Rock guitarist and Queen legend Brian May talks to the Journal’s Richard Yetman ahead of his concert with West End star Kerry Ellis at The Meres next month.
As a member of rock legends Queen, Brian May has played on the world’s greatest stages.
Fans will hardly need reminding that in 1985 the guitarist played alongside Freddie Mercury, John Deacon and Roger Taylor for 75,000 people at Wembley Stadium and simultaneously for a worldwide TV audience of millions as part of the Live Aid extravaganza.
Twenty-seven years later, his celebrity hardly diminished, May performed at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in London, when the guitarist hailed as one of the greatest gave a shimmering reprise of the Queen anthem We Will Rock You.
And now he’s coming to Grantham, and he’s bringing along a talented companion.
The aforementioned We Will Rock You was coined as the title of the musical scripted by Ben Elton which has kept the magic of Queen’s music alive on the West End stage for more than a decade.
The show brought to prominence the talents of singer/actress Ellis, who made the leading role of Meat her own.
Ellis went on to further success on both sides of the Atlantic in the musical Wicked, and since then she and May have maintained a musical partnership which has seen them perform at the Albert Hall, London, (two sold out dates in 2011) the Montreux Jazz Festival and at the BBC Proms in the Park, to name a few.
So why Grantham? There’s a clue in the title of the tour of dates, which stops off at the Meres Leisure Centre on February 22. The Candlelight Concerts of acoustic music are best suited to venues such as the Meres, where the purity of the music is able to shine through in an intimate atmosphere enhanced by a warm glow.
The concerts will see Brian and Kerry perform stripped-down versions of Queen classics alongside a number of their personal favourite songs, showcasing Kerry’s extraordinary voice with Brian accompanying her on both guitar and vocals.
May is genuinely excited by the innovations for this brand new show, which follows the phenomenal success of previous tours.
The guitarist said: “Although life has taken me into so many new areas recently, music is still what energises me - the greatest joy. And Ms Ellis is the most inspiring collaborator - we’re a pretty good band.”
“The candlelight idea works really well. It signals intimacy and a warm atmosphere and it feels like we are performing for people in their living room.
“The acoustic approach to Queen songs works really well. We only do a few, but they always sound different. I am very proud of the whole Queen canon of work that we draw on. Good songs can be performed in different ways and Kerry is a great interpreter of these songs.
“I find it so refreshing, and liberating bringing new life to these songs.”
The heightened satisfaction May finds in the music performed in the informal and personal environment of the Candlelight Concerts is shared by Ellis.
She said: “We really enjoy doing this sort of show. There’s just three of us on stage, with keyboard player Jeff Leech providing strings, and you can hear everything we are playing.
“It’s so spontaneous and we are in control. Performers don’t often get the chance to do that any more. It’s all live, and if we make a mistake, the audience will know.”
Were that to happen, you can almost imagine the performers acknowledging it in one of the exchanges with the audience that are a feature of the shows.
May said: “Parts of the evening become a bit of a conversation with the audience. We explain why certain of the songs were written and explain their stories.
“Our set includes different genres. We can do whatever we want. Nothing is pre-programmed. It’s very fluid, organic event.
“There’s an amazing simplicity. We’re just a singer and guitarist, with a very fine keyboard player weaving his magic.”
May offers two examples of the diverse songs given unique interpretations by the duo, both showcasing Ellis’s fabulous voice..
No-one But You is known to many as the last song recorded under the name Queen after Freddie Mercury’s death, but May says Kerry Ellis has made it her own and the torch song is a great highlight.
And I Who Have Nothing, a big hit originally in Italian, is performed in a way nobody else has done it.
May said: “Kerry has an extraordinary voice. We have done big shows in big venues and she does that wonderfully as well, but I have learned just how incredible it is to hear her voice unobstructed.
“It is a situation we know works well. This is the fourth leg of a tour and we want to cover the whole country in the old fashioned way, to get our music heard.”
It seems a modest ambition for the duo who have each had so much success in so many spheres.
But May says that just having the opportunity to perform in this purest of ways is a reward in itself.
He said: “I am happy just living in the moment, just doing it for its own sake. It is so fulfilling. What is our ambition as a performing partnership? To get a hit record would be nice, but we’re not desperate. I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring this show to a wider audience.”