June 2003, By Greg Phillips
Melbourne has been chosen to host the Australian premiere of “WE WILL ROCK YOU” the futuristic rock musical based on the music of British supergroup Queen and
featuring 24 of their biggest hits. The musical is a huge success in London’s West End with bookings taken through until early 2004. “We Will Rock You” was written by Ben Elton, whose penmanship was responsible for legendary TV shows like ‘Black Adder’ and ‘The Young Ones’. “We Will Rock You” debuts at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre on August 7 this year. Elton, along with Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were recently in town to audition potential cast members. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips managed to grab ten minutes with Brian May to talk about the show and that distinctive Queen sound.
GP: Your guitar sound is very distinctive and plays a huge part in the sound of Queen, so how much attention is paid to the sound of the band in the stage show?
BM: The band is the driving force in the show so a lot of time was spent with it. We were determined that the band would not sound like your regular pit band in a musical , so they are a real rock band. They play some of my licks but they don’t have to be me.
GP: I noticed in the promotional footage of the London show that one of your replica guitars was played, was that one of the guitars that the Australian luthier, Greg Fryer
produced for you?
BM: No they’re too precious. It’s a Burns copy. I have a new edition of the Brian May model in England
that is made by Burns, who actually made the pickups I used on the original. So those are the ones the
guys use in the show. So we go to a lot of trouble to get the sound but the band don’t have to be robots.
They have a bit of freedom to play the licks that they want to play in certain parts of the show.
The show is very big, very theatrical.
GP: If Freddie had been alive, what would Queen be sounding like now?
BM: Good question. Bigger, better and louder I’m sure. It’s hard to say really. I know for a fact Freddie
would have loved this project even if we hadn’t been together as a band. This is a great extension of our
ouvre, as Ben calls it. I don’t know what the band would be doing? We’d just be playing and making
more music. We’d probably be still doing the individual things that we still do.
GP: Is there much material laying around? Were you the type of band who recorded stuff
and shelved it?
BM: Yes. At the moment we are still sifting through it but there will be a box set at some point of our
unfinished stuff. We put a lot of stuff down on tape.
GP: I just wanted to go back to Greg Fryer if I could and discuss the work he did for you
with your Red Special guitar…
BM: Well Greg is an amazing craftsman. I have never met anyone like him. He spent 2 years making
3 copies of my guitar, in identical ways I made my original. He went to so much trouble to replicate
every single material and technique. Every thousandth of an inch was checked. Those things are
masterpieces. I have two of them and he has one. Mine are called John and George and his is called
Paul. Those things are stupendous, so whenever I go out and play , they are sitting beside me. I use
them for different tunings. I still use my original most of the time but if there is a different tuning or
have to change the guitar for another reason then I will pick up a Greg Fryer guitar.
GP: He’s developing pedals under your name too I believe?
BM: He’s very much into pedals now. Part of my sound is that treble booster which is a modification
of the old Greenwich master circuit. So Greg has been working on those and extended them. He makes
great treble boosters and I use them all the time.
GP: Will they be commercially available?
BM: Yes I think he plans to do that. Greg moves very carefully and slowly with the utmost precision so
nothing happens quickly but happens to the highest possible quality.
GP: Apart from producing rock shows, what else takes up your day?
BM: Producing rock shows takes up a lot of time. I’ve devoted the last year of my life to this, almost
exclusively. I don’t sleep, I do stuff the whole time. I have so many hobbies. I’m passionately into Victorian
photography and astronomy, I’m passionately into various kinds of computer stuff. I’m very involved in my website now. It’s something which has enabled me to become closer to the world.
I’ve always been in my own sort of sheltered world. It might sound strange, I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve been slightly insulated. The website has enabled me to become more aware of what’s out there and enabled me to communicate in a two way fashion. I’ll probably be typing away tonight on what happened here. So there’s a little bit of a journal aspect and it’s a bit of an interactive website, and of course it’s not a Queen website. I mean obviously there is a Queen website which I contribute to, but with this one I can say what I like. I don’t have to put out an official view. (brianmaynews.com)
GP: You have recorded two solo albums Back To the Light and Another World, will there
be a third solo album?
BM: I’d like to do one more, not this year. I suppose what’s happened in this situation is that I have put
the Queen hat back on. I was very loathe to wear it for a long time. I found it painful , restrictive and I
sort of protested too much if you know what I mean. I just had to get away but now, I’m happy wearing
the Queen hat, and the Queen hat brings a lot of bonuses. You instantly communicate with a lot more
people if you call it Queen than if you call it Brian May. So I’m reaping the benefit of that. Roger and I get
on well now, we didn’t always. We have very different artistic ideas and sometimes that’s been a strain,
but at the moment we seem to have evolved a way of dealing with each other. That’s a big help.
Note: Vox has just released a new Brian May model amplifier which can be used in
conjunction with a Burns Red Special copy guitar to produce those classic Queen tones.
A word with GREG FRYER, builder of Brian May guitar replicas
After speaking with Brian about his replica guitars, I put in a quick call to Australian guitar builder,
Greg Fryer to see how the Brian May connection originally came about
GP: When did you first meet Brian May?
GF: I met Brian in 1996. Basically I wrote to him through his management because I had been a big fan
of his music and of his guitar for a number of years. I was interested in making a much more accurate
replica of his guitar than those that had been done to date by the various people that had attempted it.
I’d been involved in guitar making and electronics since the 1980s and had become well known in
Sydney for the guitars and pickups I had been making. Fortunately they (Brian and his guitar tech) had
heard of my name and checked out all the bona fides, and it was the right opportunity for them and me
at the same time. Brian was looking for someone to make an accurate replica too. I flew to London in
July 96 to meet him. I looked at his guitar in great detail and took measurements. He and his guitar
tech, Pete were very, very helpful. They gave me great access to his guitar and studio. I came back and
researched every detail and 18 months later I had completed three replicas of his guitar which I then
took back to England in November ﾕ 97. They were extremely pleased with the work that I had done.
GP: You rebuilt his original too didn’t you?
GF: That was the main project Brian had in mind. Amazingly he had played that guitar, the Red
Special for 30 years and it virtually never received any repair work. But by that stage there was a
long list of things that he was anxious to have looked at
GP: And you’re also working on some pedals?
GF: For last 4 years I have been involved in the process of research and development on different
pedals which are signature Brian May pedals. I’ve been making those for the last 18 months. They’ve
been commercially available, but they are hand made, very expensive items. I’m doing all the work
and going to great lengths and thoroughness. They are available only from me direct only, they’re not
the type of thing you will find in stores. However, I’ve just finished development of a particular pedal
for the Burns company, a prototype which they hope will be mass produced in China as part of a
Burns/Brian May /Fryer pedal. Itﾕs kind of a Treble Boost/ Overdrive pedal that works
with all the regular amps as opposed to just the AC30 that Brian uses. Brian uses the first very
original developed channel that sounds very ‘bassy’ and unlike any other amp on earth.
Burns wanted a pedal that would work with all amps.
I’ve also got 8 or 9 of my own range that has been developed over the last couple of years. From
acoustic guitar pre amps to bass pre amps, and guitar pedals from big fuzzy distortions to overdrive boost pedals.
Those interested in Greg Fryer products can reach him on 02 9938 3379.