Brian May and Kerry Ellis on ‘The Candlelight Concerts’
Legendary Queen guitarist Brian May and Broadway star Kerry Ellis have just released ‘The Candlelight Concerts – Live at Montreux 2013.’ The CD/DVD set features a mix of many classic Queen tunes in addition to some other well-known numbers. The pair have been touring regularly and have developed a strong following for their intimate, loose and introspective shows which truly place a magnifying glass on their collective musical gifts. Recently, Ultimate Classic Rock had a chance to speak with both May and Ellis about what makes this partnership so special.
You both seem to have an extraordinary chemistry with each other. Can you each describe what you gain from one another artistically?
Kerry: That’s a really interesting question. What’s important to us is that we both enjoy what we are doing and that the songs we perform really mean something. The shows we do are fun and dramatic and epic. That’s the core, that’s what’s important to me, that I’m always comfortable and enjoying it. Brian creates an environment where that is fully possible. There is not one moment I spend with him that is not thoroughly enjoyable.
Brian: Yes, interesting question. I love making music in lots of ways, not just playing guitar. For all of those years, I had Freddie [Mercury] to bounce off of. And now I have not had that for a very long time. In Kerry, I have found someone who is worthy of me working my ass off for (laughs). I love writing, arranging, producing and playing guitar, of course. But to have that perfect voice to work with is just a wonderful thing for me. Kerry is very different from most other successful singers today. She is very instinctive and sings very much from the heart. And there is very little embroidery with Kerry and in a sense that’s the way I am, too. I love to let a song just breathe and come through and so I think we see eye to eye on that. When we found this acoustic format everything seemed to just drop into place. We just keep enjoying the songs more and more. And in this sense, I enjoy doing less and less. But there’s a plan to it. And what I get from Kerry, I suppose, is that she constantly inspires me and pushes me into creative areas I may not have found otherwise.
Brian, what are the challenges of breathing new life into songs that you’ve played thousands of times before?
Brian: Well, you always have to look at keeping things fresh. I usually do a lot of homework in the beginning in trying to go off and find the essence of the song. Then I will come to Kerry and present her with the arrangement that I have come up with. But then something special happens. As soon as she starts singing I will begin adding things and building in new things around that. She forces me to adapt. She and I have this process that really interlocks very easily so that breathing new life into a song is less of a challenge than one might imagine.
Kerry, in terms of your theatrical background, do you find yourself, in effect, playing different parts on stage with Brian?
Kerry: That’s another interesting question. Ironically, it seems to become sort of the opposite effect. I’m so used to playing roles on stage that the beauty of an opportunity like this is that I get to express myself and put personal experiences into the songs which is really a joy for me. Having the freedom to change what I’m doing every night is also quite nice. In a musical, there are boundaries you have to play within and so this sort of freedom really opens me up to express myself in ways that I’m not used to on stage.
How do you see this partnership involving in the near future?
Kerry: There have been a lot of new possibilities since we stripped everything back to just Brian and myself. While it’s fun to have a band or an orchestra to play with, just the two of us, we are very much in control of what we’re doing, far more so than when there are other musicians involved. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Brian: It was so much fun adding stuff and making it a bigger show but when we discovered this other more intimate kind of approach, I think we stumbled into many new things that are quite exciting for us. Now, we can laugh with the audience and interact and be very loose. We can tell what the audience is responding to and react and respond to their feelings which is a really beautiful thing. It’s a totally different philosophy from what the both of us are used to. With large theaters and arenas full of people, there’s sort of a set thing that you have to stick to. But with this, there is no place to hide so you have no choice except to be completely yourselves onstage.
Do you feel more pressure performing in smaller settings like this?
Brian: I actually feel less pressure because there are no expectations or boundaries. This experience has completely changed my whole concept of performing in that I don’t get stressed anymore. Every night people know that they’re getting something special and unique, a show that nobody else will ever see again. The kind of spontaneity and looseness we have now has reminded me just how special the art of performing can be. It is magical.