Brian May and Kerry Ellis at The Olympia Theatre on June 30th 2013
For the past while Brian May has been in the news, not only for his music but also for his love of nature – in particular badgers – speaking out about cullings in the UK. Along with singer Kerry Ellis, May went to South Africa to the Born Free Foundation’s rescue centre for lions. Their love of wildlife preservation led them to record an album, ‘Born Free’, and embark on an intimate tour in late 2012. ‘Acoustic and by Candelight’ is the second part of that tour, with all proceeds going to the Born Free Foundation.
With that in mind, there’s no better way to raise awareness than to show the waiting audience nature videos before the duo take to the stage. These videos do include some badgers looking rather cute, but also include Brian May’s version of the viral Badger Badger Badger video, complete with a Flash Gordon style vocals and guitar.
The duo take to the stage to raptourous applause and start the night with a version of I Who Have Nothing, with May on acoustic guitar and Ellis showing off her elegant vocals. Throughout the night, there are heckles from the floor; the usual “I love you“, to which Brian May replies, “I love you too” before mentioning that Kerry also loved the heckler.
Despite being one of the most instantly recognisable faces in rock, May seems really down to earth and extremely passionate about raising awareness for the Born Free Foundation. He explains that the songs performed on the tour somehow relate to animals, including us human ones. The mood is upbeat and light-hearted, perfect for a Sunday night chill out. After Ms Ellis reminds us that she’s on stage with Dr May, a keyboard player, Craig Adams, is introduced. May tells the audience his regular player has run off to Glastonbury to play with Bruce Forsyth for the weekend, which gets a giggle.
May and Ellis seem very at ease with each other onstage, and seeing the ease and ability with which May plays guitar is really something that inspires awe. He changes guitar from six string to twelve string and back for different songs, giving each a unique texture.
With many years experience in the West End, Kerry Ellis hits the right notes all night, and the addition of the keyboard player rounds out the stripped back sound beautifully. During their rendition of Kansas’ Dust in the Wind, the guitar has a slight reverb, while the keys subtly pad out the sound.
Of course, the audience want to hear Queen songs. May takes the first verse, and Ellis follows on with the rest of Somebody to Love. While May’s guitar playing is in a different league to his singing, it doesn’t diminish the passion for the song from the audience. It gives them the opportunity to sing their hearts out, clap to the beat when the song breaks down, sing as the song’s gospel style refrain builds up and hit the falling notes perfectly as the song ends – magic.
This tour has given fans of the pair an opportunity to hear some fantastic renditions of songs made famous by other artists. The Beatles’ Tell Me What You See has the two sharing vocals, and even stripped down possesses a hippy sixties vibe. The guitar and keys replace the string section on Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Were, updating the song, and although on a stage in a packed venue, it remains intimate.
The duo are on stage for almost two hours and take turns with a solo place in the spotlight. This gives Dr May an excuse to bring out a good old electric guitar and of course he has to treat us to an improvised guitar solo, which includes Molly Malone – the audience love it and so does he. Tonight is a night where we get to know a more human side of Dr May. Yes, he bumps into a stool onstage, and yes, he introduces the wrong song on one occasion, but we also hear some of his stories including how Rory Gallagher taught him about guitar amps in the Marquee in London. The biggest audience reaction of the night comes for a dazzling rendition of Tie Your Mother Down. With electric guitar and keys, all we’re missing is some drums for a full on rock show.
The Olympia audience don’t need much encouragement to stomp their feet and clap their hands for We Will Rock You and it’s infamous guitar solo. While this tour was branded ‘Acoustic and by Candelight’, the electric is still out for recent single, The Kissing Me Song.
After a short break, Kerry Ellis returns for an encore, her pure vocals highlighting No One but You (Only The Good Die Young) and how operatic Queen’s songs are. Brian May returns to the stage with his electric guitar and lifts the song into a rock realm. The night ends with Crazy Little Thing Called Love, with its infamous acoustic guitar opening sounds huge backed by Craig Adams’ rockabilly keys. It’s a perfect ending to a great night.
This is a fantastic opportunity for fans of guitar hero, Brian May, to see him work his magic, up close and in an intimate setting. Kerry Ellis’ vocals are flawless, and together the two do have a chemistry that works. Their choice of songs for the evening can’t be faulted, starting off slowly and building the evening up. At the end though, there’s just a nagging feeling that Dr May would much prefer to leave down his acoustic, pick up the electric and rock it out, not just for old times’ sake.