Becky Pell: The unglamorous side of the music business
I’m crouched over an open suitcase in my pyjamas, next to a tour bus at the side of the road, rootling around in a pile of clothes for clean socks. It’s raining and apparently I’m providing the entertainment for passers-by. Still, hopefully the showers in the venue will be good.
Oh. Make that ‘shower’. Between everyone.
It hasn’t been cleaned recently..... Eaauuww hair...Okay, grit your teeth and get under the cold trickle, many people don’t have running water, be grateful.
Bit grumpy now, though.
You theatricals might have an image of life in the music business – all sex, drugs, rock and roll and glamour, right? Swanky hotels, private jets and debauchery? We turn up at the venue at 5pm nursing the damage from last night’s excess, soundcheck and do the show and then do it all again, don’t we?
Now look, everything you’ve heard happened and I won’t claim that it’s all green juices and hair shirts because that’s not true either. Most of us like the odd party, but those who constantly overdo it get weeded out – you have to be capable no matter how much fun you had last night. Technology has progressed massively in the last 40 years, and crew have changed with it - touring is a professional operation with highly technical jobs. The name we use affectionately for ourselves – roadies – is for our use only, because we’re engineers, technicians, designers, directors and so on.
Touring days are long. Production, rigging and catering crew are at it by 6am, and work goes on for hours after the show as it’s all de- rigged and loaded onto trucks for the next one. Then we’ll do it again, usually a few times in a row before a day off.
There is occasional glamour. Sometimes we stay in flash hotels. Sometimes a private jet is the only way to get to a wacky place on a tight schedule. End of tour parties do get messy.
But day-to-day life is getting dirty and not feeling properly clean until you get to your hotel room on the day off; it’s 16-hour days, loading trucks in the rain, pulling in muddy cables; it’s living with 15 other people on the bus; it’s being sick in a bucket by your mixing desk because you’re ill but the show must go on.
But among this lies the real benefit of touring: the people. Living and working like this creates a rare camaraderie; friends around the globe with whom you pick up right where you left off, even after years apart. Touring folk are professional ‘getter-onners’ – people who can’t get on with others don’t last. And they’re some of the hardest working, resourceful people you’ll ever meet. There are no sick days, no holiday pay or any of that nice fluffy stuff, and when things go wrong the show still has to happen, so you’d better find a solution. Luckily, this lot are just the sort you want by your side in a crisis.