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Desert Island Discs

Brian May

May with his parents at Madison Square Garden in 1977. @brianmayforreal/Instagram

Being a musician was never part of the plan for Queen guitarist Brian May, who has just reissued his 1992 solo album Back to the Light. “I was a bit of a swot,” he told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 2002. He studied maths and physics at Imperial, then began a PhD in astrophysics. Typical rock-star stuff, he says: “I specialised in the motions of interplanetary dust.” The British physicist and radio astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell offered him a job in 1968, but May turned it down for music.

His father, a draughtsman, was furious that he’d given up on science and stayed angry for years. “He was finally converted when I flew my mum and dad on Concorde out to New York.” They stayed at the Ritz and watched Queen play at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 people. “My dad looked at me afterwards and said, OK, I get it.” From then on he was the band’s biggest, most data-driven fan. “Everywhere we went in the world, he was plotting our progress, and he was plotting the records in the charts all round the world on graphs.”

May never stopped learning. “I’m still completely hooked into astronomy,” he told Lawley. In 2007 he finally got his PhD from Imperial – almost 40 years after he started.

🎵 Mars, the Bringer of War (from The Planets), Holst

🎵 Maybe Baby, Buddy Holly

🎵 The Tracks of My Tears, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

🎵 Back on My Feet Again, the Babys

🎵 To Know Him Is to Love Him, Phil Spector, performed by Anita Dobson and Brian May

🎵 Since You Been Gone, Rainbow

🎵 Highway to Hell, AC/DC

🎵 We Will Rock You, Queen

📕 Out of the Silent Planet, CS Lewis

🎁 His own guitar, the Red Special

Listen to the episode here.