Monday, April 14, 2014

The Crew: The Sound Guys

One of the many things I've noticed over the years is that in the sub-world of touring there are a lot of “Dave's”.  It must be the most popular roadie name there is.  Of course, we had Bianchi, our manager, commonly known to many as Corby Dave, we had Little Dave who was our “drum tech” for a while, I add the inverted commas since very little drum teching was done, he just used to hang out with Gordon, get pissed a lot and chat up girls.  He was commonly referred to by Gordon as Bitch Dave because although a lot of teching wasn't seen to Gordon would make him carry out countless other chores and generally treat him like his butler.  Bitch Dave would later go on to play bass with us after Darren left.

For a while there we did actually get to the size where we could justify taking a big crew on tour with us.  Well, I'm not sure we could justify it, or maybe we could, but in truth we probably wasted a lot of money paying people to help us carry gear just because they were our mates and we wanted to party.  But fuck it, why not?  It was a long time ago and the money is long gone and it's nothing worth regretting now.  I'll never be in that position again so fuck it.

Although we did piss a lot of money away in our time, when we could afford it, paying a sound engineer was always money well spent, if they were good at their job of course.  We went a long time without one, we held the belief that the in-house person at the club most likely knew the PA better than anyone else and not only that, if we happened to be touring with another band that did have an engineer then the “in-houser” would always want to do a better job than the “professional”.  This proved to be true a lot of the time (although you always encounter the odd wanker) as long as we were playing smaller clubs but when we started getting shows at places like the Astoria, and then later on the big festivals, it became apparent that we needed someone working our sound.  We had a few over the years and a couple of those just happened to be called, Dave...

Long before the days of hiring a full time engineer, our first try out was actually a guy called Lee, or Fat Lee, ingeniously christened so because he was a big old boy.  He came out with us for a few shows in the early days for what must have been very little money.  Roddy had picked him up after a show in Northampton where he'd impressed whilst doing the in-house sound.  Roddy seemed to suddenly insist we needed a Sound Guy, although it was nothing the rest of us seemed particularly bothered about.  That said, we didn't really bother about anything in those days and with Roddy doing all the sorting out we were happy to go along with his suggestion, we really weren't arsed either way as long as we didn't have to take care of paying him.  We left Roddy to deal with that.  We left Roddy to deal with pretty much everything in those days.  It was funny looking back on it, there was the six of us in the band and Roddy, who did everything for us then, and then for a while there was Fat Lee, who as far as we were concerned, was Roddy's own little employee.  Roddy seemed to be chuffed.

Lee was actually a really nice guy, although nothing like the rest of us.  He was polite and quiet, a really mild bloke who wouldn't harm anyone.  He did used to sweat a lot though and wasn't all that keen on changing his clothes from day to day.  Don't get me wrong, our personal hygiene back then was nothing to be applauded but Lee was on a slightly worse level.  Again, we weren't really that arsed but this soon began to be an issue for Roddy and before long he was lobbying to have him fired.  I think the truth of the matter is though that Roddy had grown disillusioned with Lee soon after taking him on, not only had they been arguing a lot about the sound but it was pretty obvious Lee just wasn't like us.  He was a good sound engineer I'm sure but he just didn't really get us.  The fact he sat in the back of the van stinking and eating like a horse was just a minor detail.

I'll never forget one occasion when we were driving along the M11 on a gloriously sunny day, heading somewhere south, and the back tire of the van, right underneath Lee's arse, exploded!  Fucking bits of rubber all over the motorway behind us.  We fucking shat ourselves as Roddy swerved into the hard shoulder.  Of course, Roddy got it into his head this was somehow Lee's fault.  He'd only been out with us about a week and it had already reached that point.. Roddy finally decided that Lee was for the chop and when we turned up a few days later at a gig in Colchester, Roddy dropped him off at the train station and bought him a ticket.  And that was that.  Never did see Lee again.  I hope he's doing ok.  It would be a few years until we employed another Sound Guy.  

We were rapidly assembling a crew from the old Nottingham scene, through the contacts Bianchi and Roddy had.  We had Tall Paul out for a while, drum teching, and Doug was living in Nottingham at the time and a big part of the scene there, and then we had Dave Stokes.  Stokesy as he was known to all.  Stokesy was the first real sound guy we employed and the longest serving too.    

Stokesy was a quiet guy really, although you had the feeling there was some darker, more mischievous side bubbling under the surface there somewhere.  He was part of the old goth/punk scene in Notts, I think he used to crew for the cult band Every New Dead Ghost.  That was how he knew Bianchi.  He had a skinhead although looked friendly with it.  He was a bit of an enigma really.  He just got on with his job quietly and professionally, would never refuse a beer after his job was done and would always be close to hand if the scent of a fight arose, which it inevitably did.  I liked the fact that he blended in with the gang mentality we had, which was always us against the rest of the world.  The thing I liked most about Stokesy was that he almost always wore a smile upon his face, just a pretty content kind of guy.  But like I say, if there was a confrontation he would be there, somewhere thereabouts anyway.

My favourite memory of Stokesy was when we were playing the Tattoo the Planet travelling festival, which was something like five shows in the UK.  It was one of those festivals that never really seemed like it was going to last.  It started off the first year with crap like Pantera and Soulfly headlining and about another fifteen or sixteen similarly rubbish bands in support, and by the time we played it a couple of years later it was basically a Slayer gig.  Besides us there was Biohazard and Cradle of Filth, there were maybe a couple of others at the London show, but this particular night it was just the four of us, playing the NIA in Birmingham.

It was a big show, maybe four or five thousand in attendance.  My mum and dad had come up to see us.  I think it was the only big indoor show my mum ever came too.  I remember looking over at the two of them, sat in the dark beside the stage on a flight case as we played, nobody else around, just really chilled out watching us.  It was weird how playing shows of this size had come to feel completely normal, that they had lost all sense of awe, and my mum and dad being there watching as if it was just any other gig seemed to sum it up really.  I guess when I look back now I realise that it had all began to feel like just another job.  I digress... The thing is, for being a big show and all, there was no sense of party, everything was pretty relaxed.  We had the tour bus outside which was were we'd be sleeping for the night and we'd be waking up in London the next day.  Just another week at work.      

After the show my mum and dad left for the short drive home, not really arsed about seeing Slayer.  Neither was I to be fair, I'd seen them a few times already by that point and as much as I love the early records, if you've seen them live once you've seen them a hundred times.  And let's face it, Kerry King looks like a right tosser these days and there's only so much you can stomach.  As is always the case at these events, the backstage area is completely over the top, with each band having their own Porta Cabin dressing room, a full on canteen for band and crew catering etc. etc.  All very luxurious and at the same time completely soulless.  We of course received our food tickets earlier in the day which were duly exchanged for a plate of grub but come the end of the night, after a couple of beers, we were hungry again.  Stokesy told us that some runners had just taken a load of pizza into Slayer's cabin, which would be their after-show grub.  “Why the fuck weren't we getting after-show grub?” Stokesy wanted to know, a half pissed frown/smirk on his coupon.  Of course we weren't getting any pizza, we weren't the guys on stage right now that six thousand people had come to see, we were simply the first band of the night.  Still, with some gentle encouragement from Stokesy we were soon robbing Slayer of their pizza, pissing ourselves laughing while we were at it.  Fuck em.  We weren't even drunk, just bored, if anything.  Stokesy seemed to be on one though.  He had that look in his eye.  The Biohazard boys had witnessed the whole thing and found it hilarious.  “What I love about you guys is that in ten years time, when it's you that are up on that stage headlining, you fuckers will still be stealing pizza!” laughed Danny.  I guess he'd prove to be half way right.

We headed back to the tour bus, satisfied on pizza and ready to chill out on the bus with a film and a couple of beers.  Billy Biohazard and Stokesy had other ideas though.  Billy is a trouble maker of the highest order, one of the reasons we got on so well with him, and Stokesy, as Doug would often comment, was a “dark horse”.  Billy had found his way on to our bus and seemed determined to get a party going, whether we wanted one or not.  “What the fuck's going on with you guys?” he enquired, seeming genuinely shocked by the sight of us lazing around the top lounge of the bus watching a film whilst John sat at the back, rolling a joint.  I'm not really sure how it happened but within five minutes chaos had broken out.  Somehow Billy and Stokesy had gotten into a “toy fight” that, as is usually the case, soon escalated into something a little more serious, not really a full on fight but neither would back down.  We sat there, pretty amused at the sight of Stokesy wrestling with Billy, and before we fucking knew it, something, I guess it was a bottle of some sort, had been launched and gone straight through the back window!  The window just shattered into a million pieces and a good section of it rained down on John.  I looked over at him and he was sat there, with little pyramids of shattered glass on his head and shoulders, still rolling his joint, “Argh for fuck sake..” he moaned.

I can't really remember how the situation resolved itself although Bianchi was far from amused.  Billy was though.  Or at least, he made out he was, not really wanting to admit to feeling any guilt.  He'd committed worse crimes through the years I'm sure.  Stokesy got pretty quiet afterwards though as our bus driver read us the riot act.  John carried on with his joint.

I still don't know exactly who threw the bottle though...

Stokesy actually left our service a little while later.  No big break up or anything like that, he just had a more regular gig with another band he was doing sound for, InMe.  A rubbish grunge/metal/indie band that I couldn't understand for the fucking life of me.  The last time I remember seeing Stokesy was at show in London where we happened to be on the same bill as InMe.  I remember thinking to myself, “What the fuck are you doing with these guys?” but I guess Stokesy had his reasons.  Maybe they were less trouble than we were.  They probably paid better anyway.

After Stokesy we had another Dave, Dave Lamb.  Now I liked Dave, he was a happy guy, kind of posh, very enthusiastic and a decent soundman.  But, as was often the problem, he was nothing like us.  He came from a more indie background, which was by no way a problem for me, in fact he'd worked with one of my favourite bands of that era in Swervedriver, something I was really impressed with and I would gladly listen to some of the stories he had to tell from his time with them.  I could tell the rest of the guys weren't really feeling the same connect though.  And I had the feeling he got on Doug's tits, being that he was a bit of a whittler.

As friendly as Dave was he too gave the impression that there was a darker side in there somewhere and one thing I did notice is that as soon as there was a whiff of the white stuff around he'd be off.  And to make matters worse he seemed to be rapidly racking up debts with everyone.  It wasn't long before the tension started to tell and some of the guys were wanting rid of him.  It's a really hard situation when you have to sack someone, especially if as in the case here, it was someone I liked personally.  As it happens Gordon took care of the situation with typical Morison efficiency.  He threw a stink bomb into his bunk one night and in the morning Dave was gone.  Gordon said he'd lobbed it in and then jumped into his bunk and hid whilst Lamb came crawling out in shock, cursing and ready to vomit, shouting at the rest of the bus.  I'd slept through the whole thing.  The next time I met Dave he was doing sound with the band Oceansize and we were sharing the bill at an awful gig in Redhill.  We spoke a little but it was bit awkward, to say the least.

The last soundguy we had of note was Mole.  Mole was a lot older than the rest of us, very experienced and again, a good engineer.  He'd been doing in house sound at Nottingham Rock City for a few years and was a fixture of the scene there.  He had long grey hair and looked like Killer Bob from Twin Peaks, although a slicker version.  I remember one time my friend Erik was hanging out on tour with us and the first time he met Mole he was pretty pissed up and when he set eyes on him he got really freaked out and hid, screaming, “It's Bob!”.  Mole thought the whole thing was hilarious.

Mole was a real gentleman and had a calmer head on his shoulders than everyone else.  He liked to party and hang out, have a drink and all, but his main interest seemed to be the girls.  He was a right slick talking fucker when it came to that.  As calm and collected as he was though, like everyone else I've ever met, there was another side to him.  It's a good thing that Mole had quit the band before Kev joined us because there was a bit of history between them.   A long time before when they were all living in Notts, Kev had had his jaw broken by the bouncers at Rock City.  The reason being that he'd walked up to one of them and called him a cunt.  The reason he did such a ridiculous thing is because he was steaming and Bianchi and the lads had egged him on to do so.  Of course, Kev can be a danger to himself when he's drunk but still, this was stupid, even for him.  The thing is, after calling said bouncer a cunt and then getting into a scuffle with him, he was taken a hold of by a few of them and none other than Mole held him from behind in a Full Nelson headlock while the insulted bouncer lined up and took a shot at him.  Bianchi and the lads went to visit Kev the next day in hospital and found him with his jaw wired together.  “Er, sorry mate” they said, trying not to giggle.  Kev doesn't hold a grudge to be fair and admits he got what he deserved.  I doubt whether Mole would even remember, that kind of thing went on at Rock City all the time.

Mole took his job very seriously and was good for us for a while.  Of course, it started to erk him a little that we didn't take our band as seriously as he seemed to.  I remember one night after a gig at the Astoria, a euphoric Mole came into the backstage, praising the gig and was gushing about the sound he'd worked for us.  He had been on at me and Tony about adjusting our guitar sounds and backing off the bass a little, something we were not entirely on board with.  But we'd tried it this night and after the show Mole was buzzing about it to me and Darren, “You guys sounded brilliant tonight!  It was so much better, you could hear everything, but it was still as heavy as fuck.  But you know, everything sat so much better, and the guitar sound, awesome!  You could hear notes, you could hear tone...” at which point Daz cut him off and turned to me, “You must be Notes!”  The pair of us pissed ourselves laughing, kind of missing Mole's point and pissing on his onions a little.  Still, I thought it was one of the funniest things Daz had said.

What I admired most about Mole though was his love for Metallica.  He adored them so much that he had his own tribute band (he was the drummer) called Moletallica.  Fucking genius name!  They were kind of a big deal in Nottingham, playing to big crowds at Rock City now and then.  I remember probing him one night about the band and about the setlist, enthusiastically going through the old classics and wondering which ones they played.  We all started to crack up though when we saw a pattern emerging.  “Battery?”  No... “Hit The Lights?” No, not that one.  “Fight Fire With Fire?” No, too fast, the boys can't keep up.  It seemed that the only songs the old boys played was the slower paced ones.  The thing is Mole is one of those Metallica fanatics, just like our old mate from Corby Metallica Bob, who stands by everything Metallica have ever released.  Such is their devotion to the band that they will look you in the eye and tell you Reload is a great record.  I just don't get it.  But they are not alone.

As was often the case with the guys we had crewing for us, our relationship with Mole started to fray a little after a while.  To be fair, it was mostly our doing.  OK, Mole was probably way too serious for us but we did nothing but moan, about everything, all the time, and after a while it started getting on Mole's nerves.  Can't say I blame him, looking back.  It was becoming apparent this was the case when Mole's frustration started to manifest itself in petty little arguments.  As in one night when we were on the bus and Gordon was moaning about wanting some food.  I don't remember exactly what happened, just that at one point Mole and Gordon were in a bit of a stand off and Mole was rabidly clenching an egg sandwich, “You fucking lot don't know how lucky you are!  Do you know how fucking long most bands have to work for this?  Most bands never get to this level!”  To be fair, I think Mole was referring to the tour bus.  “Fuck me!  An egg sandwich?  If you think that's luxury mate then you've had a harder life than I have!”

I thought it was great but the whole thing boiled over and the two of them very nearly got into it.  Doug stepped in of course and took Mole to the side for a quiet word.  Before long he was apologising to us and the thing was done.  Except for Gordon.  Gordon had decided Mole was a prick and was now on a mission to wind him up... It escalated a few nights later.  The air conditioning on the tour bus was fucked and it was insanely warm at night.  You'd be lying in your coffin-like bunk with sweat pissing out of you.  I think I slept naked most of the time.  It was fucking horrible, waking up in the middle of the night, drunk and dehydrated, gagging for water.  Well of course, Gordon thought it would be funny to empty Mole's water bottle while he slept and replace it with vodka.  Mole got quite a fucking shock I can tell you.  I'll never forget him crawling out of his bunk in agony, sweat pissing out of him, having just downed a shit load of Smirnoff.  Mole wasn't around much longer.  From what I can tell, he seems to be doing better without us.

Apart from the odd one off occasion when we'd play a big show, we didn't really have any other sound engineers.  As I've documented, things tailed off a bit and we couldn't really afford them any longer.  And who in their right mind would want to work for us anyway?  When we got things up and running again, after Frank had quit and left us in the shit, things were on a different level.  It started well enough, with a show to a huge crowd in the tent at Donnington, but apart from a couple of big Euro festivals, the crowds slowly started to erode and we were back to playing small clubs and gig spaces.  We couldn't afford anyone to crew for us any more.  Except for Wee Lee, and he was like a seventh member of the band.  We didn't deserve him...He certainly deserved better than us...