So, we’ve covered a few important areas in the previous chapter. Mainly the financial side, the travel, sleeping arrangements and food.
This chapter I aim to look at the gigs themselves, and compile a list of things to take on tour to make the whole experience a little more manageable.
So hopefully you’ve booked gigs at venues that cater for alternative bands like yourselves, with promoters who know what they’re doing and support bands that aren’t utter deplorable pricks. It’s hard to judge a venue that you’ve never seen, in a town/city you’ve never visited. We tended to get it right most of the time, but there were occasions when it became instantly apparent we were playing a venue that was a little unsuitable.
I remember playing in Belgium and turning up to a venue that was fucking enormous. The stage itself was bigger than most venues we had played. And unless we had wildly underestimated how big we were in Belgium, then this was probably going to be a sparse disaster. Spisaster. We’d turned up a day before the gig itself, as we had found ourselves with an empty date on the tour, so we loaded in and then proceeded to get very nervously drunk on free, ridiculously strong beers supplied by the promoter at the bar. We even ended up doing some spontaneous pissed DJ’ing to the punters who had no idea we were.
I asked the promoter how many tickets they’d sold, and the answer was unfortunately two zeros off being a calamity. But he was confident people would show up on the door.
So, the next night we asked if we could set-up on the floor below the stage, and if they could pull the curtain across that they had strategically hung across the middle of the venue to make it seem less awkward. They reluctantly obliged, and the sound guy seemed furious that he had to deal with these four tosspots from the midlands who were, kind of in a way, being the opposite of prima donnas. Anyway, I think 30 people showed up, who were probably on the cheap guestlist for the support band (who played and then buggered off, along with half the audience) and we ended up so hungover that it sounded a bit loose and crap anyway. I felt terrible for the promoter, who had treated us so nicely.
The third warning on show here regards booze. Wonderful booze.
See, there are a few warnings in that story. Firstly – towards the end – we had a booking agent for overseas gigs, but somewhere along the line wires had been crossed. I think the promoter misread You Slut! as The Arctic Monkeys, or something. Either way, it’s definitely worth searching the venues on the web to see what they’re like. I mean, you don’t want to turn up at a pub that has old men drinking from personalised tankards, and has you sandwiched between an Alison Moyet tribute and Folk singer called Gerry Star.
The second warning regards the support band. If you yourself are the support band then try as hard as you can to get your audience to stay and watch the touring band. They’ve travelled to play and it’s pretty rude if everyone buggers off, and they’re left to play to absolutely nobody.
Also, don’t be offended if the headliner isn’t around when you play. I’ve heard recently that some venues are making it so that every band has to watch one another in order to get paid. That’s silly. There are occasions when touring bands simply won’t have the time, or are devouring a KFC Family Bucket, or have caught the sound check and would rather cut their own ears off with a wooden spatula than watch 30 minutes of that. It is perhaps a little rude if they are all sat in the band room, but I think you have to understand that it isn’t always possible to see every band you play with on a tour.
The third warning on show here regards booze. Wonderful booze.
It’s plentiful, and flows like a sugary Danube whilst on tour. But seriously, you need to find a limit, otherwise you’ll be so permanently hungover that you feel like shite and play the same. And possibly go yellow with jaundice.
I hate to sound like your dad, but touring is primarily designed for you to sell yourself to the general public – who have paid their hard earned money to see you play. If you think about it, it’s kind of like a strange interview where you are pretty much guaranteed to get the job. With that in mind, you wouldn’t turn up late to that interview, hanging out your arse, with a ‘fuck you’ attitude and a can of warm Carling in tow. Or maybe you would? Either way you probably aren’t going to impress the panel/audience.
If you have a day off however, then screw it. Go cirrhosis level mad. Drink until you can’t human no more.
To be fair, booze is probably involved in 99.8% of all classic tour stories. You rarely hear classic yarns that end with the line ‘…and because of that, I’m never drinking milk again!’
My favourite You Slut! booze-related story is from the time we played in Bristol in 2012.
We’d played a gig at The Stag & Hounds with some very good bands, and afterwards wound up at a bar called The Mother’s Ruin (I highly recommend it) where booze was flowing at a ridiculously carefree level. We were drinking until about 5am, when the owner of the pub said we could all crash in his flat upstairs. All good. Bed time. Somehow, our bass player (Sam) found himself drunkenly sleepwalking downstairs and out of the front door, where it slammed shut and locked behind him. That’s the moment he awoke, barefoot, and just in his boxer shorts and a Stay Puft t-shirt.
Unable to get back in he began thumping the door to try and awake us. No chance mate.
After a while a nice lady – who owned the greasy spoon café across the way – approached Sam and asked why exactly he was sat barefoot, in a pair of boxer shorts and a Stay Puft t-shirt. He explained. She then told Sam that she was going to ASDA to get some supplies for the café, and that she would get him some shorts while she was there. She disappeared.
By now, quite unbelievably, a street parade had begun and the Hell’s Angels were amongst the folk rubbernecking our poor fallen comrade. Time elapsed and the nice lady returned with a pair of shorts that, quite honestly, would’ve been tight on a Ken doll. No dice. Enter a council worker who’d heard of poor Sam’s unfortunate plight. He had a cherry picker (a hydraulic crane with a railed platform at the end for raising and lowering people to work on overhead cables, or to wake lazy band members) that he could offer. This was a plan designed to send Sam up two floors in an attempt to finally get back home.
So, there he was chucking loose change at the windows whilst simultaneously shouting out our names, but none of us were stirring.
Eventually, some considerable time later, a kind cleaner took pity and let Sam in through a back door. I shall never ever forget that image of him stood furiously at the foot of our mattresses, looking like he’d walked across Mordor, but in his pants and a Stay Puft t-shirt. When we came to leave the following morning he got a rousing reception from the locals, who had taken to him like the underdog in a (pretty terrible) film.
You see, without booze, that story would not have been possible. Unless Sam had severe somnambulism, or early-onset dementia. And then it would have been tragic, and not at all hilarious.
So you see, booze is both the best and the worst. Drink responsibly and if you plan on drinking irresponsibly, then go to bed with trousers and shoes on, and perhaps try wearing a t-shirt that, preferably, doesn’t adorn a Ghostbusters villain.
Anyway, that’s quite enough about booze. Back to tour tips.
Drummers, I highly recommend purchasing several pairs of your favourite drumsticks pre-tour, and a spare snare head. I put one through first song at a gig in Newport once, and then we spent the following day desperately searching for a music shop.
And whilst we are on the subject of drumming, I have to raise the dreaded ‘B Word’. No, not bassists. ‘Blisters’.
They are the bane of a touring drummer’s existence. Seriously, the last thing you want is a few small, innocuous blisters after the second gig. Because believe me, by the time you reach your final gig, your hands will look you’ve been high-fiving a belt sander.
Remember: ‘List before fist’. List your gripes before you thump your band buddy square in their jaw.
Hopefully you’ll have built up quite a few calluses from the practice you’ve put in for the tour. Same for the other members also! If your hands aren’t like paving slabs pre-tour then try whittling a canoe or something.
Also drummers, try and avoid cracking a knuckle on the rim of your snare. Not only is it very very painful, it’ll also make your snare head, other drum heads and anything within a ten foot radius look like a scene from Saw 3.
Oooh, touring though! So, you are all going to get on like a house on fire, right?
A house. On fire. That’s pretty volatile and dangerous isn’t it? That’s not getting on -that’s arson. With that in mind, I’m afraid to report there are going to be pretty frequent occasions when band fallouts and squabbling occur on tour. This is inevitably what happens when you put a number of tired, cantankerous, hungover musicians in close proximity for any length of time without a managerial influence. It can turn into an episode of Trisha very quickly.
Being in the van can sometimes feel like you’re a contestant in a shit episode of ‘Big Brother’, and the diary room just so happens to double-up as the disabled toilet at a Welcome Break on the M42. Tensions and emotions on tour will for sure run high, and a slow accumulation of several gripes may just end up exploding over the pettiest thing.
A full-on fist fight over a pot of spilt mustard at a Little Chef in Norwich may be entertaining to the fellow diners, but it could spell the end for a budding math rock band. This is why I recommend attempting to air your issues in a grown up manner, where booze isn’t involved. Don’t let things build-up and annoy you to the point of venom. Remember: ‘List before fist’. List your gripes before you thump your band buddy square in their jaw.
For sure there are going to be times where you feel like going on a full-on GTA style five-star killing spree. Especially if you’re feeling low, have had just two hours of interrupted sleep in the past 48, and have eaten four packets of Tangy Toms and a crab apple in that time. But remember, you’re all in this together. Remember the phrase ‘there is no I in TEAM’. Correct of course, unless you’re dyslexic. But you can spell ME. You can almost spell MATH as well. MATE is a close as you’ll get…
Ok, ignore that phrase.
I mean, this was kind of your life choice at the end of the day. You really can’t complain. It’s in the job description:
‘Applicant must be prepared to put entire life and soul into a genre of music that is soundly disparaged and unreservedly exasperating.
Must hold level 3 NVQ qualifications or higher in: sleep deprivation, deplorable personal hygiene, irresponsible calorie intake, happy-go-lucky transitory alcoholism, dubious organisational talents and questionable decision making.
Successful applicant will be expected to travel the length and breadth of the country – and possibly overseas – to play shows to next to nobody, and pay mainly out of their own pocket for the pleasure.
Previous experience preferred, but unlikely’.
The thing is, you’ll look back on these times fondly when you’re selling out arenas on a regular basis. Chuckling at the time you played to three people in Peterborough, as you recline in the studio room of your mansion, surrounded by platinum records and vintage equipment once owned by rock gods.
Yeah, who am I kidding? That isn’t going to happen. You are not Puff Mummy, or whatever he’s called now. You, my friend, will be probably be playing to three people in Peterborough *dims lights* FOREVER, AND EVER, AND EVER, AND EV…
I’ve compiled a useful list of things I would pack for a tour to help make the experience as pain-free as is humanely possible:
- Lots of t-shirts (You are going to get very sweaty and no one wants to put a shirt back on that is cold, damp and smells like a wheel of gorgonzola. Primark is your tour friend).
- Lots of underwear (see above).
- Shorts (recommended if you are touring in the summer. It can get ridiculously hot in the van, and just having those calves free to breathe in the elements can be an utterly mind-blowing experience).
- Trousers (Yeah, don’t forget them, you’ll be arrested).
- Spare trousers (in case of emergency).
- Towel (useful for drying yourself after that emotional shower on day eight. This can perhaps also double up for sweat mopping usage at gigs)
- Warm waterproof coat (Trust me, regardless of the season, it’s the UK, it will rain approximately 68% of the time. Also, if you are touring in the winter and find yourself stood on a hard shoulder waiting for the van to explode, then it can get very cold).
- Hoodie/jumper (something to wear if your warm waterproof coat is going to melt you like that bit at the end of Indiana Jones, but your t-shirt will leave you in a state of hypothermic shock).
- Spare trainers/shoes (because muddy puddles).
- Ear plugs (hopefully you’ve bought some decent ones. If not, then pack shit loads of foam ones).
- Sleeping bag/duvet (This is vital for making floor naps that slight bit less spine-shattering).
- Headphones/ear phones (perfect for shutting yourself off from the others after that argument about who ate the last bag of Chipsticks. Or perhaps listening to Chuck Berry when in a sleep deprived stinking mood).
- Phone charger (forget this at your peril – and you probably will).
- Pillow (Seriously, this is the perfect tour companion. Can be used everywhere, but mainly for kips in the van on the road. Not if you’re the one doing the driving however).
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste (just because you’re on tour does not mean you should bypass your oral health. With the amount of sugar you’ll inescapably consume, then an unbrushed mouth can become a gingival nightmare. Don’t become a future toothless simpleton).
- Deodorant (if you don’t have a chance to grab a shower, and you undoubtedly won’t, then have a Glasgow shower – ‘pits and bits’. This process will hopefully help reduce the aroma in the van, which after five days can smell a bit like a 3-month old chicken breast left out in the sun).
- Vitamin tablets (I alluded to the importance of vitamins earlier, but taking some effervescent tablets in a great idea. It’ll help fend off ‘tour flu’, which can be a fucking horrible at the best of times! But when you’re in the back of breezy van wrapped in every item of clothing you’ve brought, and cocooned in your sleeping bag like a caterpillar about to hatch into an irritable twat, it can be nightmarish. Next time you’re ill, imagine having to play a gig in Bradford that night. If that isn’t reason to take regular vitamins, then I don’t know what is?
- A good book (May I recommend something by Haruki Murakami, or perhaps Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNabb).
- A hat (very useful during the winter months for keeping your head warm. Also useful in the summer months, for hiding the world from your greasy, lank hair that you could possibly shallow fry chips in).
- Painkillers (You will need these fo’ sho’. Especially if you’ve drank so much the previous night that you head feels like ruptured bollock).
- Plasters (especially if you’re a drummer and keep twatting your knuckles on your snare. Also extremely useful if you’re as clumsy as I am, and constantly scratch/cut/graze yourself on literally anything that is sharp and protrudes).
So there’s my recommended, fully endorsed ‘tour items list’ (TIL).
Realistically you probably won’t be able to fit all of these items into your rucksack. Or, end up forgetting everything I’ve just said, only to unzip your bag whilst in Exeter to find two empty and crumpled bags for life, several old Tesco receipts and an ancient rotting banana skin.
Still, tour eh?! Wooo Hoodoo!