Chapter 2: In which the van dies, plans are changed and first impressions are made.

 “Just so you guys know, the van doesn’t usually sound like this.”

I can be an incredibly anxious person, especially amongst people I don’t know. So picking up 6 strangers at 5am for a drive from the outskirts of London to Hamburg only for my beloved van, Old Blue, to begin making ungodly noises, is really not the first impression I want to make.

You see, this is Old Blue.

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And Old Blue is called that for a good reason: it’s just over 18 years old, and it’s blue. I love it. Most bands I drive love it too, because what it lacks in modern technology and exterior good looks it makes up for in character and comfort. It’s like the old chair in your living room you can’t bear to get rid of because you worry it’ll take a lifetime to make a new chair that comfortable.

Regardless of what the majority of people think, i’m incredibly conscious of how old blue looks and operates. If something minor goes wrong, even if it’s something as simple as the aux cable being faulty, it torments me. I can’t stop thinking about it, and how I imagine the band sat in the warm embrace of my Old Blue are judging me for this horrendous letdown.

So it’s a gut wrenching feeling when on the way to the Dover ferry terminal Old Blues engine begins making disgusting noises whenever I accelerate. I discuss this on the ferry crossing with one of my new van-mates, Aussie 2. He’s a bit older and more world wise than the tour headliner, Aussie 1, and throughout the majority of this tour is the person I get on with the most. We discuss how it could potentially be an issue with the fuel filter and contemplate how we’ll address the issue on the other side of this journey. We’ll hit the first garage we can, it’ll be a simple fix, and we’ll be on our way to Paris.

Wait.

“…to Paris?”

I guess I wasn’t sent the updated tour book. Or any tour book, as it happens. It’s explained to me that what was intended to be a travel day to allow us to make the already lofty journey from London to Hamburg has instead been designated a last minute gig, in Paris.

Why did it have to be Paris? There are few places I disdain more than the French capital. For a number of reasons really, but paramount is that it’s an absolute nightmare to drive, park, and generally be inside a vehicle in.

I take this news in my stride, with the issues with the van wiping out any semblance of self esteem i might have had to be confident enough to advise my new acquaintances that it was a pretty awful idea to fill this day off with a last minute Paris show for the following reasons:

1) There’s no guarantee of payment.
2) There’s no accommodation arranged.
3) It’s really out of our current tour route. Calais to Paris is roughly 3 hours, and Paris to Hamburg is AT BEST 8 hours. As opposed to the 7 hour trip we were previously looking at from Calais to Hamburg.

TL:DR – This gig would almost certainly lose the touring party money, and would make the proceeding drive even more daunting and would give us a day less to do it in. It made zero sense, but who was I to argue at this point?

We arrive in Calais, and hastily find a garage.

“No Mercedes.”

This happens at 3 garages before I eventually concede that I need to call my breakdown cover to come out and assist us. We park near a McDonalds so the guys have wi-fi and food options, and I await my french saviour.

My beautiful breakdown assistant arrives a short while later and after some ingenuity passing a translator app back and forth, we establish that it’s an issue with the exhaust manifold and he will tow us to a local garage that will be able to fix the issue that day. He can’t guarantee it will be done in time for us to make the Paris show, so I figure this is as good a time as any to let the party know I think it’d be a much better idea to just cancel the show and proceed to Hamburg as originally planned.

Nobody cares.

This would be a recurring theme.

A decision is made that whilst I wait for the van to be repaired with Brit 2, 3 and 4, both Aussie’s and Brit 1 will get public transport to Paris. The Aussie’s are keen to proceed with the show and can play with no gear aside from their guitars, and the Brit is apparently just dreading the idea of sitting around for a few hours. The Brits won’t be able to play tonight, but they seem undaunted by this at this point.

After a relatively cheap and simple temporary fix which i’m assured will last us the duration of the tour, we’re back on the road by late afternoon, and after some wonderful times in traffic we arrive in Paris late evening as the show is wrapping up. As the tour party is reunited, we’re told of a poorly promoted show with no PA which they were paid very little for playing. (”I Told You So” tally: 1)

As i’m completely exhausted already and i’m now faced with the prospect of an 8+ hour drive to Hamburg the next day, I’m keen to know what the groups plan is with regards to accommodation. I’m advised that nothing has been arranged, and under accommodation the tour book reads “Night Drive.” It’s at this point I begin to realise that the tour booker has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.

Whilst Old Blue is, as mentioned, tremendously comfortable, it’s unfortunately not kitted out to sleep 1 person, let alone 7. On top of that, after driving most of the day there’s no chance in hell i’m prepared to do an overnight drive to Hamburg as i’d rather not, you know, fall asleep at the wheel and kill everyone. Not at this point in the tour, anyway…

I suggest it would make sense for us to escape Paris whilst the traffic was slightly quieter and try and get an hour or so shaved off the journey. I recommend Mons, in Belgium, as it’s a beautiful location and would get us just over the Belgian border. Again, my suggestions go unnoticed as a travelodge is booked just outside of Paris without consulting me. After impressing upon everyone the importance of me sleeping as soon as humanly possible, I realise my physical and mental health are just about the last thing on everyone’s mind, as they want me to drive across the city so they can see the Eiffel Tower.

Now, I get it. As much as I hate the city, the Eiffel Tower truly is an incredible feat of architecture. But let’s keep in mind that three of the party have been in Paris for hours, and we’ve also just spent 2 hours after the show has ended procrastinating whilst I had to pretty much force them to book a travelodge so we could leave. I’m not exactly in a great frame of mind, but I concede and allow them to get some nice selfies in front of the tower before we leave the city.

After an hour, we arrive at our location, a roadside travelodge with all the charm of a clog of wet hair in a shower drain. Immediately they grab their bags out of the back of the van and enter the building, without a word said to me about what my plans are for the night since they didn’t book me a room.

Guess i’ll sleep in the van then.

This is going to be a fun tour.

Chapter 1: In which background information is provided and disclaimers are given.

I drive a big blue van for a living.

When I quit my last “proper” job it was a bit of a task trying to explain to my future ex co-workers what exactly it was I was quitting my exciting life of managing consumer complaints to pursue. To people who have barely any knowledge of the music industry beyond the CD selection at Tesco and The X-Factor, trying to get across the concept that small bands a) exist, b) tour and c) need transportation to do so was about as easy as trying to explain to them the concept of skacore.

“You know Madness? And The Specials? And Green Day and Blink 182? Yeah, well… not really anything like any of those bands.”

It’s alien to a lot of people who exist outside of a certain section of society, and that’s fine. A lot of bands don’t value it as a service (”you want paying a decent wage for sitting on your arse and driving a bit? Our budget is £20 a day, take it or leave it.”) but those who do truly make doing this worthwhile, because whilst it can be incredibly rewarding and provide incredible memories, ultimately it’s a largely thankless task with numerous drawbacks .

You’re basically on tour but without any of the real fun of “being on tour.” Drinking and drugs is a generally bad idea since you have to be ready to drive to and from venues each night. Crucially, it’s often pretty likely you’ll be stuck in close confines for an extended period of time with a group of people you don’t know. Those people will have their pre existing in jokes and idiosyncrasies, and sometimes it can be an isolating affair trying to endear yourself to a group of people you just can’t click with. You can make some friends for life, or you can spend weeks longing for the sweet release of death to free you from your self imposed prison sentence. It’s a 24/7 job, you don’t get to go home. Unless the tour hits your hometown, in which case you do. Always good.

This became all too apparent during a week and a half run in November 2015, during which I went through just about the full range of emotions. Anger, depression… Well, I guess mainly just those 2. One of the first things a band I haven’t worked with before will ask me is something along the lines of:

“Have you ever driven someone you haven’t gotten along with?”

And my answer is generally to launch into a muted tirade about this particular tour. It becomes apparent each and every time I start talking about it that not only was this the worst tour i’ve ever been a part of in my 10+ years of touring, but it was a consistent stream of aggravations and issues from day 1 right until after the tour had ended. This tour made me want to go back to listening to people complain for 8 hours a day. This tour honestly made me consider driving the van and its occupants off of a cliff, multiple times. I hated this tour.

And so now I guess for whatever reason, I’m going to write about it to the best of my recollections.

Some disclaimers:

1) I am not a reliable narrator. At all. My memory is awful. Whilst everything i’ll write about happened in one form or another, i may get slight details wrong. My bad.

2) I’m not going to name any of the artists featured on this tour. Once we’re into it, a bit of googling can probably give you the answers you’re after. I have no long lasting malice towards anyone i’ll be writing about, and i’m honestly not really that fussed about them reading this. I doubt they even remember me.

3) The touring party included 2 acoustic singer/songwriters from Australia, and a band from England. For the purposes of this blog, they will henceforth be referred to as Aussie 1, Aussie 2, Brit 1, Brit 2, Brit 3 and Brit 4. Imaginative, i know.

4) If I were to pinpoint the primary reason for this particular tour being so incredibly unpleasant, I would place the blame on the booker responsible for arranging and routing the tour. Again, not going to name names, but it was an absolute shambles and I feel a lot of the shitty behaviour from the touring party can be traced back to his subpar work in advancing this run.

Now that that’s out of the way…
If your interest has been piqued, then give this blog a follow and await the first thrilling installment of this series of unfortunate events in which the van dies, plans are changed and first impressions are made. Or don’t. I just have to get this off my chest.

Summers

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