Roadie tales, the TV series

So, when exactly is BBC America going to start showing Steve Coogan’s new show Saxondale here in the US?

I wandered across the article below, and I *cannot* wait to see this series…one suspects that Coogan knows the ways of the roadie better than he’s let on previously.

Anyone from the UK or on tour there who catches this, I’d love to hear what you think — it apparently airs Monday nights on BBC2. Perhaps I’m getting excited over something that’s not all that fantastic — though since it involves Coogan and roadies, I’m guessing my excitement’s probably justified.

Possibly one of my favorite quotes *ever*:

“And there’s this definite hierarchy. Normally, singer at the top of the wish list, then guitarist, then bassist and finally drummer. Unless of course you’re the good-looking cunt from U2, in which case you shoot straight to the top. The keyboardist, if there is one, is a bit of a floating point, cos keyboardists are, as a rule, pretty depraved. Don’t ask me why. Anyway after that there’s us lot. I mean you know what they say, don’t you? Sleep with us and you’ve almost fucked a quarter of a bassist.”

*****

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1799583,00.html

Backstage class

Beer-guzzling they may be. But as depicted in Steve Coogan’s new comedy, roadies are also educated and funny. Theirs is a world of sex, drugs and AJP Taylor, discovers Ben Marshall

Saturday June 17, 2006
The Guardian

The first thing that needs to be said about Steve Coogan’s new sitcom, Saxondale, is that it is very, very funny. And the second is that like all the very best of recent comedy (The Office, Peep Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm) it reveals a near-forensic knowledge of its subject, the subject in the case of Saxondale being the post-pop life of a fiftysomething roadie (the eponymous Tommy Saxondale), who, after decades of criss-crossing the globe in the service of rock’n’roll stars, finds himself stranded on civvy street. Coogan – bearded, be-denimed and wearing a series of faded, thousand-wash tour T-shirts – has a look of permanent and almost-palpable disgust as he goes about his new job of pest control (“Simply The Pest”). He is perhaps the first character Coogan has created that we are supposed to laugh wholeheartedly with as opposed to at. As with so many people who have spent most of their adult life at the coal-face of the music business, Tommy Saxondale’s dress is so uncompromisingly rock’n’roll you suspect he could only ever get work exterminating vermin.

However it is not the rats, cockroaches and pigeons that cause Tommy so much visible, barely-contained pain, but rather the vagaries and moral imbecility of modern life. In the opening scene a group-therapist delivers a short, stunningly banal lecture on the pointlessness and wickedness of anger. Asked for “feedback”, Tommy says: “The notion that anger is, per se, a bad thing is, I would say respectfully, horse shit. If General MacArthur’s reaction to Pearl Harbor had been to find himself a quiet place and do some deep breathing you’d be goose-stepping into this meeting today and there’d be a great big eagle on the wall.” When the therapist follows this up by drawing vapid parallels between love and hate, Tommy finally loses all patience: “I don’t think there’s any confusion. The things I love and hate couldn’t be more different. I love my daughter. I love my Mustang. I love my girlfriend. I love the way Eno can paint a picture with music. I fucking hate my ex-wife.”

If Coogan’s vision of the roadie as erudite, world-weary wit, anecdotalist and master of the obscene aphorism (a sort of foul-mouthed Peter Ustinov in Lewis leathers) jars with the media’s portrayal of the breed as amoral procurers of drugs and teenage girls, it is only because the media have only ever told one half of the story. It’s also worth remembering that Coogan, unlike most people who address the subject, is writing from experience: not only do stand-up comics have their own mini road crew, but his brother Martin was lead singer with the Mock Turtles.

Larry and Dex – two career roadies – are happy to talk about their life on the road, providing their real names aren’t used. Dex says: “It’s a bit like working for M15 – we’ll talk but we won’t name names, and we don’t want ours mentioned either. We can be as horrible as M15 if anyone breaks our code of silence.” Like Coogan’s Saxondale they are thoughtful, self-effacing, funny and belie the cartoon image of the roadie as rock’n’roll’s flabby-bellied, flatulent, lard-arsed hod-carriers.

They both agree that life on the road is very weird. Larry explains, “You spend months, sometimes as much as 18 months, in the company of the same people. You sleep on the same bus as them, you eat with them, you work with them, you get pissed with them. You share everything with them – books, porn, DVDs, opinions, experience, everything. And you learn a lot. You can experience more in one tour than a lot of people experience in a lifetime. But all that stuff doesn’t necessarily make you any good at life off the road. Arguably it makes you worse. You get home and you have this sort of helpless arrogance that if you’re not careful can pretty fast turn into impatience. You’ve seen more than most folk, you’ve done more than most. Shit, you’ve even read more than most folk. And all these regular people seem incredibly naive and a little bit petty, a little bit thick.”

Reading, along with the actual work they do, is in fact one the least acknowledged activities of road crews. We all know, or think we know, about the drink, the drugs and the girls (which according to every roadie and band member I have ever met has as much to do with boredom as it has with addictive, excessive personalities), but we rarely hear about the books. Tours of the sort Larry works on involve inordinate amounts of travel. And travel, as any frequent flyer will tell you, involves an inordinate amount of reading.

“You’ll get some new kid on the bus and he’s practically illiterate,” explains Dex, “but by the end of that tour, if he survives, I can pretty much guarantee he’ll be better read than most English Literature or History BAs. And the reason you read is exactly the same reason that you shag anything that moves or swallow pills without even knowing what they are. Cos a lot of the time, when you’re not actually working, you’re really bored. And frankly a little bit of AJP Taylor is far better way of entertaining yourself than a nose full of crystal meth. Oh, and you can sleep on Mr Taylor. You can really get some sleep on EP Thompson, he’s better than Valium. Boring Marxist twat.”

This pithy dismissal of one of Britain’s most distinguished historians could easily have come from the lips of Coogan’s Tommy Saxondale, who in the series’ opening episode has a pop at the Proclaimers, demolishes anthropomorphism and punctuates a point about self-defence by shooting an animal rights protester in the foot with an air-pistol.

“It can be quite an aggressive atmosphere on tour,” explains Larry. “You have to be able to hold your own, both verbally and physically. That kind of vibe encourages quick wit and strong opinions, cos you have to be able to stand by what you say, even if you don’t mean a fucking word of it. When I started out I hardly said a thing for a year. I was a teenager and surrounded by these guys twice my age who could demolish you in less than 12 words. I did a lot of laughing, but didn’t have the cojones to actually attempt a joke.”

It is certainly true that roadies are often far more erudite and funny than the bands they work for. Noel Gallagher, one of the best and funniest interviews in British pop, admits that he learnt the art of the anecdote, and hence the interview, from his time roadie-ing for Madchester’s Inspiral Carpets. Motorhead’s Lemmy, who in more than 30 years in rock’n’roll has never failed to be anything less than engaging, also began his career as a roadie, lugging gear for Jimi Hendrix. Indeed, the name Lemmy is supposed to come from his days as a roadie when he would ask people to “lemmy a fiver”. Larry sees an irony in all this.

“So often you go on the road cos you really want to be in a band. I mean they say rock’n’roll critics are frustrated musicians but us lot … guys like Noel and Lemmy, they are real proof of that, but they’re also exceptions. The weird thing is that a lot of time the band behave like they want to be doing your job. They’ll sit on your bus rather than their own, they’ll join in the banter, and a few of them actually get quite good at it. And it’s like they’re frustrated roadies. In a way that explains the whole groupies thing. Groupies wanna get as close to the band as possible, they’re after the ultimate autograph. And there’s this definite hierarchy. Normally, singer at the top of the wish list, then guitarist, then bassist and finally drummer. Unless of course you’re the good-looking cunt from U2, in which case you shoot straight to the top. The keyboardist, if there is one, is a bit of a floating point, cos keyboardists are, as a rule, pretty depraved. Don’t ask me why. Anyway after that there’s us lot. I mean you know what they say, don’t you? Sleep with us and you’ve almost fucked a quarter of a bassist.”

Now as obscene aphorisms go that ain’t bad. Tommy Saxondale would certainly approve.

Saxondale, Monday, 10pm, BBC2

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