Brian May on Freddie Mercury, good times, and his Dubai gig.
We’re sitting at a desk putting mayonnaise on a tasteless sandwich when we get through to Brian May’s PA. Apparently we’ll have to wait while he signs autographs for some adoring fans. We look at the sandwich again. Where did it all go wrong? Where are our autographs? But when he takes the phone, Brian is less enthusiastic. ‘You are kidding aren’t you? I don’t know anyone who likes signing autographs,’ he says with genuine bemusement. ‘Maybe it’s a thrill for the first year, but 40 years later there’s no fun in signing thousands of grubby little pieces of paper. Shaking a fan’s hand and having a moment of actual physical, mental and social contact is nice, but signing a bit of paper doesn’t do it for me.’
So why doesn’t he just tell people to get lost? ‘Freddie [Mercury] was famous for that,’ he laughs. ‘People would go away smiling and weeping, saying “He told me to f*** off. I love him so!” But yeah, I suppose I’m too much of an innate pleaser.’
That applies to the live shows too, it seems, though technology means that crowd-pleasing’s not as easy as it used to be. ‘Nothing is a surprise any more – everyone can watch it on YouTube an hour after we finish playing – so you have to work harder to keep the magic in there. You have to use every bit of passion, intensity and spontaneity that you have in your body. And it’s a two-way thing with the audience; our performance is very much a response to the way the crowd acts.’
It’s no wonder they’ve become accomplished at reading their crowds – Queen have been on the go for nearly 40 years in one form or another. And while the band takes up the bigger part of Brian’s life, he’s still managed to squeeze in other things, finally achieving his PhD in astrophysics this year (‘Why would you want to be Mr Brian May if you can be Dr Brian May?’) and bonding with his 21-year-old daughter, Emily, by taking her on-tour. ‘She reminds me when I’m not sleeping enough or eating enough. My daughter speaks with the authority of my mother,’ he chuckles with enthusiasm. ‘It’s a wonderful opportunity to have some precious daddy-daughter time, and it’s something I treasure.’
But when we bring up his relationship with Paul Rodgers, who has acted as Queen’s lead vocalist since 2005, his voice becomes more measured. ‘We have a fairly considerate and gentlemanly relationship. We all have our passions, and because our passion is music we have our differences. But we generally find ways of airing our problems and talking things over. We pride ourselves on being fairly grown-up.’
And the result of those creative discussions is not just a four-years-and-counting live show, but a brand new album, too: The Cosmos Rocks. So it seems that getting Paul on board was a good idea for the band. ‘It’s a fertile relationship and it’s been very good for creating. We have a whole album to play off, so we have some new songs in the repertoire too. Queen + Paul Rodgers is a continuing development. We just do what we feel and do what’s stimulating. If you’re not stimulating yourself then you can’t stimulate anyone else.’
One person who’s not stimulated is a certain member of the Time Out team; he reckons that Queen is pointless without Freddie Mercury. But when we put that to Brian, he’s… well, he’s not happy. ‘Has he seen the show? No? Well he’s an ignorant, stupid little creep then, isn’t he? You can tell him that from me,’ he splutters in surprise and annoyance. ‘Nah – screw him, basically, and anyone else who says that and hasn’t seen the new show or listened to the new album. And even if it were true, even if this was a piece of c***, I would still defend to the death my right to do it. Otherwise what would I do? I would lie down and die, would I? I have no patience with people who say I shouldn’t be doing this. Get on with your own lives. Get a life.’ He catches himself and laughs. ‘In the nicest possible way, of course.’