2 days ago
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
And so the call came..."you know how to tune a guitar, come and stand at the side of the stage at our next Londodn gig and look like a roadie" was pretty much it.
The London gig in question was at the ULU (University of London Union) on the 5th November 1987, Bonfire night. There may have been a support band, I don't recall. What I do recall is that just before that date there had been some terrorist activity in the UK and every time a firework went off that day in London I jumped out of my skin.
The Wonder Stuff (for it is they we are concerned with) were doing quite well for themsleves. They had released their 2nd independant single, "Unbearable", in September '87 and were gigging incessantly up and down the country. During the last year they had done gigs with PWEI, New Order, Then Jerico, The Go-Betweens and The Shamen and in December were going off on their first UK tour opening for Big Country.
The gig at the ULU was something of a showcase for record companies. There was quite a buzz around the band and a number of major label A&R men were coming to check them out. Hence they wanted it all to look good and having me standing at the side of the stage made it look like they had a roadie and all was well.
We arrived at the venue, loaded in the gear and the band all promptly buggered off, leaving me with a pile of amps drums and guitars to put together. I managed something but it all got sorted out when they came back and the gig went ahead without a hitch as I recall.
This was my brief introduction to life as a roadie or the backline crew or stage tech or whatever job description you want to use, I always used roadie. Due to the uncountable gigs I'd been to since that first time out with SLADE I'd noticed the roadies. They shouted "1 - 2 - 1 - 2" (Obscure roadie joke alert: why do sound engineers only count to 2 ? Cos on 3 you lift !) down microphones during changeovers (a changeover is the bit between the support band going off and the main band coming on BTW). They were usually large, lank haired, bearded men wearing moth eaten band t-shirts and sporting large bunches of keys hanging from the belt that was visibly struggling to keep their jeans where they should be. I don't honestly think I'd ever considered it as a career choice.
But career choice it became...
A mere 25 days after the birth of my son I packed my bag and buggered off on tour for the first of many times. I needed a job, my inarguably better half agreed I should try this out and so, I joined The Wonder Stuff in a minibus loaded with 4 musicians, a tour manager, a sound engineer and me plus all their equipment and baggage to be the support band on Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reactions "Tattooed Beat Messiah" UK Tour. En route to the first gig (Leicester University) I was regaled with tales from the Big Country tour and how great that had been and how much help Big Country and crew had been to these first time tourers. So I was kind of expecting the same from Zod's lot.
Oh how wrong you can be. Mr Mannings band had two crew on stage looking after them, Gimpo and Smiffy. When we walked into the venue at Leicester University we were immediately spotted by Smiffy. He was a big man, replete with goatee beard, bandana and, the one thing you couldn't help but notice, an aluminium baseball bat. He came stomping across the hall toward us:
"Who are you ?" he grunted in our general direction
"Errrr...we're The Wonder Stuff" someone answered
"Oh...the support band. Well, I'm Smiffy and this..." he swung the baseball bat up onto his shoulder "...is The Slugger and we don't like you"
And with that he span around and stomped back to wherever he had been going in the first place. Welcome to the road indeed !
I did later learn a great lesson from this encounter. The man who in the not too distant future taught me the basics of everything I now know as far as being a roadie is concerned, former Clash roadie Digby Cleaver about whom there will be more later, once gave me this great piece of advice "never forget that the support bands of today will be the headliners of tomorrow and we'll always need a gig".
A few years later a not so gainfully employed Smiffy met The Wonder Stuff's lead singer and asked for a gig. He was denied the opportunity with a response something like "Smiffy, if you'd treated us anything like human beings on that tour we did with the Love Reaction, you'd have had a gig years ago". I took Digby's advice and went on to work for many of The Wonder Stuff's support bands.