'Freddie would have loved that we're still on the road'
Guitarist Brian May tells our music critic about his new 3-D book which charts the heady days of globetrotting on Queen's spectacular live shows
It's just another afternoon in the life of a veteran rock star. Brian May is in his tour bus in Sweden having played a Stockholm enormadrome the night before. Next stop Copenhagen.
It's a couple of days before a new-look Queen touch down in Dublin for a well-received date at the 3Arena, and the 70-year-old guitar legend is loving every moment of it.
"If you were to tell me back in the mid-70s that I'd still be doing this now, I just wouldn't have believed it," he says.
"Back then, you couldn't even think about a year ahead, let alone a few decades."
Review has an audience with May because he has just published a book - Queen in 3-D - that offers a career-spanning look at one of the best-loved bands of all time. All the photos were taken by May using rare stereoscopic cameras that he brought with him on the road.
The 3-D concept may be somewhat novel - but not to the photography-loving axeman.
"I've been taking stereo photos for decades," he says, "and it's still very surprising to me that virtually all photographs we ever see are in 2-D. I suppose it never really took off because you need some sort of viewer to see them in 3-D, but I really do think it's a technology that would interest more people if they gave it a chance."
The book is an expensive, lavishly produced work that features a viewing device - dubbed the Owl - that May himself helped devise alongside the specialists who made the book a reality, the London Stereoscopic Company.
"Initially, it was simply going to be a picture book with captions," he says, "but when I really got into the project and started to look through all those photos again, it really brought me back to various stages of the band's career and the fun we all had." The photos helped jog a memory that he admits is hazy at best.
"It's Roger [Taylor] in the band who can remember every last detail, down to the hotel we stayed in on such and such a tour in 1976. I don't have that luxury, but when I looked over those photos again, it brings it all back home."
For the dozen or so years from 1974's big-selling Sheer Heart Attack album, the band were one of the biggest tickets on the planet. Their cause was helped by their extraordinary ability to deliver live shows to remember and much of that was down to the charisma of Freddie Mercury. Few frontmen have ever commanded a stage quite like the late singer.
May believes he would have enjoyed the book, not least because he had such an interest in the visual experience himself. "Freddie loved photography, too - and there's a photo of him taking his own snap in the book - and he had a great interest in innovation, particularly when it came to the visual side of our band."
Mercury died of an Aids-related illness in 1991 when he was just 45, but Queen have kept going in various guises since then - a decision May is convinced that Freddie would have wanted. "He would have been delighted by the idea that Queen were still on the road and playing to a whole new generation in 2017," he says.
It's Adam Lambert, a US singer who first came to our attention when he finished as runner-up on the 2009 instalment of American Idol, that fills the Mercury-shaped void on stage today. Nobody - least of all Lambert himself - could argue that he's got the talent of the original, but he's far more adept at the role that one might imagine from someone who was unearthed on a TV talent show.
May remains a remarkable guitarist, a player whose guitar solos can still make neck hair stand on end. He quips that while his memory plays tricks on him, he's still able to play the instrument just like he always did.
"I haven't had to adapt my playing now that I'm that bit older," he says, "and I feel lucky to be able to say that. But I am exercising and stretching much more now than I used to do. I want to be able to keep going as long as possible - or as long as people still want to see us play."
Queen were arguably at the height of their globetrotting success in 1986 and Queen in 3-D captures their celebrated Wembley shows. It was the year after their triumphant set at Live Aid, but that tour was an audio-visual spectacular that truly encapsulated the theatrical nature of the Queen experience.
It was also the year they played that monster gig at Slane Castle in front of 100,000 people. May says he has memories of "the sheer scale of it" and notes that his friend, Channel 4's Irish 'Supervet' Noel Fitzpatrick, once spoke to him about attending that show when he was a young student.
"He told me it had been really important to him because it made him look at life differently," he says. "He wasn't in the best place at the time and maybe lacked confidence, but that's the power of music - seeing us playing back then made him think that you can pursue the things you love and are passionate about and he followed his dream of being a vet."
May and Fitzpatrick got to know one another when the animal-loving musician required a vet to help mend a pet who had been badly hurt.
"We've been good friends ever since," he says. "And isn't it funny how people's paths can connect like that?"
May's 3-D book may have been published but he's got no intention of hanging up his special cameras any time soon.
"I take 3-D photos every single day," he enthuses, "and Instagram is great because I can post all the photos l like there. Have you checked them out? Make sure you do - and please look at them with the Owl viewer."
Queen in 3-D, published by the London Stereoscopic Company, is available priced €60