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Albums Of The Week: Brian May & Friends | Star Fleet 40th Anniversary Special

The Queen guitarist resurrects and expands his 1983 VIP EP into a two-disc set that includes every note played at the sessions — including tons of Eddie Van Halen solos.


THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “When Queen took a break for the first part of 1983, Brian May put his time to good use. One morning in Los Angeles, he decided to phone a few friends and invite them to collaborate on some tracks in California’s famous Record Plant studios. The resulting collaboration was a great success, and Brian would later mold the recordings into a unique mini-album, Brian May + Friends: Star Fleet Project.

This third release in the Brian May Gold Series offers an extensively revisited and expanded box set edition of these legendary sessions. The set is a complete document of the two days — April 21 and 22, 1983 — that May spent in the Record Plant, Los Angeles accompanied by top rock music luminaries Edward Van Halen (guitar), Alan Gratzer (drums), Phil Chen (bass) and Fred Mandel (keyboards). The box set includes a spectacular 23-track CD filled with previously unreleased material.

May writes in his sleeve notes: “We are going to give you everything… every take of every song, the things that went wrong, the laughing, the finding new things to do. But it won’t be just a remaster — we’ve rescued everything from the original multitracks, every detail magnificently remixed, and more! You’ll hear every take from the historic 1983 sessions plus fragments of conversations, outtakes and musical experimentation.”

The original three-track mini album, released Oct. 31, 1983, featured a full-length take of Star Fleet, May’s hard rock re-imagining of the signature tune from the Japanese kids’ series of the same name. The program was regular viewing for Brian and his four year-old son Jimmy on Saturday morning TV, inspiring Brian’s attachment to its title song by English musician Paul Bliss.

May says: “If Paul hadn’t written a very catchy song as the theme tune for that kid’s TV science fiction drama series, things would have been different. The signature tune began to stick in my head, and I could hear my own arrangement of the tune developing in my mind. But how to record it? So one morning, I woke up in Los Angeles on a break from activities with Queen and made some phone calls… The outcome was something I will forever treasure.

“We did a little preparation on the phone and at home with tiny Rockman amps and earphones. Then we went in. The tapes rolled. My L.A. neighbour Alan Gratzer beat the hell out of his kit with the fattest, heaviest drum sticks I had ever seen. Phil Chen, a friend I had met when he played with Rod Stewart, brought his unusual style of funk-orientated rock playing to the party, along with his sunny Caribbean energy and humor. Fred Mandel, one of the classiest keyboard players I have ever met, tickled both the ivories and some very technical synth patches to bring the spacey riffs to life. Ed (I can still never call him Eddie Van Halen because he more than once told me that he found it annoying!) played the guitar as if it were a piano… tapping and snapping and sliding and skipping around the fingerboard like an electric sprite — always with a cheeky smile. If anything he did was difficult for him, he never showed it. A total original. Pure joy. What an everlasting privilege to play with him.”

The troupe also worked on an earlier May song, the bluesy Let Me Out, while the set closes with the titanic Blues Breaker, almost 13 minutes of scorching guitar interplay between Brian and Edward: not so much duelling as sharing ideas and passions. As Brian explains, “It was inspired by John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, the album with Eric Clapton reading the Beano on the front cover. Edward said, ‘This is great for me; I haven’t played like this in years. This is where I come from! I didn’t come up doing tapping and all the fireworks. I grew up doing blues, wanting to be like Eric Clapton and do something melodic.”

If that sense of liberation rings out, so does a spirit of shared adventure. “There was a lot of ebullience, a lot of exploration, discovery and astonishment,” says Brian. “And some truly magical moments when everything gelled together — a fusion of energies!”

Van Halen fans, take note: The Star Fleet tracks feature eight Edward guitar solos, “never quite treading the same path twice,” says Brian. “Ed was a wonderful soul. Listening to him and me, I feel completely outclassed by him in the studio. But in a very pleasant way – what a joy for me to be around a guy who could do all that. Such a privilege.

“So, you’ll hear us in the studio trading licks,” adds May. “We’ve cleaned up the mix and now EVH’s sound is larger than life. You’ll hear the development of his solo, which I always thought was one of the greatest things he did… a real immortal classic of Ed Van Halen pieces.”

A superlative show of back-to-basics passion and purpose, Star Fleet brims with the freedom of an off-the-cuff break from the day jobs for all involved. Now, of course, the record also stands in part as a celebration of those we’ve lost: a chance to reconvene with great, much-missed talents. As Brian puts it, “It’s been very exciting to open up the vault to find these tapes where, in the blink of an eye, I’m trading licks with my friends including the fantastic Ed Van Halen. It’s highly emotional, especially since Ed is sadly no longer around. We have since also lost Phil — so the rest of us cherish these fleeting moments together.”


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