3 famous artists Brian May saw in concert before Queen existed
Brian May helped to form Queen at the age of 23 and in the 70s and 80s the band would become one of the biggest in the world. Alongside Freddie Mercury, John Deacon and Roger Taylor, he was able to create incredible guitar riffs, solos and melodies that were a crucial part of the band’s sound. They remain as one of best-selling bands of all time, with an estimated amount of more than 300 million records sold worldwide.
But, before Queen existed, Brian May was already an aspiring musician and had the chance to see many legendary musicians live in concert in the United Kingdom. Rock and Roll Garage selected 3 famous artist that Brian May had the chance to see back then and what he told about those shows.
The 3 famous artists that Brian May saw live in concert before Queen existed
The legendary American guitarist Jimi Hendrix sadly had his career cut short when he tragically died in 1970 at the age of 27. His career with his own band lasted only 3 years until his passing but Brian May was lucky enough to have watched Hendrix performing live a few times.
Curiously, one of the times that Brian May saw Hendrix live was when he hired the artist to play at his university. The Queen member was part of the Entertainments Committee at the Imperial College in West London. He booked Hendrix in May, 1967 to play there. Other bands that also played that night that according to May was like a “ball”, were Steamhammer, Spooky Tooth and America.
Jimi received only 1000 pounds for that show and there was about a thousand people watching the concert. He recalled in an interview with Classic Rock in 2015 the experience of seeing the late guitarist that night.
“This was before Smile (Band May and Taylor had before Queen). It was the days of my original band, 1984. We were playing in a room at the bottom, and Jimi was on in the main hall so, yes, in a sense, we supported him.”
Brian May continued:
“I remember, we were stood in the little corridor backstage between the stage and Jimi’s dressing room – which was actually the jazz club room where Roger Taylor and I first played together, strangely enough. Just kind of clumped outside waiting for him. Jimi came out of the dressing room and said: ‘Where’s the stage, man?’ We just pointed [starstruck]. He was the coolest guy on earth. No doubt about it.”
“We got fairly close to the front. But you didn’t have to be at the front, actually. It was all-enveloping. He started Foxy Lady, just widdling his finger on the string very, very, very slowly, building up a feedback note. He’d just smile and laugh and move it around. He was wicked. Always that twinkle in his eye. It took a long time – then suddenly he was ready, and he was at full volume, and he just rolled into that fantastic riff.” Brian May said.
The first time he saw Hendrix was when the musician was The Who’s opening act
But the first time that he ever saw the musician playing live was when Hendrix was The Who’s opening act at the Savoy Theatre in London. He recalled that experience in a conversation with Guitar Player magazine in 1983.
“I saw him for the first time supporting the Who at the Savoy Theatre in London, he just completely blew me away. I thought, “He’s it “. The Who couldn’t follow him in those days, and they were really hot, big news in England. Anybody in the world would find it hard to follow Hendrix,” Brian May said.
Hendrix had released only three albums with his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. They are “Are You Experienced” (1967), “Axis: Bold as Love” (1967) and “Electric Ladyland” (1968). He also recorded “Band Of Gypsys”, that didn’t feature Mitch Mitchell (Drums) and Noel Redding (Bass), that was released in 1970.
Another legendary guitarist that Brian May had the chance to watch live many times and even talk to before Queen even existed was the late legendary Irish guitar hero Rory Gallagher.
In an interview BBC Radio in 2021, Brian May even revealed that was Rory Gallagher one of those nights, that “gave” him the secret for his guitar tone.
“What helped me was Rory Gallagher. I went to see Rory Gallagher at the Marquee. Oh my god. And we went time after time, I think every Thursday night he was at the Marquee. We all used to go, me and my mates. The sound was just incredible.”
“He’s a wonderful performer. I actually stowed away when they closed the Marquee one night. We hid in the toilets until everyone had been thrown out, and we came out, we talked to Rory. We said, ‘Can you tell us how you got that sound?’ And he was the sweetest guy. He was just the nicest guy.”
Brian May continued:
“So he said, ‘You know what is this beautiful little amplifier? This is the Vox AC30. Nothing sounds like this, and my guitar, this is part of me. And in between, there’s this little box, this little Rangemaster treble booster. That boosts the signal. So it drives this amplifier to the point where it really sings.”
“I thought, ‘That’s what I need.’ The day after, off we went down Water Street, and I bought two AC30s for 30 pounds each I think. Which was a lot of money in those days. It was second-hand AC30s. I found this little Rangemaster treble booster. To this day, that’s my sound, it’s the same thing. We’ve changed a few things around, but that’s my sound. It does sing, it gives me my voice,” Brian May said.
Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Ireland in 1948, one year after Brian May. He was active in the music business from 1963 until his death in 1995 at the age of 47, victim of a staphylococcal (MRSA) infection. During his lifetime he released 11 studio albums and 3 live records.
Brian May was also lucky to have seen one of the most influential British groups from the 60s, The Small Faces. He recalled In an interview with Goldmine magazine in 2021 the experience of watching the band in the early days. At the time the group was formed by Steve Marriott (Vocals and guitar), Ronnie Lane (Bass), Ian McLagan (Keyboards) and Kenney Jones (Drums).
“It’s a very English thing. (Small Faces) were very kind of earthy, London boys. It’s nice because it was very homegrown and, obviously, (Steve) Marriott had an extraordinary, wonderful voice. He was influenced by the blues. But nevertheless, he sang in a London cockney accent, which most of the pop stars of the day didn’t.”
Brian May continued:
“They were kind of trying to be Americans. So I loved the way he conducted himself, Steve Marriott. I saw them very early on in their career, they were probably about 20 or 21 — still boys. But I was 20-21 and still at college during my doctorate. I saw them out in front of the (Royal) Albert Hall.”
“On the steps of the Albert Hall, performing with very little gear. But it was great. I thought, why am I still stuck in academia. This isn’t where I want to be. Why am I still doing this and they’re doing that? And this particular song I just love, really. I love that whole album (Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake). It is weird and wacky and very British. But also full of life and energy and humor,” Brian May said.
The group was active from 1965 to 1969 and from 1975 to 1978. They have released five studio albums. The group had another famous version called The Faces after Steve Marriott left the band. That version had Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones (Drums) accompanied by Ronnie Wood (Guitar) and Rod Stewart (Vocals).