Touring. Or as I like to call it ‘gigging with temporary alcoholism’.
So the old debut has gone down well and you’re now arranging a tour to support it. Or maybe a fellow band you’ve befriended along your journey thus far has asked you to support them. Either way, this shit just got real.
You hear all kinds of tales of bands on tour. Farfetched yarns of debauchery and excess. Most of them worryingly and chillingly true. So, how do you feel about personal hygiene, sleep deprivation and eating battenburg as a main meal?
First and foremost, touring will be loads of fun. But it’s also hard work. It balances hourly on a knife edge between catastrophic and magnificent. I’m going to try to give you as many gems of wisdom as I possibly can to prepare you for what’s to come and how to make it as straightforward as you can. In part one I’ll look at setting up the tour, the merch and the travelling/sleeping/eating arrangements.
So, here goes.
Touring! Yippee! You’ve made it! The dream!
Be prepared to sleep drunkenly for approximately an hour on a front room floor of someone you’ve never met before. That shit quite quickly becomes the norm. If you’re really lucky, then the host may have a spare bed or a sofa big enough to cater for a singular grown adult to curl into like the corpse of a caveman. Though, it might come down to a game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ or full-on violence between the band as to who takes the ever-so-slightly comfier option.
There may be occasions that require a frantic social media shout-out for urgent floor space. This might be tricky, as it firstly it requires a generous fan of your band. And secondly, a generous fan of your band that has adequate living arrangements, and is attending your gig. Believe me that is not always going to be a dead cert on a Wednesday in Oldham. This means shacking up in the freezing/boiling van (delete as seasonally appropriate), and trust me, necks are not designed to bend the way they will. And I’m pretty sure you will have permanent seatbelt indentations on your rib cage (I’ll talk in more detail about shit vans later).
Booze will help the pain. Booze is the actual elixir for all touring pain. It’s also the probable downfall.
So you’ve managed to get 14 gigs lined-up in 14 days. Seems like a blast. It’s taken a hell of a lot emails and phone calls to promoters in places you’ve never been to, or in fact, dreamt of visiting. Hopefully they’ve been arranged in an order that requires minimal driving. You do not want to be playing London, followed by Sunderland and then Yeovil. This is plain stupid and if this is the case, then you probably deserve to go completely bankrupt.
With any luck, geographically, you’ve absolutely nailed it. I’m pretty confident that you have a room set-up with a huge map of the UK, complete with tiny pieces to represent the venues, and a scale model of a transit van to manipulate around using a wooden stick – much like a World War 2 math siege.
Regardless of how smooth it seems though, you are going to be travelling a lot! That’s why I recommend bringing along a good book or downloading some good apps to while away the time. We once spent an entire tour collectively completing Cooking Mama on the Nintendo DS. It was so impressive that it now sits under ‘achievements’ on my curriculum vitae. It was also a respectable way of preventing us ripping each other’s windpipes out and wearing them as decorative scarves (there’s more on inter-band fallouts in part two).
Which brings me nicely onto acquiring a van to get to and from these wonderful, far-out places.
Booze will help the pain. Booze is the actual elixir for all touring pain. It’s also the probable downfall.
If you’re lucky enough to know somebody who owns a big van that can seat you all comfortably, fit in all your gear and can lend it you on the cheap, then you have struck touring gold. Platinum, if you will. Remember though, statistically, something will go wrong with it at some point on the tour. Expect to spend at least eight hours on the tour sitting patiently in heavy drizzle at the side of the M6, as the clutch slowly dissolves in a cloud of foul smelling, acrid smoke. This scenario can be around 50 times worse if you’re touring abroad, and don’t know where the actual fuck you are. Or if you’ll ever see home again.
If you don’t have a man with a van then you’ll need to hire one, and this is not cheap.
Firstly, think splitter. Two up front, the rest in the middle and the equipment snug in the back. This happily spares you getting the hardware case plumb in the temple every time you make a sharp left turn. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might even get a table for your half empty cans of Oranjeboom to fall from.
So now, it’s about who fancies driving the beast?
Do you just insure one of you? (It’s the cheaper option, but can cause resentment as that person then singlehandedly drives thousands of miles while the other members get pissed and crack in-jokes).
Or do you share the responsibility? This is always the fun option. Watching helplessly as your guitarist – who was previously made aware it was his turn – try and drive the one way system around Dundee, after a bottle and a half of port and 25 minutes of sleep the previous night.
It’s only fair that whoever drives get to choose what music is played. Driving from Manchester to Aberdeen is one thing, but doing it whilst listening to Pig Destroyer’s back catalogue is perhaps a step too far. Especially if the band member in control of your lives just wants to listen to Boney M.
I was fortunate. I’ve never bothered to attempt to get a driving licence. So I never got the opportunity to slowly crash the van into a hedge. Be warned; you don’t want to cause any damage to the beast, and lose your deposit – and potentially incur yourself some ludicrous charges. You must treat it as you would an anaemic glass puppy at a firing range for the blind. Either that, or you could quickly learn some Derren Brown mind tricks, to convince Enterprise that the 5 foot blue scratch down the side was there when you picked it up, and categorically not a result of clipping that Renault Megane whilst driving the wrong way down that one way street in Durham.
I don’t want to sound like one of those fucking flashing motorway signs, but take regular breaks, yeah? Being half-an-hour late for a load-in is definitely a better option than performing a triple salko over the central reservation of the M69, shortly after your bass player has nodded off at 76mph. Service stations are your friends. Whether it’s for that piss that you’ve been holding now for 37 miles and renders you a wriggling, tearful mess, or perhaps a disappointing tuna sandwich which requires the re-mortgaging of your assets, and possible sale of a kidney – which is now damaged due to the piss holding incident. Services are there for you like a safe haven in a horror-themed computer game.
When you’ve been touring for too long you might discover that you have a favourite service station to visit, which is really really sad. Tebay for the record.
Try and avoid spending money on food at services, unless you are literally on your last legs and options have completely run out. It’s so pricey, and the vast majority of the time it looks nothing like the appetising posters, and tastes like shit.
I spoke earlier about trying not to die in a fireball on the road. Well, You Slut! and Alright! The Captain came extraordinarily close to meeting our maker near Belfast in 2011. All seven of us were crammed in the back of a van travelling down a dual carriageway, slowly overtaking an articulated lorry carrying breeze blocks, when there was a gigantic bang! The lorry’s tyre had exploded and now it was veering slowly towards us. Luckily, Jamie from ATC put his foot down and the lorry missed us by a gnat’s pube and began barrel rolling inches behind us. Quite honestly, it was the most terrifying experience of my life.
Anyway, enough about untimely deaths.
Petrol is expensive isn’t it? This is where your pre-arranged fees, and sales of merch are an absolute must. Be sensible and try and locate cheaper petrol stations, usually found at supermarkets, and not the ones at service stations that cost a preposterous amount per gallon. Also, pack a sat nav. Don’t end up floating in a lake. This is also vital for avoiding those pesky traffic jams and congestion charges.
Packing your equipment into the van is, quite simply put, a work of pure art. Seriously, it’s like level 22 Tetris shit. It’s an OCD sufferer’s wet dream. Seeing the snare case and pedal boards intertwine like a dovetail joint is truly mouth-wateringly satisfying. As much as packing the van after a late, sweaty gig is quite possibly the worst job in the world, make sure it’s done to the highest possible standard. A few speed bumps can render total disaster once the back doors are opened and the whole thing collapses like a giant, and very expensive, game of Jenga.
You did arrange fees with the promoters, right?
Nobody wants to do a 250 mile round trip for a case of warm Budweiser, a plate of bread, four plastic knives and a small tub of Utterly Butterly. Hopefully your fee for the gig should cover the petrol to and from the venue. You’re all in a math rock band! One of you should know how to work a frigging calculator.
Packing your equipment into the van is, quite simply put, a work of pure art. Seriously, it’s like level 22 Tetris shit. It’s an OCD sufferer’s wet dream.
I alluded to ‘riders’ earlier (for those unsure of what a rider is, it is lots of snacks lay out on a table in a soiled, heavily graffiti’d room). If you have been presented with one at a gig, then a big tip here is to take all you can possibly fit in your grubby pockets after the gig for the remainder of the tour. You’ll truly regret leaving behind that net bag of Babybel’s come 3pm the following day. And as for fresh fruit, well, that is a tour 1UP right there. Don’t leave it to be thrown out. Vitamins really are your tour buddies. If you are lucky, you might get a fridge and a case of beer for the other bands to steal. This isn’t an invitation to down 12 bottles of Bier De Luxe to avoid the chance of theft. You will be shockingly shit come gig time.
As hard as this is to compute, you can take beer away with you. Check whose beer is whose though. Don’t become the stealing tosspot.
As with promoters, hopefully you’ve had a bit of email bants and rapport! I think it’s a good idea to perhaps send them a spec list for your band a couple of days before your gig. That way the sound person knows your exact set-up and can be prepared. They’ve hopefully sent you the load-in times, soundcheck times and show times. This obviously makes it a hell of a lot easier to know when to turn up. Try and make it for the load-in times specified for Jesus’s sake though. You don’t want to leave the venue and support bands waiting around without explanation.
Enquire as to whether you’ll be getting a small guestlist, or cheaplist. Make sure to not take the piss though. Don’t add Bryan, whom you met once 16 years ago at your mate’s auntie’s wedding. Add the people who will actual bother to turn up. Also, avoid too many +1s. It gets really confusing.
Also, ask the promoter if they could supply you with an evening meal. Seriously, a plate of lukewarm, runny spaghetti bolognese can taste like pure gastronomic heaven after a seven hour trek across the Pennines. If they can’t supply meal then a ‘buy out’ (money given to you directly for food) can be just as spectacular. This allows you to get an instantly regrettable Big Mac when that nice Thai place was just round the corner.
If you are a support band and need to borrow cabs or drum shells, then ensure you contact the promoter and headliner/other bands prior to the gig and ask politely. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting to a gig and setting everything up perfectly only for a band to show-up and assume it’s okay to lend it and then move it around – and in the case of a gig we did in Ireland (Cork), for the drummer to completely fucking terribly re-tune the drum kit to sound like 3 empty tubs of Celebrations.
You may unfortunately stumble across bands that are pretty unlikeable cockwombles. I’m certainly not going to mention any names here, but I remember on a couple of occasions having to repress headbutting certain people. On the whole though, I’ve found the math rock community to be habitually very friendly and warm. We stick together and have each other’s backs, like two nerdy kids on the first day of big school.
Anyway, on to merchandise. The life-giver of the tour. The difference between a Weatherspoon’s breakfast for all and a multi bag of Cheetos shared cautiously for 3 days.
You should by now – fingers crossed – have your album and demo to flog, and a couple of snazzy t-shirt designs in varying gaudy colours and sizes. Maybe some badges and tote bags? All with set prices in mind. You have obviously remembered to put in a large order to arrive prior to the tour haven’t you? Good work, squire. From experience, I can only suggest getting a lot of medium men’s shirts! And a fair few large fits. They sell the most amongst mathites. Also a few lady fit shirts. Basically, what I mean is don’t end the tour with 25 XXXLs, having sold your only four mediums at the first gig in Carlisle.
So now, a few days before the tour begins, purchase yourselves some masking tape and a sharpie. Neatly roll the t-shirts up into a tube shape, whack the masking tape round and write the size on it (Mens L, Ladies S, etc.). Trust me, this makes it a quintillion times easier finding that scrawny guy an XL that you know will fucking swamp him, and it saves you having to frantically palm through the merch box, tossing shirts about like a stroppy teenager. Pack a small reading light also! You want people to be able to see what you’re selling. And hopefully what you’re giving them! A money tin is also a prime idea.
I’ve seen bands set-up card payments through a smart phone. I have absolutely no idea how you do this. But if you’re more technically minded than I, then get on it. Move with the times.
We made ourselves a merch board, so we could pre-mount our stuff before the tour started, and simply set it up in seconds. The prices were written on all the items for ease. But it’s perhaps worth packing some coat hangers, so you can display your array of shirts easily.
Tally down everything you sell. If you’re feeling proper productive then you can print off sheets with all your available merch and a space to tally-up. You can name and date them every night and then any discrepancies can be traced easily. Like when the drummer drunkenly handed that guy three vinyl for £10 in Falkirk.
If you have CD/vinyl/cassette etc. then whack-in some download codes. That way, people can keep your shit in pristine condition and download instead. It’s bound to be worth 89p on Music Magpie in five years’ time. Download codes can be obtained on sites like BandCamp.
Now onto part two: The gigs themselves, the debauchery, guestlists, and the inevitable petty bickering.