You're My Best Friend - Meeting Brian May
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about the time I met David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. I signed off saying that I’d one day tell you about the time I met Brian May. Well, hold your breath no longer, friends, for that day has come. As much as I’d love to be able to say this piece is the result of scores of you emailing me, desperate to read the tale, it’s really the consequence of me having finished my new solo album - at last – and having too much free time on my hands…..
What’s that you say? My new solo album? Oh yes, well, if you insist…it’s called Mysteriously Saved, and I’m pretty damn pleased with it. It will soon be out on Amazon and iTunes, but for those of you that cant wait you can pick up a copy from my website or the Mustangs website. It’s been called “a classic crossover of AC/DC and Kate Bush” (by me) and it’s also been referred to as “a masterpiece on a par with the Sistine Chapel” (also by me, but you get my point). It sure ain’t the Mustangs, but I hope you like it.
Anyway, back to me and Brian….more years ago than I care to remember I was in a band called Fragile Cat (Jon was the drummer) and we were managed by a big hearted, but sadly for us, not very well connected, manager called Bill. Bill was able to procure for us everything we wanted, but didn’t need; tour jackets, back stage passes, dinners in swanky restaurants and clubs, and as many takeaways and crates of beer as we could get through (a terrifying amount). We had everything…except a record deal. Occasionally sensing my frustration, Bill would get me a ticket for the odd music industry dinner or jolly. One such was the International Manager’s Forum dinner, in a posh London hotel I have forgotten through the murky haze of time (as much else besides). When Bill invited me, it didn’t exactly light my fire until he said in passing that the guests of honour were Led Zep manager Peter Grant, and Brian May, from Queen.
Although Bill had me at the mere mention of Led Zeppelin, the words Brian May lit up my eyes. I had first heard Queen when a mate of mine used to play me their first Greatest Hits album (on vinyl, of course) over and over again as we played on his Pot Black snooker table. (I think we even donned waistcoats from a charity shop for sporting authenticity). I was immediately hooked – on the band, not the snooker – and so began many happy years following the exploits of Freddie, Brian, Roger and John. The teenage years are magical, formative years for the budding music obsessive , especially in the days before the internet when info and music by your favourite artists was so much harder to come by….and Queen were right at the top of my list. Ok, so they weren’t as deep as Dylan or as cool as Led Zep, and they had legions of detractors, but they were astoundingly popular because they had fabulous tunes, a sense of humour, made great sounding records…..and also had well,, a kind of magic about them (excuse the pun). Every great band needs that X Factor, and Queen had it in spades.
At the core of their sound was Freddie’s huge voice and Brian May’s unique guitar sound. I was lucky enough to see Queen live twice in 1986 and I tell you to this day, I have never heard a live guitar sound like it. But more then that, Brian was, I felt, the only guitarist who perfectly straddled the genres of heavy rock and pop…he could do it all, and now I was about to go and see him speak at this swanky dinner.
Well to cut a long story (marginally) shorter, Bill and I rolled up to this dinner and sat through one dull speech after another. It was all demographics and sales figures that were soon sending me into a coma. As my manager, Bill pretended to show an interest but I think he was even less engaged than I was. But then things turned, all of a sudden Peter Grant was invited up to the stage and I was moved to see this slightly frail, wan man potter on to the stage. Grant was, during his time with Zep, feared and respected as a tough, no nonsense man who protected his band’s interests at any cost. But now, here he was, looking vulnerable and small….I was choked….especially as he gave a moving speech in which he talked about the virtues and joys of having worked with such talented people as Led Zeppelin. It was, he finished by saying, all about the music. Amen. Grant died a few months after this appearance, his last in public.
Then it was Brian’s turn. I was delighted to see that he took to the stage to a rapturous ovation, but here’s the funny thing – I remember listening intently to his speech, but I can’t remember a bloody word he said….he must have spoken for quite a while, but not a single syllable do I recall. Well, it matters not to my story, as afterwards he stepped down (to another great round of applause) and the evening was declared over. Everyone rose from their tables and started milling and networking…..I noticed that Brian had moved to the middle of the room and wasn’t talking to anybody. I knew I had barely seconds to make my move, so I nudged Bill in the ribs and said. “I’m going to talk to Brian May”. I took a shot or two of Bill’s whisky and got up from the table.
I was relieved that no one seemed to be approaching him except me, and when I got to him he was all mine. I hadn’t prepared anything to say, and I knew he’d have heard it all before, I just wanted to say hi and bye, and thanks….that was it.He was just as tall in real life as he was on TV, and he was indeed wearing clogs. “Excuse me Brain, you don’t know me at all but (I was cringeing as I said all this, he could probably finish my lines for me) I just want to say I’ve been a massive fan for years and I just want to say thanks so much for all the pleasure your music has brought me”.
Job done, I thought, now get out.. But not so fast. Fully expecting, at best, a handshake and an uninterested smile, Brain looked me straight in the eye and warmly took my hand. “Thanks, thanks, that means a lot to me…so, who are you, are you in band?”. So taken aback by Brian’s geniality, I stumbled over my words. “Uum…er…yes…Adam…Cat…Fragile…rock….” It must have sounded like a different language, but he wasn’t phased. “That’s great, do you have a tape, maybe I can help”. At this point I was a complete mess…not only was he being nice, but he had also asked for a tape of my band and offered to help!! Guess, what, I didn’t have one on me. I saw a wonderful opportunity crash and die before my very eyes. What could I say now? I’ll mail you one, Brian?? Nah, that wouldn’t work….I’ll drop one off at your place?? Oh purleeease! I shuffled about making excuses and Brian, to his credit, tried hard to stay with me, but clearly my lack of initiative had, in his eyes, shown me up to be not up to the task. I felt awful that I had failed him, yet elated that he had been such a nice bloke. I was about to blurt out some further inanity when the evening took a turn for the truly surreal. As we were nattering, guess who should come over, put his arm around Brian and whisk him away?
None other than Gary Glitter.
“No, I thought, go away, Brian and me are bonding!” But this was, of course, before all the business that should not be mentioned, so Brian seemed fairly happy to be whisked. Of course, he was probably relieved, but not once did he make me feel small, or was he impolite. He said goodbye and told me to take care. It may have been the whisky in my belly, but I sat back at the table feeling warm and excited, and much wiser. I had learned some important lessons;
Always take the risk, always carry a demo, and always be wary when Gary Glitter shows up.
That Brian May, great guitar player, top bloke.
Until next time!