Becky Pell: Life on the road is hard, so look after yourself
At a recent industry event, I was struck by how many of our road family we have lost. Men cut down in their prime years. Is it an unhealthy life of touring? Even without drugs or cigarettes, many of us drink more than is wise and like a fry-up.
Of course, some deaths are caused by congenital problems and would happen anyway – often such issues lurk unannounced until they deliver their fatal blow. But road crew are not exactly renowned for healthy living.
I also noticed, chatting to old friends, people expressing a sense of feeling lost. Road life often comes at the price of a solid home and family, and of other communities and interests. Touring can be all-consuming.
What happens when you reach a certain age and want to get off the road, but have no other skills? What if the road decides for you and you start losing gigs to younger crew? Loyalty isn’t always what it used to be.
Being a young business, we’re now seeing the first generation of people approaching the end of their working lives, and some are struggling.
Touring becomes so tied up with our identity that it’s no wonder we feel lost when it’s time to walk away. Some are fortunate enough to get ‘proper’ jobs with supply companies, and while that offers security, it doesn’t resolve that sense of ‘who am I now?’
Some have financial worries, having lived outside convention and not provided for retirement. Sadly, some fall into depression, hit the bottle, and in a few tragic cases have ended their own lives. So where do we go from here?
We shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand. It might be the best fun in the world now, but do you want to be still doing it when you’re 70? Is that even realistic?
Self-enquiry into how you envisage your final decades is a good idea. Do you have other interests? Could they become another way to make a living, even on a part-time basis? Even if your interests aren’t money-spinners, it helps to diversify the sources of your sense of identity.
If someone asks ‘who are you?’, I bet your job comes high up on how you describe yourself. But that’s not who you are – it’s just the skill you sell. Who are you really?
Cultivate friends and community outside of touring, so loneliness is not an issue as the years pass.
Put money away – we don’t have the comfort of company pensions, so start a nest egg.
And look after your health. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked – just because the bonnet’s shiny it doesn’t mean the engine is running well. Your body is the only one you get. Where else are you going to live?
So make a plan. Look after yourself, and look out for our brothers and sisters who might be struggling, especially off the road.
We’re a fantastic community, us lot – and we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.