Brian May Discusses Queen's Greatest Moments
When you learned that Freddie was dying did you want to continue recording?
Yeah. He loved recording, he loved being in the studio environment, and I think right up to the end that was his greatest escape. So it was his wish that we recorded right up to the very, very last moment. He was singing vocals when he couldn’t even stand. He’d prop himself up against the desk, knock a couple of vodkas down and go for it.
The very last time we ever did that, me and him, was singing “Mother Love,” which is one of my favorite tracks on Made in Heaven. He never actually finished that. He said, “Oh, Brian, I can’t do any more. I’m dying here.” [laughs] It’s incredible, he never seemed to let it get him down. He was always full of humor and enthusiasm. He would make jokes about it, really.
Were those final sessions upsetting?
At the time, strangely enough, we developed such a great closeness as a band that they were quite joyful times. There was this cloud hanging over, but the cloud was outside the studio, it wasn’t inside. I have really great memories of those times. I think that we opened up to each other in a way that we hadn’t been able to before. For the first time we were actually writing songs absolutely as partnerships so, no…you know, the thing is there’s always a big element of disbelief. Y
es, we knew the prognosis and we’d seen what happened to people with this horrible disease, but I don’t think we quite believed that it could happen to Freddie. We thought, No, something will happen, you know, somebody’s going to find a cure. He’s Freddie, after all. He’s invincible. So when the news finally came it was like a bolt from the blue.
Did you get a chance to say goodbye?
[sighs] That’s a hard question to answer. We were with him a lot in the final days, but it wasn’t a question of saying goodbye; it was a question of just sharing a moment. I remember a particular occasion when we were talking about his garden, because he was lying in bed and he couldn’t see out into his garden very well from where he was. We were talking about his plants, which he loved.
Actually, Anita [May’s wife] and I were there. He said, “Guys, don’t feel like you have to talk to me. Just you being here is what’s important, and I’m enjoying that. So don’t feel like you have to entertain me.” So I think, in a way, that was him—amazingly—finding acceptance of the way things were. So, no, the word “goodbye” didn’t happen but we definitely reached a very peaceful place.
Did you have any idea that your 1986 Knebworth show would be the last time that Queen played live together?
No. Freddie said something like, “Oh, I can’t fucking do this anymore, my whole body’s wracked with pain!” But he normally said things like that at the end of a tour, so I don’t think we took it seriously, really.
Did “Bohemian Rhapsody” strike you as a peculiar song when Freddie first suggested it to you?
No, I don’t think so. You’ve got to bear in mind that we’d already made “My Fairy King” on the first album and we’d done “The March of the Black Queen” on the second album, so we were well in tune with Freddie’s excursions into strange areas, and that was something that we really enjoyed.
I personally loved it when he’d come in with something off the wall, because there would always be something interesting for me to do on it. He’d be playing in Eb, which is always difficult for a guitar player, or F# or whatever, and I would enjoy the challenge of finding things that sounded good on the guitar that went with his piano playing. So I was intrigued. I thought, This is going to be a great thing to work on.
What’s your favorite riff to play?
Probably “Tie Your Mother Down.” People jump up when they hear it, which is a good feeling.