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.”