‘Queen days’: Brian May reflects on his rock ‘n’ roll journey

Music's wisest rock shaman shares some memories from his 47-year Queen career

Half a century is a long time to spend in music, let alone in one band. But that’s what Brian May, Queen’s glam-rock professor, is able to boast. A many-faceted personality, May’s talents cover more areas than his affinity for squealing solos and stage-crumbling riffs. He also has a PhD in Astrophysics, campaigns for animal rights and in his spare time nurses a deep fascination for cameras and stereoscopy. His latest project is ‘Queen In 3-D’, a three-dimensional stereoscopic collection of images that take you behind-the-scenes with the band. That means backstage at gigs, into the different member’s homes and on days out at the races. We sat down with the shaggy-haired guitar wizard to look at some of his favourite images from the book.

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Brian May: “The very first image you see is me as a kid. 1958. So I’m 11 years old here with my first guitar, which my mum and dad bought me. It was very difficult for them to buy something like this ’cause we were very poor, but somehow they managed to cough up eight guineas to get me this guitar.”

brian may

BM: “So the next picture in the book is me not with a guitar but with this little camera. This is a tiny little two and six penny Woolworths camera. It’s not a stereo-camera but I figured out how you could take stereo pictures with it by going click click. They’re called sequential stereos pictures and basically you’re using your mono camera to make stereo pictures.”

brian may

BM: “There’s been a million pictures of us taken on stage. What’s different about this book is the intimate pictures, behind the scenes when we’re not on stage and we’re in a relaxed mode. So here’s one of Freddie on a boat. He’s not posing for anyone. He’s just there, normal and I was used to snapping so nobody took any notice of what I was doing. In fact, we all snapped away including Freddie with his camera. So there’s Freddie thinking about the next gig, or actually we were going to an awards show I think at this point.”

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BM: “This was actually taken on a visit of some Japanese journalists from Music Life. They came down to Ridge Farm where we were working on the next album, which was going to be ‘A Night at the Opera’. Freddie’s relaxing, drinking a cup of tea as he liked to do. A nice sunny day. We played tennis for them which we never normally did, none of us were great tennis players, but you know, it made a nice photography session. Freddie was actually a very, very mean table tennis player. He wasn’t interested in football. So people think that ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ were written about football but they weren’t. They were written about people and how they feel.”

brian may

BM: “This is my favourite shot. It’s just beautiful. I took this not with a normal stereo-camera, but with a beam-splitter on the front of a Pentax. It needed a little bit of sorting out to make it really enjoyable to view, but in the stereoscope it’s beautiful because you just feel like you’re right next to Freddie, and you’re seeing him do his thing. It’s a very intimate moment, and I have John, and I have Rodger doing similarly kind of intimate things. Freddie actually was very shy, and sometimes in the presence of a photographer he would freeze a bit. He’d put on his smile and he would get a little tense, whereas the pictures that you see in this book, none of us are tense. We’re just being with each other. We’re not always being nice to each other. We’re like brothers or we’re family or like a marriage on the road. We’re being normal people.

“That’s what you see in this book – people who are normal but in a very abnormal situation. Touring the world. Being treated like gods by some people and idiots by other people, as is the way. A very unusual situation and a very privileged situation, because we were able to interact with every country that we went to. We weren’t just tourists, we were working with them and becoming part of their culture and they’re becoming part of ours.”

Photos credit: All images taken on Brian May’s stereo cameras.

 Queen in 3-D, by Brian May, published by The London Stereoscopic Company, £50, out now.