I’m crouched over an open suitcase in my pyjamas, next to a tour bus at the side of the road, rootling around in a pile of clothes trying to find some clean socks. It doesn’t help that it’s raining and I seem to be providing the entertainment for passers-by. Still, hopefully the showers in the venue will be good.
Oh. Make that ‘shower’. One between all of us.
God it hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Eaauuww hair…. oh, and chewing gum on the towel, that’s a new one! Ok, come on woman, grit your teeth and get under the cold trickle, lots of people don’t have running water, don’t be ungrateful.
Hmm. Bit grumpy now though.
There’s a popular image of life in the music business….. it’s all sex, drugs, rock and roll and glamour, right? 5 star hotels, private jets and debauchery? We turn up at the venue at 5pm still nursing the damage from last night’s excess, we soundcheck and do the show and then do it all again, don’t we?
Now look, everything you’ve heard happened and I’m not going to claim that it’s all green juices, early nights and hair shirts because that’s not true either. Most of us like to have a party once in a while, but those who constantly overdo it tend to get weeded out – you’ve got to be able to do your gig no matter how much fun you’ve had the night before! Technology has come a long way in the last 40-odd years, and the people who put it all together and make it work – the crew – have changed with it. Touring has become a very professional operation with some highly technical jobs. The name that we still use affectionately for ourselves – roadies – is for our use only, because road crew are actually engineers, technicians, designers, directors and so on. The touring day starts early – depending on the show, the first people in (production, rigging and catering) will be at it by 6am, and work will still be going on for a good few hours after the end of the show as it’s all de-rigged and loaded onto trucks ready for the next one. Then we’ll do it again, usually a few times in a row before we have a day off.
There is glamour on occasion, no denying it. Sometimes we get 5 star hotels on our days off if the budget allows. Once in a while you go in a private jet, for reasons of practicality rather than flashness – sometimes it’s the best option for getting a group of people to a wacky place on a tight schedule. End of tour parties do tend to get messy.
But the day-to-day reality of life on the road is not like that. Day to day life is getting dirty and not really feeling properly clean until you get to your hotel room on the day off; it’s 16 hour days, loading trucks in the rain, pulling in muddy cables; it’s communal living with 15 other people on the bus and waking up in a fog of farts; it’s vomiting in a bucket at the side of your mixing desk because you’re sick as a dog but the show must go on; and it’s appalling toilet humour which generally gets filthier (and funnier) as the tour progresses until you are a fully-fledged scumbag!
And secretly, hiding amongst all of that lies the real benefit of touring, the thing that you don’t know about until you start doing it: the people. Living and working like this with your colleagues creates a rare camaraderie, an ‘all for one and one for all’ vibe, and the kind of friends scattered around the globe who you might not see for years but can just pick up with right where you left off. Most people on the road are exactly the kind you’re happy to hang out with – ‘professional getter-onners’ as a drummer friend would have it – because the ones who don’t get on well with others don’t last long. We’re generally a friendly bunch – being thrown together with a group of people, some of whom you haven’t met before but who are going to be your family for the next 6 months, is a whole lot easier when you greet people with openness and a lack of suspicion. And touring folk are some of the most hardworking and resourceful people you’ll ever meet. There are no sick days, no holiday pay or any of that nice fluffy stuff in our world, and when things go wrong the show still has to happen, so you’d better find a solution to whatever has just gone down! Luckily, this lot are just the type you want by your side in a crisis.
Which is why, reader, I married one.