Co-author of the book Brian May’s Red Special: The Story of the Home-made Guitar that Rocked Queen and the World, Simon Bradley, recently spoke with Queen Online to talk about the book and how it all came together. Read what they had to say in the excerpt below, and read the entire interview over at QueenOnline!
OK, here comes the introduction – who are you and what do you do?
I’m Simon Bradley, 28 years old, Aries, wrestler of alligators, decimator of beers, breaker of hearts. I worked for Guitarist magazine for 17 years until the meaty fist of redundancy knocked me out of there in 2014 and I now earn a crust as a freelance guitar and music journalist. Actually, call it 28-ish.
How did you get to that position? Failed musician?! Ha, just teasing…
Believe it or not I saw a position on Guitarist being advertised, applied and got it. That was in 1996 and it’d never happen that way now: these days you need to be good. I worked in guitar retail in Birmingham for a time before that, during which I underwent my ‘I gotta make it in rock and roll!’ phase. I didn’t, needless to say (yep…failed!), but got a guitar tech gig with Brummie prog dudes Magnum out of it, which was reward in itself. And if you thought Mötley Crüe, or, indeed Queen at their decadent height, were hardcore on the road… let’s just leave it there.
Why are we chatting today, what is your Queen connection?
I am the co-author of the Red Special book with Brian. I’ve also interviewed him many times since 1998 and, if anyone remembers the 1999 National Music Show at Wembley Conference Centre where Brian chatted and played for over 2,000 gobsmacked fans, I was the sweating bag of nerves sat to his right on the stage who’d booked him for the event. I also tried out for one of the two guitar slots in the original We Will Rock You theatre band in 2001. I auditioned in front of both Brian and Roger, and got down to the last three… gah!
Pressing further on the Red Special book with Brian, how did that all originally come together?
It struck me one day that there wasn’t any sort of book about the Red Special and just decided to do something about it. I knew something about its construction and had fantasized about playing it for years, like most Queen fans I guess. I’ve been mates with Brian’s guitar tech Pete Malandrone for ages, so I rang him to gauge his interest and we both took it from there. My experience with publishing allowed me to formulate a workable concept fairly quickly and, after successfully pitching it to both Carlton Books and, then to Brian, we started it knocking it into shape.
The whole thing took over three years to put together and get onto the shelves, and I have to admit that I loved every single minute of the process. Brian has said subsequently that he’d long wanted to get a book together about the Red Special, and I’m flattered that he not only considered me suitably qualified to undertake such a task, but also liked the final result. In fact, in an email to me he described it as “…a lovely book…”, which did make me go a bit quiet and chin-wobbly.
Did you meet up regularly to discuss progress?
Not frequently, but regularly, yes. Brian, quite rightly, wanted everything to go through him so he needed to sign off on everything as we went. He was so busy, though, that it sometimes took him a while to get around to evaluating my enthusiastically-submitted copy and giving it the attention he felt it required, but he did give us unrestricted access to his huge photo archive, which was vital to the book’s exclusivity.
I’d run ideas past the likes of Pete, Greg Brooks and Richard Gray, and I was always able to drop Brian an email when I needed specific insight from him. He’d get back to me as quickly as he could and would provide the information I needed along with words of encouragement and appreciation.
We had one long brainstorming session in his office one afternoon where, after reading a chapter, he turned to me and said: “It’s not really working, is it?”. My head dropped as I was forced to agree with him, but we spent the next few hours bouncing ideas off each other and forcing the manuscript into the place we both wanted it to be. I was dimly aware that we were speaking to each other as equals of a sort and that I was working closely with the man who played that solo on Bohemian Rhapsody, who’d blown my tiny mind when I first saw Queen in 1979 and who’s still part of England’s greatest ever rock band. I’m very glad to say that he was never anything other than accommodating and positive during the whole process, even when things were getting a little fraught as deadlines loomed.