Guitar Man's Man: Pete Malandrone Interview
Hi Pete, for those who do not know you, could you please introduce yourself and explain your role in the Queen set up?
My name is Pete Malandrone. I have been Brian’s guitar tech for the last 17 years. I also look after Brian’s estate in Surrey when I’m not up to my armpits in Vox AC30’s. The nature of my job means I overlap into Queen world regularly, usually in a technical capacity. Whether it is with ‘We Will Rock You’ or the band themselves. When I work for Queen I consider Rog to be as much my boss as Brian, but if they both want something at the same time, Brian takes priority.
How did you get your job and what were you doing previously?
I was a very happy telephone engineer for BT for about 11 years, straight into an apprenticeship from school. Then I got disheartened with the lack of opportunities for me, even though I was well qualified to advance in that industry. I left in 1992 with a good pay off, and spent it all in 6 months, on beer mostly.
I was playing in a pub band by then. The bass player, Justin Crew, was a guitar tech on Brian’s first solo tour ‘Back to the Light’. Brian had asked him to help design and put together a home studio with Justin Shirley-Smith. JC and me went out on the lash one night and I stayed at his flat. In the morning he invited me up to the studio to see how it was going, as I was obviously interested. Brian was on holiday at the time, but I met JSS and had a look around. I was then told to sit down until it was time to go home. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. My first ever job was fixing Brian’s sons Scalextric cars set. I then made myself useful for the rest of the day with wiring jobs that because of the BT experience were a doddle. I was invited back the next day and ended up there until the studio opened.
By that time Brian had returned and asked if I’d like a month’s trial job to tie up any odds and ends on the studio build. As far as I know, I’m still on that month’s trial!! I inherited the guitar tech job after about 6 month’s. His previous guy went to work for Blur.
Is there a typical day for you working as part of Brian's team?
Ha Ha!! Are you kidding me?? My time is filled with so many different things there is no way you could call any day typical. I’ll give you a list of a few things that I have done, or project managed.
- Dyed a wooden life size sheep’s wool, pink.
- Stayed in a 5 star beach hotel for a week babysitting.
- Unblocked Brian’s cesspit with my hands.
- Built an observatory.
- Listened to Queen material that hasn’t been heard for 35 years.
- Scared Brian’s kids and their friends half to death at a Halloween party.
- Repaired a parrot.
- Taken the Red Special apart.
- Moved a swarm of bees
- Played ‘Tie your mother down’ with Def Leppard.
- Scraped fox poo off the patio
- Met Michael Jackson.
Anything you can think of in between the diversity of this list is a typical day.
What is your role before, during and after a live show?
Before the gig, I would put together a guitar rig tailored to that particular show, usually a day or two before. I would get to the venue at least 3 hrs before Brian and check out the stage, fight for my position on it, and then set up. I would then thoroughly test the gear in situ, paying particular attention to radio interference and any nasty buzzes. I would then sound check the gear with the monitor man and get it as close as possible to what I think Brian wants to hear when he arrives. If all goes well at soundcheck, I will then hang around, and be as relaxed as possible. I feel if I get flustered, it could affect Brian’s performance, and the last thing I want is for him to worry about the equipment. He has enough to worry about. Just before he goes on we will have a little chat, I wish him luck, we shake hands and off he goes!!
During the show, I stare at Brian’s left hand the entire time. This is the best place to look for a string breakage for me as you generally see it go immediately.
I also listen for an amp going down or any strange crackling noises that could indicate a gear failure, and visually look at the meters on the monitor board every now and then, to check… a) all the amps are on and b) they are all at the same level. I have a set list with any guitar changes or pedal switching to be done and tune the guitars at every available opportunity. I have towels and drinks on hand, as well as nail clippers, nail files, strings, bridge saddles, tissues and a torch.
At the end of the show I pack the gear as quickly as possible. If it’s a touring situation I get everything in the same box or flight case every night so I can find it again. I then see all my stuff onto a truck, help anyone else that is still packing up backline equipment, and as soon as that is done, I go and find the Boss to see if he’s ok with everything. I might then allow myself a glass or two of sweet sherry.
How many guitars does Brian have?
Dunno, never counted them. About 50 probably. One important one is all I’m really concerned about…
I think some people might have the idea that you are sitting there polishing them all day waiting for Brian to order up which guitar he wants...
I do polish the ‘Old Girl’ but not all day, every day. I remember trying to explain to my son what I did for a job when he was about 5. About a month later he asked if I was going to work that day. I said” Yes, why do you ask “? He replied, “ Isn’t Brian’s guitar in tune yet then?” If only it was that simple!!
Are you a Queen fan?
I’ve always liked them. Everybody likes Queen don’t they? But I wouldn’t put them in my top ten favourite bands of all time. I’m more of a metal head to be honest; at least I was in my younger years. I probably owned three Queen albums when I started working for them.
Having listened to a lot of their stuff now, I can absolutely see what a brilliant group of individual musicians/song writers they are, without parallel really in music history. Maybe if I was a bit more mature in my tastes during my youth I would have ‘got’ them a bit more.
I did see them in 1986 at Wembley. I actually went to see the best rock band of all time, Status Quo, who were supporting them. It peed down with rain so we decided to watch Queen for a couple of songs while we dried out, and ended up staying for the whole thing. They were brilliant that day.
Do you play in any bands yourself?
I have done in the murky past. I was an OK rhythm guitarist and shouty singer in a few covers bands. Unfortunately the talent didn’t match the desire.
How were the Queen + Paul Rodgers tours, did you ever think that you would be out on such a large trek with the band after all these years?
It was bloody hard work at the start. I was fairly inexperienced touring-wise then, and I think I tended to panic a bit when things went wrong. After I rebuilt the gear and made it as bulletproof as I could, I gained confidence and really enjoyed it.
Having someone of Paul’s calibre singing Queen’s songs was something I never thought would happen, and I had given up on the possibility of doing a big tour with the band. The best bits for me were Brian and Rog doing stuff together, on the front of the ramp. I can’t explain what it is about those two being on stage together that is so moving and powerful. History? Songs? Memories? I really don’t know.
Were there any particular highlights from the tour?
Plenty. Some I can’t go into!! ‘Try your Mothers Gown’ night on the bus was a bit of a hoot. The best show was in Argentina on the last tour with Paul. It was a stadium somewhere and it was mental. They were superb that night and the crowd went berserk.
The worst night of my professional life was in Budapest on the first tour. Everything that could go wrong did, and it was a real moral crusher. I felt I’d let the boss down, and I never want to feel like that again.
Three days off in Phoenix was another highlight. Great hotel, Free bar from 7pm til 8pm (60 roadies made them wish they hadn’t made that particular offer) and a gratis game of golf with 3 other drunken loonies in golf-carts, smashing balls over millionaires fences into their swimming pools. Happy Days.
What was the deal with you hitting the stage in a dress; a boa and some pink bunny ears were also involved...
Ah, well, I can explain. It was in Toronto on the last gig of the American leg of the tour. I went out and bought a dress, as you do, borrowed the rest of my outfit from other crew members and decided it would be a good idea to do a guitar change in drag.
Brian looked very shocked, as he has seen me in a few strange predicaments, but never in a dress. He sat down on his stool at the end of the thrust and said to the crowd. “Do you see what I have to work with”? Very funny. Well I thought so.
You have once again been back on the road, but this time with Brian and Kerry, I guess that was rather different to the Q+PR Tour?
Different in as much as a bit lower key, less pressure and stress, and a smaller group of people to put it together. But one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done with Brian. He was so relaxed and played really well. It felt like everyone from Brian and Kerry to the caterers and truck drivers, were right behind the tour and all going the extra mile to make it happen.
Is it true that you were the inspiration behind the Air Guitar albums that Brian put his name too a few years ago? What was your input on those?
Some list got sent to the office of the top air guitar tunes of all time, and I remarked that it would make a really good compilation album. Brian liked the idea, and he followed it up with the record company. Brian, JSS and I then made a wish list and away we went. We did 4 in the end, and they sold really well. I’ve got the gold discs to prove it.
Do you have a favourite Queen album?
News of the World. I bought it in Boots in Sutton on cassette, with a record voucher when I was 12. The cover scared me, and that’s the only reason I bought it. I had no idea about the songs, or the band. I played it to death and ended up loving it. ‘Sleeping on the Sidewalk’ is still my favourite Q song. The tape snapped about 2 days after I started work at Brian’s strangely. Maybe if I do another 17 years service they will give me another copy.