Another World Waiting: Part 1
by Patrick Lemieux
“Back To The Light was a transition album, placed in a very defined moment. This time I worked aware of what I wanted to do with other musicians.”
Brian May (Musica Magazine, 1998)
For much of 1993, Brian May was touring the world with his Back To The Light album. It is no exaggeration to say he reached practically every corner of the map. Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, had died of AIDS in November of 1991 and work was Brian’s self-prescribed therapy. He’d finished his solo album, Back To The Light, in 1992 and hit the road to support it. Still, there were breaks in the schedule and time off between legs of the tour. His time off the road found Brian still in full-on work mode, exploring new challenges in taking projects of his own choosing. “I got all these little kind of commissions and triggers and inspirations from outside,” May told Clyde 1 Radio in 1998.
One such commission was to do the theme song to a new TV series. As he explained to Clyde 1, “They asked me to write song about this guy who basically gets up every morning and tries his best and always tried new angles, but he never quite makes it, he's like the eternal optimist, but the eternal loser. So, erm, I wrote them some fragments which they used for the TV series [titled Frank Stubbs Promotes], and then I started to realise that I was writing about myself, you know, as always is the case.” The song was “The Business” and it featured May’s good friend Cozy Powell on drums. Powell was a member of The Brian May Band and the two had collaborated on tracks previously.
Though Brian had a long history of guest appearances on fellow artists’ albums, it was now that he began to see the work not as a side project, but as singular focus of his energy. “Up until then, I had been solicited by several people asking to record them music for television broadcasts, for commercials, which I had always refused because Queen took up all my time and energy,” Brian May to Guitar & Bass Magazine (1998). Now, Brian had the time, at least when he was not on tour. The same spring of 1993, he recorded with Paul Rodgers on Rodgers’ cover of “I’m Ready” for his Muddy Water Blues tribute album.
While playing to crowds around the globe, things were stirring in the Queen camp. The other surviving band members, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, had begun to discuss what to do with Freddie Mercury’s final recordings. Mercury had not survived to finish the next Queen album and the vocals he put down in his last months would require extensive work and attention to shape into songs worthy of release. In October of 1993, Roger informed Queen’s fanbase via their Fan Club magazine that he and John had been working for two weeks on that unfinished Queen material. Brian’s world tour wrapped up its final show in December and he returned home to join Roger and John, locking himself away with those tapes in the early weeks of 1994. The surviving members of Queen began the process of completing Freddie’s last album with them.
Brian was still drawn to other projects, though. The Queen work involved a lot of time sitting at a computer and offers for television and video game projects had not ceased. The second series of the Frank Stubbs TV show needed a new theme song, so Brian recruited his back-up singers, Cathy Porter and Shelley Preston, from the recent tour. “We were both part of the session,” Cathy explained, “He hired us to come down to his studio a few months after we finished the tour.” The track was “On My Way Up.” By the summer, May was talking to videogame makers about them using Back To The Light material in their game Rise Of The Robots. In a letter to the Fan Club magazine that summer, he also noted that he wanted to do a new piece of music for them.
The new Queen album still required a lot of time on the part of all three band members, as Brian told Guitarist Magazine that fall, “We've kept talking along the way so that we know what each other is doing, and we have a system of swapping tapes to hear where each of us has got to - it's like recording via E-mail! But we are planning to have some time together to do actual recording and we've already had a couple of weeks together at Metropolis. But on the whole we've been doing it separately. In fact, I've spent the last four months just working on one-and-a-half tracks."
With projects being offered from the outside and Queen once again demanding his time, Brian’s thoughts about his next solo album began to shift. “Here I was back with the Queen hat on thinking, 'What on, what the hell was [Back To The Light and the tour] about?' Um, so yes I plunged into doing, into revisiting the things which had made me tick in the very beginning. Like way before Queen, and started looking at all those things which I got excited about as a kid, like Buddy Holly and Little Richard and Elvis records, and all those guitarists who were on there, like Ricky Nelson records and stuff. Urm, and that was my little, that was kind of my project for that moment; and I thought, yes, the album will probably come out as a load of covers.” Brian May to Talk Radio (1998)
“I got all the boys in to play [Slow Down], which really was live. Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, Spike Edney, who was the guy who was normally playing keyboards round the back of the stage for Queen, and Jamie Moses, who has become a very good friend and support guitarist. We all came in and we just played loads of songs, stuff that we knew. You know, we all know ‘Slow Down,’ we all know ‘Maybe Baby,’ we all know ‘It's Only Make Believe.’ We did a load of stuff just to, er, just for fun really, and to have some stuff on tape.” Brian May to Clyde 1 Radio (1998). In those sessions, May and his team are known to have put down the songs “Slow Down” (a Larry Williams cover), “Only Make Believe” (a Conway Twitty cover), “Maybe Baby” (a Buddy Holly cover), “Marie’s The Name (His Latest Flame)” (a Del Shannon cover, later made popular by Elvis Presley). His eye was definitely aimed at an album of covers, tentatively titled Heroes.
The late winter of 1994 would find May, Taylor and Deacon recording over several days at Brian’s home studio at Allerton Hill for the new Queen album. Another project also presented itself to Brian, that of the radio series The Amazing Spider-Man. Donning the pseudonym MC Spy-D, May recorded music for the series, again enlisting Cathy Porter. “That is all me singing, ‘Spidey!” recalls Porter, “And Brian and I singing the rest of the vocals in there. Now, that was a fun session!”
That year, at the Fan Club Christmas Party, Brian assumed an alter-ego for his performance, that of the fictional Rock & Roll icon Twit E. Conway, the apparent mastermind behind the Heroes project. At the Party, ‘Conway’ performed “Only Make Believe” and “Tie Your Mother Down.”
1995 would start off no less busy. Brian’s girlfriend Anita Dobson was in the NSO Ensemble cast of The Rocky Horror Show and Brian recorded a version of “Hot Patootie” for the soundtrack album, along with backing guitar on the track “Floor Show (Rose Tint My World).” Not long after, an offer arrived to record a cover for a planned Jimi Hendrix tribute album. “I chose intentionally a song all ready, with a little finishing touch. That song was the description of Jimi's dream, his exact transposition in words and music.” Brian May to Musica Magazine (1998). The song was “One Rainy Wish.”
The collaboration projects continued alongside Queen’s efforts to finish Freddie’s posthumous studio album, with John Deacon in London, Brian at Allerton Hill and Roger at his home studio, Cosford Mill. And still, Brian explored new avenues for his music. Acclaim Entertainment were planning a sequel to their video game Rise Of The Robots, titled Rise II: Resurrection. Brian’s plan to include new material for the first game came to fruition with the second. “‘Cyborg’ started, effectively, like an ideal soundtrack for a videogame. That began something very interesting to me, something very deep. I adore Asimov, and I began thinking of that song like a mental vision of the robot.” Brian May to Musica Magazine (1998).
By mid-September, Queen completed work on their last album with Freddie Mercury, Made In Heaven. They had compiled the last recordings of their friend and singer and drawn from their own back catalogue to create what they hoped was an album that could stand with the rest of their work. After the album’s final mix was delivered and artwork approved, the band took a rest. “That was a monstrous project which took about two years because we were dealing with scraps and it was a major job to piece it together, to make it sound like it was a band in full flight in the studio.” Brian May to the Sydney Sun Herald (1998).
Promotion of Made In Heaven was all-consuming for Brian and Roger. The press advertised it as Queen’s final album and Freddie’s last work. Reviews poured in and Brian was once again at the forefront with the band, his solo career forced to take a backseat to the fruits of nearly two years hard work.
“I went all the way around the world with the Brian May Band as it was then, and what we did was go straight back into the Queen area because we made the Made In Heaven album, and at the end of that - which was really two years of hard slog, and quite hard emotional business - um, I kinda didn't know who I was again.” Brian May to Talk Radio (1998).
1996 dawned with Brian still looking to his Heroes album and the joy of working with other artists. At Allerton Hill, he recorded with Status Quo “F.B.I” for himself (a cover of The Shadows instrumental) and for them “It’s Raining In My Heart Again” (a Buddy Holly cover). January 28th saw May and Quo at the first ever Status Quo Fan Club Convention recording the video for “It’s Raining In My Again” and footage for “F.B.I.” “F.B.I.” would later appear on the album Twang: A Tribute To Hank Marvin.
The Spring Fan Club magazine reported that Brian was working on his solo album at Allerton Hill. Heroes was his focus, covering the songs he loved by the artists he’d grown up with, along with covers done for other projects. Morgan Fisher, formerly of Mott The Hoople and one of Queen’s tour keyboardist in 1982, was putting together a tribute album for Mott and asked Brian for a song. “Mott The Hoople was really our first experience of life on the road, and a pretty blinding experience it was, I must say. It's always remained close to my heart, cos we grew up on that tour, we had to, it was just insanity, and to survive you had to adapt, you had to become a rock 'n' roll kind of animal and in the good sense of the word, you know. And, yeah, it was phenomenal. And I used to watch them do ‘All The Way From Memphis’ every night, and every night the place would erupt, it was like an earthquake. They really were a fantastic band live. Should have stayed together, I have to say,” Brian told Clyde 1 Radio in 1998, “‘Young Dudes’ was a big one, but Mr Bowie wrote that, but for me ‘Memphis’ is the one, and I always wanted to do this song.”
As spring turned to summer, Brian got involved with the soundtrack recording for the film The Adventures Of Pinocchio. He recorded two tracks, enlisting Cathy Porter once again to assist. She speaks of the experience, “He asked me to sing on the demo for ‘What Are We Made Of’ for the Pinocchio film he did. For a while, Brian was fighting them to keep my vocal (I sang backing and lead duet with him). In the end, the record company wanted to use one of their artists, so Sissel got the gig. My backing vocals remained.” The other Pinocchio track was the puppet show orchestral number “Ill Colosso.” Both would appear on the soundtrack album for the film.
Another film project reached Brian via a friend of his, screenwriter and director Peter Howitt. “[He] wrote a script for a film called Sliding Doors,” May told Clyde 1 Radio in 1998, “He was an old friend of mine, and he said, ‘please write me a song. I've always dreamed of asking you to write me a song, Bri,’ he said. So I wrote this ‘Another World’ track and was very pleased with it. Took it straight round to him, and he loved it, jumped up and down, said ‘This is it,’ you know, ‘this is the perfect thing for the film!’”
On the fifth anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death, a statue was unveiled at the Market Place on Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland, the town where Queen had recorded at Mountain Studios, including the last recordings made by Freddie. Brian May and Roger Taylor were in attendance. Opera diva Montserrat Caballé, with whom Freddie had recorded the Barcelona album, performed the actual unveiling and seeing the statue inspired Brian. “I really wrote it about Freddie,” Brian told ITV This Morning in 1997, “it goes back to Jimi Hendrix, and in a way that's what the song's about. It's like maybe you die young, but you burn, you know. A lot of people go for it, and the metaphor is that they fly too close to the sun, which is like the Icarus legend. Icarus flew too high and his wings fell off, his wax melted and he fell in the sea.”
“When I wrote ‘No-One But You’, it fitted into my original concept of what my album was supposed to be - I was going to make it about the heroes of my childhood; you know, do a Buddy Holly track, something by Hendrix, all kinds of things.” Brian May to Guitarist magazine (1998). Brian recorded a demo for the song and intended Roger Taylor to sing on it for the solo album, as well. He gave a copy of the song to Roger and, as the story goes, Roger promptly forgot about it without even hearing it.
While waiting for word from his bandmate, Brian continued to explore other collaborations, ideas and his own musical heroes, as we will see in Part II of this article.
(Thanks to QueenArchives.com and Catherine Porter)
Patrick Lemieux is a Canadian artist and writer. He is co-author, with Adam Unger, of the book The Queen Chronology: The Recording & Release History Of The Band, available now on Amazon worldwide: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca. The Print Edition of the book will be released on Sept. 17th, 2013, and can be pre-ordered here.