Brian May remembers Queen in Paris, Milan and Montreux in his new photographic autobiography

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Queen’s lead guitarist remembers touring in Europe and observes rhetoric today around Brexit and Donald Trump. ‘Queen in 3-D’ is the first real, intimate view from the inside of one the world's greatest rock bands by a founder member – documenting them over five decades with a stereoscopic camera

Brian May
Wednesday 29 November 2017 16:52 GMT
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Mirror image: ‘An early selfie – 1961’
Mirror image: ‘An early selfie – 1961’

We mentioned Freddie smashing things up on stage in Paris. And we talked about the stresses that can make that happen. But in this case there was another reason, I think.

There is a certain raw energy in Paris and I think on this trip we felt we had broken through to it. I think there is a part of France, rather like England, that treasures its independence of thought and doesn’t take foreigners to heart very easily. So we felt that it was a great step forward that we were now able to make such contact with the Parisian audience, and that has continued to this day. When recently Kerry Ellis and I played Paris in the blistering heat, it was also one of the most memorable shows of our lives because there was so much energy, so much participation, in that special Parisian way; it’s different from anywhere else. Again I think we’ve been so lucky to experience all these things.

Then there is Italy! Queen never played in Italy until the very last moment of the Freddie/Queen days, in September 1984. We always wanted to go, but they told us we’d have our gear stolen! Finally, in 1984 we played a couple of nights in Milan, and that’s the only time we ever played there. But, by some miracle, Italy has now become an incredible boiling cauldron of Queen music, and to this day, whether it’s with Queen, or any of our solo efforts, we feel that Italians are eternally excited, and when we go there we are permanently excited; it’s different again from Paris.

Behind the glass: Freddie looking reflective in a New York Cadillac

In yet another way, Germany has also been thrilling and very loyal to us. Germany was difficult in the beginning as well. We went there and felt like we were really unwelcome the first time. We were shepherded around by these very stern record company people, who told us we must arrive on time and mustn’t do this and we mustn’t do that; and we couldn’t get audiences, we just couldn’t fill the places.

Things happened to us like we would drive for three hours to a radio station and then they would say they were too busy to talk to us; we felt really kind of snubbed. I remember thinking, “We will never come back here – we will never make it in this country.” And yet, a couple of years later, after the first hit records and some great work by our EMI Deutschland promotion team, Germany became one of the greatest places for Queen music, and still is. So these stories around Europe are all different – they all have their own colours, and I think we were very fortunate that we waded into it all early on, rather than just being a band that relied on playing to English-speaking people. That’s one of the essences of Queen, that we’ve always been international rather than national. I think all of us share that feeling that we really don’t like nationalism.

Orient(al) express: the band on the bullet train in Japan, above and below

We feel that it holds the world back. Hearing the rhetoric that was around during the Brexit campaign to take Britain out of Europe, to me, was laughable – but also not laughable because it was actually people seriously suggesting Britain would be “great” again and all that kind of nonsense; and seeing Trump’s similar speeches about “Let’s make America great again”, it all resonates too much with what we know about what happened to Germany in those years leading up to the Second World War.

Nationalism is, in my mind, something that is on the surface rather jolly and flag-waving, but under the surface very sinister and destructive to the world. So, give me internationalism rather than nationalism any day. And I can’t help thinking Britain withdrawing from Europe, with no road map, is a massive backward step for us and for Europe. OK, enough politics.

Mercury rising: Freddie belts out a number in Paris

The final shows of the tour in Paris were filmed and recorded. In fact all of that tour was recorded. It’s all in the archives. And we made the Live Killers album by trawling through all those sound recordings.

Here we are (below) in Mountain Studios in Montreux, mixing those live recordings for the album Live Killers, with engineer John Etchells in March, 1979. Freddie’s looking pensive. It was actually a long and arduous job, choosing all the tracks from dozens of live takes of various quality. See the cameraman in shot here? We have the footage he shot in our archive.

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Since it was a long job, and it was the first time we’d attempted this, we all rented places to stay in and around Montreux. In the beginning we stayed in chalets in Blonay, which is a little way above Montreux, in the mountains, not far from where, later on, David Bowie had a house.

It was quite a hard time because putting this live album together was a seemingly endless process. But we did like the studio and we liked the friendly little town of Montreux, so this led to us buying the studio, and it became our own “Mountain Studios”. In this very homely environment, we made so many recordings over the years, right up to the very end when we worked on the tracks that were to be used for the Made in Heaven album. This was our hang-out.

‘Queen in 3-D’ by Brian May is published by the London Stereoscopic Company – out now. All photos taken on Brian May’s stereoscopic cameras and are part of the ‘Queen in 3-D’ collection. Queen + Adam Lambert are touring the UK until 15 December

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