You know Brian May as the frizzy-headed guitar-playing genius in Queen. But he’s also a PhD-in-astrophysics-holding chancellor at Liverpool John Moores University, a family man, and a tireless activist for his favorite causes.
In fact, May is out on the road now — but not with Queen. He’s in South Africa, hoping to raise awareness about the plight of big cats through Pride of Cape Town. Previously, May has fought to save hedgehogs in his native England, started Save Me to promote humane treatment of hunting dogs and badgers, and has also been involved with the Born Free wildlife campaign.
It’s not hard to see why May hasn’t been as active in recording, either as a solo artist or with Queen. His band has continued on with a series of guest singers in place of the late Freddie Mercury, with plans to appear this summer with American Idol finalist Adam Lambert. May also made a one-off appearance recently with space music-pioneers Tangerine Dream.
[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: We dig into Queen favorites like “Under Pressure,” “Spread Your Wings” and “Stone Cold Crazy,” then return for spins of “You’re My Best Friend,” “Ogre Battle” and “Flash”.]
May hasn’t put out an new original studio solo project, however, since 1998’s Another World — though he’s done some soundtrack work since. Queen hasn’t issued an album since May and fellow band co-founder Roger Taylor
collaborated with Paul Rodgers on 2008’s The Cosmos Rocks. (Their last work with Mercury dates back to 1995, when they fashioned Made in Heaven out of some left over sessions.)
There’s a reason for that.
“I am dedicated to the welfare of animals. These days I spend more time campaigning for animal rights than I do on music,” May said told The Times. “My biggest difficulty is trying to juggle everything in my life. Time is a big problem. My family comes first, and then my devotion to helping animals. I love making music, but I no longer have much time to do that.”
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Queen. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
SHOULD QUEEN CONTINUE WITHOUT FREDDIE MERCURY AND JOHN DEACON? ADAM LAMBERT SAYS: ‘IT’S THEIR PREROGATIVE’: The news that Queen will appear with yet another lead singer has some fans returning to what’s becoming an age-old conundrum: Is it Queen without Freddie Mercury? Heck, is it Queen without John Deacon? Don’t ask Adam Lambert, the American Idol finalist who’ll front Queen at this year’s Sonisphere Festival. “That’s really up to (Queen co-founders) Brian (May) and Roger (Taylor); it’s their band,” Lambert said. “I think that at this point the feel what they’re doing is appropriate and it’s their prerogative. If someone feels like their legacy should be left alone then they’re missing out on a great concert. That’s the bottom line.”
QUEEN – DAYS OF OUR LIVES DVD (2012): As this sprawling new documentary makes clear, Queen knew — and from the very beginning — that they were on to something. That it took everyone else so long to notice only seemed to spark them to greater heights of genre-jumping, expectation-confounding genius. Because of the way that they had built their own legacy, Queen didn’t have a working template to get trapped in. “They were very opened minded, Queen audiences,” May adds. “We never felt constrained.”
ONE TRACK MIND: TANGERINE DREAM WITH BRIAN MAY, “STAR SOUNDS” (2011): You suspected, just from listening to his wildly inventive work with Queen, that there was little guitarist Brian May couldn’t do. This live collaboration with space-music pioneer Edgar Froese’s Tangerine Dream confirms it. Sure, May has a well-known interest in the cosmos and its exploration, having earned a doctorate degree in astrophysics. But, for all of the many styles that May has excelled at over the years, for all of the times he’s played completely in service of the song — showing such great flamboyance, then such sharp-edged restraint — I still didn’t know what to expect once that famously bushy mane was dropped in amidst this kind of long-form, open-ended improvisational music. We will, we will … space you?
ONE TRACK MIND: QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS, “SAY IT’S NOT TRUE” (2007): “Say It’s Not True” originally appeared on the group’s 2005 live album, Return of the Champions, in a more stripped-down acoustic form sung by Roger Taylor. This version, however, is a much more embellished studio recording with Brian May and Paul Rodgers contributing significantly. Otherwise, it’s a very typical charity song: The lyrics were a bit trite and obvious; the melody was also a bit simplistic. It felt like something we’d heard a million times before. Yet, while there were no real surprises in store, it managed to invoke some of the magic of Queen: It builds at just the right moment into a glorious power ballad.