Stories and advice from the road

Wandered across this new article in The Guardian while doing some research, and while I’ve actually heard some of these stories, others are new and very funny, mostly because I know how easily they happen. Ahh, how I miss Glasgow….


In Glasgow, beware of flying axes

The Rolling Stones still do it, but how do rock bands survive touring? Dave Simpson hears their tales of drugs, gangs and missed buses

Friday August 11, 2006
The Guardian

Almost Famous (Perils of touring)
Road to ruin? … A scene of the touring life from the film Almost Famous

Prepare for insanity
Ian Ball, Gomez

“The hardest thing about touring is trying to survive an endless groundhog day lifestyle. People think you’re seeing all these great places, but you won’t see anything. You’re going to wake up on the tour bus outside the venue, probably hungover, slightly disorientated, hot and in desperate need of a shower. You’ll basically see the area around the venue, a restaurant, a soundcheck and that’s it. And its going to be like that for every single city in the world. It’s like being the detective in a surreal mystery. You’re constantly solving tiny little problems: misplaced shower gel, room keys, passports, sanity. We have all literally gone on stage and said ‘Hello’ to the wrong town at some point. Our guitarist Tom Gray’s classic was in Australia. I can’t remember which city he said, but he was at least 1,200 miles off.”

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Don’t miss the bus
Matt Rubano, Taking Back Sunday

“On our first UK tour, I was left behind by the bus in Birmingham. It was a communication thing where one guy goes, ‘Where’s Matt?’ someone goes, ‘He’s asleep,’ and it’s, ‘OK, let’s go.’ I was outside in a telephone booth calling my girlfriend. I wandered around Birmingham for a couple of hours, and got chased by some guys who had left the pub. In the end, I found a security guard on an industrial estate, and pleaded with him to let me call home, as it was an emergency. The only number I could remember was my girlfriend’s, who emailed my manager in California, who then called our tour manager, who had just arrived in Oxford. The same thing happened to me again two days later. That time a very nice Pakistani family lent me £10 and drew me a map of how to get to London.”

Be careful who you support
Alan Vega, Suicide

“Opening up for any high-profile band is a great opportunity. But don’t do it unless you are prepared to fully commit. When we supported the Clash in Scotland, every night felt like world war three. The kids came for the Clash and got us first. They were so hyped up – but we wouldn’t back down. I taunted them, ‘You have to live through this to get to the Clash!’ Our presence infuriated them to the point of riot. It was pure mayhem, they were destroying everything in reach. In Glasgow, an axe flew by my head. It was surreal, I felt like I was in a 3D cowboy movie. We barely escaped with our lives – but we were really going out there to survive. Thirty years later – guess it worked!”

Don’t take crap from your own audience
Jean Jacques-Burnel, the Stranglers

“Very early on we decided that audience interaction made things an event. We developed a philosophy called Truth Through Provocation. For the encores, we’d be in Edinburgh and say, ‘At least people in Glasgow know they’re Scottish whereas in Edinburgh they think they’re English,’ and all hell would erupt. We had a similar approach with hecklers. If people spat at us, we’d wade into the audience, until one day we decided it would be more fun and more effective to drag them on stage and stick a banana up their arse. In New York we couldn’t get bananas so we used celery. Some people were amused – when Terry Wogan mentioned it on the radio people started queuing up to get it done. But when we tried it in France, it ended our career there for years.”

Steer clear of freaks
Ian Ball

“A good rule is to never sit next to the dressing-room door, because when the crazy people invade they latch on to the first person. Our bass player is always the unfortunate soul who cops it, because he’s such a welcoming guy. The craziest invader we’ve had was probably Ewan MacGregor, who turned up in Sydney. He was really exuberant because he’d just finished Star Wars and had consumed half of Scotland’s whisky. We were in the worst dressing room you can imagine and he came barrelling in like a cannonball, ‘HeyyouGomezguysarefuckingcrazeeee.’ That was actually pretty good fun. Usually it’s weird Argentinian women convinced you’re marrying them in the morning.”

Don’t stand too close to bandmates
Matt Rubano

“Our singer likes to twirl the microphone like a lasso. One night at Earls Court, in front of 12,000 people, I walked forward and caught it on the forehead. I was knocked to the ground. I got back up and realised I was soaking wet. I put my hand on my forehead and I was gushing blood. I was rushed off the stage and patched up. By the middle eight of the second song, I was back on stage and finished the gig, blooded and bandied up. Then they rushed me to casualty. Afterwards, fans sent me helmets. Some said, ‘Are you doing that again tonight?’ It looked really cool.'”

Use hearing protection
Andy Partridge, XTC

“We had this nerdy image but I remember reading in the 80s that we were officially the loudest band ever. We used to have the sound as loud on stage as it was in the audience. We used to see all these supposedly fearless heavy metal bands and think, ‘You pansies!’ because they were wearing earplugs. However, after five years of touring, I’d lost 50f my hearing.”

Don’t get in a band with a drug addict
Gemma Clark, the Suffrajets/ ex-Babyshambles

“The first gig I did with Shambles, the venue got trashed, the ceiling came down, there were riots and the police were called. The first month [September 2004] was tremendously exciting, but the drug-taking soon nosedived. I would be downstairs in my pyjamas and they were upstairs in a crack den. We had a few chats but Peter [Doherty] just wasn’t coherent. It’s terrible to see a friend get like that and I just hope they’re all OK. On the road now with the Suffrajets we worry more about stopping to get a sandwich, not, ‘I’ve run out of crack, can someone get some heroin?'”

Know your limits
Francis Rossi, Status Quo

“I gave up drinking and coke in ’98. It came to a head one night when I was planning a toot the night before a day off, so it wouldn’t affect the show. I had it all planned: cornflakes, watch the news, get stuck into the coke. When I got to it, I thought, ‘No, I’ll do it next time.’ Because I never actually said ‘Stop’ I didn’t touch it again for years. Then in Amsterdam somebody I knew in a restaurant gave me some and I couldn’t say, ‘I don’t do that any more.’ I gave most of it away but had a little sniff off a plectrum. I went running down the stairs to meet the wife and kids, got halfway and my teeth started grinding. I had to run into the bar and have a tequila to take the edge off. I thought, ‘That’s it, no more.'”

Avoid antagonising the locals (especially in Sweden)
Jean-Jacques Burnel

“In Sweden they had a gang called the Raggere, who are based on 1950s American rockers. They took affront at bands like the Stranglers playing their town. We were in the dressing room when we heard dozens of cars coming up. They beat up our road crew, smashed up our equipment. We managed to do a couple of Molotov cocktails and blew up a couple of cars. The police came and we were escorted out of the country. The second attempt to play Sweden ended with the audience on stage and the band in the audience. Back at the hotel Jet [Black, drummer] was being ignored by the waiters, and he got so frustrated he hurled a chair through a window. The police arrived with machine guns once again. We’re still banned from Sweden.”

Keep smiling and don’t moan
Francis Rossi

“You learn very quickly there’s no point moaning. We have an expression, ‘I do believe this was your chosen profession.’ It’s our way of saying, ‘Shut the fuck up, you could be driving an ice-cream van.'”

Play gigs, not rehearsals
Francis Rossi

“We do 125 gigs a year and one of the reasons we work so much is because we know if we don’t play for two weeks we’ve got to bloody rehearse – and we’ve always hated rehearsals. If you do that many gigs the machine keeps nicely oiled, whereas the longer you stop the more it feels like putting a whole new bloody engine in.”

Survive touring – stop touring
Andy Partridge

“I was sick of the same orange hotel rooms and looking at the same piece of corporate art for 30 days. I’d also started to drift off during gigs. Unwittingly, from the age of 13 I’d been addicted to valium because that’s what they did in those days if you were unhappy. One night my ex-wife flushed the tablets down the toilet. It’s the only time I’ve ever smashed up a hotel room. For a while I lost my memory. I’d get nervous before gigs, throwing up. It came to a head in Paris. I threw the guitar down and ran off. I never toured again. It felt like I’d woken up. Because we didn’t tour we made better records. Giving up touring was probably a good career move.”

Hold it together: it will be OK in the end
Grant Nicholas, Feeder

“Touring can be lonely. You can be playing in front of thousands and then be climbing the walls in your hotel room. I had some problems last year – screaming at the audience off-mic. I caused haemorrhages of my vocal chords. I was terrified; my voice wouldn’t work. You have to look after yourself. The crucial thing is to enjoy the magic hour on stage because if you do, it will all be worth it. We’re doing some of the Stones dates because Charlie Watts likes us. I haven’t met Keith yet, but he seems indestructible. Apparently, he’s been saying it wasn’t a tree he fell out of, it was a hedge – ‘More of a shrub.'”


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