Brian May – 19 Impressive Facts You Didn’t Know
Sir Brian Harold May CBE was born on July 19th 1947 and went on to become one of the best known British guitarists in the world. He co-founded the rock band Queen with Freddie Mercury (vocals) and Roger Taylor (drums) in 1970, with John Deacon (bass) completing the lineup a year later.
Above are a few facts you probably already knew about Queen’s legendary guitarist. For 19 impressive facts you didn’t know about Brian May, keep reading.
He Has A Degree In Physics And Mathematics
Brian May graduated from Imperial College London in 1968 with a degree in physics and mathematics with honours. After graduating, Brian was invited by Sir Bernard Lovell – the founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory to work at the observatory while taking his doctorate program.
Brian refused and stayed on at Imperial College because he didn’t want to be apart from his then band Smile.
It Took Him 40 Years To Finish His Ph.D.
Before leaving his doctoral studies to focus on music, Brian co-authored two research papers on his observations at Teide Observatory.
He went on to submit a thesis in August 2007 and the following month, his revised thesis entitled “A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud” was approved.
He was awarded his Ph.D. in astrophysics on May 14th 2008 at the Royal Albert Hall.
He Has An Asteroid Named After Him
Brian has co-authored several books including “Bang – The Complete History of the Universe” and “The Cosmic Tourist”. He has also been a guest on astronomy TV programs including “The Sky At Night” and “Stargazing Live”.
Brian was appointed as Chancellor of John Moores University for his contribution in astronomy and services to science. In 2008 he had an asteroid named after him it was officially named Asteroid 52665 Brianmay at the suggestion of his friend the astronomer Patrick Moore.
Then in 2014 he co-established Asteroid Day to spread the awareness of asteroids around the world.
He Uses Old Sixpenny Pieces As Picks
Brian uses old sixpenny pieces as guitar picks he says it gives him far more control when playing. He always carries some coins around with him in his pockets just for this purpose.
SEE ALSO: Can You Use A Coin As A Guitar Pick? (read this first)
His First Band Were Called 1984
Brian May was in his first band while attending Hampton Grammar school. They were named after George Orwell’s book about a dystopian society where the state has total control over every human being.
Then, in 1968 he formed the band Smile which included Roger Taylor on drums. They went on to form Queen in 1970 along with Freddie Mercury and eventually John Deacon.
He Built His Own Guitar
Brian May, along with his father, built his own electric guitar which he affectionately calls “The Red Special” due to the colour the wood turned after being painted with several coats of Rustin’s Plastic Coating.
He sometimes refers to it as “The Fireplace” because the wood used to make the neck came from a fireplace mantel. He has also called it “The Old Lady”.
It was designed to feed back after Brian saw Jeff Beck playing and making different sounds just by moving the guitar in front of the amp.
I like a big neck – thick, flat and wide. I lacquered the fingerboard with Rustin’s Plastic Coating. The tremolo is interesting in that the arm’s made from an old bicycle saddle bag carrier, the knob at the end’s off a knitting needle and the springs are valve springs from an old motorbike.Brian May
SEE ALSO: What Guitar Did Brian May Play?
He Champions The Plight Of Animals
Brian May formed a group called Save Me (after the Queen song) to promote animal welfare. The group campaigns for the protection of all animals against unnecessary and degrading treatment. With particular focus on the hunting of foxes and badger culling.
In the past Brian has said he would rather be remembered for his work for animal rights than for his music or scientific work.
He Has A Keen Interest In Stereoscopy
In 2008 Brian revived an interesting historical company. The London Stereoscopic Company (LSC) . They specialise in the 3-D images of Victorian photographers but their latest publication is “Queen in 3-D” which features previously unseen images of Brian’s early life as well as life with the band etc.
All viewed through a Stereoscope which is supplied with every LSC book. The Stereoscope was designed by Brian and is known as an OWL stereoscopic viewer.
He Sells Replicas Of His Famous Guitar
If you’re interested in playing an electric guitar just like Brian May’s, it’s now possible. That’s because Brian has set up a company  that produces replicas of his famous “Red Special”. The guitars are all priced at very reasonable prices when compared with similar models and are available worldwide.
He Has An Alias
We all know Brian May as Queen’s hard rocking guitarist, but he has also performed under an alias. Some years ago, Brian performed under the alias of T. E. Conway, an alleged cousin of Conway Twitty.
He released one album called “Retro Rock”. On it he performed covers of several oldies including; Twitty’s “Only Make Believe” and Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby”.
The album was produced by Brian May and was given as a bonus item with early copies of Brian’s solo album “Another World”.
He Had His Own Band After Queen
After the death of Freddie Mercury and subsequent break up of Queen, Brian kept himself busy by recording solo albums. To support these albums he went on tour and formed “The Brian May Band”.
The band included musicians including; Cozy Powell, Spike Edney, Neil Murray and Cathy Porter.
He Wrote Many Of Queen’s Songs
It’s common knowledge that Freddie Mercury wrote most of Queen’s songs, but it might just surprise you to know some of the songs that were written by Brian May.
They include; “Tie Your Mother Down”, “Hammer To Fall”, “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Flash”, “Save Me”, “We Will Rock You”, “Fat Bottom Girls”, “Now I’m Here”, “The Show Must Go On” and “I Want It All”.
SEE ALSO: The Best Queen Songs (list with chords & lyrics)
He Became A Vegan In 2020
During “Veganuary” in January 2020, Brian May gave up animal products and became vegan as an experiment. Ever since, he has been advocating veganism.
His Influences Include Some Famous Guitarists
Brian May includes Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher and Steve Hackett as his biggest influences. Some of his other influences are listed as Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Beatles and Cliff Richard and the Shadows.
He Teamed Up With The Foo Fighters For A Movie Soundtrack
Brian May teamed up with the Foo Fighters to perform Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar” for the soundtrack of the movie “Mission Impossible 2”. He has also collaborated with many other artists including: Steve Hackett, Anita Dobson and Black Sabbath.
He Played Guitar On The Spiderman 2 Soundtrack
In 2004, Brian played guitar on the song “Someone To Die For” on the soundtrack for Spiderman 2.
He Played Guitar For Lady Gaga
Brian played guitar on Lady Gaga’s song “You And I” taken from her album “Born This Way” which was released on May 23rd 2011.
His Work Is Recognised By Expert Guitarists
Brian has many fans throughout the world, including many top guitarists. Below is a quote from famous guitarist Steve Vai in praise of Brian’s work.
I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound, but I can’t do Brian May. He’s just walking on higher ground. In that whole genre, in that whole period—he’s one of the most unique contributors. He doesn’t get credit. Because what he does is so rich and so specific, and so deep, it fits so well in Queen music, you just feel it as part of that music. But when you break it down and when you look at it from a guitar player’s point of view, it’s unique, and nobody to this date could do what he does and make it sound like that. He is an iconic player. His tone, his choice of melody notes, he doesn’t just do solos. His solos are melodies, and they’re perfectly in place.Steve Vai
SEE ALSO: What Guitar Does Steve Vai Use?
He Worked With Eddie Van Halen
In April 1983 Brian was in a recording studio in Los Angeles with Eddie Van Halen and other musicians including; drummer Alan Gratzer (REO Speedwagon), session bassist Phil Chen (Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart) keyboardist Fred Mandel (Alice Cooper, Queen).
They formed what was to become known as “Star Fleet Project” and produced a mini album of the same name. Brian called it a mini album because it was too long for an EP and too short for an album. He named it “Star Fleet Project” because his son Jimmy was into the TV show “Star Fleet”.
SEE ALSO: Queen Albums Ranked (rated from worst to best)
Do You Know Any More?
That’s our 19 impressive facts about Brian May you didn’t know. Do you know any we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to hear them, please let us know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
When he was a schoolboy, Brian was in a band called “1984” after the book by George Orwell. His first adult band was called “Smile” who later became “Queen”.
Brian May was invited to work at the Jodrell Bank Observatory by Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory.
The affectionate nicknames Brian May has for his homemade guitar are “The Red Special” (because of the colour the wood became after being painted with Rustin’s Plastic Coating), “The Fireplace” ( because parts of the guitar were made from an old fireplace mantel) and “The Old Lady”.
Brian May uses sixpenny coins to pluck his guitar strings because he says they give him better control.
The Queen song written by Brian May that contains the lines “Oh ev’ry night and every day, a little piece of you is falling away” is “Hammer To Fall” taken from the album “The Works”.
Brian May played guitar on the Lady Gaga song “You And I” taken from her album “Born This Way” which was released on May 23rd 2011.
Brian May teamed up with the Foo Fighters to record a version of Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar” for the soundtrack of “Mission Impossible 2”.
When Brian May recorded the album “Retro Rock” he used the alias T.E. Conway.
The Queen song written by Brian May that contains the lines “But you know I don’t give a light, I’m gonna make out all right” is “Tie Your Mother Down” which was taken from the album “A Day At The Races”.
Brian May is married to British actress Anita Dobson, they married on November 18th 2000.
Brian May has a Ph.D. in Astrophysics which due to his music career took him 40 years to complete.
Brian May’s middle name is Harold which is also his father’s first name.
Brian May does have an asteroid named after him, it was officially named Asteroid 52665 Brianmay at the suggestion of his friend the astronomer Patrick Moore.
The name of the group and subsequent mini album that Brian May put together with Eddie Van Halen was the “Star Fleet Project”. It was so named because Brian May’s son Jimmy was a fan of the TV show called “Star Fleet”, which was the English title for the Japanese sci-fi puppet TV show “X-Bomber”.
Due to his music career, it took Brian May 40 years to finish his Ph.D.