I hopped over to France and Belgium with Civil Civic last week as tour manager / roadie / merch-seller / butler, having recently delivered a lecture on the differences between touring in the UK and mainland Europe.
The idea was that we’d try and pick holes in the shows and the hospitality we met with. France isn’t some gigging promised land, right? It gets a great reputation, and the UK gets a bad one, but it’s not black and white, surely. We played in three provincial French towns; Roubaix, Chalon sur Saône and Reims, then into Kortrijk in Belgium. We really did try to find fault, but this was all we could come up with:
Roubaix: very low stage (but nobody gave a shit)
Chalon: there was a problem with the monitors (fixed in 15 minutes)
Reims: the PA couldn’t handle what we pushed through it (the only problem that couldn’t be surmounted)
Kortrijk: nope, there was absolutely nothing wrong
In each venue we met with professionalism and courtesy from every member of staff we encountered. The food was hot and freshly-made, we never had to ask for beers or anything else, the accommodation was clean and quiet, whether private or in a hotel. With the exception of Reims the venue specs far exceeded those of comparative UK venues (200-700 cap.) In fact, the overall experience in Kortrijk (De Kreun) was maybe the best of my twenty-two-year-long career. And even in Reims, where the PA creaked under our sonic barrage, it ultimately didn’t matter; the audience were super-enthusiastic and raided the merch stand, the staff couldn’t have done enough for us and we left very happy.
Independent French venues get a lot of funding. The UK’s get none. It’s understandable that the level of production will therefore be higher in France – it’s not likely to change; it’s just the way it is and we’re all used to it – but there’s no reason why the level of customer service should be higher there. Being courteous doesn’t cost anything, and right now, with two more weeks ahead of us in France, Italy and Switzerland, the idea of driving around Britain’s motorways for £50 and 12 bottles of Becks seems like the kind of thing we’d dream up as a cruel and unusual punishment.