Curious to know what it’s like behind the scenes on tour? Are you a musician about to go on tour for the first time? This blog is for you!
When you come to a gig, what you see is that brief glimpse where we are all playing the music. You won’t know that maybe something really went wrong in rehearsals. Maybe something broke…maybe we lost some gear or we were ill. The moment the show starts all that gets put aside. The audience have made spent money and made an effort to come out and see us. So we smile and try to give the audience the best experience we can! That is why this blog won’t really cover the gigs so much, but will tell the untold story of what happened behind the scenes and what I learned from it.
The Final Countdown
Its been a 3 month count down to this day. I have never had to put more preparation into a tour. In fact, the last time I did this much prep for something, I was taking my University Final Exams! It has taken hours and hours of transcribing and memorising.
“Why bother”… a word from the armchair experts.
I have discovered that, when ever you set out on a new venture, there will be armchair experts telling you you are doing it wrong! A musician said this yesterday: “Doesn’t it bother you that you have spent 3 months preparing for this 3 date tour?… I bet if you add it all up, you’ve earned about 1 pence per hour”. This way of thinking is funny to me, because in a way, I have spent my entire life preparing for this gig. Its like saying “Why bother playing music?, it’ll never get you anywhere”…
if I want to get somewhere; I get in my car. If I want to be transported on the journey, I listen to music.
Probably over 100.000 hours of practise have got me to the level where I can even attempt to play music as ambitious as we are playing for this tour. Perhaps my well meaning friend should have read my blog where I talk about “Saving up to do what you really want to do”… See, the point is, playing original music is its own reward. Sure, I’m getting paid for it… I’ve got bills to pay, but playing and preparing for this kind of tour is so much bigger than doing it cos its “a job”.
After all, If Einstein had not bothered with the theory of relativity just because “it has no commercial application”, we wouldn’t have GPS sat navs or TV, today. Or to put it simpler “you have to be in it to win it!”
So here we are. I am nervous. Like the moment before going into an exam, I feel like I could have prepared more…but realistically, I have done all I can. Anything else I will have to figure out as I go along.
When you hear the music on Dave Bainbridge’s Celestial fire, you will understand how crazy it is that we are going to get together for just 2 rehearsals before the tour. This is one of the major adjustments I have had to make between being a keen amateur and a professional. The days are gone where I have weekly band rehearsals with my mates .
The first day of run through was fun despite there being quite a few mistakes from everyone. We had chance to run the three longest songs and not much else. Its a prog gig, which means 15 minute long songs.
I was relieved to have managed to memorise them. The thing I was finding the hardest was swapping from electric guitar, to acoustic then to mandolin and remembering all the tuning changes.
Day one was pretty much a 12 hour rehearsal day. The one thing that surprised me was how we rehearsed. If a mistake was made, we stopped, ran that section maybe twice, but not more than that. Everyone would make a note and move on. I just hope I can remember all the little details. Time for bed, I’m shattered.
Today I saw how professional everyone is. As we launched into rehearsal today, virtually all the mistakes from yesterday were gone. That was it. The speed with which these guys memorised all the adjustments has blown me away. It is mind blowing that we are managing to play these amazing tunes, with everyone playing multiple instruments. It is clear that everybody has worked really hard for this tour. It made me glad that I had put the preparation in for it.
Who is playing what?
Frank Van Essen: Drums and Violin.
Me: Electric Acoustic and mandolin,
Dave Bainbridge: Keys, bouzouki and electric,
Sally Minnear: Vocals, acoustic and percussion,
Simon Fitzpatrick: bass, Chapman stick and Moog bass keyboard.
Will we fit all this gear into the Van? More importantly will we fit all this gear on stage? … We will find out tomorrow.
Gig 1 Robin 2 in Bilston.
This is it! Sound check went pretty well. The gig started and about half way through the gig we played an IONA song that I grew up listening to called Revelation. It has an brilliant little phrase on acoustic guitar just before the song kicks in. I played it, and could see fans faces light up. I could tell that they were waiting for the signature phrase and couldn’t hide the joy when it blasted through the PA. I looked over at Sally, Dave, Frank and Simon, they were all smiling back at me.
This is the moment that reminds me why we do all this. Because it feels amazing!!! It reminds me of how blessed I am and that it is only a few years ago that I was stuck in a dead end job, dreaming of playing with these guys.
It was really cool meeting up with old friends at the gig (Rich Styles) and meeting new ones from Facebook (James Bentham) and a bit gutting missing out on talking to other guys who had driven several hours to get here (So sorry Lorne, really wanted to catch up).
One of the tough things about being on tour is that packing down is a team effort and I felt torn between chatting to everyone and being the guy who makes everybody super late to get packed up and on to the next venue. I learnt on my last tour that fatigue is a major factor, so I knew that the sooner we got out of the venue, the more sleep the team would get.
Please know that I appreciate every single person who made an effort to come and see us.
Gig 2 York at Fibbers
I got in the morning and sat outside the Bilston venue. I practised for about an hour to fix any mistakes from the night before. We got in the van and travelled a few hours to York. This gig was filmed. There was a crane and people on cameras on rails with headsets and stuff… extra pressure!!!
Practical Tips and Trail Mix.
When I was out on tour with GB3 earlier this year, I learnt a few things. 1, there is never enough to eat on tour. 2, if there is enough to eat…. there is never enough time to eat it. By the time the gear is packed up and we are at the hotel its usually 2 or 3 AM so nowhere is open, and by the time you wake up, you have usually missed breakfast! And when you get to the venue, soundcheck is usually running late so you don’t have time to eat then either!
This time I came prepared! When I go wild camping I live of “trail mix” during the day. A mix of nuts and dried fruits. I know this seems like a silly detail to mention, but seriously, it these little things you learn on tour that make all the difference!
Another thing that happened on the GB3 tour is that lack of sleep really affected me, especially post tour. I was exhausted and really felt down. I am so NOT rock and roll! I’m a morning person. Late nights kill me!!! This tour I learnt to really try to force myself to sleep a bit longer. So when I woke up at 6:30 AM after going to bed at 3AM, I had some chilled music prepared on my iPhone, I’d put it on and try to get some extra rest.
OK so tonights gig was amazing. Its the nearest gig to where I live, so the home crowd were out in force! My wife was there, my parents and even guys wearing “Dave Brons” t-shirts (seeing my name on T-shirts still feels weird…in a good way of course!).
What you probably didn’t realise if you came to the gig, is that we had about 2 minutes to soundcheck. I was really hoping to run the 3 big songs in rehearsals again. We started playing and I couldn’t hear the backing track or Dave’s keys/ guitar… so basically I felt like I was playing blind all night. I had to rely on the drums and bass and hope that I was playing Dave’s unison parts more or less correctly. In the past, this would have really affected me, so I guess that I’m getting better at playing live. (Read my blog here about when I started out doing this kind of gig)
The gig was filmed and I will let you know as soon as I have some footage.
It was great talking to people after the gig. I hoped to chat a bit longer to a few more of you (sorry Daniel Fenner). But your feedback was amazing. I guess it just goes to show that even when I feel like the sound on stage is all wrong, often the audiences’ perception is very different… This is an important lesson to take forward. No matter how bad things are going on stage, smile, enjoy the moment. Its about the the audience not about me.
I sold a lot of CD’s and T-shirts at the gig. Thanks to MaFt and Chris Lowry for stepping up at the very very last minute to man the merch desk. Another thing I have learned about touring is that Merch is super important…No: Merch is essential. By the time the venue/promoter have taken their cut of ticket sales, and we have paid overheads (food, fuel, accommodation, van hire) there really is not much left for the band. It really is getting harder and harder for bands to make playing live pay enough to make it worthwhile.
The good news is that we keep all the profit on the merch we sell (although some venues take a percentage of that as well!!!ouch). So basically, all you guys who buy stuff at gigs…. WE LOVE YOU! If you are a musician planning to go on tour, make sure you have something the audience can take away as a memento of the gig.
Gig 3 Summersend Prog Festival.
After a very very late night and a fairly early morning start to travel right across the country, it was ace to arrive at such a nice venue in Chepstow. Soundcheck was running late (a feature of this tour!) as the PA and lights were still being installed. So we had a couple of hours to hang out. When we finally sound checked, the lights kept tripping out all the equipment… I started to worry that it might happen during the gig. The next band sound checked and then went on to do their set. They sounded great.
The venue was packed! Woo hoo!
Tonight is going to be an amazing end to the tour. We got on stage…it was nice to play on a bigger stage. A bit more room…I played the first chord and the sound had gone west! My monitor mix was totally different…I couldn’t hear any bass guitar or drums and there was an unbelievably loud background hiss onstage.
It turned out that Simons bass amp had blown up. Not the start I wanted! Fortunately the first song was 15 minutes long, so in sections where it was just keys and voice, we scrambled to sort something out. Simon managed to unplug his keyboard and go direct to the sound desk. We didn’t stop… we just carried on. These guys are such pros! I have to say that despite all the problems we were having I massively enjoyed the gig.
One feature of the tour that has been incredible is the lengths and sacrifices many people go to to come and watch us. One lady travelled hours and hours all the way from southern England to come to the gig. This incredibly humbling! Thanks Rowena! Another guy called Lorne travelled 3 hours to see us. Amazing. Another facebook friend posted me some equipment to use on the tour. So generous! Thanks Andy Gelband. You are a legend!
This makes really brings home to me the responsibility we have to really do a good job in preparing and playing these gigs.
After the gig, people were saying things like “thank you for taking the Celestial Fire album on tour, we are so grateful”… you know, this kinda summarises this whole experience. It is a huge privilege to play original music on tour but it is also a really hard way to earn a living.
It would be easier and possibly more lucrative to be in a covers band or have a regular office job. But that isn’t what makes me feel like I’m really alive. Fortunately, Dave Bainbridge agrees. We are gonna be touring the UK again next year and we are actively in talks about coming to the USA too.
And its all made possible by you: the amazing people who come to our gigs. Thank You. See you all again soon!