Touring. The dream. What a laugh. What a lark.
Morrissey slammed the fast rise of Arctic Monkeys back in 2010 by saying “it’s all a bit unnatural…they haven’t been driving up and down the M1 for fifteen years.”
Cool, nice one Moz, you really showed ’em but have you done more than one gig in a town 15 miles out of Skegness (it wasn’t even fucking in Skegness) at a pub that only plays nu-metal opposite a no-women-allowed Farmer’s Welfare club? No you fucking haven’t.
A lot can happen to a band when you start to take things out on the road beyond the comforts of a home crowd. It’s possible you will drive for hours to play to no-one, touring in a Honda Civic, maybe sleeping in a child’s bunkbed at his room above the pub where you just changed lives (the kid was not there FYI but all his fancy dress costumes and toys were. For one glorious night I was a pirate Optimus Prime and no one can take that away from me), you’ll learn new things about each other and at least once probably fall out. It’s the testing ground for how seriously you take the band and when it goes right it’s the fuel that keeps you going. AND YOU NEED ACTUAL FUEL FOR YOUR CAR TO DO IT TOO.
Here’s some advice on surviving the shuttle bus existence that is gigging across the UK.
The longest I’ve spent touring was four weeks, that’s four whole weeks without once getting to nip home and get a hug from my mum. The shortest time spent travelling to a gig was walking over the car park from our lock-up. So it’s fair to say I’ve seen it all.
These days with my band Isaac we mainly do back-to-back sleepover gigging over a weekend (usually a Thursday to a Sunday). Less time off work, more people out on weekends, it makes the most sense when we still like to be able to pay rent and stuff.
Clock out of work early and load up your gear, If you have a van big enough for all your band members and equipment well then congrats Kim and Kanye, you are superstars. For a lot of our gigs we’ll rock up in a four-door hatchback and take as much gear as we can fit in. Shared equipment across a few bands is a god send.
Once you are crammed in the back seat of a car with guitars and drum sticks and all your costumes covering every spare spot you’ll be left with very limited room to move but of course you still need to keep occupied. An easy way to pass the time, and because no-one’s your boss on the road, means it’s a good time to have a drink. This certainly comes with it’s own risks (short term and long term) but you know, YOLO and all that.
Correctly judge when to open that beer, know that within 20 minutes of finishing it you are going to start to need the toilet. If you’ve only been on the road 20 minutes and you have a 2 hour drive ahead then you are not getting a service station stop for at least an hour into the journey. Drivers tend to work on Dad rules. “WE ARE NOT STOPPING WE ONLY JUST LEFT” seems to apply across generations. Also pace yourself. If you over indulge then by the time you are ready to play your show then you might not be up to the job. You only learn these lessons from experience, but no matter how rocking you think you are five pints in, you probably aren’t. Save the indulging until after you’ve played and if you are driving don’t even bother.
I’m an anomaly and am big into healthy snacks. It’s good to have a stash on the road to keep that blood sugar level happy, once you get to your gig you’ll need to dig into that energy reserve, the more you prepare for it before the gig the better. I recommend slow energy release snacks like a mixed bag of fruit and nuts. These can be found in supermarkets, unopened at the back of the cupboard in your flat, sometimes even in your bag from that time you bought some and forgot about them. Quick, have a look.
Riding shotgun? Well, passenger seat rules dictate that you are the in-car DJ so you better have a decent set planned ahead of time. The pressure is on and this isn’t your sisters wedding. We need serious tunes.
If you are riding up front then you are also navigator, treat it like you are on Flight of The Navigator or aboard the Millenium Falcon if that helps. Even if you have a sat-nav helping with the bulk of the work most small venues operate within some sort of Black Hole/Negative Energy space warp zone so once you have “arrived at your destination” you won’t be anywhere near where you actually need to be. One-way systems and a lack of street parking are your worst enemies Full concentration is required once you get within the city limits of your chosen destination. Any research you can do before you even leave (where is good to park/unload your gear/obvious landmarks to look out for) will help massively after you’ve drank a few cans and are ten songs too many into your happy-hardcore set.
Once you get to the venue find out where to unload your gear and get it done. Even though you’ve been driving for a couple of hours you are now actually at the thing you wanted to be at and it’s time to work. Unload all your gear, find the other bands and promoter for the show and say hi to everyone. Set out your merch and watch the other bands on the bill.
I’ll talk about gig etiquette and the ins and outs of all that another time but here’s a sneak preview – don’t be a twat.
Now. The gig is over. You’ve sold merch, thanked the sound guy and promoter. You’ve loaded your gear into the car and you are off.
Playing gigs releases all kinds of adrenaline related endorphins (I am making up this science bit) which when combined with a bit of drinking and gig related tinnitus translates to a lot of shouting, screaming and various high energy conversation once you are on the road that as soon as you hit the motorway dies down in an instant and the majority of the vehicle will pass out and pass out hard into a sweet slumber that’ll be broken at around 1.30am when you have to load out all your gear. Then you have to get home. It’s a treat. If you are sat in the passenger seat for the late night drive then it is your duty and obligation to stay awake with the driver, shoot the shit and make sure they don’t drive you all off a cliff.
If you are staying over in the town you’ve just played and are heading on to another show the next day then have at it. Go big. Find the local co-op, buy some coconut macaroons and live like you’re in Foreigner circa 1984. Respect your driver. Make sure that they have somewhere comfortable and warm to sleep and let them do it. Their wellbeing is key to whether you get to the next show or not. Give them the respect they deserve!
So you’ve woken up on a strangers living room floor, how’s that hangover? Pretty sweet right? My essentials for this moment are similar to festival rules. Go to bed with a big bottle of water and have Berocca (orange flavoured dissolvable multivitamin energy super power) ready for once you’re up. Get up, get hydrated and replace those vitamins you proudly pissed away last night. Find your host. Make them coffee. If you are lucky enough to get a shower where you are staying then take it. It’s wild the difference getting a shower can do to your mood – you might be living like animals for a few days but anything you can do to maintain some normalcy will help you and help make sure you play a decent show that night. Really. It all helps. Just because you are “on tour” doesn’t mean you should look at it as a chance to live like Charles Bukowski for a few days. You’re doing this to play music so make sure you’ve got the strength and energy to do that every day the best you can... But also 100% do some living.
My advice so far has been shower regularly and don’t drink too much before a gig, I may be getting old, hey, just trying to help.
It helps to have some vague mechanical knowledge in case anything goes wrong with your transport, even if that’s just opening the bonnet, staring and pointing at things then that’s a start. Hey, you can open a bonnet, congrats.
Once with four days left to go on a tour through Europe (which included driving back from Holland to Nottingham overnight) our windscreen wipers went. We went pure MacGuyver and improvised, taking shoelaces from 4 pairs of shoes, tying them together then tying the ends to the windscreen wipers, we then fed the laces back through the driver and passenger windows and in some instinctual homage to Vikings rowed the wipers back and forth, for hours at a time, through the night so our driver could, you know, actually see out the window. This was probably definitely illegal right? Well we lived, so screw you laws.
You’ll find yourself getting well acquainted with car parks, supermarkets, open spaces and other city centre hot spots that are free to pass time in.
A FEW NOTES ON SERVICE STATIONS
Toddington Services has the worst toilet in the world.
It’s like a war happened between truck drivers and piss AND shit.
If you play a show in London then have to head back North it’s the first services outside of the M25 and you’ll no doubt make a stop there to refuel and stock up on Krispy Kremes before driving home. You are going to end up in those toilets at some point. Be prepared. They have never been better than god awful.
Maybe you can come up with fun names for regular stops along the way, my favourite was changing Newport Pagnell to Pooport Shagwell. I’m a regular Rodney Dangerfield.
Tebay Services in Cumbria are insane. It’s an independent and family run service station haven that is so well stocked and posh it makes Waitrose embarrassed it even exists. Want name brand snacks? Tough. Want a £3 bar of handmade chocolate that tastes like angel hair then you are in luck. Want a huge organic farm shop cooked meal then eat it by a lake? Step right up. This place is like a desert mirage that once you leave you are unsure you were ever even there, you turn back laughing at all the fun you just had… And then it’s gone.
Good luck out there on the road. Say yes to all those possibilities and adventures that crop up because before you know it you’ll be sat back at home, sat back at your desk, stood back in line at the post office, lying in bed grey, seconds from death, regretting passing down the offer of watching just one more episode of Peep Show at some strangers house late on a weeknight somewhere outside of Birmingham.
It’s far from glamorous and sometimes only as fun and rewarding as you make it. What takes me back out time and again are the friends I’ve made and the stories earned from the bizarre situations that crop up every time you put yourself out there.
Watch: Another State Of Mind – 1982 documentary following Social Distortion & Youth Brigade touring across the US right in the thick of its DIY punk explosion. Everything goes wrong and it’s a total shit-show. It makes having a working radio and air condition seem like you are flying Concorde (before they kept blowing up obvs).
Read: Henry Rollins – Get In The Van – love or hate Henry (you love him though, because COME ON, he’s Henry Rollins) his books are immensely readable. This collection of tour diaries from his days as singer in Black Flag make being in a band sound like fighting in a war. Read this on the road but be warned when you show up at a pub in Swansea remember that you are just at a pub in Swansea, don’t come out swinging as if you are in the middle of the LA Riots. Fun fact, I once met Henry Rollins in the street as he was in town for a show. I shook his hand and was visibly taken back by the width of his neck. Thing is huge.
Listen: Motorhead – “(We Are) The Road Crew” – sample lyrics: “Eatin’ Junk, feeling bad. Another night going mad. Driving like a maniac, drivin way to hell and back. another beer is what I need, another gig my ears bleed.” It’s deep stuff. Have this blasting when you split town onto your next show but don’t take the “another tube of superglue” lyric seriously, sniffing glue is for characters out of Grange Hill, don’t do it.
Coming up next time…
I tell the tale of the WORST GIG OF ALL TIME that includes numerous police, vomiting promoters, no-one speaking English, sleeping upright and getting the power cut mid-set… At 5am. It’s a treat.
Daniel England plays drums in a few bands including Isaac