To stand out on stage alongside a talented musician like Freddie Mercury could be challenging, but Brian May was up for the task. He shared with BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris the steps he took to reach Mercury’s level and perform at his best.
Freddie Mercury was a true musical genius, known for his exceptional skills on the piano, guitar, and his powerful voice. He captivated audiences with his outstanding performances, pushing May to improve and not question his own abilities.
In an effort to complement Mercury’s playing and singing, May tried various techniques and tactics to elevate his own playing. The result of their combined efforts was a musical partnership that was unstoppable.
Brian May expressed his admiration for Freddie Mercury in the following words:
“[Freddie Mercury] had a very individual style, and he had certain keys that he loved to play, which were not the keys that are easy for guitar players, so that was a big influence on me, so I learned to play an E flat and A flat and F and whatever you know which most guitarists hate doing, but because that happened, it made me find different ways of doing things. So the way the piano and my guitar blended together was an amazingly… How am I going to put this? It was an amazingly recognizable ingredient at the center of a lot of the work we did.”
“Freddie was a great piano player; I would say that without hesitation. He didn’t think he was when and as time went on, he played piano less and less, as you probably saw, and he would get other people in to play for him, but we loved the way he played piano. If you listen to those old backing tracks, stripped away to things like ‘Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy,’ ‘Killer Queen,’ whatever ‘Play the Game,’ the way he played with Roger and John on those backing tracks is monumental. He’s so percussive and rhythmic as a piano player, and he’s very exceptional in that department.”
Although Mercury was a talented musician with many gifts, he also had insecurities, particularly about his piano skills. Despite his success and recognition from his fans and bandmates, he still felt unsure of his abilities on the piano, leading him to hire other players to perform in his place while he focused on singing. Despite this, May consistently praised Mercury for his exceptional talent.
Watching their performances today, one can see the growth in May’s playing and how he learned to perform alongside Mercury with confidence. The hard work and dedication that May put into improving his skills paid off, and the band, including their dynamic as a duo, remains legendary to this day.