Interviews - Brian May

Bohemian Rhapsody - Greatest Single Ever (Richard and Judy early 2002)

Brian Rhap

Judy: Bohemian Rhapsody has just been voted number 1 in a poll of the greatest singles ever. As a new musical written by Queen and Ben Elton opens in the West End, we look back at what made the band so special.

[Clip: Bohemian Rhapsody video]

Judy Finnegan: Brian May joins us now. Congratulations.

Brian May: Who were those young boys? [laughs] Thank you very much.

Judy Finnegan: Very well done erm .is it true... I don't know, we were having an argument about this before because Richard swears that he saw Queen...

Richard (interrupts) : Saw you at Hammersmith 1975.

Judy Finnegan: ...perform it live.

Brian May: We never performed the whole thing live, no no. We used to do the beginning and the end and we used the middle bit to go off and change frocks, and urm, there was never any pretence that we would do the middle bit because it was multi-tracked.

Richard Madeley: I could have sworn that I saw Freddie Mercury behind a white screen in silhouette.

Brian May: We did do that bit, yes we did.

Richard Madeley: And then coming out.

Brian May: With silhouettes and things that's right...umm, he's right.

Judy Finnegan: So what are you doing the musical with it then, is that live?

Brian May: Oh it's a secret, you'll have to come and see, but really Bohemian Rhapsody is part of the thread of the story of the musical, even though it's set in the future.

Richard Madeley: Let's talk about the musical in a second, let's talk about this chart thing first. Did you expect to come number 1?

Brian May: I wasn't really aware that it was going on to be honest

Richard Madeley: (laughs) They'll be pleased.

Brian May: I'm thrilled, we're all thrilled, it's great, and to be that current at this point in time and the timing's great obviously with the musical.

Richard Madeley: Beating The Beatles, The Stones, Blobby Williams...

Brian May: I wouldn't regard it as beating really it's...

Richard Madeley: Oh yeah?

Brian May: Ok, it's beating! [laughter]

Judy Finnegan: Well let's actually...

Brian May: I mean I'm the biggest Beatles fan on the Earth, I'd have voted for all the Beatles songs you know.

Richard Madeley: Well a lot of people do, if you take a look at the top 10 which we have here...
*10:Let it be -The Beatles
*9: Yesterday -The Beatles
*8: Wannabe -Spice Girls
*7: Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields - The Beatles
*6: Angels -Robbie Williams
*5: Like a Prayer -Madonna
*4: Dancing Queen - Abba
*3: Hey Jude -The Beatles
*2: Imagine -John Lennon

*1: Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

Richard Madeley: That looks good, doesn't it?

Brian May: That looks very...

Richard Madeley: Who would you have voted for?

Brian May: Probably John Lennon.

Richard Madeley: What Imagine?

Brian May: My favourite song was actually Jealous Guy but that wasn't actually a single so I'm not allowed to vote for it am I?


Judy Finnegan: Mind you, I'm not actually questioning you being at the top, but it is strange when you read the top 100 and you read that Wannabe is above Billie Jean and David Bowie is below Atomic Kitten, not that I've got anything against them but it's very generational isn't it?

Brian May: I think with all these polls you're seeing a certain cross section. I don't quite know who these people were who voted but there are always anomalies or what we might think to be anomalies, it's just nice to be in there I think.

Richard Madeley: What Ben Elton has done, he's kind of smoothed this whole musical together, he's written it, and it's written around your songs, 31 Queen songs.

Brian May: At present 31 yeah.

Judy Finnegan: Present?

Richard Madeley: Might be more?

Brian May: At the moment it's changing night to night and we have actually taken a couple of big ones out. It's kind of an embarrassment of riches really.

Richard Madeley: And it's set 300 years in the future where there are 2 companies, one's called Globalsoft and there's another company and they rule the pop industry by homogenisation, you can only have one or two kinds of music.

Brian May: That's right. Well basically one kind. These kids are ruled by being sold stuff and by the internet and just generally being bombarded with stuff the whole time. They've lost the ability to think for themselves and make their own music.

Richard Madeley: So it's like Pop Idols then?

Brian May: Well I ain't saying anything! I mean it does sound like what's happening today, but this is an extreme we're looking at and the story in the play is that a few rebels get together and they try to find out how you actually do it, how you regain your own freedom and individuality and you learn to make your own music again.

Judy Finnegan: So they rebel?

Brian May: They rebel, yes.

Judy Finnegan: Which is exactly where rock and roll started off in the first place.

Brian May: Exactly, in that you've hit the thing...that is the thing with the play.

Richard Madeley: Well let's have a look...

Brian May: It's very exciting to see it happen. They also discover clues left from the past and some of these clues are left by us, which is where we fit in.

Richard Madeley: Well one of Queen's hits was One Vision.

Brian May: Yes.

Richard Madeley: And here's a bit of the rehearsals of the musical where they're acting out One Vision, which kind of says it all. You have to have the one vision and nothing else, courtesy of Globalsoft - Let's have a look.

[Clip: One Vision]

Richard Madeley: That's your guitar obviously there on lead and rhythm.

Brian May: It is on that version it's totally live, got a fantastic band.

Judy Finnegan: You're not playing?

Brian May: Not me no, I may go in one day and do a bit...no it's a fantastic band.

Richard Madeley: Your guitar has this incredibly original sound. i suppose you could call it an original fender because it was made out of an old fireplace wasn't it?

Brian May: It's an original Brian May. It's one of the few guitars that there are in the world, I think it's me and B.B King, sorry, not B.B King, erm, erm, mental block! There's another guy...

Richard Madeley: Oh Mental Block is great!

Brian May: (laughs) Ok...Bo Diddly! Bo Diddly made his own guitar and I did and we're two of the few who did.

Richard Madeley: 19th century fireplace wood.

Brian May: Yeah, it was from an old fireplace and bits of knitting needles and valve springs from a motorbike and stuff.

Richard Madeley: And you used to play it with an old coin for a pick.

Brian May: I still do.

Richard Madeley: What con do you use?

Brian May: It's a sixpence.

Richard Madeley: A sixpence!

Brian May: Very cheap!

Richard Madeley: Fantastic!

Brian May: And it works!

Richard Madeley: And that gives it a totally unique sound.

Brian May: It does have a certain sound. The guys in the show have some commercial copies of my guitar and they sound pretty good too, but they're fantastic players too. We're so lucky to have...this isn't like a West End band as you would normally hear it or see it. These guys are complete musicians in the sense that they play their own thing, it's not a copy band of Queen, they play our stuff, but it's real.

Judy Finnegan: Do you still miss Freddie Mercury?

Brian May: (breath in) Yeah, yeah, it's like losing your parents or your family or something. It's not every second of the day but it's definitely every day and there will be a moment when you think "Ah" [pained look] and something strange happens to you. And obviously, particularly doing this, he comes up all the time. Roger and I both feel like he's kind of there and we can feel what he'd like and what he wouldn't like and what his contribution would be, he's kind of there with us the whole time in a sense.

Richard Madeley: Were you there when he came in the room and told the band that he'd composed this incredible thing called Bohemian Rhapsody?

Brian May: Yeah.

Richard Madeley: On a telephone directory he'd written it?

Brian May: Well he used to have some notepaper from his dads work and he would sketch out all his ides on there including the notes of the harmonies and we don't do dots really, we do A sharps and B sharps and C sharps and things and it would all be written out, all the words and things but it was totally in his head at that point and he'd say "Yes I can hear what it should be, this is the backing track..." And of course the backing track was piano base and drums, it wasn't me, so I'm in the control room helping to make sure that the sound is alright and whatever and it's going "Do do de do do" gap, and I'm thinking what the hell is this! And Freddie's going "Don't worry, don't worry, I know what's going in here, this is the operatic part darlings." And we went, forget it, fine.

Richard Madeley: We've got two presents for you.

Judy Finnegan: Oh yeah.

Brian May: Wow!

Richard Madeley: Because you're a big Star Wars fan aren't you?

Brian May: Indeed.

Richard Madeley: And you've got all the old figures.

Brian May: I have, I'll have to give it up though.

Judy Finnegan: Why?

Richard Madeley: We're going to start off your collection of the new figures. This is Anakin Skywalker.

Brian May: Could be very dangerous! Thank you, how very nice!

Richard Madeley: This is Obi Wan Kenobi as a young, still unspoiled man.

Brian May: He's not a Jedi yet! Fabulous, how very kind!

Judy Finnegan: The new film is supposed to be fantastic.

Brian May: We're competing, our opening night's the same night as theirs in this country. The 14th

Richard Madeley: Good timing.

Brian May: Yeah, great.

Judy Finnegan: Where do you keep it all by the way?

Brian May: I have a Star Wars room now, my kids think it's very funny. But yeah, it's become a drug actually, I'm going to have to give it up.

Richard Madeley: No!

Brian May: You can have too many...I've got enough obsessions in life anyway.

Richard Madeley: Queen is actually playing for the Queen this year.

Brian May: We're doing the Jubilee celebrations yes that's right, the rock and roll Queen.

Richard Madeley: Is she a fan?

Brian May: Do you know I've never met her. I've met almost everyone else. I've met Charles a few times, he's a fantastic bloke I think, and Diana...you know we were incredibly fond of Diana, but the Queen I haven't met and I don't know if she's a fan or not.

Judy Finnegan: But you said she's a rock and roll Queen.

Brian May: Well in a sense she is because her reign is totally the rock and roll years and so I'm going to be up there playing and I'm gonna think, yeah I'm playing for the Queen!

Richard Madeley: Don't you long when if she'd going on a journey through a city or whatever when she's in that glass topped Rolls Royce, don't you long to shove in a CD of Bohemian Rhapsody when it gets to the rocky bit and see the Queen do a bit of headbanging in the back.

Brian May: (laughs) I'm gonna see if I can have a secret conversation, see what she thinks.

Judy Finnegan: When's your opening night again Brian?

Brian May: May 14th

Judy Finnegan: At the?

Brian May: At the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road.

Judy Finnegan: Dominion Theatre.

Richard Madeley: Very good luck with it, it's been very nice to see you.

Brian May: Thank you.

Richard Madeley: And congratulations on being voted Britain's number 1 single of all time!

Brian May: [Yes! gesture] Brilliant! Thank you folks!

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