'I think about Freddie every day -- he would have loved our musical'
With 'We Will Rock You' set to open in Dublin, Queen guitarist Brian May talks to Richie Taylor
It's one of the most successful musicals of the past decade and has been seen by six million people all over the world to date. Now We Will Rock You by Queen and Ben Elton is finally coming to Ireland.
The band's lead guitarist Brian May, who teamed up with drummer Roger Taylor and comic Ben Elton to put the musical together, spoke to the Irish Independent.
"I like to keep busy and I think the show is a great night out. It's also very, very funny, thanks mainly to Ben. It's been in the Dominion Theatre in London for the last nine years and is still a huge hit. We were tied into them for seven years and it was only in 2007 that we were allowed to bring it out on tour. So we formed a second company and it's always out on the road."
All the major Queen hits from 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'I Want To Break Free' to 'Killer Queen' and 'Fat-Bottomed Girls' are featured.
Ben, Brian and Roger initially discussed the idea of the musical, which was to be based around Queen songs. Brian says: "We've known each other for a long time and had some meetings. He had a long think about it and sketched it out. But the thing was that we wanted it be historical while he wanted it to be set in the future. He won."
The show is set many decades in the future, where music is now totally homogenous and manufactured -- thanks mainly to the groundwork done by machiavellian pop manufacturers such as Simon Cowell with his TV shows and Louis Walsh with his often tuneless boy bands. And all musical instruments are banned.
In fact, Elton pokes much fun at the current crop of wannabe pop stars who dream of fame just for the sake of being famous and have precious little in the way of discernible talent.
Brian adds: "I think about The X Factor and boy bands and all that quite a bit. I know Ben definitely sees all these things. There's comedy in the show, but there's also a fair bit of truth too. I think Simon has actually seen the show. But you know he has a sense of humour and knows all the arguments. I also realise that outside of TV it's difficult for young singers to get a break as well."
We Will Rock You was produced by May and Taylor because they knew the music better than anybody else possibly could have.
Brian adds: "Ben has a very fertile imagination. I think the songs are about finding your potential and breaking free. The great thing is also that the show is very live and very dangerous. It's also very loud."
Brian and Roger have kept busy in recent times, collaborating with The Muppets for an over-the-top version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. "It's actually an inside job. They sing on it, but we recorded the backing track and handed it over to them. It's a bit of fun really. It's very light and very humorous and my kids all grew up watching The Muppets.
"The other thing we did was a couple of tours as Queen with Paul Rodgers of Free on lead vocals.
"The gigs went very well but it's kind of run its course now and Paul has gone back to re-form one of his old bands called Bad Company. But we achieved what we set out to do."
So far there's been no mention at all of the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who was one of the first high-profile stars to die from AIDS back in 1991.
Brian reflects: "I still miss Freddie every single day of my life. I think Freddie would have loved We Will Rock You.
"It also would have made him plenty of money!
"I'd say that if Freddie was alive today we'd still be performing as Queen. But I actually feel that he is very much a part of the musical, a big part."
The guitarist has been to Ireland on several occasions and has relations living in Balbriggan in north county Dublin.
He has also played Slane Castle and the old Point Theatre and speaks very highly of the late and legendary Irish axeman Rory Gallagher.
And he still remembers the sudden heavy showers, and more especially the unruly crowd, at Slane ("it was certainly more chaotic than normal") as some crowd members tried to force their way backstage.
Brian has many other skills having recently designed something called a 'stereoscope' for a new 3D book he has put together. He is also deeply involved in astrology and actually made his very first guitar in his dad's workshop in the back garden.
"I suppose I just like creating things. I love doing stuff with my hands. My dad worried about me forming the band as he had given me a good education and felt that I was throwing it all away. He was always telling me to settle down get a 'proper job.'
"But he got into it all later on. I remember I flew him and my mother over to New York on Concorde and put them up at the Ritz and told them to use room service.
"It was then that they finally saw what was going on in my life. Before he died he told me that a part of him would have loved to have done what I did."
And while Brian is delighted with the success of We Will Rock You, he admits to having been close to distraught over the show's very first reviews.
He says: "I thought the first night went really well, but we got the worst reviews ever. They were absolutely scathing. I think jealousy is a very potent force.
"There was a lot of resentment involved, and much of it was directed at Ben. They were just bitter old journalists. But I think you have to break the rules. We Will Rock You isn't like other musicals. And it's great entertainment. And we've a great cast."
During the show's current run in Edinburgh the actors include Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts from Coronation Street), TV presenter-turned actor Darren Day as well as a scene-stealing performance from Brenda Edwards as the Killer Queen.
We Will Rock You is in the O2, Dublin, from January 20 to 31.