“I need, pressure release….”
(‘Pressure Release’ – Tali – ‘Lyric On My Lip’ – Full Cycle Records 2004)
Touring is something that can definitely bring out the best and the worst in people’s personalities. Long periods on the road combined with little sleep, late nights and a diversion from your usual diet or exercise routines (if you have one) usually results in exhaustion and sickness. Many high profile artists – (while also having to travel long distances and play to rigorous touring schedules), have the luxury of travelling business or first class on a plane, or are on a tour bus with a few home comforts. Managers will schedule their day for them, some have personal chefs and trainers, and they will get to stay in nice hotels with clean sheets and hot water.
Others have to take the long road – hiring a car or van, often creating their own hectic tour schedules and trying to stick to them – meaning someone from the band driving and having the pressure of negotiating foreign cities or countries, on very little sleep. Sometimes the lack of budget means staying with friends, or in accommodation provided for by the promoter – which can range from a hostel in the middle of nowhere to sleeping in a smoky old room above the venue. Sometimes you are lucky and get fed by the venue or promoter, and sometimes you have to scour towns in the wee small hours for something that is open with edible food.
I understand all this because I have been there. I have seen both sides of touring and been put in situations ranging from highly stressful which involved serious problem solving to times when I have never felt so fortunate and grateful.
Back when I was signed to Full Cycle Records and my record ‘Lyric On My Lip’ was released, there was a crew of 14 of us that travelled throughout England and Europe on a huge tour bus as myself and Roni Size performed live. It was something I had always dreamed of, and I still think back fondly to times of waking in my little coffin like bunk bed and looking out my port window wondering where in Europe we were. I remember at one point as we drove over the alps into Switzerland the bus stopped at a gas station high in the mountains. Myself and Zaniah (who was my backing singer and also one of my best friends) crawled out of our bunks and still in our pyjamas and slippers – crept past our sleeping band mates and headed into the service station to stock up on snacks and water. The bus driver took a photo of us that I think Zaniah has somewhere – us posing in our PJs with the mountains towering in the background.
Another time we stopped in Brighton UK and it was one of our crews (Dynamite’s) birthdays. In the limited time we had, Myself, Zaniah and my other backing singer Hollie G ran to the local supermarket to try find him something that would suffice as a present. We grabbed a Jim Beam gift pack and the game ‘Operation’. A few days later as we wound through the Scottish Highlands, we drank the Whiskey and attempted to pull plastic parts out of the game without the warning noise going off. Considering the hectic roads we were taking and the shots we were downing this was no mean feat and resulted in a lot of laughter and staggering about the tour bus lounge trying to stay on our feet.
When there is so many of you crammed into a space it is important to be respectful of each other’s privacy and it also helps to know the personalities you are dealing with. Some people prefer peace and quiet which can be difficult if there are others who are used to attention and constant chaos! You need to have a good playlist of music and countless DVDs that can be watched. I got through about three books on tour and ear plugs proved to be an absolute essential. Not having to worry about navigation or timekeeping (except when we had some ‘free time’ to explore whatever city we were in and had to be back at the bus before it left without us), took a lot of pressure off us all – but sleep was still a treasure to be obtained whenever and wherever we could.
I remember one episode where the bus boarded the ferry to cross the English Channel with some of us still asleep on board – who didn’t hear our tour managers call to get up and leave our vehicle. (Or maybe we just ignored him cos we were so tired). I woke covered in sweat and in complete darkness as the buses air conditioning and lights had to be turned off while on board the ferry. Myself and a couple of others stumbled about in the dark trying to find shoes and clothes so we could exit the bus, gasping as we fell out into the fresh(ish) air of the ferry hold.
In complete contrast I have just finished a five day European tour with my singer/songwriter friend Georgie Fisher. Georgie organised it all for us and we travelled 3,000km’s in five days taking in Munich – Germany, Lucerne – Switzerland, Turin and Genoa in Italy, and Vagney in the hills of Eastern France. Due to her license being stolen Georgie couldn’t drive so I shared the duties with her boyfriend Wolf. Considering I have never driven on the right hand side of the road, nor have I driven a manual (stick shift) car in about 15 years, this was certainly a challenge for me. The autobahn was initially very scary as cars are allowed to drive an unlimited speed. (140km was about as fast as both myself and the old beat up Mazda we’d hired could manage), but once I’d sorted out my spatial awareness of being on the right hand side, I was well into the swing of things by the end of the second day.
Also being the only one accustomed to driving mountainous roads with steep turns it was left to me to get us up and over the Swiss Alps through the Gotthard Pass, as we drove from Lucerne to Torino. This is a legendary winding road with hairpin turns and stunning scenery from every angle. It reminded me of the Southern Alps in New Zealand and despite a few hairy moments, I thoroughly enjoyed getting us down and into the hot climes of Italy. Our accommodation on this trip consisted of staying on sofas, in hostels (Which I haven’t stayed in since 2001 when I first moved to London), and a rambling old room above the venue in Vagney France. Despite being a light sleeper, I was so exhausted after hour upon hour on the European roads I did manage to get some shut eye. However each morning we woke around 7am to get on the road as soon as possible. This combined with heat and noisy streets outside meant this usual nine hour a night sleeper was functioning on around five to six each day – and still playing shows in the evening!
A valuable piece of advice I was given years ago by my best friend is something that I carry with me throughout my daily life, and which I use as a mantra when I am on tour.
“It is not about the action – but the reaction, that will ultimately define your path in life”
In the very distant past, if something happened that was beyond my control and put me into a difficult situation I would react in a way that put me in a state of anxiety or panic. I might have become angry or emotional and this would in turn perpetuate other negative outcomes. Other people’s emotional states would profoundly affect me as well. Being a natural communicator I would feel obliged to get into the same state as them, their anxiety or anger rubbing off on me. However over the years I have learned that these outbursts of anger, or heightened states of anxiety do nothing for the situation, only serving to waste my energy further. By nature I think I am a good negotiator and the communicator in me can also mean I can be diplomatic where it matters.
Yes the situation might be highly stressful, and things might be going downhill, but now days I actually thrive on trying to solve the problem. To try to think positively that there is a way around the situation, and have faith that this moment, however crazy or tension fuelled will pass – is a strength that I want to be able to maintain, and hopefully pass onto others.
When you are on tour you are faced with many difficult moments that require your logic or just some positive energy to be injected into the situation. Weather trying to (nicely) complain to the promoter that you are not happy with the state of your accommodation, when your car breaks down on some back road (I advise always having at least one charged phone in the car at all times for emergencies, and carry an old fashioned map if you can as Sat Nav isn’t always reliable), or when it’s 34 degrees outside, your car has no air conditioning and you are trying to navigate your way around some crazy old city with a layout that was constructed 200 years ago – how you react is essential. These reactions can also be carried into every life in how you deal with your partner, boss/work colleagues, children or even random strangers.
So what is the right way to react then? You may ask.
I suggest these steps to helping maintain a positive or logical reaction.
* Don’t get mad. Your ego wants you to explode and revels in you losing your shit and creating confrontation. Instead – get passively positive. For example. Last year I accidently scraped into someone with my car as I tried turning when I was in the wrong lane. Myself and the other driver parked up our cars and the guy who got out was visibly angry, his hands clenched and his mouth twisted. I could actually see the weight of his probably long and tiresome day – about to be thrown in my direction. But instead of allowing this to happen I deflected it. “I am so sorry! Are you okay? Are you hurt?” “No but you fucked my car” “I’m so sorry! It was totally my fault of course but I have insurance and this will be completely covered. All I care about right now is that you are okay and I haven’t hurt you”. This took the driver by surprise. He wanted to care about the car and the crash but by showing him I cared more about him put him on the back foot – he instantly calmed down. It transpired he had had a shitty day and this just compounded it. But by speaking to him in a way that was gentle and reassuring we not exchanged insurance details but a hug 🙂
*Check yourself. Are you overreacting? Are you allowing yourself to get hyped up by others emotions or because you feel like you should? Take a deep breath and say to yourself “Okay, this is what’s happened…but now what should I do?” Try to look at the situation logically. For example – if you are lost what would be the next step? Can you ask for directions or at least try to? Can you retrace your steps or go back the way you came? (Again don’t always rely on Google maps – it pays to take a paper map and plot out your route before you take it) If there isn’t a logical solution then try to think more abstractly. Some of my most gratifying challenges have been ones where I’ve really had to think outside the box.
*Sometimes you just will butt heads with people. Especially when you are in close situations you have no control over. Again try not to allow them or the situation to wind you up. I always try to talk calmly but in a way that is not condescending. (After all there is nothing worse than someone telling you to ‘Chill out’) If you are going to be spending the next two weeks travelling in a van with said person, it’s important to ask yourself is it really worth getting upset over this issue? Is this something you can raise with the person at a later date or in a different space that won’t be affecting others or the rest of your trip? Of course if it’s something that is serious and detrimental to your well being of course you have a right to get upset – but sometimes it’s just not worth sweating the small shit. It’s a waste of energy that could be used in other more positive and practical ways. Such as rockin’ out onstage!
*You have a right to the basics. By this I mean it’s not a big ask to expect that the promoter will provide you with food and beverages when you arrive after a long journey to play for them. It’s not unacceptable to expect that the bed you are provided with will have clean sheets and you will have a place to wash. It is not out of the ordinary to ask for a place in which to do your makeup and change your clothes. (although sometimes the back of a car has also sufficed) I recommend that these small things along with the standard expectations of your tech spec and discussions of how much you will get paid – be stipulated beforehand. Draw up a contract and send it to the promoter so that if there are any issues, you can refer them to the agreement you made.
*Sometimes you just have to get it out. By this I mean your sadness, anger, or frustration at the situation. Thats cool but can you do it in a more positive, practical way? If you feel stressed by driving then take small breaks when you can. Stop the car and walk into a field for a minute if its possible. When you get to your destination, can you find a spot where you can have some alone time? Not everyone has the luxury of a hotel room. So take a walk, or go to the beach, or sit in the stairwell behind the stage if it helps you have some time to clear your mind and breathe and calm yourself. Maybe try to explain to those around you that you feel a certain way (tired/PMT/homesick) and to please excuse you in advance if maybe you are having a difficult day coping. Not everyone is a mind reader, and while this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to be a shithead, it does help others understand why you might be more wound up than usual.
These are just some of the things that I do when I am on tour – many people have their different ways of coping. But before you get into the car or onto the tour bus thinking that everything is gonna be just one big fun adventure – remember to ask yourself. How will I cope if such and such happens?