So there I am leaning on a wall in the sunshine looking at my cigarette burning slowly, feeling nervous as hell and wondering whether I can actually do the job I said I could do. This was it, this was the real thing, a real tour, with a real band. Did I have what it took ? I’d soon find out.

Thursday 27th May 2004

I’m in North London outside the band Renton’s house waiting for the band to finish packing their personal gear into the van and wondering if I have brought too many clothes. I had met Renton at a gig I used to do at the Ginglik Bar in Shepherd's Bush. I had impressed them with my ability to save the gig with a four channel mixing desk and they had asked me to become their engineer. I, being a desperate young thing, of course, said yes, and this dear reader is how I ended up in North London and preparing to go on a four date tour with them.

My day started at midday at my local train station and continued with an hour-long ride up to London Waterloo and then onto the Northern Line to Archway and the band's house.

I had never been in a van before, let alone ridden in the back of one on a mattress with a drummer and a whole lot of musical equipment, all of which was balanced precariously close to me. Finding myself in that situation, therefore, was both exciting and a little worrying. I mean what happens to a person when a whole band's gear impacts them into the driver's seat? I’ve heard of being at one with the music, but this was another thing entirely!

So we set off and at first it was fine, lying there chatting with the drummer about his work at the Astoria and his tour with Biohazard (Ben Hutchinson, the drummer, is also a lighting technician at various London venues) and then we turned a corner and so did my stomach, I went in an instant frombeing fine and dandy to thinking “Oh, my God, I’m gonna be sick” Obviously I didn’t say that because I was trying to be a hardcore rock and roll soundman, but I did immediately sit up and watch where we were going over the driver's shoulders. It was at this point the Ben looked at me, grinned and said

“Welcome to touring”

I took this as a good sign. At least maybe he had experienced the same thing when he popped his tour cherry and somehow immediately I felt better and managed to lie down across the back of the van and in fact get incredibly comfortable and eventually, after inserting ear plugs to soften the Doors album being played next to my head, managed to drop off to sleep.

There I stayed I until I awoke to find the bass cab of bass player Andy Duke (who I discovered was bass player in Ex Carter USM member Fruitbat's band, Abdoujaporov, for 5 years)slowly crushing its way through my thigh and a lot of other equally angry looking musical equipment heading the same way. At this point my back of the van partner woke up and pushed all the gear straight back to where it started, which was no mean feat considering the van was braking heavily at the time. He gave me another grin and sat down. It was at this point I realised why he had been named Mr T on a previous tour. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful with a good drive all the way to Worcester, I did discover, however, that Ben had special psychic precognition on when the van was going to brake as he somehow managed to wake up and get a hand or foot onto the largest part of the band's gear before it started sliding towards us. How he did this I don’t know but I decided if it was down to spending 10 years in the touring business then I wanted to be part of it.

The Marrs Bar in Worcester is a pleasant place. You walk in and it feels warm to you like music is meant to be played there, which for a music venue, of course, is a really good thing to have. Renton were headlining that night and so we were first up to soundcheck. I headed to the desk to introduce myself to Willis, the sound man, who is possibly the nicest man in rock. He showed me where everything was plugged in and left me to it. Now this to me is the best possible way it can be as I personally find it really off putting when another engineer is watching over what you are doing especially when, like me, you haven’t been through the rigours of doing four bands a night, six nights a week. We did soundcheck, aided incredibly by the lack of outboard processing on the rig. (I hate outboard processing, I understand the need for delay and reverb but silly amounts of compressors and gates just wind me up and confuse my little brain).

For me this was the highlight, I had just travelled to another venue miles away from home, to an unknown mixing desk and created a sound that made the house engineer come up and shake my hand.

I could do my job.

Bonus!

I bought myself a JD and coke to celebrate, I was soon to discover that JD and coke was about as important to touring as oxygen is to life. Now being a virgin to this touring game I hadn’t really thought about what happens between soundcheck and the show which in this case was four and a half hours. I mean what do you do? It's 6.30 in the evening. You are in a strange town with no connections from home, expenses covered by the band and a hotel room to go back to.

Hmm, let me think……

Strippers, excessive chemical abuse, food, loud music. Yes that’s right all four,. Well, no, not really ! There were no strippers in Worcester. Whilst sitting eating the spiciest pizza I have, ever tasted the whole tour, however, noticed en-masse that there were excessive amounts of nubile young women, all walking past in very short skirts and very tight tops. This created about half an hour of excitement but soon we headed back to the venue to see the opening band.

This isn’t a review so I won’t spend ages on them but Fans of Kate (www.fansofkate.com) were amazing-Really good Camden guys playing kind of turbo Coldplay. These guys were on day 5 of a 15-day self funded tour and had the most screwed up touring schedule I have ever seen. London to Newcastle in a day anybody ?

Headova were up next, a local Worcester band playing their final gig before they all went their separate ways to Uni and, although they had some good songs, they were just another college band.

Our turn ! The show goes well. We deafen a lot of people, sell a lot of CD’s and at least three people come up to me and ask how I got the PA so loud. I thought of various answers for this but decided on just saying the word “magic” as I found this had the most impact. Well something like that anyway....

The evening proceeded well after that, with everyone indulging in the local tipple “Diesel” or, as everyone apart from this venue knows it as, snakebite and black. A combination of lager, cider and blackcurrant, it is like drinking detergent and probably has the same effect on brain cells, but we drank it none the less and, before we knew it, it was 4 AM so guitarist Per Sellberg and I decided to head back to the hotel.

Now the thing is with Per he used to be in the army in Sweden and since then (or maybe for his whole life, I don’t know) he has been built like an ancient Greek Olympian. He’s basically muscle with blue eyes and blonde hair. If I was a girl I would fancy him and he has one of those party in your pants voices too, like Arny if he were a sex god. I on the other hand am a little bit overweight and a scruffy looking southerner with a non-descriptive accent so sharing a room with him makes you feel a little insecure. His body ripples while mine kind of had a distinct wobble to it. But I felt we bonded whilst watching trashy early morning TV and so it was all good.

Friday 28th May 2004

Wake up, have breakfast and shower all before 9-o clock, meaning no more than 4 hours sleep was accrued in the course of the previous evening, but I was feeling good having drunk a lot less Diesel than the band. Our destination today was the Shed in Leicester. The band didn’t want to spend too much time there and so we spent the day in Worcester walking by the river, drinking mineral water and talking about spiritualism and religion. Seriously that’s what we did. Well me Andy and Per did, Dan Gigaseri, the lead singer, and Ben continued to sleep off the previous night back at the van. I soon realised that this polarisation in the band is what held them all together and I grew to love my ability to flick in and out of the two different worlds depending on what I felt like doing.

Eventually we left Worcester and had an uneventful journey to Leicester where we found the venue, unloaded the gear and then parked the van. Luckily in that order. Once we had loaded in we all shot off in various directions. I went to find food and a toilet and discovered that no public toilet in the town had toilet seats or paper, which is always a nice experience. That was until I found the local Outback Bar, which had both.

Another thumbs up in my book. I go in, find the toilet, use it and come out and then I have a huge sense of guilt and so I buy a pint and watch the skateboarding on the TV but obviously by the end of the pint I need to regain the equilibrium, so head back to the toilet again. On my way up the manager and another member of staff stop me and ask what I have been doing in the toilet. I give the obvious answer and try to walk past, but no this isn’t good enough. They begin to imply that I have been doing untoward substances in their toilets and start getting a bit nasty. I continue to plead my innocence and just as I think I’m going to get a kicking in walk Dan and Per who immediately get very loud at the back of the guys' heads. Needless to say I was let through and out of the pub. I still can’t work out how I looked like I was taking something though !

Outside the pub we discovered the rest of the band and headed off in search of food while Per went back to the van to sleep. Five minutes later Andy gets a call on his phone from Per saying he has snapped the key in the lock. This is bad. We only have one key and we are in Leicester with nowhere to stay.

I light a cigarette.

Luckily the van is open so we have shelter whilst we try and decide what to do. Many cigarettes are smoked and heated words are exchanged between Ben and Per (a fight I would like to see!). I suddenly realise I have breakdown cover on any vehicle I am with and thus save the day. Aren’t I great ? It still costs 130 quid but it's that or live forever in a van in Leicester. Hmm, hard choice !

The guy from the breakdown service who turned up was amazing. He was called Dick and was a legend. The band gave him free everything-records, stickers, the works. He truly saved the tour and his key cutting skills at the side of the road were second to none. (Like I know anything about key cutting!)

Before you could say soundcheck it was time for one, at which I discovered possibly the oldest and worst desk I have ever seen. Buttons didn’t work. Whole channels were down but eventually with some help from the in house engineer Paul I got a decent sound for the band and eventually realised how cool the desk was. So some good things did come out of the 80’s then! Overall it was a good gig. The Shed was empty, which apparently is not unusual, but a few special people came to see the band which made everyone feel loved. The Jack Daniels flowed again and before I knew it we had to head to Warwick to the mystical Ben Abdou’s house where we were staying.

Ben is a friend of Andy’s from the “Abdou days” as he liked to call it and had played with Carter USM before that. He is now a tour manager currently looking after Jamie Cullem, the pint sized piano bashing jazz musician, but has looked after Kinesis and a lot of others as well.

I, therefore, spent the rest of the evening listening to the tour stories of the more experienced tourers and trying to not make myself sound stupid. This was another high point for me as my whole life I have been trying to meet guys in the industry who actually work in it everyday and aren’t semi-pros like myself, just trying to get one up on the others around them. I learnt a lot and I think I got away with not sounding too much of a loser either. Which was nice. It was then sleep all round.


Saturday 29th May 2004

I could get used to this touring lark. You wake up and have three things to worry about; The gig, finding food and finding a toilet. That’s it, no more, no less. It’s a drug and one I decided which is very bad for you. It makes you leave your friends and family, screws up your days (you live 9-5 but just not the correct 9-5) makes you drink, put on weight, and eventually go deaf. But hey it’s wicked fun. I came up with that whilst lying in a sleeping bag at 8 AM.

I thought about putting it on my gravestone.

The bit about touring, not bit about being in a sleeping bag at 8AM.

Ahem, anyway !

Where were we ? Oh yes ! Saturday !

We had to get to Wigan and specifically the music collective at the Tavern in Wigan. This was the longest leg of the tour and so I positioned myself very cleverly on the mattress in the back of the van so I could sleep for the whole journey. This however did not happen.

Ben Abdou had very kindly cooked us all breakfast and, being a vegetarian, I had taken the scrambled egg on toast option. It was a good idea I had thought at the time, but no.

For the entire trip to Wigan I felt violently ill. I think it was something to do with the less than solid consistency of the eggs and the lack of sleep and in all honesty probably the alcohol from the night before. Whatever it was, it was the worst drive of my life. Back of a van, can’t see out, no air, the Doors playing very loudly……. Not good.

But I made it and by the time we had unloaded at the venue, found the nearest pub and ordered lunch my stomach had settled, just in time for the first JD and coke to be forced on me by the band. We ate, walked round the town and ended up in another pub, which the band had visited on their last tour. Now I very innocently asked where we were staying that night at which the band all pointed at Andy and said "He knows a guy. We are staying there."

“Oh, okay cool” I said briefly before Andy said

“No, Ben said he knew someone.”

So Ben said

“Nope, it was definitely you.”

So Dan said

“Actually, I thought it was Per.”

So Per said (Imagine in Swedish accent)

“No, I am Swedish. Who would I know here!?”

So I said

“Where are we staying then?”

All: blank faces.

Excellent.

I don’t know if any of you people reading this will ever have experienced being in a strange town with fourother guys at 6 in the evening with nowhere to stay that night and only a big white van illegally parked on double yellows for company.

It was time for a phone call.

“Hello 118118, I need a hotel in Wigan.”

It soon turned out that there are only two hotels in Wigan. According to 118, one was full and one was 150 pounds a night for a room of which we needed three. Bollocks !

Now in times of crisis it is said that the human body does incredible things and I now know this to be true. In a moment of pure clarity I remembered reading in the junk leaflet in the pub that this particular brand had a hotel in the area! Bonus, cashback, jackpot etc, etc! Andy and I headed back to the pub and asked directions, which we get and after walking around half of Wigan (you think I’m joking) we found the damn place. We walked in, found that they had one single family room, which slept two adults and three kids left and all for 35 quid a night! We booked immediately saying we were uncle and cousin and the rest of the family were on the way. At which point the manager said

“Of course ,if there are more than four adults you can’t have the room.”

“No the other three are all under five ” we replied (there is a joke about rock stars there somewhere but I’m damned if I can find it!)

Anyway we headed back for the soundcheck happy in the knowledge we had just ordered the cheapest hotel room of the whole tour and loved getting one up on ‘the man’.

****

“Phil , can I have more kickdrum please ? ”

II was looking at the biggest damn mixing desk I have ever seen and an effects rack that would have Pink Floyd lost with thinking, Now I’m not going to bore readers with technical jargon but this PA was just silly. The place held about 100 people, was on the third floor of a pub and through one open window you could hear the bands perfectly well from a mile down the road. No joke. There was so much of everything that I didn’t know what to do with it. So I turned it all off. It was a joke about 20 grand's worth of PA. I was using half the desk and about a quarter of the power of the thing and it was still too loud! About the only thing I remember was watching the house engineer who had a mullet and was at least 45 standing right next to one of the PA cabs whilst I was busy ramming my earplugs as far as I could get them into my ears. Silly bugger !

It turned out though that the guy was the North’s answer to whoever the South’s premier soundman is. He had been in the industry 30 years and really knew his stuff and got a bit upset when I showed him how little of his overpowered rig I was using. But the gig went well,. We sold a lot of CDs, deafened a whole load of new people and made a whole load of new friends too which is always pleasant. It was then a short van ride to the hotel to watch a bit of some of the Big Brother 'contestants rubbing oil on each other before going to sleep.


Sunday 30th May 2004

Last day ! It had been a blast, I had had a ball and now…..

Now I got to drive the van. I’m only just 21 and I had never driven anything bigger than my Vauxhall Astra and nothing at all with a whole load of gear and people that wasn't mine in! So to say I was a bit bricking it was an understatement!

I soon realised, however, why white van men are such gits on the road and without another glance I was foot on the floor on my way to Blackburn and a date in the most Northern part of the UK I had ever been.

Wicked !

Well it is Darwen to be totally correct, a town kind of a bit South East of Blackburn I think although I can’t be sure, (answers/insults on a post card to the normal address). It is a kind of semi sized town which was randomly built in a whole load of stages in and around pubs and invited what seemed to be most of the north of England to watch.

So of course five middle class Southerners fitted right in without even catching a glance, especially five that had lived out of a van for the past four days and that were perma-drunk.

But anyway we found the venue at which point things started going wrong. Firstly I went as usual to the sound desk and introduced myself at which point the engineer ignored me and went to the stage.

“Okay ” I thought. " I know he’s probably under a lot of stress so I'll wait for him to come back."

When he finally did I introduced myself again, at which point he said

“Great ! What do you want me to do about it ? You aren’t touching the desk, so you are a bit pointless, aren’t you ?”

“Right" I said . "You northern Nazi pr**k”

Ha ! Ha ! Ha !

No, only kidding !

I just kind of went

“Oh, ah, okay, that’s fine.”

As any self-respecting vegetarian southerner would do. But in hindsight I should have taken his compressor and compressed him with it. I had completed my first tour as a professional soundman only to be foiled on the last day by some guy being precious over his desk.

Anyway rant over, I went and told the band who understood and went back to the van. The next four hours were spent smoking, having a drink, eating and giving random small children copies of the band's EP.

This is where the second problem occurred. The first track on Renton’s new EP is called 'I Will Only Love You if Your Name is Jane Annabel Hitler'. We were having a great time until a 7 year old kid's Dad who we had just given an EP to came over to the band and said

“My grandfather died in the war for you. How dare you insult him by writing a song about Hitler ?”

At which the five of us all laughed. In fact it was more like three. I shuffled nervously in my seat being the youngest and Ben, well Ben ,was at one with a whole other plane of existence if you catch my drift. This didn’t impress the guy whose whole family was standing behind him . Andy then tried explaining that it was a joke about Dan's ex-girlfriend but this didn’t work either. At this point I crawled out the other side of the van and walked slowly backwards away from the van leaving the band to deal with it.

About half an hour later I headed back to the van after buying pizza to find all the guys sitting round chatting as if nothing had happened, so I just kept my mouth shut and let them carry on with it.

Before we knew it, it was gig time so guitars were gathered up, cased up and we made our way to the venue, which was on the third floor of a huge snooker club,. The guys walked on stage and I started taking pictures and it seemed like it was going well. Then the chanting began. To this day neither the band nor I have any idea what the hell the chanting was, but it was drunken and for five semi-stranded guys with only a van for protection it was quite daunting. It all went off otherwise well though. The gig finished and before I knew it we were outside, loaded up and ready to go.

“Oh man its over” I said out loud at which point all four band members turned to me and said

“Yes, but there will be more and you are coming with us”

Which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Then we were back in the van, back on the motorway and somehow we covered the diagonal length of Britain, Blackburn to Archway, North London in 5 hours, which was pretty good I think though to be honest I slept the whole way back along with Per in the back of the van and so the journey doesn’t really exist to me. Supposedly we stopped in Oxford for petrol. not that I , however, have any memory of it.

So that is it, dear readers, the diary of a virgin soundman. All I can say is that if you ever, and I mean ever ,get the chance to go out on the road even if it is just for three days as a tag along equipment dragger, then do it. It’s an enlightening experience and puts a lot of things into perspective. As for me, well it’s just made me hungrier to do it again and who knows ? Six months time Europe ? In a year the World ? Will it be mine ?

Philip Vincent
(available to hire for all your sound engineering needs!)


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Matthew Williams
















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