As he reissues his debut solo album, the Queen guitarist recalls how making it helped him cope with a time when his band, marriage and the life of Freddie Mercury were coming to an end
Brian May has been up to his neck in it, and he is fed up. We are talking a little more than a week after we were meant to, our initial chat having been postponed because the basement of May’s London home was filled with effluent after torrential rain caused the capital to flood and sewers to spew forth their contents.
The basement was where he and his wife, the actor Anita Dobson, kept their memorabilia. “It’s made us feel violated,” he says. “It’s what it does to your soul to lose your possessions, to see them swimming about in it. I had to tear up all my old photograph albums, the very first ones I ever had when I was eight years old, to try to save the photographs.” May was born in the outer London suburbs and he’s had a home in London all his life; now he has had enough. “I think London is wrecked,” he says. “It’s brutal, it’s noisy, it’s polluted. Nobody has any consideration. So we’re feeling like we want to get out. That is very wounding: I love London, I grew up here. But I don’t think I can deal with it any more.”
When we speak, May, 74, is engaged, amused and frank, but this is the latest episode in a tough 18 months. Early last summer, he suffered an accident while gardening that tore muscles in his buttocks, and caused a heart attack. It is almost as if we have come around in time: May is reissuing Back to the Light, the solo album he made between 1988 and 1992, another tough period for him. This was when Freddie Mercury, his bandmate in Queen, had become increasingly sicker with Aids-related illnesses, dying in November 1991 of bronchial pneumonia. And that was only the half of it.
I was convinced it was over. I would drive past all these arenas we used to play, thinking: I’ll never do that again