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When asked if the blistering Brighton Rock was based on The Who’s Quadrophenia, May was quick to clear the air: “As much as I love The Who, I couldn’t sing you a note of Quadrophenia.”
“The lyrics were actually based entirely on a romance I had in Brighton. Me and Roger went down to Brighton and met two girls in our very, very early days,” May confessed. “Life is all about romance isn’t it? I’ve never been very good at it! But you can’t exist without those yearnings and desires.”
“The solo on that song has really developed a life of its own — it’s a sonic adventure,” said May, who went on to discuss the mechanics behind the famous guitar harmonies in Brighton Rock and a large part of the Queen repertoire.
“I was fascinated by the ideas of delay and canon — of playing a riff on my guitar, hearing it back and then playing a harmony line on top of that. Nowadays the likes of Ed Sheeran use looper pedals, but I had to build my own!”
“There used to be a thing called an Echoplex, a tape machine with heads on it, but you could only get short delays on it. I wanted a delay of a few seconds, long enough to play along to,” he continued. “So I cannibalised an Echoplex and put it in a bigger box, and extended the rail on which the playback head lives. I even had a pedal to work it, and a motor and pulley system! It was a bit hare-brained, a bit Heath Robinson, and it wasn’t stable enough to use on tour.
“So we simplified it a bit, put the head in a fixed position, so that it would play a delay of a second and a half. And I’d add a harmony on top of that, and then another on that. It became a big part of our live shows.”
“There’s always an element of Brighton Rock in everything I do,” the guitarist concluded.