I write from the road with Savages as we journey around mainland Europe, through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. What follows will omit any incriminating details, but will aim to illuminate a little of what it is a tour manager does.
Matt Farrar – FOH Sound Engineer
Joel Ashton – Backline Tech
Johnny Hostile – Album Producer, label co-founder, DJ support
A Dead Forest Index – Sam and Adam Sherry, Savages’ support act
Savages – a band
Hold cursor over photo for description, click photo to enlarge
SUNDAY 16 FEBRUARY | LONDON > LIMOGES
I collected the van late last night. The roads are quieter, less chance of incident, and it affords a more relaxed morning. I pack my bags, merchandise, and drive to our equipment lock-up, arriving 0845, earlier than I need to. Always assume traffic will be bad, always expect delays.
The support act are first to appear; Adam and Sam of A Dead Forest Index, an Australian duo of brothers who’ve become good friends of ours. They’ll travel with us. Two of the band are next (the others will meet us in Toulouse tomorrow), then Joel, our backline tech/stage manager/production manager. When bands are growing it’s all hands on deck, as it is with any small business, and crew often straddle roles. I’m here to TM, to sell merch, to drive, with Joel supporting me in that regard. We’d usually have a merch seller but with four band, two support and three crew this nine seat Mercedes Sprinter 311 is full. We load the gear, set off.
It’s a glorious late-Winter morning, most welcome after the atrocious weather here of late which, coming off the back of two weeks in an Australian summer, has been difficult to stomach. We stop at Ashford International Station to collect our FOH sound engineer Matt, then on to Folkestone for the Eurotunnel to Calais. The crossing takes thirty-five minutes. We fall silent, the drivers taking the opportunity to close our eyes, the others to stretch legs, read the newspapers.
Keeping a band and crew regularly fed and watered is the number one priority on the road, and I’m thinking ahead to a huge supermarket just outside Calais that we like to stop at to pick up provisions for the journey. Unfortunately, we head south before reaching it, stopping instead at a service station, on par with one in the UK. We eat rice and vegetables, Matt has the worst burger of his life, we get back in the van. Our target is Orléans where I figure we’ll have dinner, and show Adam and Sam the almost overwhelmingly-impressive cathedral, and – after slowing to a congested crawl for an hour around the loathed and despised Boulevard Périphérique ring-road in Paris – we park up at 1800.
But of course, it’s Sunday, and we’re in France, and there’s not a lot open, so most of us opt for a kebab joint that’s showing the Arsenal v Liverpool game. The city is quiet and as pretty as I remember it from my last visits. I don’t really want my salade cruditée but eat it anyway, because it’s good for me, and if I want the best meal of my life every time I sit down to it then I shouldn’t be doing this job in the first place. Night falls and the last three hours of the drive will be in darkness. Ideally, any drive should be completed by dusk. The roads will be unknown to you, you’ll be getting tired and the band behind you, in the Wintertime, will be getting cold. They’ll ask you to turn the heat up a bit, and you’ll want to decline, to keep the cab cool, to help you stay alert as you try and keep nine people alive in a vehicle that weighs around 4-5 tonnes, that may be getting blown around in the wind. You’ll compromise by turning the heat on for a few minutes, then knocking it off. You’ll feel a little drowsy and you’ll reach for your headphones and put on some music to keep you awake. Something hectic, maybe a little malevolent, something like Imaginary Forces‘ dark drum & bass mix for The Quietus.
We arrive safely and check in to what amounts to an Egyptian-themed college campus where some of the (modern) dorms have been set aside as hotel rooms. It’s a long way from the 5-star luxury we shouldn’t have got used to in Singapore last month, but if we wanted 5-star luxury every day of the week we should have become investment bankers. We turn in. I catch up with a little work, make sure the tour book is in order for the next day, fall asleep in our curtain-less room with lobby call set for the morning at a most civilised 1045.
MONDAY 17 FEBRUARY | LIMOGES > TOULOUSE
Upon waking and wandering among the corridors it becomes abundantly clear that yes, this actually is a college campus with an Egyptian theme. I eat the scraps of the guitarist’s breakfast and corral the troops toward the van on another morning of bright sunshine.
We have elected to stop at Inter Hypermarché to load up on provisions for breakfast and lunch. I give everyone fifteen minutes to attend to this business, and jocular grumbles take flight, referencing our recent Pacific Rim tour, where, in Australia, we had the luxury of a local Tour Manager to hold our hands. This fellow – a very experienced TM named Matty Wicks – very quickly settled into our group (not an easy task, since bands and their crews can be pretty insular, clannish and cliqué-y) and made my life much easier than it might have been. I debated long and hard whether to accept his offer of help (which the promoter offered to all the bands on that tour); having toured Europe and America three times each now, I couldn’t understand why I’d need any help in Australia, but in the end accepted, and was glad I did.
“You’re not in Australia now!” I tell them. “The fun’s over. Matty’s 12,000 miles away. It’s back to business…” Guitarist retaliates by mentioning that Matty always told them the temperature outside (something his tour management software had built-in that mine does not), so I proceed to follow her around the supermarket, telling her how cold it is, and how many minutes she had left to get back to the van.
Our drive is 3.5 hours on the road, around five hours with stops and allowing for traffic. We’re in my favourite part of France (indeed, in Europe); the Midi-Pyrénées in the region of Aveyron, where I’ve taken many road trips and swam in a number of its lakes and rivers on lazy Summer days. Road signs to entice tourists appear every few miles, evocatively hinting at the historic wonders that lay just over the horizon… châteaux, above which hosts of angels take flight, towering Gothic cathedrals, fields of swaying vine leaves.
Joel pulls the van up to Connexion Café and, after introductions with venue staff, sets about marshalling the unloading. It’s my job to run reconnaissance on the room, to locate backstage, meet relevant people and remember their names, to check there’s a full-length mirror, working wifi, that our hospitality rider has been adhered to (more or less; we’re not going to lose our shit because there’s one less avocado than requested), that there’s a good place to sell merch from and a place for me to set up my production office.
Connexion Café is a 500 cap. room in the heart of Toulouse and we know the show is sold out. Satisfied, I head back downstairs to set up the merch stand. As previously mentioned, we’d usually have someone doing merch for us, because dealing with merch is a full-time job. From arrival at the venue at, say, 1600, a merch seller will be at the stand until doors, may take a short break for dinner, return to his or her station, and remain there until lights-up. They must load the merch in, count it, arrange it so everything is easy to hand, set up a presentable shop and make sure they have change. At the start of a tour they will do this from scratch and it can take the best part of four hours to get ready, depending on what the band is selling and how they like things to be sold. Some bands don’t give a shit. This bands gives a shit, and well they should. We have five t-shirts (we decided to give one a rest for a while), the album on CD and vinyl, a vinyl single, a vinyl EP, a vinyl 10″, an enamel badge, a patch, and the support’s CD and vinyl. I have requested an experienced merch seller in each venue to help me. Tonight, her name is Aurelie. It is her first time selling merch. In truth, having a merch seller is, in many ways, of no help to me at all. This is because, when I’m doing the selling, I don’t open the shop until the end of the show anyway, so having her sitting there doesn’t free me up. In fact, it can sometimes slow things down, since the stock is new to her so she is more liable to make mistakes which can lead to accounting discrepancies. Still, she seems nice enough and I am my usual friendly and courteous self to her at all times.
In France, almost all venues have a ‘dark stage’ an hour before doors, which is to say everyone stops working and goes for dinner, almost always together (staff, bands, crew) in the venue, at a big table. The food is usually made in house and will most likely be three courses with plenty of wine and beer for those who wish it. As 1900 approached I am still, predictably, up to my tits in merch, so have to forgo the communal breaking of bread. Doors open at 2000 and with around five minutes to go I have Aurelie briefed and ready.
I once asked a fellow TM when she got free time on the road.
“That’s what the shower is for” she said.
I took a shower.
We have a couple of hours to pass before stage so, after the chef has pretty much forced me to sit down and eat (three courses, Indian, homemade) I get my head into some work I’d neglected during merch-time. The second strand to my business is very important to me, so I must tend to it, whilst giving this band in front of me my best attention. It is a task.
Doors open, the people come. A Dead Forest Index take the stage and perform to a lot of rude people talking. In truth the PA isn’t really loud enough and their music has plenty space in it, so when people are talking in the room, you can hear them.
We prepared Savages for their show. Sometimes a band feels like playing, sometimes it doesn’t. Like anyone who does a job. Tonight they are juiced for it, and good Lord if it doesn’t go off like a bomb in here, with the audience losing their shit from the first song, and stage divers, and hip kids shaking all over down the front.
A happy band.
We pack up, and I break the merch stand down, count out, pack up while drunk people swerve around me, and lights flash, and music pounds. I don’t know any other business in which it’s just a given that you’ll work in extremely noisy environments around people who can’t walk straight while your eyesight is strained one way then the next as strobes go off and scans sweep the room. My office is a nightclub in full-flight. And they expect us to keep the accounts straight.
We leave everything on stage under black drapes, hope no-one will steal anything, walk to our hotel and – for me at least – work in the lobby for an hour, then head to bed.
TUESDAY 18 FEBRUARY | TOULOUSE > BARCELONA
I’m up around 0800, breakfast, lobby at 0950 for the walk to venue to load out. Guitarist and I stop at a display of enormous macaroons for photos. She reveals to me she has never eaten one. I tell her we’re through.
Matthieu and Juliette from the club meet us and we make short work of loading the van. We make rather heavier weather of navigating ourselves out of Toulouse, which has some of the narrowest streets on God’s Earth, and our van has a long wheelbase. We get stuck on tight corners a couple of times, and Joel and Matt hop out to stop traffic and guide the van’s invisible back-end away from the ubiquitous bollards that the French like to put all over the fucking pavements here. We get on the way.
Singer and her partner, Johnny Hostile, have been taking trains around, there not being space in the van for the pair of them. We stop for lunch at Aires Village Catalan, which we think might be the French equivalent of Torbay Farm Shops at Westmorland on the M6. But isn’t. I eat a plate of legumes et riz, Matt has some kind of meat, I resist stealing a few of Joel’s chips.
We arrive into Barcelona at 1600. It is sunny, this being Spain. My Spanish is significantly better than my French, so at least I can order food here without making an arse of myself. We’re met by promoter Xavi, and two loaders, Ramon and Francisco. They are surprised I want to know their names, but I take care to remember the names of crew, for crew are the most important people to me in the live music industry. If you want anything done in a venue or on a festival site, ask the crew.
The venue is Sala Apolo, a former theatre from the 1920s. It’s beautiful, and in decent condition. Backstage though feels more like a UK venue. Sparse, worn-out, and the rider hasn’t arrived yet, which is also a UK thing. I set up a production office using three picnic tables I’ve found on the balcony. I catch up on a backlog of emails while the band soundcheck, popping out every few minutes to get wristbands, check on rider for support, check on our rider, get dinner buyouts, speak to the LD (the guy who does the lights) about what we need, help Singer set up merch stand (she cares about how the shop looks in a way that every band should but few do) check on dinner options for those who’ll go out, and other miscellaneous tasks.
I am the go-to man for almost everything on the road other than technical questions which I’ve passed to Joel these days, so I am frequently stopped and interrupted. That’s fine, for it is my job to be the guy to answer questions, though it is also my job to be available when I am needed, so regardless of what I am in the middle of, I can be stopped and asked a question of. I draw a line, though, at bedtime, when I put my phone on Airplane mode until I wake. If I don’t get enough sleep I slowly become useless, like anyone.
Soundcheck over, I go to eat with Joel, Matt and Johnny, in a tapas joint across the road. We order, it’s slow, Matt has to leave to do sound for A Dead Forest Index and I realise that, with an hour before we’re on stage, I shouldn’t be sitting here. I don’t know if I’m needed or not but that’s not the point. I should be in the room when doors open. I kick myself, head back.
Backstage the band are getting ready, and I can feel that they’re not especially vibed-up. I make a couple of suggestions, leave them to it, head to stage, gaffer-tape set lists down, make sure water and towels are where they should be, and generally take the temperature of the room, try to get a sense of how it might go. I do a final check on merch, make sure Pajo is okay (our local seller) and, as 2145 approaches, bring the band to side of stage. We flash a signal to FOH, they drop the house lights, fade the music, the audience shouts in anticipation. It begins. It goes well.
Toward the end I go up to the balcony to get a look at things from there. I see the room is busy but with spaces between the people. I see someone stage-dive. A big lad in a green t-shirt. There aren’t enough people where he lands to create the mass needed to hold him. He lands on someone’s head. It’s a woman, slight. She goes down. Her boyfriend is furious. Singer drops the mic, drops down to their level and has a word, an altercation is avoided. She climbs back up, tells everyone to be gentle. Then they play ‘Hit Me‘. An unfortunate coincidence. Meanwhile I’ve sprinted to stage, made sure Singer was safe, jumped off stage to where girl and boyfriend have moved, see she’s in a bad way, can’t see security anywhere, run back on stage to the monitor guy, tell him to radio security, run back to girl and boyfriend and see she is now being carried to the back of the room. She recovers after ten minutes, thankfully.
The show ends, the crowd ecstatic. Earlier in the evening I was remarking to a friend of mine, Robin, who TMs for Warpaint, that my day was going real smoothly. A fatal error. Days don’t go smoothly on the road; days are a series of hundreds of avoided fuck-ups and you don’t relax because one hasn’t happened for a minute. And lo it came to pass that my day fell apart. I went to merch – as I do just before a show is over – to help whomever is selling with the rush, make sure the customers aren’t waiting all night for a t-shirt. I went backstage, checked on band. Fine. They wanted to leave quickly. I ushered Bassist out of a backdoor to avoid crowds, spotted the rest of them on stage surrounded by twenty kids of maybe 10-12 years old. From what I could gather a local school had arranged My First Gig for them and they’d watched from the balcony. Now they wanted to meet the band. The band obliged most willingly and many autographs were signed.
I have one hour before curfew (there’s a club night after we’re done, something I think should be banned, though I understand from the venue’s perspective how important these can be in terms of income, and therefore in terms of keeping the business running). I asked Merch Guy to start counting things up, checked on band again, returned to merch to help with the count. The count can be a slow process and, at the end of a long day, it is very easy to make mistakes. The money and the count rarely tally and that’s just how it goes in a dark, loud environment when the seller doesn’t know the stock and may be under pressure with a large queue. Venue Manager appeared. We need to be out by midnight. That’s when doors open for the clubnight. WHAT? I was told 0030. Fuck. There’s not enough time to do this. It’s going to end up a mess.
It ends up a mess.
Merch Guy flaps, time runs out, Venue Manager tells us politely, but very firmly, that we have to go, now. I throw my hands in the air, throw everything into the boxes, fucking the count and the careful order in the boxes and call to Joel to get up here to help me load out. He goes one way, I go the other, I can’t find him on the street and my hands are full of boxes. I run back up the stairs, really fucking annoyed at this point. Really annoyed. We finally get out of there and I know when I get to Madrid I’ll have to do a complete recount and re-sort of the merch. I have no time to have Merch Guy sign a receipt for his fee, don’t feel sufficiently inclined to shake Venue Manager’s hand and smile, though I try. Joel and I walk to get the van and I’ve left the ticket in the venue. I bang my head against the wall a few times, cursing. Parking Man understand my pain and gives us the van.
We drive to venue through narrow streets and Ramon and Francisco help us load out, then help Joel load the van while I run backstage, past the DJs and the gathering audience for their night, collect our bags and cases, shut down my production office and return to the van. We shake Ramon and Francisco’s hands gratefully. Without them this would have taken Joel and I another hour. We drive the van back to the parking place, get our bags out, walk back to the hotel, shattered. Joel goes to him room, I sit down in the lobby and work until 0300, catching up on emails, doing the merch accounts (somewhat pointlessly), retire.
It’s a while before sleep takes me.
WEDNESDAY 19 FEBRUARY | BARCELONA > MADRID (DRIVE)
Today we ride. But before that we do fun stuff. My fun stuff consists of taking the elevator up to the 10th floor and standing on the roof terrace for five minutes, then taking the elevator back down again, going back to my room and doing some work. That’s fine. I don’t mind. I’ve been to Barcelona a few times, it’s not hard to get to, I’ll come back again soon enough, plus I like work, plus I’m not here on a holiday. I’m not paid to enjoy myself. If I do, that’s my bonus. I get plenty bonuses.
Incidentally, the Spanish really like mint tea. You can always get it at breakfast in a hotel. The French don’t go in for it much. The Norwegians absolutely never have it at breakfast. I carry my own tea-bags now.
The band and crew are scattered to the wind, wandering the streets before the long drive. I head to lobby at 1400, check everyone out, argue about an unpaid room that the promoter was meant to pay. Turns out it was our mistake. If you make a mistake from time to time and apologise, the band sees you as honourable and willing to take responsibility. Too many mistakes too often and any trust they have in you will evaporate. The opportunities for mistakes to happen on a tour are legion, particularly when we’re short-staffed. Ideally we’d have a Merch Seller, Production Manager, Lighting Director and Monitor Engineer with us, but like any small business we need to grow gradually. I don’t dwell on that much these days. It’s just how it is and will be until next year, probably.
In Toulouse, Guitarist amplifier and Bassists amplifier head both develop faults and Joel has to arrange someone to fix them in Barca for us, while hiring replacements in both Toulouse and Barca at short notice. The lad who is doing the fixing turns up and I get the money out.
Another bright, sunny day, with just enough heat coming through the van windows to remind us of Australia. I take the first shift behind the wheel for a couple of hours. Barcelona is like many European cities with very busy roads and impatient citizens, and the only way to drive here is to drive like they do. The landscape slowly turns from urban to industrial, industrial to rural, rural to semi-desert, reminding me of southern California. It’s a beautiful drive. Quiet motorways, undulating hills with long, sweeping descents. We gradually shave the minutes off our arrival time by staying just above the speed limit. The band and support do their thing in the back (mostly they doze for a couple of ours, then put a film on). The sun drops making it harder to see my laptop screen so I join Joel in gazing out of the window at a relentlessly impressive landscape.
We stop somewhere for lunch. More Tortilla Española, which I largely live on here, more bread. I’m enjoying stretching my Spanish conversations out in these gas stations and cafés. Night falls. Those in the back agree on Leon as the film to watch and, unusually, I don’t put my headphones on to block it out. Listening to a film you can’t see (particularly one you don’t like) can be an annoyance on a long drive, but Leon is a wonderful film and I listen carefully to the dialogue, imagining the pictures, tensing up, laughing, swallowing the occasional lump in my throat.
We’re around 50 miles out when the films ends and I put my headphones on for the last hour of the drive as fatigue sets in. I shuffle the songs, and Jenny Hval, Nas, Simple Minds, Jon Hopkins and Deathcrush offer the requisite stimulation.
We drive into Madrid, my first time here, and turn onto our hotel’s single-lane street, which is as hopelessly narrow as Toulouse was. I can’t park outside, I can’t stop. Here we go again. I drive around, trying to find somewhere to drop everyone off. I finally do, unload them, then Joel and I get stuck on an impossibly tight corner. I curse the hotel. They told us – as hotels always do – that yes, we can park. We have a long, tall van. Yes, that’s fine. No, you fucking idiots. It isn’t. We escape the corner only to get stuck on another one. The local residents are not best pleased. Horns are honked, curses are uttered. We break free, driving around for 45 minutes, failing to find a parking space for a vehicle this big, as I get annoyed for somehow thinking that I could. I know how tough it is to park one of these things in cities. This is my mistake. Never trust hotel on parking. Now I need to get us out of this mess.
I call the promoter who directs us toward a car park down another ludicrously narrow side-street so I turn to my friend Olatz from Bilbao and her flatmate Marco (who works in film) and they hip us to a place that can handle a vehicle such as ours. We meet them there and enter without further incident. I am elated. We lock up, head to a bar for food and drink, and another for a late-night cocktail before bed. It’s great to see her, real nice to meet Marco for the first time. We draw the day to a close and wander through the streets to our hotel. As is becoming a habit I sit in the lobby until around 0300 and get my head into work. When sleep comes, it comes easily.
THURSDAY 20 FEBRUARY | MADRID
Waking up in a city with a show that day is a nice thing. You get the morning and a piece of the afternoon to wander around, hopefully, and that was what I intended to do. I wake early, emptied my inbox, and after sorting some logistical issues that required my attention, I meet my friend Olatz in the lobby.
We take the metro to Parque del Retro. I note that the main metro station in Madrid – Sol – is now called Vodafone Sol. Heavy-handed branding would come to define my day when, later that night, the show will almost fall apart because of it. We walk and talk, catching up on who’d recently died of cancer (we’re getting old; everyone we know is eventually dying of cancer), where I could go for seven days in South America in April, and where she might live in the months ahead as the notion took her. We eat tapas then she takes me to Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings. We sit around there for 20 minutes then she escorts me to El Corte Ingles to help me find a bag (to carry my printer), blutack (merch stand) and a tupperware box (dry food for the van), before parting, planning a final meet tonight at the show with her friend Marco.
Back at the hotel, an hour of work then Joel and I walk for the van with Matt, Sam and Adam of A Dead Forest Index. We drive, park up, and meet Edu the promoter’s rep at Shoko, a 700 cap room. He’s a friendly fellow and I know he’ll provide what I need today. I get started straight away with the merch, doing a full recount after the Barcelona debacle, roping in Sam to help out, and we make good progress. The band begin to arrive and my attention gradually fragments across a number of different issues, not least when, on stage, a huge red light box with the legend ‘ESTRELLA DAMM‘ is switched on right next to Bassist’s set-up during soundcheck.
Estrella is just another average lager, the kind that every country has and seems to be proud of for some unfathomable reason, and like many average lagers, the parent company likes to throw money around, often in the direction of the music industry. Tonight they are co-promoting the show with Primavera Sound. Savages – like many bands – don’t like branding around them when they’re performing. Joel and I speak to Edu, explaining that it will have to be removed from stage. What happens next would take more time to tell than you probably have to read, but suffice to say a protracted and heated exchange of views takes place over the course of two hours, right up to doors opening, with myself, Singer and Guitarist on one side, the representative from Estrella on the other, and Edu in the middle.
As it unfolds I involve the band’s booking agent back in London and Xavi from Primavera. Compromise is sought but none can be found and there is a real risk of the show just not happening, once the venue switches on about six projectors and a load of flatscreen TVs and the whole venue looks like an Estrella Damm advert from floor to ceiling.
Suffice to say that, as the band take the stage not a logo is to be seen.
I would judge that my stance on branding is more nuanced than the band’s, partly because co-owning a venue helped focus my mind on how to keep the place open through any means (we never used branding but considered it) and partly because when I lecture on the live music industry I debate branding at length and for many hours with the students, which helps me to better see the many angles and opinions. However, in this case, the band are 100% right in what they ask to be done and for the reasons they stated, and Estrella Damm need to be taken to one side, sat down and quietly spoken to about the intricacies of art vs commerce. Before the show I gave approval for “a little stand with the name of the concert venue logo on the side of the stage.” What they attempted to do was outrageously presumptuous, boneheadedly tactless and breathakingly excessive. They really made a mess of things and almost cost us – and 700 people – the show.
The band have some friends in the room tonight so backstage is hectic beforehand, and the gig goes off without a hitch to a sold-out room. I move between my production office (the end of a table which battled for space with make-up, half-eaten dinners and a huge vase of rose-petals), stage and merch stand, keeping an eye on things, wondering if Singer would climb off stage and stand extremely precariously on the metal security barrier – in 3 inch heels – while I, and those members of the audience who are closest, hold her legs to stop her falling over. It’s an occasional habit of hers that generally keeps me on my toes.
Show over, I head to merch to help out but Elena (our local seller) has things in hand, giving one customer an album, another her change and a third a t-shirt to try on. She’s good. I see Olatz and Marco, give them a gift each for their help in getting us out of our parking hole on arrival in Madrid, and say my goodbyes.
I count the merch with Elena, then the money, and see that we’re missing some. Where has it gone? Either she had been undercharging for items by mistake, or giving wrong change, or someone had stolen some money, or she had, or the count-in was wrong, or the count-out was wrong. It’s impossible to say and will likely be a combination of those factors, except the she-stole-money one, because I just don’t think she has and if I do think she has I’ve no way of proving it anyway. It would be an extraordinarily brazen thing to do.
It’s what can happen when you have someone new on the merch every night with varying degrees of experience. It’s the way it goes. I can get angry about it, or I can just get on with my job and do what I can to lessen the losses (sometimes we take more than we’ve sold so it can balance out). I used to get angry about it. These days I just get on with my job.
I’m very keen for a quick and efficient load-out tonight and so it comes to pass, more or less, and we drive band – who are in very high spirits after a good show – to hotel, while Joel and I do our crew-ly duty and park the van, returning to base about 45 minutes later. We stroll back through streets we are happy to be in, Madrid seducing us all in one way or another.
I sit down in the lobby, as usual, until 0300, and sneak quietly into my room so as not wake guitarist.
The famously enthusiastic audiences of Portugal are only sixteen hours away, in Porto.
It’s an early lobby call for the band – 0900 – which means 0820 for Joel and I, to bring the van as close to the hotel as we can. I got to sleep at 0330, wake at 0730, so you can see where a tour can begin to take its toll on a man. There may be a chance for sleep in the van but, unlike Joel who has usually no work to do when he’s not driving, my inbox will dictate the extent to which I can close my eyes. The journey is 560 kilometres / 350 miles, around 5 hours 20, plus stops for food, fuel, calls of nature. I factor in traffic delays and unforeseen stops, so figure about 7 hours on the road. I take the first drive. Because we’re an hour ahead of the UK I can do 1-2 hours before my colleagues there wake up and start asking questions. But I’m tired and only manage an hour behind the wheel. It means Joel has more to do, but he understands that’s how it goes. There’ll be days where he’s tired and I need to pull a longer shift.
It is a good job I factor in unforeseen stops, because the Guardia Civil pull us over and search the van for half an hour. Luckily they don’t notice the semi-automatic rifles and the boxes of bootlegged VHS videos of Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, hidden behind the merch.
We get breakfast from a cafe and get moving. The weather is good but the drive is not. We head into mountains and the steep 5-6% inclines slow us considerably. The van is heavy and I drop down to 60mph on the climbs, back up to 80-95mph on the descents. There aren’t many descents for a while. We’re all wearing seat belts but we’re only ever a blown-out tyre away from careering off the road and dying in a fireball of twisted metal. Joel takes the wheel, I work. We stop for lunch at E.Leclerc, a huge supermarket, and avail ourselves of the facilities. As has become habit, I have my photo taken on one of those kid’s rides that you see in supermarket entrances. We buy sandwich-making provisions, make sandwiches, get back in the van. Supermarkets are often preferable to service stations on the continent. They don’t have the equivalent of Marks & Spencers or Waitrose on the motorways so unless you want a hot meal, plan a stop in any mid-size town. They’ll have a Carrefour, or E.Leclerc or something similar. Good advice if you’re a bunch of dietary weirdos like we are.
Everyone is excited about Porto. We played Primavera there last year (a country-mile better than its Barcelona counterpart in every respect) and the crowd was the best we’d had up until that point. We’d heard about Portuguese audiences but to have 5,000 people going nuts in front of you when you’re not expecting it, is something to behold. The staff and crew of the festival were also terrific. We had a day off there but I’d somehow managed to book everyone a flight home except my own, which was pretty embarrassing, then discovered the only one I could take had an 0730 departure, so I went home while the band and crew got to see the old town, and fell in love with it. I only saw the new town, which is like Barcelona, or maybe a more down-at-heel Bilbao.
We jump back a timezone on this trip, buying ourselves an hour, meaning we can take band to hotel and check in. On the approach we see a couple of men – not dressed like farmers – grazing a herd of sheep and goats by the side of one of the main dual-carriageway roads into town. With hindsight, it is a portent of what is to come.
The hotel is on the corner of a busy square. Pulling up at front door is tight with trams and cars trundling around us, and pedestrians who don’t seem to understand that if we hit them they will experience pain. A man in his mid-50s, wearing a bright blue tracksuit, knocks on the window. I understand he is trying to help us park (in exchange for cash) and wave him away. He is drunk and his pals are drunk. It’s three in the afternoon. He persists and I tell him to go on about his business. Unemployment is pretty high here in Portugal, the country having been very badly hit by the global recession, and I see a lot of men of working age who’re not doing so well out of life right now. I get everyone into the hotel while Matt stays with the van.
Check-in is the usual protracted torture. Someone could make a fortune out of standardising hotel check-ins and festival production websites. In fact, I would pay them that fortune. I notice that the buildings in the old town are very, very old, and some of them are in very, very bad states of disrepair. I am as much a sucker for the romance of crumbling facades as anyone else, but there’s something different about Porto. A guy I once knew said that accountancy firms are just rooms full of people waiting for lunch. The old town of Porto feels like a city waiting for an EU bailout. It doesn’t feel like it’s full of artistic types looking for cheap rent as working class areas of other cities are. It feels like it’s full of people who would, if they were able to afford it, move to a better part of town where their toilet wasn’t about to fall through the ceiling of their living room. As someone who came from the grim end of a grim town, I need to know my electricity is going to work 24 hours a day.
We have difficulty finding the venue, Hard Club, but there it is, in the middle of a square, inside Mercado Ferreira Borges, bright red in colour, built by Gustave Eiffel, whose other building in Paris is slightly more famous (that said, I can’t find any evidence that Eiffel did build this place; I just heard it from the Ismael, the promoter tonight). We load in and are made to feel welcome. Ideally you want to load into a back door, straight on to stage, but that rarely happens. There’ll be uneven cobbles which stop you from rolling in on wheels, or a long, steep ramp, or two flights of stairs. Todays load is a pain in the arse, but we have local crew to help. I can’t set up merch until 1900, one hour before doors, because the area I’ll set up in is currently open to the public (the venue shares the building with a restaurant and an art gallery). That’s a pain in the arse too. I like to get the merch done and out of the way. It’s a cool venue. 1,000 cap, modern and well-specced. The crew know what they’re doing. A professional set-up. Backstage is small and cold, though. An old building, no heating. I get a heater brought from venue office to put in the band’s dressing room, but they only have one so Sam and Adam’s room remains as cold as a Parisian audience.
I set up production office on a large table, print out time sheets for today and tomorrow, write wifi code and staff names on it, tape it to the wall. Band arrive and I show them around: dressing rooms, shower, toilets, room where hospitality rider is laid out, stage, wi-fi code, how to get to front-of-house (the public area of the venue), where dinner will be, and answer the questions they have. Wi-fi isn’t working so promoter hooks me up to his phone and, one by one, band come in to ask how to get online. Wi-fi questions take up a disproportionate amount of my time.
“What’s the wi-fi code?”
“What time are we on stage?”
“Is breakfast included?”
“What time is lobby call?”
If the word “Dad” was to be added to the end of every question I was asked I could pretend to be a parent. It’s fair enough. Not everyone in the van has a European data plan so the only time they can get online is at venue or hotel and if wi-fi isn’t working it can be a real problem. Plus it’s my job to have the answers.
Singer and Drummer have a TV interview so I co-ordinate that, and as doors approach merch guy (Tigao) and I run to set up. The audience is queuing next to us and they come over and ask questions while we’re counting. Because of the TV interview, Singer isn’t able to come and help set up today, so I do the best I can with it, which is pretty good, give Tiago a float of 5€ notes, get wristbands and dinner buyouts from promoter (usually between 15€ and 20€ unless we’re being fed in-house), make sure A Dead Forest Index are getting a good soundcheck, locate Johnny Hostile who is DJing, get him to play some music and get the doors open (five minutes late).
I take a shower while everyone goes to eat. There’s no shower curtain so I soak the bathroom floor and my bag. The water leaks out into the dressing room and I use up all the towels mopping it up. I go eat. Everyone is finishing up. Matt likes his meat so rare the blood oozes out of it. My diet’s taken a hit recently. I’m subsisting on sandwiches. Bread, cheese, eggs. I need greens. I order courgettes and vegetable soup then fuck it all up by ordering chips. I’ll never learn. I could mitigate some of my partly-appalling diet with regular exercise, but where would I find time for that? My running shoes remain at the bottom of my bag as they have on almost every tour I’ve been on. But each tour I think “I will find the time”.
I check on Tigao at merch. He’s fine. I check on Drummer and Singer after the interview. They’re fine. I watch some of their set from side of stage. It sounds good and Miguel, the LD, does a good job with the lights, creating shadow and depth. The crowd is respectfully quiet. During the changeover a bunch of late-teen girls down the front shout at me to make sure I give them a set-list after the show. I tell them to ask Joel when the time comes. It usually becomes an undignified scrum. In Japan it’s like Beatlemania.
An hour before a show I give the band regular countdowns: 45 minutes… 30 minutes… 20… 15…. 10… whatever feels appropriate based on how I judge their mood. One of them isn’t in the right frame of mind for it and I have to do a bit of cajoling and we take the stage eight minutes late. I like to be punctual but it does not always come to pass. When they walk on stage the crowd go apeshit. Really, really loud, and we stand at side of stage – Adam, Joel, Johnny and I – and watch the kids lap it up, forming our own slam-pit during ‘Hit Me’. Band seem happy. Lights are cool but a bit too staccato for the band’s liking. Bassist and Guitarist like steady lights so they can see what they’re doing with their foot-pedals. One day they’ll have their own LD but until then, I do what I can do get it through the house LDs’ heads what we need.
I move back and forth between production office and stage, keeping an eye on things, taking the opportunity to sort out my cash and credit card receipts, separate them into envelopes, update my ‘Cash Control’ spreadsheet and making sure the float is accurate, or thereabouts. I used to keep my own money and the band’s separate but it’s largely impossible on a busy tour. If band needs money for a taxi, say, and the float is in another part of the building, I just give it to them out of my own money, but do that enough and before long you’ve no idea how much you’re owed or owe the float. So, one float and if it’s down at the end of the tour I top it up to balance the books. Works for me. Other TMs might be reading this and thinking I’m out of my mind but whatever. I don’t see any of them wearing a shirt and tie in 42º temperatures. The scruffy bastards.
The show goes off without a hitch and I head to mech. There’s not a lot of loose change in the pockets of Porto’s natives these days so sales are slow. A bunch of people want to meet the band for photos and signatures and I put them off, at least for half an hour or so, until band are relaxed. Another guy tells me (he’s from Porto) that he just flew in from London to see the show, but missed his flight and arrived as the band were walking off stage. It’s a sad but funny story. I give him an album and take it backstage for the band to sign. They write him a little note and it makes his day (he later writes an email to thank me, and them). Some other lad is more persistent and wants a photo. I tell him that, yes, the band will likely be out front at some point (I mean, they need to leave the venue) but I later find him and two of his friends backstage having just walked in. Happens occasionally. They’re not assholes though and they’re not in the same room as the band so I tell them to wait. Band finally appear having packed their bags and we’re loading out. The guy mentions Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees to Drummer and I can hear her eyes rolling from across the room.
To me, what’s interesting about the comparisons that Savages get are the ones they don’t get. If you’re not hearing early-ish U2, Pylon and early Simple Minds then I don’t know what’s going on in your head. I realise it’s not cool to say you like U2, one of the best and most influential rock bands of any era, and Simple Minds, who were a fascinating art-rock band long before they became bloated stadium-rockers, but maybe if you get your head out of your arse for a minute, you narrow-minded post-rock bore, you might get what I’m talking about. And Joy Divison? One good song, and his lyrics are shite. Same with The Smiths; one good song, though I accept Morrisey can at least write lyrics, though those are negated by him being, so far as it’s possible to tell by the persona he’s constructed in the crucible of the media, an absolute bell-end.
We load out and leave, get back to hotel. Joel and I take van to the carpark we found earlier but I didn’t mention because how many times can I mention parking before you stop reading. We don’t go to bed though. Oh no. We’re not done. Singer and Johnny Hostile have an aftershow at which they will perform Johnny’s songs. We get ourselves together (apart from those sensible enough to go to sleep) and take two cabs to the place, Plano B. The rain is coming down and it is Biblical, as if God himself is figuring that the only way to pull the old town out poverty is to wipe it out and have the citizens rebuild it.
The club is a bizarre place, populated by characters who would not look out of place in Biffo’s Circus. It is part Wild-West saloon, part early-’90s rave, part private member’s club. And everyone’s smoking. Civility has not yet reached Portugal and everyone thinks it’s okay that 600 people die each year through lung cancer directly attributable to secondary smoking (replace the “smoking” with “sarin gas” and that’s global news).
I order a beer, buy everyone else what they want, sit down quietly for ten minutes, almost leave, decide I’ve come this far and should at least see two songs by Singer & Johnny and do this, in a packed room. I slip out without fanfare, step outside into a precipitous onslaught, into a taxi, gliding home past beautiful, crumbling buildings and monuments.
I can’t wait to get out of here.
SUNDAY 23 FEBRUARY | SAN SEBASTIAN > MARSEILLE (DRIVE 2 OF 3 TO MILAN)
We agree to depart early and lo, it comes to pass. With the band still relaxing in Porto the men of the house get to the lobby as agreed and get in the van as requested, but look; there’s two more days of driving with just crew and support, and you’re not here to read what’s about to become a bromantic, borderline homoerotic road-trip, so I’ll intersperse our sojourn with tour management tips, some insights into this shit-show of a job, and a few insults aimed at the band just so I can find out if they’re reading this or not. They tell me they are but they never read the bloody tour book, so they’re not to be trusted.
The drive is long and spans pretty much the entire width of France, west to east. It also features one of my favourite drives anywhere, from Cannes to Arenzano, along the south of France and into the Cote d’Azur, past Monaco, Monte Carlo, and a bunch of other places that the likes of us don’t really belong in. 130 miles of viaducts and tunnels with the Mediterranean to the right and plenty of pretty towns scattered around. It’s not relentlessly beautiful, but with quiet roads it can be a grand drive. Though the road can be tough, particularly in winter, and particularly in the UK (give me a cold, crisp, sunny day in Trondheim over a cold, damp, cloudy day in Coventry), the van is a good place for me. I like driving. I like the freedom our own vehicle afford us (there’s a whole other story about the band’s recent sleeper-bus tour of the US and the baptism of hellish fire it was for us all, particularly me). It gives me plenty time to think, and a tour manager needs plenty time to think. On the downside, the van also increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer, since the World Health Organisation officially designated diesel as a carcinogen in 2012. I spend most days breathing that shit in on motorways. Then when you figure that most European countries which have banned smoking in public places haven’t really banned smoking in public places at all, and you’re breathing that shit in venues and clubs every night, it’s not such a healthy job. Balance, that, though, with a job which is never anything less than 100% engaging, absorbing and (for the most part) rewarding, and if it takes a couple of years off my life at the back-end of it, well, all right.
The roads are easy and we stop for lunch at a service station with a view across to The Pyrenees in bright sunshine, airplane vapour trails scoring a cobalt-blue sky. I’ve seen them plenty, though usually on the telly and swarming with cycling fans when the Tour de France goes through. Lunch passes largely without incident, except that I break the big umbrella that’s on our table.
While sitting there, Adam and Sam tell us a story that would alter the course of our day significantly, about their upbringing in Auckland, and about their mother’s fascination with Romani culture and its music. She told them of a town called Saintes Marie de la Mer, which is a place of annual pilgrimage for the Romani people, well-know to Django Reinhardt and his cohorts. The boys realise that we’ll be passing quite near to it on the way to Marseille and ask if we can take a detour. They never expected they’d get to see it. It will take us a total of three hours out of our way but three hours is as nothing when opportunities like this arise.
We arrive into this little town at around 1700 and park up, head toward the coast and find a busy promenade, with the weather as perfect as a man can hope for. I take a walk onto the beach and scrawl a message of hello to a friend a long way away, while Matt takes pictures of our own pilgrimage. We find a beautiful old carousel and take a ride, returning the waves and smiles of a group of young Japanese. The town’s church is the focal point of the Romani festivals held here three times a year, home to the shrine of Saint Sarah, the patron saint of the Romani people, which Sam and Adam have seen many times in pictures and documentaries. A sign says it closes at 1800 on Sundays, and we arrive at 1806.
Dammit. If we’d only spent less time on the carousel.
But we find a side-door that’s open and duck inside. The caretaker is walking around with a big, metal key, like something out of a cartoon, but lets us stay a while, moving respectfully among candles of vigil, absorbing the centuries of history in the walls.
Dusk is coming.
We walk toward the western horizon to catch the sunset and arrive just as it’s brushing the horizon. We find somewhere to sit down and eat, and swap photographs, finally leaving long after darkness has fallen, and stop to look at the stars from the side of the road before making our way, eventually, and without haste, to Marseille.
Sunday 23 February 2014 has been unusually, almost supernaturally kind to us, and despite the tiredness that rarely leaves me on the road, I know that these are the days of our lives, and they will never come again.
I wouldn’t choose to live them any other way.
SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY | PORTO > SAN SEBASTIAN (DRIVE 1 OF 3 TO MILAN)
I don’t remember what time I woke, but I quickly realised I was still in Porto, and my mood didn’t really get off the floor until I crossed into Spain a few hours later. I tend to carry enough clean clothes for seven days and get to nine if I hand-wash bits and pieces in hotel room sinks or showers. Laundry was fast becoming a necessity and I had two hours “off” right now. I would attempt it.
Today the band part company with the crew and support. They have a day free in Porto, then fly to Milan, have another day free there. Crew drive the van to Milan over three days.
Beforehand I have breakfast, which is poor, apart from the nata, which are about the best confection yet devised by human hands. I grab my laundry bag and ask reception if there’s a laundromat closer than the one in the tour book. Yes, say reception, and show me on the map. I exit the hotel, get accosted by a beggar, walk on, call my sister, try to put into words what it is I find strange about Porto’s Old Town. I don’t know… I just don’t know. It’s just weird here. I spend ten minutes getting no more articulate than that.
The laundry doesn’t exist. I find another after 15 minutes. It doesn’t sell soap. The only laundry I’ve seen anywhere, in any country, that doesn’t sell soap. I look for a supermarket, find none. I grab the clothes, leave, get accosted by another beggar. People are looking at me strangely. Not in a malevolent way. Just… I don’t know. People are looking strange themselves. I keep my head down, get accosted by another beggar as I reach the hotel and tell this one to go fuck himself. He isn’t sitting around with a wee placard, asking for money quietly to buy food. He’s up in my face because he needs a bottle of vodka. I go to my room, pack, get the van, drive it to the door of the hotel and wait. Some of the band appear to give us their suitcases and we get the hell out of there. I realise I am the only one to have a problem with Porto’s Old Town but whatever. I will not be hurrying back. In fact, I will actively avoid it, if I can, until my last breath.
The drive is 6 hours 50 minutes, which means around 8.5 hours on the road (factoring in the usual stops). I take the first drive, glad to put distance between myself and what was now behind me. It’s a bastard, this drive. A real bastard. We ascend over 3,500 feet into the mountains on sharp-cornered carriageways for over two hours. My neck and shoulders are tight from keeping the van in check. You can’t lose concentration with something this heavy on these roads. The descents too; it’s not so easy to slow the thing down if you hit 90mph coming downhill. We stop at services for junk food, probably. I can’t remember now. I just remember the Portuguese (or Spanish, or Italians) don’t go in for 100% fruit juice in their service station, so it’s thin pickings.
It’s cold up here. Snow around the peaks. We finally hit some downhills and put the miles in. The van is quiet. Adam, Sam and Matt – while good talkers – are happy in their own company, so while those three doze, or read, or watch a film (The Truman Show) with headphones on, Joel and I get on with the business of getting us there. Mindful of the other day when I only managed an hour I’m determined to give him a rest and, with the help of some rousing music (Run The Jewels, The Stereo MCs’ first album from 1989 and a bit of Earl Sweatshirt) and sheer bloody-mindedness I manage to run the clock down four hours by the time we stopped for lunch. More than half the driving distance.
We finally pull over as the air is getting warmer and the skies a cloudless blue, at a truck stop somewhere east of Léon. It’s busy. A football game on the TV. Real Madrid vs… we can’t work out who. We order and wait. I do okay in Spanish in these environments and am always keen to help my colleagues who might end up with a date with the waiter’s sister when they really just want some calamari. Joel thinks he’s ordering side dishes and it turns out he’s asking for sandwiches. Sam does the same. Joel gets four massive baguettes, stuffed with whatever he thought he was getting on a side plate. We end up with 9 meals between five of us. We leave, laughing. It’s Joel’s turn at the wheel, then mine again and as night draws a curtain around us we approach our San Sebastian hotel, check in, and take a cab (minus Adam who’s resting a sore throat) into the Old Town, which is absolutely beautiful and well looked-after. The local football team Real Sociedad has beaten the giants of Barcelona 3-1 (we catch a glimpse inside the stadium as we drive into the city) so the mood in town is buoyant. We find a bar, order some beers and settle in. It’s good to get a break from questions and responsibilities, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. Maybe it feels this good because it’s so fleeting.
A taxi takes us home. Lobby is 0930 and I’m out like a light.
MONDAY 24 FEBRUARY | MARSEILLE > MILAN (DRIVE 3 OF 3 TO MILAN)
I could tell you about our hotel in Marseille, but it’s just a hotel. Most of the hotels we stay in are just hotels. We’re a long way from the old days of Motel6s and Travelodges, but we’re hardly 5 star either. We are four band, three crew, and use twin rooms, so each night someone has their own room. For the most part I take it, or Matt does. Matt can be a restless sleeper and I am a light sleeper, so we tend not to share these days. If I’ve got a lot of work on or am particularly shattered, I’ll take it. On that Pacific Rim tour in January we had our own rooms for almost three weeks. That’s some serious luxury. We knew better than to get used to it though.
I’d planned the trip so that the shortest of these last three drives would be today. It doesn’t do to have a long drive on show day (so how nine hours from Prague to Warsaw next week is going to work for us, I’m not sure). Bad traffic and you jeopardise soundcheck. We have about five hours to knock out today to get to Milan, but I can’t remember much of the drive. I remember the roads got worse as we entered Italy though, and everyone stopped using their indicators. Milan isn’t a very nice place. Even the Milanese will tell you that. It’s industrial and there isn’t a building in the entire city that hasn’t been tagged. I like graffiti murals but tags are pretty pointless, and I speak as someone who spray-painted plenty of dumb shit on walls when I was young. When we came through last time in early 2013 we played in a park out of town and were looked after by Micaela, who works for our Italian promoter. Micaela is great fun and I looked forward to seeing her again. I’d also been in this venue –The Tunnel Club – before, a couple of years back, with Civil Civic when they supported 65daysofstatic, a situation that I remember their tour manager not being overly enamoured with on account of Ben’s (one half of Civil Civic) habit or running across the stage during their set.
Micaela, Andreas and Tobia – the promoter team – welcome us and, aware of the limitations of the venue we’re in (it has a backstage room, but it’s on the stage, right behind the drum kit with just a curtain to hide it. It’s literally at the back of stage and not really usable) make us feel at home the best they can. The band are going to go back to the hotel to get changed and ready. I’ll drive them, set up production office in my hotel room (a rare occurrence) and bring them back. We set off. It’s a fifteen minute journey.
We’re five minutes away and, on a very busy slip-road off a major road I feel the van vibrate and instinctively look out of my side mirror to see the back tyre has punctured. I can watch the air escaping. I put my hazard lights on, jump out to confirm it, get back in and very, very gently nurse the van down the slip road and find a parking spot almost immediately as I turn right. Very lucky. I call Joel, get him in a taxi down here, tell him to bring Johnny Hostile with him for he and I have previously changed a tyre on this van and it’s not a quick or easy job. I flag a cab down, put the band in it and realise that I’ve not eaten since breakfast. I’m getting light-headed and my blood sugar levels are bottoming out. I ignore it and search the cabin for the manual to remind myself how to get the spare tyre off, because I’m damned if I can remember it or – by lying on the road to have a look – work it out. And what falls out of the glove compartment? A third of that Tortilla Española baguette I’d saved from a couple days ago. It’s like some kind of miracle. I devour it just as Joel and Johnny arrives.
Johnny remembers where the release mechanism for the spare is. We get to it and after about thirty minutes of hard labour and a whole lot of men-doing-what-men-do-in-a-crisis, and feeling very good about ourselves, we have the tyre changed and put the burst one back underneath the van in its little cradle. But our hands are now covered in oil and road muck and that will never do for gentlemen of such stature. I get some soap out of my bag and Johnny finds a bottle of water. We all take it in turns to wash our hands with a bar of 8€ French soap and a bottle of sparkling San Pellegrino.
I need to get Joel back for changeover between A Dead Forest Index and Savages, so tell the band to get a cab back. We return to venue and I check on Merch Seller, who’s doing a grand job. Band arrive and we work out where they’ll appear from as they take the stage: a side corridor or that daft backstage room with no light whatsoever. The van problem has put me back about ninety minutes and as stage approaches I’ve not printed out setlists and generally got myself ready. So, I set up production office in that pitch-black room with no tables or chairs and the torch on my phone as my light. Then the band arrive and we’re five people crammed in there. It’s not ideal but if I wanted a brightly-lit office I should have become a solicitor.
I get them on and realise that I’ve pretty much got no way out of here without running across the stage so I stay put and work where I am, answering emails and advancing the next shows, peeking my head out every so often to make sure all is well with the world. I’m about six feet from Drummer and her drums and despite my earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones I’m getting absolutely pummelled back here. Johnny Hostile thinks it’s funny to text me every few minutes and tell me Singer’s bleeding, there’s been a fight, someone’s stage-diving, the building’s on fire, that kind of thing.
The show’s good, so far as I can work out, and I fight my way to the back of the room to get to merch at the end. I don’t have much to do there so I take a slice of pizza that Micaela has kindly bought us. My job now is to make sure band have what they need, and take care of merch, shutting it down, doing the stock count, counting the money, paying the seller, packing it up and loading it out. It needs to go in the van first so if I’m not able to pack up fast then Joel can’t start packing the van.
A bunch of people want their CDs and albums signed so I do a couple of shuttle-runs with small handfuls of merch, ask the band to be quick as they can with it so I can get back to work. The minute a show finishes I’m thinking about how fast I can get everyone to the hotel. The quicker I can do that, the quicker I can get some work done and the quicker I can get to bed. Minutes are important when a tour is booked as unforgivingly as this one (no day off for crew, late stage times and early lobby calls) and sleep is a precious commodity. It’s a delicate juggling act: trying to get the band out of the venue without them feeling like I’m pushing them out the door, especially if they have friends there, or some nice fans who want to talk, and this can be further delayed if those nice fans (or not so nice ones) want to talk a lot, and get signatures.
The pack’s done reasonably quickly but I’m dog-tired. With just that half-sandwich and a couple of slices of pizza since breakfast, my energy levels are greatly depleted. You don’t need food to get through a show; you can run on adrenalin fine, but when that ebbs away and you’re driving the van back to the hotel, with everyone in high-spirits and shouting and laughing behind you after a good performance, it can be the lowest point of my day. You’re shattered, you know you’re still up for maybe another two hours, you still need to park the van (which, as Madrid has shown, can take a long time on a bad night) and you have an early lobby in the morning with a 6-7 hour drive. Somehow, though, each day begins and ends and it’s very, very rare for me to wonder what it is I’m doing out here. We all have bad days, and every day I’ll have a spell of frustration over something or other: a hotel, or a promoter, or bad production, or something one of the band or crew does will get on my nerves, or I’ll realise I’ve got on theirs, or some idiot member of the audience won’t get out of the way when I’m trying to get past with a Fender Twin in my arms, but I don’t question why I’m doing this too often.
I check everyone in and go to park the van. Joel offers to help (it’s useful, late at night, to have someone with you, incase you need to fit into a really tight space, or get a second opinion on whether or not parking here will get us towed away in the morning) but I send him to bed. He’s really tired and there’s no point in us both staying awake for any longer than is necessary. It takes fifteen minutes or so. I find a spot on a housing estate not too far away, and reverse it in, stopping an inch or two away from a lamppost. If someone wants to smash a window and take a shit on the front seat, fine. But there’s no way they’re getting our equipment.
I’m in bed around 0230, alarm set for 0700.
TUESDAY 25 FEBRUARY | ROME
I wake in a Radisson Blu hotel room, alone. It’s all very well staying in nice hotels but on a tour like this it’s wasted on me. I’m in the room for ten minutes before bed, asleep for an average of six hours, forty-five minutes showering and packing up. We’d be as well booking into youth hostels for all the time I have to use any of the facilities. Swimming pools? I think I’ve been in five of them over the course of eighteen months on the road.
I’ve seen nothing of Milan but that suits me. I don’t think I’ll come back here under my own steam (except maybe to visit Micaela) though sure, their cathedral looks real nice in the pictures.
When I tell people what I do they figure I mustn’t get to see much of the places I visit, that we must arrive, do the show, sleep, get out. There’s some truth in that, aye, but it doesn’t entirely stand up. I feel like I’ve seen enough of every city and country I’ve been in to get a flavour of it, to know whether or not I want to go back. It can depend on how a tour is routed, how long the drives are, if you’re flying or driving a van or being driven on a bus, how many days off and where. We recently had five in Tokyo, four in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and there’s two in Stockholm coming up.
Some places lend themselves to exploration more than others, some inspire you enough to sleep less and wander backstreets and locals’ bars instead, or swim in the North Sea off the coast of Vlieland. What’s more interesting is where my impression of a place comes from. Since we’ve been doing a lot of driving on the tour I spend a lot of my time among drivers, and since we end up in hotels and venues, I meet a lot of hotel and venue staff. The drivers don’t know who you and don’t care, the hotel and venue staff are in customer service and it’s either their job or in their interest to be nice to you. I also meet audience members, usually at the merch stand, and most of them have had at least a beer or two, so you get to see how well a nation handles its drink.
It’s fascinating how travel both broadens your mind and makes it easy to confirm your lazy stereotypes about different nationalities, while at the same time confirming that your “lazy stereotypes” might actually be accurate observations: The French are rude and arrogant? I’ve never understood that one. You’ve met the English? The Scots are all drunks? No more so than the Geordies. Americans are loud and arrogant? I find that utterly bizarre. I could talk for hours about the number of conversations that have been struck up with me or the band/crew by curious, genuinely interested American folks in gas stations or corner stores in small towns, wondering who these different-looking-and-sounding strangers are, in the nicest way. The Italians are bad drivers? Absolutely. They very rarely indicate, swerving all over the damn road as it suits them, or sitting on your arse and flashing their headlights at you even though you’re indicating to pull over for them. Their lorry drivers, however, are great. They just sit in their in their lanes in convoy and don’t bother anyone. I’m not saying that all Italians are bad drivers; I’m saying that of all the countries I’ve driven in, I’ve encountered a greater proportion of bad drivers in Italy. Their food’s nice though, isn’t it? Plus they invented Opera.
Japan isn’t as alien as I was told it would be, the Germans and Swiss are as efficient and punctual as advertised, the Portuguese and Mexican audiences are amazing, the Dutch production crews are the best in the world, the French haggle more than anyone else at the merch stand, the Australians are dead laid back.
There are, of course, dickheads of every nationality.
And so, to Rome.
But not before we sort this tyre out.
The first place has one but not until the afternoon. The second place doesn’t have one and the third place amounts to a lot of pointing and gesticulating (on my part; I don’t speak Italian), then getting a friend of Drummer on the phone to explain my needs (it has to be a winter tyre to match those we have), but it’s no good. We’ve spent over an hour and a half on this shit. We head to Rome: six hours driving with no spare tyre and a very heavy van. It’s a risk, but what are our options?
On arrival we’re met by Jessica (promoter) and Valentina (venue) and they impress me immediately. If I need something it appears. It’s greatly appreciated. These days I’m usually more interested in how a venue is managed than the band that plays in it, and I like how Circolo degli Artisti is being run.
I walk around the room and run through the usual mental checklist (rider, full-length mirror, private toilet, wi-fi, stage access, merch area, wristbands/passes, dinner buyout, where the fire exits are etc.) and get everyone settled in. I show Merch Seller Vera the ropes, talk her through what we’re selling, how much it costs, what we have left in stock, and a bit about each item in case any of the audience ask questions. The venue’s about 500 cap, and it’s about half-sold. Later though, the promoter will tell us that they had 187 walk-ups, which is jaw-dropping.
The band’s soundcheck overruns slightly and Matt and Joel do the best they can to give Sam and Adam the time they need before doors open. I set up production office next to merch, out in the open, among the empty boxes and cases our equipment is carried in. It’ll be noisy but it’s that or the dressing room and there’s nowhere to sit there. Jessica offers to help us do our laundry so we all throw our whites in one bag, coloureds in another, and a kind soul from the venue takes it down there in a shopping trolley, telling me it’ll be ready at 2200. That’s when the band are on stage so I know I’m going to forget, but I can always get it in the morning. Everyone’s pretty excited about laundry.
It’s a hectic day but we mostly all find time to eat in the restaurant attached to the venue. The food is good, and we order for Matt and Joel, bring it backstage for them. Because they work from arrival until doors are open on both bands, they rarely have time to sit down and eat. It’s generally the same for me.
When everyone’s happy, I find a quiet corner outside in the gardens attached to the venue and call my parents, making sure I’m out of sight so I’m not disturbed on the call by someone wanting to know something. Barely a day goes by where I don’t text or call or email them/my sister/niece, but on the road, many things are unintentionally set aside to dispatch my duties and a day and night can come and go before my thoughts register that I have a life outside the tour bubble. It’s my only regret about how I live. I’ve tried to explain what it’s like out here to friends who’re dating crew or band members, and how quickly time can pass, how isolating (not necessarily in a bad way) life on the road can be. These people become almost like family, and you get to know them intimately. There’s no place to hide on tour. You’ll be in close proximity to each other for 16-18 hours a day, every day, for as long as the tour lasts and if someone’s a dick, you’ll find out soon enough. It’s an intense, visceral existence, and anyone who’s toured – regardless of how it’s gone – will know the restless feeling upon arrival home, and how quickly you romanticise the road, despite its gruelling nature.
Doors open ten minutes late, and there’s another respectful audience for A Dead Forest Index, like last night in Milan. Seems the Italians know to keep quiet when the bands are on. An admirable trait in a people. The Norwegians could learn from them.
There’s real anticipation in the audience for the band tonight and I try – as I always do – to get them on stage on time. I manage it, give or take 5-8 minutes.
I have a theory about why they (and maybe all bands) go on later than the advertised stage time. Actually, this might be Guitarist’s theory. I know she and I talked about it…
Back in the days before we had Joel, I was the Backline Tech, which you could look at as an act of desperation, but it was me or nothing. Backline Techs are expensive and bands lose money for a long time before they make any. I learned how a drum kit is set up, mostly, so when things went wrong I could run onstage and fix them. A cymbal would loosen and fall limp, the kick-drum mic would pop out of its hole, the overhead mic would swing away from the crash. Drummer got used to me helping, for the most part, though after a bad or tough show I don’t suppose my amateur attempts were always welcome. Guitarist’s set up was beyond my ken, though, and the one and only time I had to change a guitar string was during their show in front of 4,000 at Primavera Barcelona. I almost managed it, but changing a guitar string 96% of the way isn’t changing a guitar string, and while I knew Guitarist was frustrated at the situation, not me personally, I still kept out of her way after the show for a while.
Speaking of which, I tend to keep out of everyone’s way way after the show. I’ve never felt comfortable backstage with bands, whether I’m managing or tour managing them. And I’m not very comfortable being on stages either. I don’t have their specific creative talents and don’t pretend to fully understand their processes, despite being around them for twenty-six years. I’ve got good at knowing what they don’t need after a show, and that’s probably a more welcome skill.
So anyway, my point: when I was teching, the band would be on stage before the show, ‘line-checking’ their equipment and obviously visible to the audience. Those who value the theatre in live music will appreciate that this destroys the ‘reveal’ and negates the anticipation, so the goal for any band is to only appear when they are due to walk on stage. The downside is that the band has no prior contact with the audience. They don’t get to feel the energy in the room, to engage with it, to experience the tension, to completely understand who they’re about to perform for. Instead they’re backstage warming up, mentally preparing themselves while their crew does the line-checking and makes final preparations. It seems to me that when this band were on stage setting up after the support band, and line-checking themselves, they were more attuned to the room, and more eager to get on stage and into it. Maybe they felt more nervous when they could see and feel the audience and that led to more frequent on-time shows. Still, it’s not like they’re walking on half an hour late. We’re talking single-digit minutes here.
As is becoming a habit, I stand stage left or right for the first couple of songs, return to production office (always close to stage), come back out to replenish Singer’s drink halfway through the set, come back again toward the end of the show in case she decides tonight’s the night she’ll get up close with the crowd and climb onto the security barrier, then I’ll be present as they walk off stage in case they need anything immediately, if I’m not running straight to merch. I have a feeling about tonight so push my way to the front of stage and climb into the narrow photo-pit in front of the audience, and crouch down. If Singer does decide to get down here, I need her to have seen me first, so she knows she has some protection and support.
I spot a lad at the far end of stage. Mid-40s, decent beard with white patches, cropped hair and a leather jacket with a crew-neck collar. He’s a cool-looking dude. I notice he’s really into the show but also that he keeps looking up from and down at the stage in front of him and I finally realise what he’s doing; he’s sketching Singer. I hope to speak to him later, see what he drew, but of course I forget after I get to merch, where I have an argument with a guy who wants some discount on an album. He’s the eighth person to ask, which is a tour record. Everyone’s on the blag tonight.
“But it’s just me! Come on!”
“It’s not just you; you’re the eighth person to ask me…”
“So I’ve got to go and buy it on Amazon because you won’t give it to me for 15€?!”
I’m about to lose my temper here.
“Mama mia!” he exclaims and storms off
He actually says “Mama mia!”
I thought it was one of those phrases that the British thought the Italians used. But no, here’s this guy actually using it.
I shout an Abba lyric at him and serve the next customer.
Soon after I close the shop, then hustle to get the merch packed so Joel can pack the backline (merch goes in the van first). And, of course, I forget about the laundry. Valentina tells us we can leave the van inside the venue compound, so once we’re ready, everyone walks to the hotel around the corner, Joel and I leaving last after securing the van and giving our personal thanks to those we’ve worked with tonight. We all make a rule of it. We’re exhausted, but you’re never too tired to walk around a venue one last time and find the people who’ve made your day easier (or have a word with those who’ve made it worse).
Lobby call tomorrow is an hour earlier for crew; we need to get the van and that might take a minute because the two lads with keys to let us in don’t speak English and I’ve got to phone them.
Then there’s the laundry to collect.
By God, these bastards better thank me plenty when they get in the van tomorrow and the scent of fabric softener fills their noses.
WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY | BOLOGNA
Some days there’s no time to get my camera out of my pocket. This was to be one of those days. So there’s a picture of the centre of Bologna that we didn’t get to see.
Lobby at 0800 for Joel and I, the rest have their call an hour after us. We take a walk to venue and the gate’s open. We have a look around inside for anything we might have left last night. This is called an ‘idiot check’ and is performed before leaving a venue, but since we’re back in again we figure we may as well do another.
We must navigate Rome’s narrow streets so I can grab the laundry. We abandon the van, Joel stays put with it, and I run to fetch our clothes. I actually do run. I run whenever I get a chance, because I haven’t time to actually go for a run. For any runners reading this, I’ve a really tight ITB and my physio – among many other tips – advised me to stop heel-planting, so now I toe-plant, or mid-plant when I’m on a longer run. I wish I’d known this when I was nine and started to play football for BP Boys Club. I actually quite enjoy running now or anyway, the first three minutes. Then I loathe every step.
Laundry acquired > hotel > collect others > go.
We’re heading for a place that has the tyre we need, and find it, pull in and it’s a good set-up. The lads are all in their Pirelli uniforms and as soon as they see the GB plate on the van the smiling boss knows who we are and there’s four guys jacking the van up and taking care of the business in hand. The Italians, with their proud motoring history, don’t dick around when it comes to fixing cars. Or vans.
Guitarist, Bassist, Sam and Adam gamely mug for a picture next to a pile of tyres, Matt goes in search of meat, cheese and bread. We’re out of there in no time but before we go I ask to see the punctured tyre. I want to know what caused it. They show me and it’s a clean, narrow slit about a centimetre across. It’s been stabbed with a knife and most likely right outside the club. Oh, to get my hands on the low, sneaky fucker.
We’re off on the road to Bologna and on the way out, along the side of a busy dual-carriageway I see single women in their mid-late ‘20s, in varying conditions of… how should I say… beach/nightclub wear, every five hundred metres or so. They’re either waiting for a bus or the oldest profession in the world gets started early in Rome. If nothing else, I admire their proletarian work ethic.
The drive to Bologna is another like the others, somewhere between 5-7 hours, getting us there in time for soundcheck. I take the bulk of it and Matt takes a spell. I saw Joel’s eyes last night as we checked in and they were sunk pretty far back in his head. The tour takes its toll on all of us in different ways, and we all have tolerances that can be stretched. I need to keep an eye on everyone and watch for these strains before they become problems, and I need to keep him in the back today, though I’m tired myself and could do with a break from staring at grey tarmac.
It’s on this drive that I notice something I’ll speak to Drummer about later, she having more experience of seeing Italy than any of us: the villages and towns are all visible from the road. France is the opposite. Drive the motorways of France and you’ll see those tourist signs I was talking about the other day, which advertise that town or area’s attractions. You’ll very rarely see the towns themselves. It’s almost as if they intentionally constructed the roads away from them. It means that driving in France can be visually uneventful, but also means that, when you visit the towns and look across the valley, you’ve not got a six-lane road with trucks trundling along it down below. I like it that way. In Italy you drive right past these lovely towns with tall church towers and lovely old buildings, all taking a beating from the exhaust fumes. Maybe someone can tell me why that is. The motorways are pretty poor in Italy too, but the old towns of their major cities are in good condition, so maybe that’s what they’re spending their money on.
After scratching our heads for a bit, trying to work out where the venue is, and driving around for ten minutes, we find it, and we’re directed by Giovanni toward the back door to load in where we meet Paulo the promoter. The venue is called Locomotiv Club. Matt’s been here before, he reckons, though every time we arrive at a club Matt reckons he’s been here which is either because he has, or the old man’s going senile.
It’s cold inside and we’re tired. I didn’t enjoy the drive much. My neck and shoulders got stiff from gripping the wheel, and avoiding swerving drivers. This is the first day where I’ve had to marshall my mental resources, hunker down, and get on with it. I’m fraying at the edges, slightly, and I need a decent meal. Every tour has a day like that. Sometimes you’re lucky and the day takes pity on you, nurses you through it until bed. Somedays it ties you to a chair and beats you around the head with a damp towel. I wonder which it’ll be.
I don’t have to wait long to find out.
There’s a backstage, but no toilet there, so we get a key for one at the other end of the building. The problem is we’ll need to walk through the audience to get there and back and I can tell by the way the room’s configured it’ll not be easy. Plumbing’s expensive though and not every venue can afford to just install one. Unless you’re building a venue from scratch, everyone’s just going to have to put up with a room’s quirks. I set up merch and meet Anna Paolo who will be my Merch Seller tonight. I get the laundry out and ask everyone to come and collect theirs.
Drummer cracked one of her cymbals last night (she hits pretty hard) and I need to drive her into town to a music shop. We head over there, talking about our experiences of Italy as we go, and about a great interview I read with four seriously experienced Tour Managers in Billboard Magazine (you can read it here. It’s good). She’ll take a bit of time trying them out so I keep my eye on the van and curse myself for not bringing my laptop so I can work. I play with my phone, answering emails.
We get back to the venue just over an hour later. Singer has set up merch very nicely as ever but with not much space to actually work, so I rearrange and introduce the shop to Anna Paola. I’m starting to get the feeling today that I’ve no time to do what I need to, that I’m always going to be chasing my tail or rather, it’s always going to be chasing me, trying to kick me up the arse.
It’s suggested we go to dinner in a restaurant a few minutes walk from here and after soundcheck, Paulo takes Drummer, Singer and Johnny down there, returns, then takes me down. I shouldn’t be going, I ‘lost’ an hour on the cymbal run but I need to eat. I sit with the rest but they’re finishing up so I end up alone at a large table. I’m happy eating alone but this is one busy, noisy restaurant, and I put my earplugs in. The service is really slow. Finally someone takes my order and I wait. And wait. Fuck it, I need to go. I’ve not got time for this, and the whole notion of waiting to eat now seems absolutely insane to me. Why am I waiting? Why does this shit take time? How the hell did humans get it into their head that the elaborate theatre of procuring, preparing, cooking, serving and eating food was a good idea? All that and you shit it out a day later? And pay for it? Get me the fuck out of here.
I tell waitress I can’t wait, sorry. Just five minutes, please, she says, and I can give you everything to go. Okay. All right. I’ll wait. I only agree because I’m getting Joel something too. I get it, pay, leave, jog back to venue. I enter via the front door, showing security my pass, see the toilet we have for our use, and make use of it. A Dead Forest Index are on, the room is busy. I fight through the crowd to backstage, deliver Joel his pizza. I’ve got a carton of soup for myself though when I’ll have time to eat it, I’ve no idea. I go into my pocket for my Sharpie pen but it is not there. Nor is the pocket, or the coat it is attached to, because I’ve left it in the restaurant. What the hell was I thinking?
I’ve no time to go now. I’ve set myself up in a side office so I get the setlist from Guitarist, type it up and print them out, pass them around, stick them to the stage where they’re supposed to be and check on band. Singer wants to use toilet but I’ll never get her through this crowd. Five minutes before stage I’m walking her outside through a fire escape, my phone-torch lighting the mud under our feet as she picks her way through it in three-inch heels. It’s really cold out here now. I wait for her, give her my jacket to put over her shoulders, bring her back through the torch-lit mud and get them all onstage. It’s a very busy room and the crowd are up for it. I watch two songs, then tell Joel I’m going back for my coat.
I’m out the fire exit again, through the mud. This is ridiculous. I run down there, grab it from the back of the seat I left it on, run back, fight through the crowd, meeting with some angry audience members who don’t want to let me past. They think I’m trying to get in front of them to see the show. I’m cursing everyone and everything under my breath. The show goes fine, and it’s over, and I know this is where the fun starts.
A DJ starts playing obvious ‘80s post-rock and punk, very loudly through the PA and a club night springs up in front of us. Why does everyone think that because a band have a certain aesthetic that they and their audience is going to be dying to hear New Fucking Order after every fucking show or, whatever other industrial shite Manchester was churning out in 1980? The last time I saw the band dance it was to Lionel Richie in Milan after soundcheck. We all love Lionel Richie. Why the fuck can’t we have Lionel Richie after the show? And why does it have to be so fucking loud? I’m trying to work here. We’re all trying to work. I’m trying to count the merch and the merch money while everyone’s smoking around me, and grabbing me to get shit signed. The DJ’s absolutely banging out his music and I’ve had to put earplugs in, but now I can’t hear myself talk to Anna Paolo. This is my office, dammit. This is my place of work and I can’t hear what anyone’s saying to me and I can’t keep count of anything. Imagine you’re trying to finish up some emails in your office on a Tuesday afternoon and someone wheels a fucking nightclub and a bunch of drunk people in. I understand the economics of live venues better than most. I understand that club nights are where the money is, where the lifeline for a cash-strapped venue can be but right now, all I want is to do a Begbie on this bastard DJ.
I grab my laptop from office, back to merch, pushing through the dance floor, avoiding flailing arms. I see Joel and Matt on stage breaking the gear down. I also see a large crowd gathering at the curtain that separates backstage and the main room. They’re waiting for autographs. Load-out’s going to be an absolute bastard.
I get everyone ready.
Giovanni, can you clear a path along here so we can do this?
We get to it. It’s a slog, and for the past hour I’ve realised my answers to questions – and those questions I ask of others – are getting shorter and more brusque. It’s the first time on any tour where I think “Keep this up and all anyone’s going to remember is that the band’s tour manager was a dick.”
No-one seems to understand that a guy walking toward them with his arms full of equipment needs to get past and we’re being slowed down by the audience who’re waiting to meet the band. The van’s parked at the back door but it’s dark outside and muddy, and the only light is a really bright halogen thing shining right in our faces, and the DJ’s still doing his thing. Over and over and over. We’re shuttling back and forward, back and forward until the gear’s all at the van and Joel and Matt command the pack. I’m putting earplugs in when I’m walking back to the stage to get more boxes, taking them back out at the van. Now I need to get the band out of here without delay. We take their suitcases for them so they can travel light and keep moving.
I get them together, ask them to keep their heads down, tell them I’ll get all the fans outside so at least they can all be heard, and do the signings and photos there. I fall into conversation with a woman whose name I now forget. She was waiting at the curtain to speak to the band and I think I was unintentionally rude to her then. She tells me she is a DJ on a local radio station and has been playing Savages since the beginning, that many of the audience are here because they’ve heard the band on her show, heard her passion and enthusiasm. I listen carefully, because she is important in the grand scheme of things. All these people who help put a band on a stage, or a magazine cover, or in front of a microphone. They are important. I thank her for her dedication and commitment. We shake hands and say goodbye.
After about ten minutes of chat and photos with the fans, I get everyone out of there, and nurse the van carefully around narrow turns until we get onto the main street and, after a few minutes, the hotel.
Johnny mentions to me in the van that it’s a great venue for a gig. He’s right. The production was good, I got a table to sit down at, the staff were cool, helpful, attentive, friendly. No argument. It’s just a bad venue to work in and I don’t know what you do about that. The Luminaire had no shower or toilet backstage, a small merch area, air conditioning that didn’t always work and we couldn’t afford to replace. Every venue has its faults and unless you can throw money at it, all you can do is be as nice as you can when the bands and audience arrive, and hope that’s enough for them to have a good night, and remember the time they had there fondly.
Check-in is the usual torturous, pointless, bullshit, with everyone needing to sign a form and have their passport photocopied and finally, finally, the lobby is empty and I sit down at a table in the hotel’s deserted, unlit bar, tiredness hitting me like a half-brick in the forehead. I sit there for a couple of minutes and listen to myself breathe.
I missed a whole load of work today so get my laptop open and get on with it. I’m there for a couple of hours, eating my soup out of the container with a small glass from the bar as a spoon. My evening meal at two-thirty in the morning.
Guitarist will be asleep and the last thing she needs is me coming in and washing my face and brushing my teeth and waking her up. So I go into the public toilet near the lobby and do it all there, remove my belt, tie, tie-clip, shoes and socks and jacket. Whatever I can take off that will reduce the amount of time – and therefore the amount of noise – I might make in the room, getting into bed.
It’s around four a.m. when I lie down. I no longer have the energy to think and I’m grateful for that. Some days are just best forgotten.
I set my alarm for 0900, and pass out.
THURSDAY 27 FEBRUARY | BOLOGNA > MUNICH
I sleep heavily, wake abruptly, get up, shower, dress, go to breakfast. For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I can’t be bothered to take my laptop. I’m in the lobby at 1100, Joel gets the van, parks up at the train station over yonder, and the band wander down a little later and we leave Bologna almost an hour after I’d planned. Sometimes trying to get everyone to respect the lobby call time is like trying to turn a hedgehog into a ballet.
Today the drive is carrot and stick. The stick is that I must pass a couple of hours in the company of those Italian drivers I’ve grown to resent so much. The carrot is that the journey takes us through The Central European Alps in Austria and, unless the roads and view are obscured by snow or fog – in which case you’ve got more to worry about than whether you can see the tops of the mountains – the vistas are spectacular. We stop at our last Italian service station for lunch. To give the Italians a pat on the back for a minute, their service stations can be pretty decent, with a wide enough choice to satisfy the palette of most, unless you’re gluten-free, in which case you’re fucked pretty much everywhere you go. Singer and Drummer know all about this.
Later we take a bathroom/diesel stop. I see a sign on a door that says BABY ROOM. I tell everyone to get back in the van, quickly.
And so as the road winds north we head into the Alpine foothills and a crisp, cold air only serves to sharpen the outlines of the snowy peaks ahead. I’m tired of trying to take photos through the windscreen while doing 85mph, so pull over at a service station not so far from Innsbruck and walk into McDonalds. It might be the only McDonalds worth walking into anywhere on the planet. The view from the windows is wonderful and we loiter awhile, finally taking photographs worth keeping. We’re soon back on the Autobahn and Matt takes a shift, giving me a chance to do some laptop-work.
There’s no show today: the target is Munich where we will sleep, splitting the journey tomorrow to Prague 60/40. We’re on the outskirts of town but that’s fine; no-one’s angling to visit a techno club. My assistant Brana has booked us into a modern, comfortable Park Inn, which isn’t quite modern enough to have wifi in the rooms, so after we check in, while everyone else sits in the lobby, I tether my phone to my laptop. For £3 a day Vodafone will let you use your data and minutes as if you’re in the UK, which is great. Then they financially rape you everywhere else in the world. I have to work so give myself the sole-occupancy room.
The hungry and thirsty among us decamp to a grand-looking pub across the road; the colourfully named Dicke Sophie, and avail ourselves of their delicious food and beer. A night off is a wonderful thing. It’s not a day and a night but look, I’ll take what I can get at this point and be thankful for it. The waitress is extremely stern, though efficient, and it is to my enormous embarrassment that I find myself scrambling to catch a falling pint glass before it smashes at my feet, and the entire pub falls silent turning to look at the silly Scottish man who can’t handle his drink.
She brings me another, charges me for it.
Back at the hotel, while the others watch TV and masturbate, I settle down to four hours of tour accounts. I am glad to do it. I mean, I’m not glad to do it; I’m pleased to get it out of the way. Ideally you want to get your accounts straightened out before bed every night, but my ideals have long since gone out of the window on this tour.
Tomorrow is Prague, then, and if I’d had the foresight to plan ahead, I’d get myself online and find somewhere to eat on the way before we set off
But I don’t, because it doesn’t occur to me, what with my head being full of numbers and currencies.
We will all suffer tomorrow because of it.
FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY | PRAGUE
See that? Another photo I didn’t take. I didn’t take any photos in Prague. I got that one from Google Images.
Lobby blah blah on the road at whatever time. I swear I can’t remember any of this any more. I’m writing it eight days after it happened. The weather was shite, that much I know. Grey, low cloud-base, cold. Horrible.
We cross the border into the Czech Republic and 3G on my phone is a distant memory. In fact, I’m struggling to get a signal at all. All over the rest of the mainland, even into the Alps, the signal is strong and I can work in the van. Not here. Not in the Czech Republic. I’ve been looking for a service station to stop in for over an hour now, before we leave German soil but no, we’re in the Czech Republic. We stop at a station over the border and get out. Band takes one look at the restaurant, retreats. We use the opportunity for a toilet stop anyway, and are all delighted to see that, when the toilets are closed, the patrons just shit all over the pavement. We can see they wipe their arses though, so they’re not complete savages.
I pull over at another services which looks more promising, but sells meat and little else. Onward to Prague. I call ahead to the hotel, make sure they have a 24 hour restaurant with food for all. They do. I put my foot down. I’m going to go ahead and assume I was tired of driving because by the time we arrive into the city I can’t be arsed with it. It’s just another city with old buildings. So what? Who cares?
What a spoiled prick.
Check in first at the Hilton. Real nice. Matt and Joel go to venue to set up, I eat and work. Band eat and gather themselves. I book taxis, they come, take us to venue at 1645. Anthony is our promoter, a friendly Frenchman. He takes care of us and we have what we need here. Matt and Joel report that the load in is an absolute bastard. A long walk from van, then down two flights of stairs, through two sets of double doors to room. They have crew to help them but still, we know it won’t be fun at load out. I don’t really have anywhere practical to set up my production office so I balance on the end of the catering table backstage. There’s a fair bit of running around today, sorting merch out, moving the van, tying up lose ends for the next shows, and in the mêlée I misplace my phone. 45 minutes of searching turns nothing up but I’m know I haven’t taken it outside. I just know. I get Drummer’s phone and use the Find My iPhone feature. It locates it, inside the venue, making the search all the more maddening. It’s a massive waste of my time. After an hour I remember one of the rules of the road: If you’re absolutely sure a lost item isn’t in a certain place, that’s where you’ll find it. Despite three members of venue staff looking at the map on the screen and saying yes, that’s definitely inside the venue, I run down to look inside the van and there it is in the front seat where I put it when I went to re-park earlier. I’ve no memory of taking it. In fact, I remember deciding to not take it. I’ve just thrown an hour down the toilet.
Once doors are open – 45 minutes late to let us soundcheck both acts properly – Matt and I go to eat. He and Joel have had nothing since breakfast. We try a restaurant next door but it’s too busy so Matt decides to go without for now. Joel and I go over the road and find a falafel joint, order. It is very good falafel indeed. I warm to Prague a little.
There’s no non-public access to stage tonight so I have to take band to a ‘holding area’, which is the space between two double doors into the room. I get them there and ask a few audience members to use the other entrance. I get them on and spend the show, as usual, between side-of-stage (except there is no side-of-stage tonight because the stage is the full width of the room; Joel and I are standing in the audience) and dressing room, working, appearing and disappearing as I judge it prudent to do so. At close of show we think about the load out and I pack up merch with Merch Seller fast as I can. The money’s wrong, of course, as it has been every night so far, but I’m doing the merch job for free on this tour, and don’t have the time to dedicate to it that it needs, so while I don’t like inaccuracies, particularly when it comes to money, I just need to accept they’re going to occur, and hope that everyone is understanding.
Upstairs a DJ has a club night going and the bar is busy. We have to load out through this, and get band to van without being stopped or hassled. I ask them to pack their things and stay put until I come get them. It’s a long, hard job tonight, with those stairs and the drunk people in the way, and I have to keep an eye on dressing room door because the drunk people want to walk in unescorted for autographs and I have to chase some of them away.
Finally we’re ready to take band out and I ask them to keep their heads down and keep moving, but it seems that we’ve taken so long to load out that most of the fans who might have been waited have long vanished into the night. It’s a relief. I drive us back to the hotel and get everyone inside. Joel and I park up. No height restrictions tonight. Just a wide, roofless carpark where a van like ours can cool its pistons.
The nicer the hotel, the less time I spend in the room and that’s how it goes again tonight, not helped by a problem with my room key that takes four journeys to reception to fix. I’m fuming and don’t do such a good job of hiding it when the staff consistently fail to resolve the issue.
Lobby call is 0700, the earliest we’ve had. I advise everyone to get to breakfast (it’s free) by 0600, and take food away for lunch because we’re driving between Prague and Warsaw, and who knows when we’ll be able to eat until we reach venue. It’s one of those suggestions, though, that I know is going to go unheeded, despite breakfast here being by far the best we’ll have on this tour.
I look at the time on my phone as I set my alarm for 0535, less than four hours away.
This is getting a bit ridiculous.
SATURDAY 01 MARCH | WARSAW
My alarm goes off, I silence it in under two seconds. I don’t suppose waking this quickly is good for my heart.
For the next ten minutes I dress and pack those few items I had time to unpack four hours ago. This brings me to 0545. The following ten minutes are to define what it is to be a tour manager.
I open my laptop bag to retrieve the laptop and find it to be absent. It doesn’t take me long to know that it’s not in the room, the hotel, or van. Even in the darkness, with just a phone for light, I know I’m wasting my time looking and immediately switch to damage-control mode.
I think about how early I can wake Anthony, the promoter, to arrange access to venue to find it (it must be there, right?), which will mean I have to stay behind while van goes ahead, how tired Joel and Matt will be half-way through the longest drive on the tour which is today, and how that will affect the band mentally (you want to relax in the back of the van, not wonder if this is the day your driver will fall asleep and you will die), how often and how long the trains are to Warsaw and if I’ll be able to work on it), where the Apple Store is in Prague, when my last backup was (36 hours ago. That’s pretty good) and what I need to tell the venue in Warsaw today ahead of my arrival, perhaps many hours after the band arrive. At no point in my thought process do I consider that I’ll need to fork out almost a grand to replace my most valuable personal belonging, which is probably the second thought of anyone who loses a laptop, after they’ve freaked out about someone getting their hands on all of the compromising photos and videos contained therein. Every thought I have is focussed on how what has just happened will affect the tour and how the band will look upon this pretty whopping, embarrassing fuck-up, how they will view me afterwards, to what extent it will dent trust in me.
As a Tour Manager it is your job to put yourself last at all times and after a while that’s just how you naturally think, and when you come off the road it takes time to snap back into thinking about your own wellbeing. It helps if you’re generally altruistic in the first place and it’s partly what attracted me to this lifestyle. I love customer service, and there is no greater calling (other than maybe saving an orphanage full of quadriplegic children who’re about to suffocate in a fire, started by a pack of wolves) for someone who loves customer service than a career dedicated to those you admire and respect. Now of course, you’re not going to be of any use to those around you if you continually set aside eating and sleeping because someone wants their hair-brushed, but thankfully I do not (and wouldn’t) work with an especially needy band. As Drummer said to me the other day during a conversation about extravagant hospitality riders of famous bands; “the only thing I’ve ever added to the rider is a jar of mayonnaise and a jug of tap water”.
But we’re all naturally a little bit selfish. It’s what keeps us alive. Tour Managers are just better at hiding it than the rest of you.
During the final moments of my vanished-laptop-induced (controlled) meltdown, I hear Joel’s alarm go off. That’s strange, I think. He left a note asking me to wake him because his phone is dead, so if his phone is dead how can his alarm be going off it it’s not charged? I walk over to the bed and tell him it’s 0600. The light from my phone illuminates his bed and I see that he’s already sitting up, with his laptop next to him. I look at it, and it slowly dawns on me that, wait…
I don’t remember seeing Joel with a laptop on this tour.
“Joel, what the fuck..!”
“Sorry man… sorry… my phone was dead and I took your laptop to charge it and…”
The waves of relief crash against the rocks of murderous intent so I retrieve my stolen goods and head downstairs for breakfast, cursing him and those who brought him into the world, and vowing that I will have my vengeance.
I pick a table at the back of the restaurant with a power-point for laptop and set about the business of consuming slow-energy-releasing food. Nine hours in a van is not something to be done on an empty stomach. The breakfast is the best we’ve had on this tour by far. One by one the band, crew and support arrive and sit together on the other side of the restaurant. They’ve grown accustomed to seeing me sitting in corners, alone, tapping keys, and generally leave me to get on with it. 95% of the time I am as I look: busy with work, trying to keep the wheels on a particular part of the tour, or the next tour, best not disturbed, and during the other 5% I’m like anyone else in the world: just not in the mood for a chat.
I stuff my face, make a large sandwich, go get the van, change my shirt in the carpark. Joel appears. He’s had about an hour’s sleep for reasons we best not go into here, so he’ll be in the back of the van sleeping for a while so he can take a turn later. We load, I check us out, settle the bill, and we set off, late as usual. Singer likes to sit up front, usually after a week of sitting in the back, so I get Sam to join her, to navigate next to me. The van is full now, and three up front really isn’t what you want when you’re doing long trips. You want two, the middle seat for your accoutrements, laptop bag, any food you need, headphones, your wallet handy for toll fares, and a bit of room for whoever’s riding shotgun to stretch out, best they can. That person is your co-pilot. Their job is to make sure you’re okay, check on you regularly, get sweets out when required, bottles of water, peel bananas for you, whatever you need. Three up front and it’s very tight, everyone with their elbows in, careful not to nudge the gear stick, jackets and cables encroaching on the others’ personal space. The back’s where the fun and rest happens, the front’s for working; driving, navigating, talking about the show last night from a production point of view, the show tonight from a production point of view, making sure we have parking worked out, calling ahead to venue for last-minute requests. Last thing I want to hear is someone’s conversation about… whatever. Anything. It interrupts my thinking.
We get out of Prague and onto the road. I’m aiming for a town called Wroclaw. I’ve chosen it because it’s a third of the way there (this journey needs split into three: 60/40/40) and because there’s a huge supermarket there. We can stop around 1100 and buy provisions for lunch. Service stations in this part of the world aren’t any good for vegetarians/vegans/gluten-and-dairy-free freaks. As usual, I take the first stint. Partly it’s because I like driving, partly because I’m alert in the morning, partly because I feel a responsibility to do the greatest workload (whether or not it always works out that way, it’s my intention) and because I want to look after the wellbeing of my crew; since Joel does most of the manual labour and I need him rested.
It’s three hours forty-five to Wroclaw and I reckon I can do it in one sitting. Ideally I’ll stop for a toilet break but when you’re wide awake and feel good behind the wheel the last thing you want to do is stop. You hope your colleagues will fall asleep behind you at least for a couple of hours or more, and that when they wake and want a toilet break you can drag it out until you need to. Only on the long drives with tight schedules, mind, and today is one of those. Otherwise you can stop at your leisure, within reason.
So Sam sits next to me, Singer gets a pillow positioned against the window and draws her coat hood up, settles in for the haul. Inexplicably, our satnav doesn’t recognise the Czech Republic or Poland so I have to use my phone and also the road signs, like in olden days. When you get used to a satnav, it takes a bit of adjustment to do without. After an hour or so I miss a turn, but recover quickly, only five minutes lost. Further along the road I miss another when my phone map only shows one road but the one I need passes directly underneath. I re-plan and get on with it. Unfortunately I find myself on some backroads for almost forty-five minutes, through forest chicanes, then a road which hasn’t seen fresh tarmac in twenty years. Despite my extreme care on corners and roundabouts to try and keep the van from lurching around, I know that everyone behind me can either see we’re not on a motorway or can feel it, and that just increases my annoyance with myself. We’re in real backwater territory here and it’s making me crazy. Miraculously, once I get back on the E40 motorway I see that I’ve only lost ten minutes on my scheduled time, so get my foot down on some particularly smooth, quiet stretches, and eat up the miles. Two hours in, headphones on, tapping out a rhythm like a pro-cyclist, dancing on the pedals.
The last thing you want to do on a long drive is get comfortable, so the air up front blows cool or cold, no mater what the temperature outside. If you want to stay awake and alert you need discomfort. Discomfort is your ally. I like to put the A/C on cold and point an air vent at my hand until it gets a bit painful, then leave it there. It’s not easy to nod off when you’re feeling pain. Or, when I need to use the toilet, I don’t. Drag that out for an hour, though, and discomfort turns to pain, then agony, as it does now, and I miss a service station due to a badly placed sign. My bladder is about to pop. Van is awake and keen to stop. They’re keen to stop? I’m close to causing myself massive internal bleeding here. I’m beyond-relived to see a huge Tesco supermarket on my right and swerve in, throw Matt the keys and literally sprint to the bathroom.
Ah Christ, that was close.
Three hours and ten minutes straight. It’s a good shift. That leaves Matt and Joel with two hours each, or I’ll take another stint if I’m feeling good later.
Tesco delivers unto me two new Sharpie pens, some duct tape for stage and some masking tape for the merch, plus a few consumable odds and ends. We’re back on the road after an hour, Singer at the window, then me, then Matt on the drive. He puts in a couple of hours as I navigate, and it’s a slog. Phone satnav doesn’t agree with road signs and part of the motorway is closed, and there’s some dirt tracks to get through again, but we get back on track then I take over for the last leg. Joel’s keen but I tell him he’s got a long night ahead and best he’s rested. The traffic into Warsaw is heavy under a grey sky but we finally get ourselves along to Nowy Teatr (New Theatre) which is hosting its first live show tonight, it being a place that usually stages theatre productions. The building had something to do with the city’s trams in the past, or its government vehicles, or something. I can’t remember. It’s a massive warehouse space, cut into two with loads of flexibility. Somehow they’re managing to keep it warm. If this was in the UK we’d be freezing our balls/ovaries off.
As soon as set foot inside everything is ready for us. Everything. There’s someone to tend to whatever we need and production manager Kai runs a tight ship. Julia who’s taking care of merch tonight is a stone-cold professional, then we’ve Claudia tending to all our hospitality requirements. I even have my own – very large – Production Office. Such luxury. These things set the tone for the day and – we should hope – the show. I take an age to sort the merch out, because I didn’t have time to finish the accounts or count in Prague last night. Julia shows great patience while I dick around, trying to convert pounds to Euros to Czech crowns to Polish złoty. I’m in need of food and feel my mind beginning to scramble. You don’t want this when you’re working on merch and trying to do day-old accounts. I realise I keep leaving things in my production office, which is at the other end of this large building, so I’m back and forward to collect printer… ah, forgot my pen… ah, forgot paper… ah, forgot to bring my charger… ah c’mon… the amount of time I waste today on stuff like this. That’s sleep-deprivation for you.
Which reminds me: what is it with people in my business bragging about how little sleep they get like it’s some kind of Top Trumps? Sleep-deprivation is the world’s most common form of torture. It’s not cool to not get enough sleep. It’s idiotic. I want seven hours a night and I want to brag about getting it and getting my work done and having time to have a glass of Cointreau in the hotel bar after each show. But for now, there’s not the money to hire a Production Manager, Merch Seller, driver and all the other crew we could do with to make our lives easier. This band is a small business and like any small business, everyone needs to get their hands dirty in the beginning and if there isn’t money to throw at a problem, then all that can be thrown is time, usually mine.
Once I’ve got Singer and Guitarist set up with an interview each for local media, I take Drummer out in the van for her dinner, and to grab food for Sam, Adam, Joel, Matt and myself, and she and I pass a most pleasant thirty minutes in a cute restaurant in the middle of what looks to me like a pretty grim housing estate, built by the Soviets after the Second World War. It’s my first time in Warsaw and I’m sure, like most places unfamiliar, it would take a local guide to reveal its beauty. Whatever, it’s a change to get out of the venue after doors and I’m glad she gave me cause to do so.
We get back, everyone gets fed, we watch some of A Dead Forest Index, who’re consistently great, and I prepare band for stage, and stage for band, keeping out of Joel’s way as he works. The venue could probably hold 1,500 comfortably, and Savages are selling around the 300-500 mark in this part of the world, it being their first time here, and although the audience is really into it, with lots of shouting after each song, they’re not the most mobile crowd I’ve seen and the LD is a bit too trigger-happy with the smoke machine which keeps suffocating Drummer. I move the machine, pointing it away from her. The next blast misses her. I relax. Then a second machine I hadn’t noticed chokes her. She’s not pleased. I move that one, then ask LD to knock it off and he does. Lights are good though. Gently pulsing, nothing frantic, just the way they like it. When this room’s packed it’ll be a magnificent place to sell-out. As it is, it’s a great venue, and the production (which has been brought in and built from scratch just for our show) is first class, but the vibe in the room’s a wee bit too cold for a truly incendiary performance.
I stick my head into the dressing room for a second to apologise to Drummer for the smoke machines, then remembered why I don’t stick my head into the dressing room very much. I head over to merch to see how Julia’s doing and she and I pack down, count out, and settle up. We talk a little about the idea of repricing merch according to what each market is used to paying (good advice) and I shake her hand goodbye, grab the boxes with Matt’s help. Everyone’s outside around the van and I take a few minutes to pack up my things, and Sam and Adam bring me a couple of bottles of local craft beer. They look great but once this day’s over I’ll not be wanting to drink. I might get a chance after one of the long drives ahead, though, so put them in my bag.
I take time to talk to Kai and Claudia, to thank them for their great help and that of their crew. Despite it not being a show that the band will remember much of when they’re telling their grandkids about their life in a band, the crew and production are to be loudly applauded and I’ll be sure to pass this along to the band’s booking agent and management in the morning.
Final checks on the stage and dressing rooms for anything left behind, then we’re gone. The hotel is two streets away and we drive around to the door. As is the custom, I jump out and start the check-in procedure while Joel wrestles the luggage from the van’s storage area. Most mainland European hotels need to see passports and have everyone fill out an arrivals form. It’s tedious and laborious when we just want to get to our beds.
I give Guitarist an hour or so to perform those ritualistic tasks we all attend to before lights out, working in the lobby while a party of drunk locals raise hell with reception, then head upstairs, shower, get my belongings together in one place for the morning, so as to make as little noise as possible when I wake, and set my alarm for six hours in the future.
The band fly to Stockholm tomorrow to enjoy a day off, while the men drive, via Copenhagen, which means another bromantic, borderline homoerotic road-trip. I’m looking forward to it.
Sleep takes me almost instantly.
SUNDAY 02 MARCH | WARSAW > COPENHAGEN (DRIVE)
Lobby is 0845. I have breakfast. It’s crap. Who the hell pickles red peppers? The restaurant is playing Miami Sound Machine’s ‘Dr. Beat’, then ‘Bamboleo‘ by The Gypsy Kings. If you sit down in any hotel in the world and wait long enough, ‘Bamboleo’ by The Gypsy Kings will eventually be played.
I check out, instruct reception to book a taxi at 1415 for the band to take them to the airport, and leave an envelope containing 100 Zloty in order that they might pay for this taxi.
Outside it is cold and dry. I can’t remember the last time it rained since I left London.
I ask Joel to take the first drive. He is happy to. I’ve given him a break for the past couple of days and now he wants to repay Matt and I by pulling the longest shift he can. No-one needs a hero behind a steering wheel, but I’m as guilty as anyone of wanting to reach that next service station… okay, the next one… no, the next one. This is one of the longest drives we’ll do. almost 500 miles, 7 hours driving, 8.5 hours on the road to include one lunch stop in a supermarket, 1 diesel and toilet stop, a second if necessary.
Sam and Adam rest up in the back, Matt works on some live audio of A Dead Forest Index on his laptop, I work away on mine up front. The motorway out of Warsaw is smooth, quiet. A Sunday. I notice there are far less cars on the road here than other places we’ve visited and I wonder if there really is a lesser percentage, if car ownership per head of population is less than, say, Germany. It’s a straight shot with very few tolls all the way to the German/Polish border and Joel gets his foot on the floor. The van is four people and four suitcases lighter and it feels slightly less sluggish than of late. We pull over near Poznan to go to a Carrefour supermarket. I need a toothbrush, some moisturiser for my gnarled, calloused hands, and lunch. It feels more like a Lidl than a Marks & Spencers but we manage to get enough between us for a picnic in the carpark of an industrial estate which could be in Swindon or Coventry. Adam gets a roll and puts a huge chunk of tofu in it. That’s his lunch. Tofu in a roll. We rally round and offer sliced apple, cheese, salad and his mood brightens significantly. We’re all in good spirits on this, our second of two 100% man road trips. Joel feels like he can do another hour at the wheel so off we go again. I take the opportunity to close my eyes for a while and the sun hits the left hand side of the van the whole way. I tape one of the curtains to the window and nod off soon enough. I’ve learned a lot about sleep and sleeping in this job, and can impart the following advice to you, if it is of interest:
– If you fall asleep for ten minutes, you’ve slept. It’s all sleep. It all helps. Don’t dismiss it. Obviously more than ten minutes is preferable. But don’t nod off for ten minutes and tell me you haven’t slept. You’ve slept for ten minutes
– Don’t waste your time trying to get comfortable. You don’t need to be comfortable to sleep. You just need to be sufficiently tired
– Don’t waste your time trying to rest against a window, or a wall, or anything else that forces your neck to one side, unless you can significantly recline. It’s not that you can’t sleep that way; it’s that you’re trying to get comfortable, aren’t you? Don’t. What will happen is that your neck muscles will relax and your head will fall forward, and you’ll wake, and you’ll rest your head again, and fall asleep, and your neck muscles will relax and your head will fall forward, and you’ll wake, and on it goes. Stop it. Your wasting time when you could be asleep
– Sit upright and drop your head so that your chin is almost against your chest. Close your eyes. If you’re tired enough you’ll fall asleep. You won’t keep waking because your neck muscles relax (they’re already relaxed) and you won’t be photographed by your colleagues with your mouth gaping open like a sedated hooker
– You’ll wake with a stiff neck no matter which way you sleep. That’s the way it goes. If you want a good sleep every night, stay single, don’t have any kids and get a job on a building site. Manual labour’s a good way to tire you out. Or crewing for a band.
And so I rest my head against my chin and pass out for thirty minutes or so. Joel pulls over somewhere or other, we get diesel, Adam makes a terrible job at washing the windscreen (Matt is the master at this but is otherwise occupied, resting his legs in the bathroom) but we appreciate his efforts nonetheless.
I take the wheel and notice that Joel’s put in four hours and fourteen minutes today. That’s a seriously long shift. He gets in the back and he, Adam and Sam watch the De Niro/Pacino vehicle ‘Heat’. It’s loud. I put my headphones on and shuffle. EPMD, Jenny Hval, Paul Simon, Logh, Nas, whatever else comes around. It’s a lovely day and the Autobahn is kind to me. Quiet. Plenty opportunity to gain some minutes on our ETA. A motorbike shoots past at what must be 160-170mph. A braver man than me. This van we’re in (a Mercedes 311 Sprinter) has the highest specced engine that Mercedes put in a van, and when it’s not full of people and equipment it can really move for something so big. It’s a good workhorse.
On arrival at Rostock Ferry Terminal – from where we’ll depart the mainland for the colder air of the first of our three Nordic countries – the lady in the booth asks if the van is longer than six metres, like this:
“Is your van longer than six metres?” she says to me.
“Noooo! I say. “It is less than six metres.”
She glances down the van and I realise she’s staring at the windows to which, previously and unknown to me, Joel has taped Japanese newspapers to keep the light out while the film was on. I’ve no idea where anyone got a Japanese newspaper from. I can see that the whole scenario looks very dodgy indeed from where she’s sitting.
“I will measure your van” she says in deadpan, heavily-accented German.
“Ah c’monnn….” I plead, and one of the smart arses behind me in the back says – so only I can hear;
“Why’s she measuring it? Is the boat only 5 metres long?”
She gets one of those big measuring wheels out, walks down the length of the van while Joel takes the Japanese newspapers down so that she can see we’re not shooting a porno in here. She comes to my window. I roll it down.
“You see?” she says. “It is over six metres.”
It is six metres and ninety centimetres. I roll my eyes good-naturedly and then say to her like this:
“What’s the problem? Is the boat only five metres long?”
We all laugh but my borrowed-banter goes no way toward procuring us a discount and she duly charges us a further twenty Euros. I bid her a warm “tschüss” and drive on to Lane 1. We wait a while, use the portacabin-bathroom, the boat comes. A large steward walks over as I’m out of the van to put my coat on. He is smiling and extends a hand which, upon inspection, contains two wrapped sweets.
“These are for my English friends!” he booms, very friendly.
“Thanks!” I say. “Now what about your Scottish and New Zealander friends?!”
We all laugh.
Ah, so many laughs at this ferry terminal. First the lady in the booth with her measuring tape, now the steward and his sweets. When I was a young boy, my family – like many around us – took our first package tour to Spain, and our hotel was populated by German families. I remember my impression of them was that they were tall, athletic, friendly, very polite and courteous, and with better spoken English than me. I still feel the same about them now. I’ve never met a German I didn’t like.
We get ourselves on the boat when instructed, park up, and proceed directly to the buffet, intending to repay Sam’s kindness from last week when he bought us all dinner in Saintes Marie de la Mer. I get him and Sam a buffet ticket each and we set about that very privileged, white Westerner pursuit of continuing to eat when no longer hungry. The crossing to Denmark would take one hour and forty-five minutes, so you can imagine how much food we would entirely unnecessarily consume. We do our duty, which includes ice-cream, and seconds. Plus one of those Polish craft-beers I’ve snuck on in my bag. Contraband.
The ferry does its thing and soon we have docked and the announcer is telling us to get back in the van. We can’t think of a reason to disobey, so do as instructed. Joel, Sam and Adam sit in back, put another film on, while up front Matt steers the ship through the night and I plug a portable speaker into my laptop and bust out some of that ill 1960’s Hammond-fuelled jazz shit that only The Incredible Jimmy Smith can pop off, and by and by we arrive into Copenhagen, which is a very nice place whichever way you look at it.
Matt parks up outside, dodging the cyclists who rule this city, I check us in, Sam and Adam retire for the evening. Matt, having the luxury of his own room, follows suit. But Joel and I are not quite done with the day, and after moving the van to a location less likely to get us a ticket, we take a taxi to my favourite bar in Denmark (I’ve only been to three so far) the Mikkeller bar (owned by the eponymous brewer) and order a couple of strong (9%) citra-hopped (me) and simcoe-hopped (him) IPAs, then a couple of Imperial Stouts (10%). They’re tiny glasses; not much more than 20cl but by God they taste good and given how little I drink these days my head’s a little light as we head back outside into a cold, welcoming darkness. We visit a 7 Eleven to buy a parking ticket, I send Joel to bed and take the opportunity – while walking to the van – to call a friend in New York who needs relationship advice from me.
Relationship advice from me.
MONDAY 03 MARCH | COPENHAGEN > STOCKHOLM (DRIVE)
Another day, another lack of photos. This one’s from Tripadvisor. Looks pretty though, eh?
Lobby is a reasonable 1000, and the drive is a beast, around ten hours on the road if we stop for a sit-down lunch. We will not, though, because this crew is hardcore and we do not stop for sit-down lunches. I pull into a service station and stock up on diesel. The weather is cold, grey, very windy. The van is being blown around a lot. It doesn’t make for a very enjoyable drive and, as I sit here and write this I cannot remember one more thing about it, other than freezing my balls off at a gas station when the pump wouldn’t work, and a stop at a great supermarket somewhere in Sweden, and finding a huge, fresh salad bar, and filling our boxes like we’d just struck gold, which in a dietary sense, we had.
Speaking of diet (bear with me while I run with an extended metaphor) I was recently chastised on the internet for referring to guest list as “a malignant tumour on the lactating breast of the live music industry”, but the way I figure it, if cancer’s going to kill most of us, I may as well get some literary use out of it. Thor Harris of Swans refers to bands complaining as “tour cancer”. He’s right. Junk food is also tour cancer. It causes verbal diarrhoea when the sugar hits, then floors you with slumps and crashes. It’s different if you’re 24 years old though. When you’re 24 years old you can eat any old shite and get on with your day. Joel’s 24 and eats any old shite, particularly from the Haribo range of confectionary. I’m 41 with a massive sweet tooth that I’ve battled all my life, so having someone with a big bag of sweets and a cast-iron digestive tract sitting up front with me isn’t conducive to my health. It’s not that I want to eat Haribo. Haribo is fucking terrible. It’s that he gets me thinking about sweets and before I know what I’m doing I’m buying poor-man’s Spanish Opal Fruits in a service station and giving myself a colossal headache after twenty minutes, and, worse, writing two hundred words about it on here.
It’s nighttime when we reach Stockholm and the reception takes fifteen minutes to check us in, partly because the band, bless them, have taken extra rooms, and it is not clear in the receptionist’s head who we are, what we want and for how long, why we want to go into the rooms of women who we claim we know, who will pay for all these rooms over three nights; me, band, or promoter, or a combination of two or three of those options. To be fair to him, it is moderately confusing. I move in with the Singer. She is out. The men meet in the lobby and we walk to the Bishops Arms pub, on the recommendation of my friend Karl who runs the Monstera Booking Agency, later discovering the reason he was keen we met there was because he lives above it. But it is a nice place and we eat and drink and enjoy the conversation, then Karl takes us for a view of the city which is also nice, but would be nicer if it wasn’t foggy. We wander the streets, looking for another bar to sit in, find one, sit in it, drink, walk home, go to bed at a reasonable hour.
I never said today would be interesting.
TUESDAY 04 MARCH | STOCKHOLM
We have the luxury of a morning and a small piece of an afternoon off, and I spend mine working in the hotel restaurant, trying to make sense of a forest of receipts and currencies. I meet with partial success. The breakfast is good and no-one is playing bad ‘80s pop over the hifi so it is, all in all, a pleasant place to sit, what with the waitress being very friendly and attentive, and easy on the eye, and the food plentiful. Various members of crew, band and support wander over as breakfast turns to lunch, with hellos and questions and requests, and I try and make head or tail of the situation with PDs.
PDs are per diems, or the pocket money that band and crew get each day. It will vary between bands of different levels. We are on £15 or whatever the local equivalent is, maybe a bit more in the Nordic Region since it’s expensive up here. I tend to give them out in blocks of a few days, so we’ll do five days each at 20€, meaning I don’t need to scramble around shops, bars and hotel receptions trying to find change. However, there’s seven of us, and we all have different needs, so it usually descends into a monetary morass. Someone wants three days of Euros, one day in Czech Crowns and one in Sterling when they get back to the UK. I’ll need to go to the bank to get the Crowns out, or ask them to wait until the end of the show when I’ve got some income from merch sales, and then they’ll change their mind and only want two days of Euros, or try and give me some money back that they never used, or half of it, or have it converted into a different currency and in total I’m keeping track of (on this tour) twenty-two days x seven people = one hundred and fifty four daily payouts across seven currencies. It’s a ball-ache, no doubt about it.
I should probably take a shower and get out of yesterday’s clothes. On the way out last night I see a shop I want to visit and, after getting cleaned up I make a rare personal foray into a city, with a whole forty-five minutes to enjoy myself.
I buy a shirt.
We’re in the van at 1350, venue 1400 and Teddi is there to meet us and handle the hospitality for the day and be the liaison between us and venue. I also have the pleasure of meeting again Mr. Burt McRoy, a Chicagoan gentlemen now living and working here, and with whom I share a physical resemblance. Luckily for both of us, we seem to like each other. There can’t be much worse than finding out your doppelgänger is a dick.
The next six hours or so are spent getting to know the venue and staff, answering questions and making requests of my own, making sure, that, by that time doors open at 2000, everyone has what they need from both sides, and merch is properly set up. P3, a Swedish radio station, are recording the show, which means more people to speak to and wishes to fulfil. For whatever reason, despite six hours to get everything done, I’m still running around after doors, tying up loose ends and trying to eat my dinner while moving. It’s a good, modern venue down by the river, and is the sister venue to the legendary Debaser which is being closed down due – I think – to some transportation construction. That said, it lacks anywhere for me to sit and work, other than up in its own offices, and I prefer to be where band and crew can see me. I set myself up on the floor in a corridor between venue and the restaurant it owns next door. As well as providing our hospitality rider, promoter feeds us dinner, except Drummer, whose particular requirements have been forgotten by the kitchen, and because I have my hands full I have to leave her to fend for herself. But since the chef is English and very accommodating, I feel confident she will perform with a full belly if this is what she desires. Sometimes, with my workload – exacerbated by handing the merch – I need to leave the fate of my charges in their own hands.
Both shows go well. The Nordic peoples aren’t collectively known as physically enthusiastic audiences, and this band certainly thrive off those that are, so, for me, shows up here can be muted, and lack an edge, but I notice the band never put anything less than everything into the performance, and anyway, even on a bad day they’re a better live band than most others on their best day.
Backstage, Adam asks me if he can use my printer to print his boarding pass. He’s getting off the tour in a couple of days, in Copenhagen. I plug it in, give him the cable to insert into my laptop’s USB port and tell him to plug the other end into the printer. Sam gets involved and reports a few minutes later that they cannot get it to work. I take a look and see he’s plugged both ends of the printer cable into the printer. I laugh heartily, and promise I won’t mention this to anyone.
Load-out takes far too long. With the days being this long for Joel and I, I need to pre-plan our departures better, but seem to neglect to do so. He’s clearly annoyed about it. There’s a balance to be struck, though, between letting the band wind down after a show, talking to the audience if they fancy it, and making sure they appreciate it’s keeping us from sleeping. I could tell them all to get cabs but that’s four new worries per night for me, not to mention the additional expense I haven’t budgeted for. I resolve to speak to them about it before the next show, and know I’ll probably forget to do so.
We get them out of there. Joel’s shattered. I don’t feel much better, but drive us back to the hotel, and get them to bed, parking the van in a spot where I’ll probably get a ticket in the morning. It doesn’t really matter. The tour can bear the occasional parking ticket if it means longer in bed and anyway, at this time in the morning, I couldn’t care less. I’m still trying to get my accounts in order so ask reception if I can sit in the restaurant. They allow it, and I’m there to just past 0400, juggling currencies. I remind myself to email the band’s booking agent and managers in the morning, to let them know that, while the crew will run themselves into the ground for them, and we are not pussies, this is all getting a bit daft.
WEDNESDAY 05 MARCH | OSLO
You’d think that, as a 41 year old man, I’d have learned which finger a woman wears a wedding ring on, and that I’d have learned to look at this finger before asking the woman out. But no. The waitress at hotel breakfast is married.
We pack up and get out of Stockholm late. I’m on the first drive and, as is my preference and requirement, I keep the air temperature in the van cool. The gauge says 17º inside, 4.5º outside, though with the outside temperature seeping through the glass, it’s probably not as high as 17º. It’s probably closer to 10º, or less. It’s probably less. I need to stay alert and I’m not going to do that if the cabin is warm and cosy. Besides, they have a heater in the back. A noisy heater, aye, but a heater. It’s just an electrical element with a fan. Basic, but it does the job. Failing that, it’s wintertime in mainland Europe. It’s going to be cold. Best to dress for the weather, and have a blanket handy.
I stop for diesel straight away. It’s a rule of mine: whenever I stop I fill the tank up. If it’s three-quarters full I fill it up anyway. I may as well use the time productively while I wait for everyone to order coffee and take a leak. It lessens the chances of being caught between two service stations when you notice, too late, that you’re out of gas.
Today’s a long drive and it’s one we shouldn’t be doing. Usually at this time of year the conditions between Stockholm and Oslo are testing. Snow is very common. Friends who’ve done this drive have taken eight hours to do it. We need to do it in six to make soundcheck.
Singer is up front with her myriad necessary items for the journey, Joel next to me. Joel is 6ft 3” and his legs don’t really fit in the middle. He needs to sleep. Somewhere along the way I ask them to switch places so he can stretch his legs to an extent, lean against the window.
The van is silent behind me. The road is mostly single lane and this makes for frustrating driving, as I get stuck behind trucks or slow drivers. It’s entirely unenjoyable. We have to stop for a bathroom break and find somewhere on an industrial estate in the outskirts of a small town. It’s a grim place, with one bathroom which slows the stop down. Drummer asks me if I can turn the temperature up, for she is very cold in the back, and becoming distressed at this. I explain why I cannot and we have a brief, heated exchange of views, my first of the tour with anyone. It’s fair to say we all used to argue more, get on each other’s nerves more, but we have largely worked our differences out, or anyway got better at letting the little things that annoy us about each other wash over over us. God knows I’ve enough idiosyncrasies; some of them no doubt wind my colleagues up.
I take a piss, get my heavy, wool overcoat from the equipment area and put it on her seat, get back in the van, The van is cold and here I have a dilemma. I am charged with the care of these people, and part of that care is to keep them alive. I would rather have a cold band than a dead one, which sounds a bit dramatic, sure, but an overweight, high-sided van, consistently breaking the speed limit (our van hire company’s transponder clocks us at 98mph on numerous occasions) with nine people inside on single-lane, unfamiliar roads, and a driver who feels drowsy is a dangerous set of circumstances. It’s difficult to find a balance. A comfortable temperature for those in the back is not a smart move for me. I need to stay uncomfortable. I give this a lot of thought as I sit up there. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic of her situation, or anyone else’s who may be cold but isn’t telling me. I feel bad about it. I increase the temperature to 18º and eventually stop for lunch at a large shopping mall somewhere or other. By this time a light sleet/snow is falling.
There are two supermarkets, a bunch of clothes shops and a café. I fail to find much worth eating and settle for a tub of humous, a fruit smoothie and a baguette. It’s not very nutritious and I need nutrition. The stop is a long one but eventually we’re underway again. Usually I’d hand the driving to Joel but I feel he needs to sleep again after consecutive late nights and early starts so I take on the responsibility of doing the entire drive myself.
Still thinking about my Drummer, I make sure the van is warmed up before they get back in and as we hit the single-lane roads again I keep the interior warmer than before, and see how I go. I spend the next hour or two frequently adjusting the temperature. Blasting warm air, cutting it off, blasting cold air in my face, alternating between A/C and no A/C and glance backward occasionally to see how things are. I can see her curled up with my coat over her, possibly – hopefully – asleep. I cool the temperature down again.
We stop once more for gas and as I cross over into Oslo Kommune, I salute the road sign. My relationship with Oslo and Norway is an intense and emotional one, spanning almost ten years. If someone punched me in the face in Norway I’d thank them for making my day more interesting, and given I pretty much destroyed their biggest, oldest festival in 2008, unintentionally, they have more reason than most to punch me here. Despite that, I probably have more friends in this country than in all the others combined, and those who should still be annoyed seem to have forgiven me. I admire their forgiveness, for there is still one UK booking agent whose jaw I am going to dislocate when I see him, owing to his attempts to bully and threaten me during my festival-destroying time. No grudge is too heavy to carry for life, and that fucker’s day will come.
We arrive at Parkteatret to be met by Maj (venue rep), Morten (promoter) and they bring us inside, help us park, and I have no concerns about the production and hospitality here, for this is Norway, where things work. I’m given a desk in their production office and both artists have a dressing room. Parkteatret is an old cinema in the Grunnerløkka area of Oslo, home to my favourite diner outside of North America (Nighthawk) and one of my favourite bars in the Nordic Region (Bar Boca). I’m quick to set up merch (which is becoming easier as we sell more, so less to carry, and less to count) because I wish to take one hour and forty-five minutes off before the show. The band are happy for me to do this so I meet my friend, Åse, of the mighty Deathcrush, outside. We eat Mexican food and she catches me up on the local music industry gossip. Before I left I made sure everyone had wristbands and dinner buy-outs, and is generally happy and knows where they can eat. I also spend around two hours sitting down and replying to emails, for I have driven six hours today – a tour record (not that there’s a prize for such stupidity) – and have missed a lhot of work in so doing.
Fed, back to venue, check on merch, check on band, A Dead Forest Index take stage and, remarkably, the audience is silent. I say that because Norwegian audiences can be real chatty bastards. I’m determined to get band on stage on time tonight and marshall them in such a way as to best achieve this. I more or less manage it, give or take three minutes or so.
The LD (Lighting Director) is an Englishman named Peter who comes across to me as a man who understands what a band wants. The lights are just what they like, and the show follows suit. I chat with some friends afterwards until I realise it’s stopping me from packing merch up, which is stopping Joel from loading van, which is stopping us from leaving, therefore getting to bed, therefore sleeping. So I get to it, fast as I can. It’s always during the merch breakdown when the adrenalin washes away, any dietary deficiencies are revealed, and I can feel just how tired I am. The drive hits me, and the general accumulative effect of living like this for what has now been eighteen days and nights. I’m going to crash. I do what I can to get everyone out of there as fast as we can, and to make sure I am polite to everyone, despite wanting to lie down as I stand. We thank crew and promoter most kindly, who have been faultless, and exit.
Assistant Brana has booked us into a lovely hotel in the posh Majorstuen area and parking is easy. Check-in is painless for a change. I take my own room and feel the lethargy burrowing into the marrow of my bones. I think about taking a shower but it’ll just wake me up and lobby call’s in a few hours. It’s a good job I’m an exceptionally happy and positive guy by nature because otherwise the crushing inevitability of how my days end and begin might start to get to me after a while. As it is, I get into bed, close my eyes, try to count to twenty, and don’t quite make it that far.
THURSDAY 06 MARCH | COPENHAGEN
I’m like a zombie at breakfast, but I have learned that it’s sometimes best to smile and attempt to bring about a lightness of purpose at these times, lest band and crew mistake me for a miserable, pessimistic bastard. Joel has rested or anyway, he says he has, and I give him the wheel for the haul to Copenhagen. We split the drive in half. Lunch was a supermarket somewhere, with a large shark’s head for a logo, and it’s the usual battle in a Nordic supermarket to find something to snack on. Singer and I walk around like a married couple and neither of us find much to eat. Again it’s bread and humous for me, and some moisturiser for my cracked hands. I doze for parts of the journey, usually with headphones on, but not necessarily playing music. I have Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones and they are, without question, the most valuable personal item I own, and pound-for-pound the best money I have ever spent on anything (£260). I can’t imagine life – never mind Tour Managing – without them. They greatly reduce the impact of soundchecks when I have to work in the same room, other people’s conversations when I’m driving, airplane engines when I need to sleep. Otherwise it’s my Tumi laptop bag which, during the warm summer months, I can live out of. It can take five shirts, a pair of jeans, five days-worth of underwear, and all the tools and toiletries I need to live on the road, plus it’s made of ballistic nylon; the precursor to Kevlar so it’s not going to fall apart after a year. £345, so be sure to buy these things in Duty Free. Quite expensive for a bag, maybe, but I don’t have a fixed abode so this is my equivalent of your house or flat.
I wake, take the wheel, drive us to venue, park up, go inside, find someone to assist us, do my best to be upbeat and friendly, realise I’m not kidding anyone today, and the load-in to Vega begins, a world-class venue of 1,600 capacity. We load from the street into an doorway which is actually a lift that goes directly to stage. What a marvel! I say “we”; I take no part in it, being shown round the building by Niklas of our promoter, Beatbox. It’s a beautiful building, erected in 1956 to a design by Vilhelm Lauritzen, and then-owned by Denmark’s Socialist Party. It’s a bit of a maze and I know I’ll spend a fair bit of my day walking around it. He shows me the merch area, down by the front door, the dressing rooms (one for each band) and my own Production Office. It has freshly-cut flowers in a vase on the table and a large fridge, should I wish to keep anything cool. A Tour Manager’s Production Office only has the illusion of personal space. It won’t be long before someone from band or crew uses it for for something. No matter how many dressing rooms a venue has, it’s the law that a band or crew must use the Tour Manager’s Production Office for something.
Between dressing rooms and stage is the lounge and catering area, and we have our own chef, Peter, who was preparing food for us before we arrived and won’t leave until after the show is over. It’s extraordinarily civilised and a real treat for us. He’s already laid plenty out for us and the main (three-course) meal is still to come. Everyone’s pretty buoyant at this point. I move the van to a safe parking spot, move the merch down to the selling area and generally get my bearings, setting up my Production Office as I like it. Singer has insisted I keep my damn hands off the merch today, that she will set it up, but her partner Johnny Hostile is back in town for they are performing at the after party, and I know she will have that on her mind too, so I secretly resolve to set it up myself, and this is indeed what eventually happens.
I need to do a recount from Oslo last night because there wasn’t time then. My merch seller arrives and she’s good and professional. We get it set up and as doors slowly approach I begin to juggle the minutes and tasks best I can. It’s not so easy in the bigger venues; more distance to walk, harder to find people and every job takes a couple of minutes longer. I take a call from Marie Louise who works for the band’s Danish label. She is arranging an interview here with two of the band and, on her arrival with a colleague – also named Marie Louise, which is useful – and the journalist, who is not named Marie Louise, but Agatha, as memory serves. I try and corral Singer and Guitarist. Singer is missing and phone calls do not reveal her whereabouts. I ask around and it seems she is in the venue’s bar, where the aftershow is to be held, and I send someone along to tell her interview is starting in a minute. Guitarist waits patiently but it is now dinner time, and interview is running twenty minutes late, and that will have a knock-on affect on her show preparations. Marie Louise, Marie Louise and Agatha also wait and I take the chance to eat some soup. Managers and Booking Agent arrive, and we have a conversation about the tour routing, the scheduling and the drives and how we can make it more bearable next time. Xenia from Beatbox comes in and we exchange pleasantries. Tobias from venue is really helpful, as are his crew, and we generally don’t want for anything. Except maybe the start of this interview. I give Tobias a quick security briefing (he’ll want to know if band or audience are inclined to behave in such a way as to cause security to do anything other than stand and keep an eye on things).
We get the interview underway and I go check on merch to make sure Seller has Danish change, and knows what she is doing. I usually take them through the merch twice, describing each item and its history, if it has one: where the live EP was recorded, if it has a download code inside, that Guitarist did the drawings on the t-shirts… anything that might help a sale along, or answer a question.
I pass the time before doors using a variety of methods. Mostly I split it between working on laptop and getting everyone what they need as they need it, but find twenty minutes to myself to have a shower and put some clean clothes on. I did laundry in Stockholm while I was doing the accounts in the early hours of this morning and I’m itching (not literally, no) to get into a pressed shirt. I find an iron and ironing board for this purpose, and make it so.
The show begins almost exactly on time (a personal triumph) and, given the good mood in the camp and the very sturdy security barrier between stage and audience, I suspect Singer might attempt to tight-rope along it, so head down to the photo-pit, make sure she can see me, and watch closely. She decides against it, the show ends, there are smiles all round.
Backstage the talk is of the afterparty. Joel and I have absolutely no intention of going to the afterparty. We still have a couple hours of work left and we get to it, breaking down the stage (him) and merch stand (me) down, counting out, adding up, having receipts signed. During load-out the van keys can be passed around various people who need to open and close and double-lock one of the four doors, depending on their needs. This means, when tired, confusion as to who has the keys can arise, since communication is not at its most fluid at this point in the day.
I give them to Joel, then back to me, then to Sam who wants to let Bassist inside. Sam vanishes, I search venue, return to van, he reappears, I take keys back, then pass them to Joel, then we finish packing. It’s a mess tonight. Band aren’t clear about who’s going where, or when, which bags they need with them, which need to be taken to hotel for storage, which need to be taken to their room. They are either in high spirits, or have friends around them, or have had a couple of drinks, or all three. Everyone will attend the afterparty except myself, Joel and Bassist. After a long day, toward the end of a long tour, the last thing crew may want to do will be to go to a loud bar and have people shout in their ears. As previously stated, we have absolutely no intention of going to the after party.
I grab the last few bags from backstage (there’s a midnight curfew so we need to be clear of the building, sharp) and load them onboard, walk back through the venue to check for any stray items we might have missed. Back at the van, I say some more goodbyes to staff, jump in. Where are the keys, Joel? Joel cannot find them. He is sure he does not have them.
I find them in the ignition where I put them not two minutes ago.
We get on the road
Joel has lost his phone. We pull over, call it, no response.
I turn around and drive back to venue. He scrambles around on the seats and as we pull up, finds it under a coat.
What a couple of amateurs.
Eventually we make the hotel, haul seventeen large bags and cases onto the pavement, then into the lobby, one by one through the revolving door, then haul them to reception, then check everyone in. The whole process takes around thirty minutes. Bassist retires to her lodgings, Joel and I go get a parking ticket at 7 Eleven and dump the van behind hotel, reversing the back-end close to a wall so as to deter thieves and bandits. As previously stated more than once here, we have absolutely no intention of going to the after party.
We’re walking back to the hotel and a taxi rolls past, stops at the lights.
I run after it and shout back to Joel.
We’re going to the afterparty.
He is not interested but for reasons best known to himself he gets in with me, cursing his folly all the way to the door. Singer and Johnny have finished performing but there are people there, and they are drinking, so nothing will do but Joel and I must join them. I procure a couple of strong American pale ales from Tobias at the bar who will not accept my payment. My tiredness has evaporated, and what follows over the next nine hours or so will not be published here, but suffice to say that, when a crew are finally given the chance to let loose in a foreign city with most hospitable hosts and late licensing hours, they do not need any guidance as to how to conduct themselves.
There are to be physical repercussions in the morning and I move lobby call for crew – which was already late enough at 1300 – back to 1400.
God help us.
FRIDAY 07 MARCH | COPENHAGEN > BREMEN > ZEEWOLDE > LONDON
There is nothing so boring as people talking about how much they had to drink, or how hungover they are, so let’s just say I drove while everyone else slept in the back. I don’t suppose I was 100% fit to drive, but I assessed the driving ability of the others as being non-existent and took the wheel. It was to be a long day. Adam of A Dead Forest Index remained in Copenhagen with friends, the band were flying later to Amsterdam and that left me, Joel, Matt and Sam to steer the ship out of Denmark, through Germany and an overnight stop in Bremen, splitting the journey in two, then on to the final show of the tour in a Center Parks in Zeewolde, Netherlands, at a festival named Where The Wild Things Are.
One of the many benefits of touring by van as opposed to touring by sleeper bus is that we take hotels every night, which means we can have showers every night after work if we want them, and again in the morning if we’re feeling decadent, or if we shat ourselves in our sleep. This means that we’re generally clean during what – for tour managers and crew at least – is a very dirty job. Vans are microcosms of bacteria and sickness. Injury and ill-health are never far away and this is not a vocation for the squeamish or prissy. In loud environments we shout into each other’s ears, leaving trails of spittle behind, while our hearing slowly deteriorates and the long hours add weeks and months to our faces. We bruise and cut our shins on the edges of stages and pull muscles in our backs when manoeuvring bass cabinets. If someone gets a throat infection, cold or some other transmittable bug, there’s a good chance we’ll all get it, what with being in such close proximity to each other for eighteen hours a day. When van hire companies wash their vans before you take them out, they don’t disinfect the wheel or gear stick, so you’re grasping the sweat, piss and faeces of every driver that’s ever driven the thing. The handles of your guitar cases have been held by countless production staff, many of whom will have taken a dump and scratched their balls not minutes before you’ve arrived to load in, and after shaking hands with festival stage managers, who’ve been shaking hands with every member of every band’s crew since ten o’clock that morning, and haven’t had time to stop in front of a sink with hot water and soap the whole day and night, your own hands will be ingrained with the snot, shit and bodily fluids of a hundred men and woman.
The drive south back to the mainland necessitates a ferry crossing and an hour of respite from the road. We decamp to the cafe and I order a hearty lunch of chips with tomato ketchup. They’re disgusting, and they’re not going to help me stay awake on the next part of the drive but I’m past caring. Joel is still a wreck, but gamely mugs for a photo in the kids play area. “How did I get so hammered?” he asks of no-one in particular. “Well, you were drinking plenty beer” I say. “No” he counters. “I was just drinking that whisky out of the bottle…”
Matt and Sam are faring better and I sit and work while I’ve still got a 3G signal as the ferry chunters over the waves. Dusk greets us at whichever German port we arrive into and as we get going I get a text from Bassist to say their hotel in Amsterdam doesn’t have a note of their reservation. I ask her to text Assistant Brana, for she booked them and has the information she needs. She can’t contact her, and I try, and can’t either. I have to ask Matt to drive now so I can sort this out. It’s a Friday night and Assistant Brana isn’t necessarily at her laptop. After thirty minutes of staccato communication with Brana, band and hotel, it seems that there are two hotels in Amsterdam with identical names but different addresses, and we have sent band to the wrong one. They’re not best pleased, and rightly so. They manage to get rooms in this new place, in the end, but of course there is still a reservation at the original place so we have to ask our travel agent if the original place will be gracious enough to refund us for the rooms not used, or this night in Amsterdam is about to become twice as expensive as it was supposed to be.
Matt guides us into Bremen and while he parks the van across the river, I check us in. I room with Sam tonight, and Matt with Joel, as is the custom. I need to eat and I need something greasy that will make me feel bad ten minutes after consumption. I text Matt, find him in the town square, which is typical of many German town squares; beautifully historic and ornate, with towering spires and baroque gargoyles peering over every ledge. We find a fancy burger joint and chow doing, using my hangover as an excuse to have my first bottle of Coke in eight months. The day’s over and we repair to our lodgings. I work awhile in reception, lights out just after midnight.
The morning brings a large breakfast, and sunshine, and the usual doubt over whether or not the receptionist actually has added the points from last night’s stay to my loyalty account. One day I’ll sit down and phone all the hotel groups and airlines I’ve used these past twenty months and discover that I’ve enough for a first-class, round the world flight, fourteen nights in the Burj Dubai and those towels that they shape like swans on your duvet. For now it’s twin rooms, an aisle seat in economy, and “sorry Sir, we don’t have a note of your special meal requirements. All we have is chicken, fish, and this little tub of concentrated orange juice which we wouldn’t feed to our labrador.”
The drive’s about five hours. We make the most of it, farting, talking as men do about girls, football, cars and such. We must collect the band in Amsterdam and we do so, parking on an extremely busy street on a Saturday afternoon as pedestrians, bikes, trams, cars and buses hurtle around us. Amsterdam’s a beautiful city but they need to think long and hard about banning pedestrians, bikes, trams, cars and buses permanently. It makes driving a van around very hazardous indeed.
Band get in, then we swing by the original hotel where Singer and Johnny Hostile have shacked up since this morning, Singer having had a terrible night’s sleep in the other hotel. We get out of town and, on a glorious, early Spring afternoon, in a country which looks at its best on glorious, early Spring afternoons, direct ourselves to Zeewolde, no more than an hour from the Dutch capital. The Dutch (which I might have said before) are famous (to me) for having the best production staff in the world. When you go to a festival or venue in The Netherlands (don’t call it Holland. Holland’s a region of The Netherlands) you’re pretty much guaranteed that everything will be as advertised, and everything you’ve asked for will be delivered unto you. Pretty much. Once we’re on site we head to stage, get the lie of the land around there, meet stage manager and hospitality folks and arrange a golf cart (YES!) to take us to dressing room. Once there we go to catering. And it’s shite. Some of the worst festival food I’ve had anywhere. Sloppy, greasy, unhealthy shite. Still, it’s free though, eh? I always feel like cunt for complaining about free food, but find myself doing it anyway. We all do.
I stop for a chat with Jon Hopkins and his Tour Manager, and vow (and of course fail) to see him play, finally. Once everyone’s set up in dressing room, and I’ve procured such items as they’ve asked me to, I have myself golf-carted to our accommodations; two four-bedroom bungalows set on a large, man-made pond, such as you are apt to see at complexes such as Center Parks. I decide who’ll stay where, grab the backstage rider from the fridges and shuttle it back to dressing room, arrange golf-carts to stage when the time comes and get everyone down there. We’ve around an hour to change-over, do a very quick soundcheck and get on stage, and I set up Production Office next to a fridge in the corner of the tent. It’s a bit dark back here so my torch-phone is put to good use.
It doesn’t feel like the festival site is so busy, and I wonder how full the tent will be when Band go on. I give instructions to the Lighting Director, distribute set-lists, ensure water and towels are where they need to be and that the flask of hot water for Singer I’ve brought from backstage is within reach. They play and it’s good with a sizeable crowd to see them. It’s not vintage, but it’s the last show of the tour and that’s the way it goes. After some wind-down time I shuttle them back to dressing room, leaving Joel to break down the gear, then take to the bungalows. I go back to stage, collect Joel and drive back to our little street. Band are off out to party with some other-band-friends, while Joel, Matt and I put our feet up and crack a beer open, toast the relative success of our endeavours these past two weeks, and recount some of our escapades. Joel puts the telly on and a soft porn channel is the backdrop to our evening. For the first ten minutes we pretend to be doing something else while watching and after that, we really are doing something else. Soft porn is so fucking boring after ten minutes, you wonder how it survived in the internet age.
We wake to another glorious day and all I need to do is get this lot in a van, get them some food, drive them to London and take the van back. It’s a walk in the park. They’re slow to move though and we leave forty-five minutes late. They’re needing breakfast but it’s a Sunday and we don’t have hours to spare to get to Calais for the Eurotunnel. Joel, Matt and I sit up front and debate the pros and cons of deviating to Anderlecht to find a cafe that may or may not be open. We decide against it and stop at a service station restaurant and eat there, getting stuck in a bit of traffic, then it’s the usual foot-to-the-floor driving style we’re so adept at and we make Calais with enough time before check-in closes to snack and have my photo taken on an array of kids rides. On Eurotunnel I set up a final Production Office on the floor outside the van and have the last receipts issued and signed, for PDs, taxis, merch sold and such.
We drop Matt at Ashford International station to catch his train home, and arrive back to the storage space ninety minutes later, and load in begins, while I run over the road to the supermarket to withdraw some Sterling to pay the last day’s PDs. I book cabs for those who’re needing them, say those goodbyes that need said, drive Drummer home, drive Singer home, drive van to Shepherd’s Bush, fill the tank with diesel, return it to the depot, take a taxi to my lodgings in Stoke Newington; a mattress on a friend’s bedroom floor. I’m never happy returning to the UK these days. When you’ve travelled so extensively you spend a lot of time drawing comparisons between cultures and societies, how they behave, how they either help or hinder their citizens. The UK seems to spend a lot of its time (I’m talking about its citizens as well as government) fucking people over in one way or another. And so, the road from Folkestone to London is always guaranteed to lower my spirits, with its array of speed cameras and myriad restrictions that have been deemed necessary to keep the highways safe. We queue for the Blackwall Tunnel and I think ahead to the next time I can get out of here. The feeling usually passes after a day and I settle back in, then returns on the fourth day and I crave escape.
Tomorrow I’ll go home for a while, spend time with family, eat, rest, run, drink beer in my local at £1.50 a pint, and think ahead to the next and final tour of the year with this band, to South and Central America.
Five shows across fourteen days, four-and-five star hotels, pools and saunas.
Sure it’s a tough life on the road.