Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Return of Rock Royalty. Brian May Interview...





Credit: Barbara Hodgson, The Journal

When he isn’t trying to save badgers, Brian May is busy with science, history and Victorian 3D photography. Oh, and he still finds time for a bit of music too – with North East fans in for a special double-date this month. The legendary Queen guitarist talks to Barbara Hodgson

LIFE for Brian May is – in his own words – “insanely busy”. So it’s worked out pretty well that fragmented parts of it have conveniently come together to produce two North East dates within one month.

“I like to think that in some strange way it makes some kind of sense,” he laughs.

On Friday We Will Rock You, featuring 24 Queen hits, comes to the Metro Radio Arena for a three-night run then, just over two weeks later, he’ll be performing an acoustic gig at The Sage Gateshead.

If you didn’t know the Queen guitarist has more than one string to his Red Special – that home-built guitar which famously accompanied him to international stardom with the band (and beyond) – then you had only to read the news in recent days which saw him protesting in London about the start of the badger cull.

Animal activist (in a purely peaceful sense), astrophysicist, author... the list goes on.

But, first, we’re talking about the music.

The musician and singer-songwriter, who wrote such Queen classics as I Want It All and Fat Bottomed Girls, is seeing the first arena tour of We Will Rock You which has until now played out in theatres.

The popular musical, starring ex-Coronation Street actor Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) and The X Factor finalist and actress Brenda Edwards in Ben Elton’s futuristic story about the death of rock, is named after another of May’s compositions and is set for more success on the big stage.

In contrast the June 26 gig at The Sage will be an intimate night which sees May team up again with Kerry Ellis, the rising star whose debut album Anthems he produced in 2010.

Their recent musical partnerships – singer and actress Ellis also created the role of We Will Rock You’s Meat – includes new feel-good single The Kissing Me Song, to be released on June 17.

Now they’re doing another 10 dates of The Born Free Tour following its success last year.

In aid of the Born Free Foundation, which works to protect threatened species including Africa’s lions and now India’s tigers, it’s a series of candlelit nights of acoustic music with May accompanying Ellis on both vocals and guitar. It features stripped-down versions of Queen classics and personal favourites.

And May is loving the down-change in gear.

“We started going in the other direction from the big anthemic stuff,” he says.

When he isn’t trying to save badgers, Brian May is busy with science, history and Victorian 3D photography. Oh, and he still finds time for a bit of music too – with North East fans in for a special double-date this month. The legendary Queen guitarist talks to BARBARA HODGSON

LIFE for Brian May is – in his own words – “insanely busy”. So it’s worked out pretty well that fragmented parts of it have conveniently come together to produce two North East dates within one month.

“I like to think that in some strange way it makes some kind of sense,” he laughs.

On Friday We Will Rock You, featuring 24 Queen hits, comes to the Metro Radio Arena for a three-night run then, just over two weeks later, he’ll be performing an acoustic gig at The Sage Gateshead.

If you didn’t know the Queen guitarist has more than one string to his Red Special – that home-built guitar which famously accompanied him to international stardom with the band (and beyond) – then you had only to read the news in recent days which saw him protesting in London about the start of the badger cull.

Animal activist (in a purely peaceful sense), astrophysicist, author... the list goes on.

But, first, we’re talking about the music.

The musician and singer-songwriter, who wrote such Queen classics as I Want It All and Fat Bottomed Girls, is seeing the first arena tour of We Will Rock You which has until now played out in theatres.

The popular musical, starring ex-Coronation Street actor Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) and The X Factor finalist and actress Brenda Edwards in Ben Elton’s futuristic story about the death of rock, is named after another of May’s compositions and is set for more success on the big stage.

In contrast the June 26 gig at The Sage will be an intimate night which sees May team up again with Kerry Ellis, the rising star whose debut album Anthems he produced in 2010.

Their recent musical partnerships – singer and actress Ellis also created the role of We Will Rock You’s Meat – includes new feel-good single The Kissing Me Song, to be released on June 17.

Now they’re doing another 10 dates of The Born Free Tour following its success last year.

In aid of the Born Free Foundation, which works to protect threatened species including Africa’s lions and now India’s tigers, it’s a series of candlelit nights of acoustic music with May accompanying Ellis on both vocals and guitar. It features stripped-down versions of Queen classics and personal favourites.

And May is loving the down-change in gear.

“We started going in the other direction from the big anthemic stuff,” he says.

“We discovered we love interpreting songs in a simple way and there’s a direct connection with the audience.”

In the mix of Ellis’s “extraordinary vocals” and “arrangements of songs that haven’t been heard before”, he says: “I think the meaning of the songs comes through very strongly.

“The tour worked in the Home Counties last year so we thought we’d take it further afield – to you guys!”

When was he last in the region?

“Not so long ago,” he answers.

I’ve been quite around a bit! I was there with Queen loads of times.”

Newcastle City Hall he says, is known nationally. His actress wife Anita Dobson was also at the arena last year in the live tour of Strictly Come Dancing.

“Newcastle’s great. It has a great energy,” he says, though he’s been thrown by the odd Geordie-ism.

“The funniest time was when someone was talking to me about ‘wor lass’ – I’ve been working on the accent for you – before I realised he was saying ‘Where is your wife?’”

He’s looking forward to returning with his chilled night at the Sage.

“We also tell a lot of stories, have a lot of fun. It’s very relaxing for us.

“It’s very loose. We can change our minds in the middle of a song and we introduce a new song every night – that’s what happened with our new one.”

With The Kissing Me Song, May says they were in the dressing room one night ahead of a show and he suddenly got inspired by what they’d been working on.

“I said ‘Why not do it tonight?’ and Kerry said ‘Oh! ok’.

“So we did it and the reaction was great.”

He adds: “We both work really hard. Kerry never stops.

“And my life is insanely busy, between trying to save badgers to astrology to stereophotography to history books.

“This is almost like a holiday – I go out there and make music, to make people happy.”

Victorian stereophotography involves creating the illusion of 3D images and is just one of May’s areas of expertise.

Now 65, it was only a few years ago that the former physics graduate resumed his interest in astrophysics to gain his PhD.

But it’s animal welfare that is currently top of this softly-spoken star’s agenda in view of the start date for the pilot cull of badgers in the south in a bid to tackle bovine TB.

He’s set up Save Me, a group campaigning against ill-treatment of animals, and has been quoted as saying he’d rather be remembered for his work in this field than for his music.

“I’d like to think I make a difference,” he says and adds passionately: “I think we behave hideously to animals as a rule.

“We should not be abusing them.”

A cull, he says, is “like going back to the dark ages” with no evidence it will make any difference to the disease.

“The badgers are very family-orientated creatures and we’re going to wipe out 70% in the next 25 years.

“Generations will grow up in a countryside – if there is a countryside – that is deathly quiet.”

“It’s so appalling, we have to say no.”

I mention reading of one well-meaning suggestion to scare badgers from cull danger areas by playing loud rock music and ask if a bit of Queen could even play a part.

He laughs briefly then answers seriously. “I don’t think that’s going to be great for the badgers.

“They don’t like to be frightened and I don’t think that would work.

“There are other things that can be done – peaceful demonstrations, we can all write to our MPs saying ‘We expect you to oppose the badger cull’.”

He points readers to the website teambadger.org where there’s a protest petition to sign.

“We need to make ourselves heard,” he says.

“It’s easy not to do it, but there’s something awful happening out there and we have to make the Government realise they can’t get away with slaughtering everything.”

Is the message behind the Born Free gigs getting through?

“There’s a healthy, small growth of understanding that we as human beings can’t go on in this way – we’ll cover the world with concrete and humans,” he says. “We let people know what’s going on, but we don’t preach. The night’s about music.”

We Will Rock You is at Metro Radio Arena from Friday until Sunday (visit www.metroradioarena.co.uk or call 0844 493 6666) and Brian May and Kerry Ellis play The Sage Gateshead on June 26 (www.thesagegateshead.org and 0191 443 4661).

This is almost like a holiday – I go out there and make music, to make people happy.




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