the record and I said "Wow, it sounds entirely different - this is great." (laughs) Does that bring back good memories?
Brian: Because of stereo you mean
Richard: And all that.
Brian: The magic of stereo, yeah. (sharp intake of breath) It does actually. We tried to remix this at some point a few months ago, actually probably a couple of years ago, and er I was thinking oh I can separate out all the ki.., guitars. 'Cos it was all multi-track guitars, but I discovered it was all bounced onto one track so that not much could be done about it.
Richard: Do you ever do that? Do you ever go back and listen to the classic Queen stuff and think, "Well , we could have done it a bit better now." Or someone brings out a new gizmo that means that you could do it neat and cleaner.
Brian: Yea, to be honest, I, I think the magic of the moment is there. I think the mix is part of the, of the whole thing, you know, and generally you, you could change it but it wouldn't necessarily be an improvement, in fact I doubt it would in most cases. We have been re-visiting them a lot though, the old tapes, because of the em, the archiving problem, you know. Suddenly everyone's realising that the tapes are falling apart very fast, and er, a if you make copies onto digital you lose something and er it's a bit problem, everything is decaying, you know, so suddenly...
Richard: One moment in time has gone.
Brian: Yeah. It's a worry, but we we've been making sure everything is safe. You'd be surprised how much gets lost. You know, by record companies, and by supposed archiving along the way. Suddenly you think "Ah, that must be safe" - and it's not. (laughing) Something happened in my left earhole just then,
Brian: What was that? (laughs)
Richard: Probably a tweak. The thing is, if you're in a recording studio um, and I'm going off the plot here. I'm asking a little personal question. If you're in a recording studio and you spend all day and all night and all week in there, and you walk out, you don't really know what's been recorded and what's hasn't, do you? And what happens to the tapes, and where do they go?
Brian: Well, I do now - because we have control over that, but in the early days, no, I suppose. There was a classic case where everything got messed up on the first album, 'cos we did the first Queen album on, er, basically dark time, in Trident Studios. In other words, you know, "Somebody's just finished, boys. It's 4 o'clock in the morning and you've got till 5." (laughs) And er we..
Richard: Queen bang off an album.
Brian: Yeah. We done, we done a few backing for um for Liar, as a matter of fact and they said, "Oh that's alright boys, just er overdub on this tape" - which they pulled out. And it was the wrong tape. We only discovered weeks later and we thought all the way through we were thinking, "This doesn't sound right. What's happened to this tape, you know. So eventually we got to redo it again after a big fuss, you know.
Richard: Uh, the future is um Another World, which is the new Brian May solo album.
Richard: And is, is there a theme covering all this or is it just a collection of cracking good tunes?
Brian: Well, I hope it's both - urm. Yes, I there is a theme to it I guess, you know. It's a long story, but uh, the, the story stretches over six years since the last proper solo album that I made. In between, there was making the Made In Heaven album, the final Queen album, and many, many other projects. I got involved in all kinds of things this last few years and really enjoyed it - found it very stimulating working, you know, with film directors and TV producers and stuff - urm - but, of course, the centre of it all is playing live, and er, I think my, my trigger, my stimulus for getting this thing finished in the end was that I could get, get back out on tour and do it. Erm - but yes, there's a lot of my life in this album as it has been, it's not just autobiography, biography, it's not just that, but its um, everything is triggered by what you see. You know, if you're an artist you sit there with your (sharp intake of breath) with your clean canvass and you paint what you see to an extent, tempered by what's in your brain, and it's the same for a musician, I think.
Richard: Let's play some of it.
Richard: Brian May's with us. There are 12 songs on the album. Actually, um there's, there's more than that, 'cos we found a secret track.
Brian: Ah, found it, you actually listened to it, Mr Allinson.
Richard: We.. yeah. Um.
Brian: I love you.
Richard: (laughing) We wanna play this one. This is called, "Why Don't We Try Again". Brian May on Radio 2.
Plays album track: "WHY DON'T WE TRY AGAIN".
Richard: We had a poll in the office today. We reckon that should be the new single from Brian May, from his album, Another World. Why Don't We Try Again, featuring er, the drumming of um, the late Cozy Powell, ..
Richard: who, um. Well that was, this was the last album he worked on, wasn't it?
Brian: As far as I know, well mixed in with some Yngwie Malmsteen things, 'cos he disappeared for a couple of weeks to do Yngvwie's album, and er, but I think he was doing stuff with me after that, yeah.
Richard: 'Cos a couple of weeks ago Colin Blunstone was sitting right where you are and he said - "Yes", he, he some of the last work was with Cozy Powell on Colin's new album.
Brian: Yeah - oh Cozy was so inspiring. He just walked in and you felt happy, you know and you felt inspired and like you were in the right place. He's very sorely missed.
Richard: So - you said you were touring this album in, um, in October and November over here.
Brian: September, October
Richard: September, October
Brian: Yeah, yeah
Richard: And the tour starts earlier in Spain. How, how're you gonna replace a drummer like Cozy Powell?
Brian: We, we've been auditioning. Steve Ferrone did stand in for us for our showcase gigs the last few weeks, but, er, Steve will be doing stuff with Tom Petty um so we are auditioning, yes. And actually I've seen some great people, but it's just really hard to get my head around not having Cozy there. It's you know, for all these years he was really what I built by stuff around and er, its hard, its very hard, but we'll find somebody fabulous, I mean I've seen a couple of fabulous people already - it's just a question of making that decision and pressing that button, you know.
Richard: So the new album, Another World, are you aware, 'cos of all the stuff that you've done with Queen, are you aware of any expectations that we, your fans, might have when you put out a solo album. 'Cos you say it's six years since the last one - and obviously you've been doing other years, other things since that - it hasn't taken six years to do, but are you always a little bit sort of anxious?
Brian: Um. To be truth, be troof-full wiv ya', I don't really think about Queen when I get up in the morning these days. You know, it's been a long time and I'm very happy to be away from it. I gave it my all when it was there you know, and it was my life, you know -um very proud of what we did - but these days my heads in a another place and I don't really think about um, does this fit in with Queen because its, its not my life any more, you know. I just get up and I think, "Is this any good, does it mean something, um and will able to enjoy taking this out on the road?" That's, that's basically what, what goes through my head, I think. Um - so the same, I have the same commitment to quality as I had with, with Queen, you know, and I, I wouldn't let anything go out unless I thought it was absolutely there. Which is probably why it takes me so dam long to make things. (laughs) But I'm not gauging it by, you know, does this fit in with Queen fans, 'cos Queen fans are VERY understanding I find on the whole, you know. They don't expect any of us to, to fulfil any kind of, er, expectations or, or fall into any old patterns, and that's a great relief. I wouldn't want to do it anyway, you know. It's very important for me to get out on my own and, and follow my own path and this album is something which I never could've made with Queen - it's very different and a lot more personal and, um, in, in, in a way a lot more exacting to my standards, because it's not a democracy any more. You know, I'm not arguing with people as to which note goes in where. It's (laughs)..
Richard: All you.
Brian: It's a very direct thing, yeah. So it's, its all my fault, this album.
Richard: There's a couple of, yeah, there's a conspiracy though. There's a Larry Williams song on here,
Richard: And there's a Jimi Hendrix on here.
Richard: Are you a fan of, of songs with guitar solos in, or were you when you were growing up, and you were make, you know, you got your first guitar at the age of 7, and so, and you were playing along - were you playing along to records 'cos you liked the records, or were you playing along because there's a guitar solo coming up?
Brian: (Laughs) well, I think, um, you had to be moved by the record in the first place and the guitar, I'm, I'm always very conscious of that, that's why this album of mine is really not a guitar album, you know. It's an album of songs and the guitar solo is hopefully the final gem in each case, um, but I do think a guitar solo is meaningless unless its, its in the right place, you know. Um - maybe that's not the right answer to the question (laughs). Maybe the truthful answer is, "Yes". I mean, actually when I was a kid there was so little guitar music around anyway. You had to scratch around and, and just take it where you found it, you know. I mean, there was probably Cheat Catkins, there was old Django Reinhardt records, Charlie Bird I used to listen to - none of which is rock, you know. And then you would find this wonderful solo in the middle of 'Hello Mary Lou', by um, Rick Nelson and that was WOW, incredibly inspiring for me to find things like that and, and the stuff people , you know, for Bill Hayley; Lonnie Donnegan had an amazing guitar player. I'm not quite sure who he was, actually, but I suppose, yes, I would listen to the guitar solos, and I do find myself these days, because I've been going back and re-discovering a lot of this stuff, particularly you know, the Buddy Holly stuff, Little Richard and whatever and I'm, I find that I'm listening to the vocals a lot more than I did, because, yes, I'm sure I was a kid who, who was just ADDICTED and besotted with guitar.
Richard: Even then I mean, people decry the medium, but I mean, pop records are to me, you can go back and listen to some of the, the favourites and you can still pick up little things.
Brian: Ah yeah.
Richard: Magic bits
Brian: Ah yeah well they yeah it - in the car we were listening to your station.
Richard: Thank you.
Brian: And er Joe Brown, and the stuff he was playing was electric.
Richard: Yeah - I know.
Brian: I mean, amazing the stuff he was playing. I've got a message for Joe Brown, later, we, we'll get into that later. (laughs)
Richard: Okeydoke - let's play more from the album, I, I'm gonna play the title track. This is actually Track 12 on the album - Brian May's new album 'Another World'.
Richard: Um and says its seven and a half minutes long, looking at the read-out on the CD machine. It's not and I'll tell you why in just a tick.
Plays album track: 'Another World'
Richard: 'Another World' - it's the twelfth track on the CD, the title track from the new Brian May album. I'm gonna leave it spinning 'cos I can't actually nudge on to the next one but we were listening to it, er listening to it earlier on today and I just kept it going at the end of the album.
Brian: This should be fun, this should be fun.
Richard: And there's a 13th track, which is called what, Brian?
Brian: Oh it doesn't have a name, or maybe it does - I can't remember it. (laughs)
Richard: Well it better do, 'cos if we play any of it we'll have to pay some PRS - so we've gotta log it. (laughs)
BA: We'll think of something -
Richard: So what, what ...
BA: its called Track ...
Richard: It's a bonus.
Brian: Yes - a little surprise. There's actually a few little surprises on the album in various forms, but er, yeah, I used to enjoy that, you know, in, in my youth, and still do, you know you play an album that you really like over and over again and you hope that you find new little gems the whole time, you know. You used to do it with the Beatles albums and things. Oh yes, little a little return to..
Richard: What are they saying? We used to play it backwards to see if all those news stories were true.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, that's right. You can't do that with CD's, it's a shame ain't it.
Richard: You can nudge them, but they, they all go funny, they don't just go fast and slow and scratch.
Richard: Where do the, where does the musical pressure come from nowadays, 'cos you said earlier on on the solo stuff you can be really really self-indulgent? But er - oh - here it is - this is Track 13 - it's very quiet. But where does the musical pressure come from, for you, personally?
Brian: Here it is. Do you want to listen?
Richard: The track with no name. Sigh. It's very very late at night
TRACK 13 starts playing
Richard: Great if you're lying in bed on your own. That's about all I can do.
Brian: That's right - you can hear the phone ring as well. It's a genuine little peep into me in the studio late at night. (laughing) I remember what it's called - its called 'Being On My Own'.
Brian: It's a kind of little reprise from the, The Business song. Because it's a hard business being on your own, you know. So that's what is, yeah.
Richard: And the only way you can listen to that is to carry on playing the CD.
Brian: Yeah. Congratulations on being the first Radio Station in the world, probably, actually to find it and play it.
Richard: A Radio 2 World Exclusive - Hurray! So, um, as we were saying, the musical pressure - do you feel that there is anything on you now and any sort of, apart from the commercial pressure, and maybe the legal pressure, but um - "Come on Brian, we need an new album from you!" Is there any of that now or is it... (tails off)
Brian: Not really - no - it's just um, no, the pressure I suppose comes from inside when you're doing it, and then once you're out there it's tough because the world has changed a lot, you know, and particularly radio, as you know has changed VASTLY and for people like us who are doing something which we consider, yea - um what shall I say, worthwhile, er, you don't get a look in, you know. People would much rather play the new football song, or the .. whatever it is, you know. I suppose it was always that way, um, but its just more noticeable from our point of view these days, you know. I know that there are millions of people out there who are into the kind of stuff that I'm into, but to get to them is, is really a problem. I bump into people - ha - all the time in the street who go "Ah, Brian: it's you, how amazing" you know. "What are you doing now?" (laughs) and I say "Oh well actually I have a new album out and its on EMI and its w.......", you know. And it, it's just getting that visibility, which is not, you know - we used to take it for granted I suppose. It was tough in the early days. I suppose it's gone full circle, you know. For Queen it was very tough because, you know, Radio One weren't gonna play Queen in the early days, and you fought for that kind of, um, visibility, and NOW it, it's the same thing. You know, everyone wants to hear, I guess, dance music on, on the radio, and er
Richard: Said the man who released the 7 minute single 22 years ago, called "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Brian: laughs) which went on to become one of the largest selling singles ever. (Brain laughs)
Brian: And that was a battle too .....!
Richard: The first, er, British Concert date is October 24th at Nottingham and you, er, keep on going on through November. Brian May with Another World - and you'll be playing the famous Red Special Guitar.
Brian: I will be. She's fixed, yeah. She's been in hospital for a little while um, actually six months (laughs) but, but my er fantastic guitar doctor has been working on her and er, actually we've been working on it to a certain extent, but he's done all the work.
Richard: Is this the guy that makes copies of the original?
Brian: Yeah - he just arrived from Australia and said "I would like to make a perfect replica of your guitar, just for my own edification." That's what he said.
Richard: Now this, as just about everybody knows is the guitar that Brian made with, with your Dad ..
Brian: That's right.
Richard: And you've had for years and years and years.
Brian: Yeah - about, she's about 30 years old now so - and this was the first time we took her to bits. It was a, rather a big moment - you can imagine (Richard laughs) - rather tearful moment when .. undid the screw that holds it, that holds it together, there is nothing there is nothing holding it together except one huge bolt and saw those pieces of wood for the first time for 30 years that, that I was working on, with my Dad all that time ago. My Dad's long gone and er - it was quite something.
Richard: No other guitar in the world sounds like this.
Brian: Not quite ...
Richard: Except the ones that ..
Brian: Well Greg's sound pretty close, yeah. The Greg Fryer replicas sound amazing now.
Richard: Well we can't wait to hear it live and, um, thanks for coming in Brian May. It's been great.
Brian: Thank you - enjoyed it very much.