The Grim Truth About Being In A Rock N' Roll Band

Life on the road as a real rockstar. Girls, Champagne and Glamour?… Nope. Try Gastroenteritis, a battered Ford Fiesta and some of Europe's dodgiest toilets.
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Leather & Light Shows? Nah, warm lager & frustration.

I’m sitting in a stinking toilet block in the back room of a Malmo music venue, wearing two jumpers, a wooly hat, leather jacket and a scarf. I’ve turned the shower on as hot as it’ll go, urging the steam to create a make-shift sauna to try and stop my entire body from shivering so violently that I’ve already cracked my elbow on the radiator twice.

Downstairs, Juliette Lewis is bounding around to a room full of pogoing blondes while my three bandmates watch from the side of stage. They’re pissed with me because they think I’m hungover from last night’s party in Gothenburg. What they don’t realise is that I’m in the early stages of a particularly violent bout of gastroenteritis and I’ll spend the rest of the tour drumming beside a sick-bucket, freezing my tits off and tactically scouring every room we enter to ensure my route to the nearest toilet is unobstructed.

To make matters worse, while we soundchecked downstairs some hours earlier, Juliette’s guitarist decided his bowel movements were too grotesque even for their temporary dressing room and thus introduced himself to our toilet - the very one I’m now sat in. We returned to the safe-haven of our personal back-stage room to find it filled with fetid arse fumes that boasted the density of mustard gas and sent us reeling back into the corridor.

The fact that he would now become universally known as ‘Turdy Todd’ behind his back for the rest of the tour was of little comfort to me, as I sat there absorbing the contents of Turdy’s last six dinners in a feces sauna.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. But not as sorry as for the poor bastards who’ll have to spend the next week sharing rooms, beds and vans with the liquid-expelling carcass I’ve become.

This is the reality of life on tour for an ‘up-and-coming’ band. One we’re not normally too keen to divulge.

We’ve all had the dream - trekking across Europe aboard a ten-berth sleeper bus, stocked to the ceiling with free booze and free drugs, leaving just enough room for the free women that inevitably follow rock bands across the globe.

Our dream was struggling to find its way there - a barely developed embryo of a rock star lifestyle, still waiting to form its fingers and thrust them into a devil-salute.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. But not as sorry as for the poor bastards who’ll have to spend the next week sharing rooms, beds and vans with the liquid-expelling carcass I’ve become.

Having started a band, Action Plan, in the mundane surroundings of Chelmsford, Essex, we’d worked our way up the grimy ladder of toilet venues around the UK and now we’d been invited to support Juliette & The Licks on dates in Paris, Luxembourg, Gothenburg, Malmo and Stockholm before joining up with her again in the UK.

We’d had our slice of luck to get here. Our singer, Niall, had heard Juliette was in the process of booking a tour and sent her an envelope with our demo inside. On the front he’d scribbled ‘We’re going to be the next Pixies’ in permanent marker.

This, we later found out, was the reason she picked ours off the pile and gave us the first spin on the CD player. That it turned out to be astoundingly wide-of-the-mark was neither here nor there. This was our moment. A proper tour.

Though that’s not exactly how it felt after two hours of hapless tessellation at the back of our bassist’s Ford Fiesta, trying to fit an entire tour’s worth of equipment into the creaking boot of the world’s smallest, least rock ‘n’ roll car. The Starship, this was not.

And in place of a professional driver with years of experience in transporting bands across the continent, we had rock’s answer to Rainman in bassist Chris; a man who still can’t find the Barfly in Camden despite the fact we’ve played there eight times and he lives 30 minutes outside of London. So much so that he still parked outside Niall’s old house every time he drove to London, for two years after the band split up, despite the fact Niall had since moved three times. Old habits die hard in that lad, and that’s not a good thing when it’s his job to deliver you to a bunch of venues he’s never even heard of, in countries he’s never visited before.

But there’s always Paris, the city of love, to reignite our lust for the world of touring. And after seven hours in the pretzel position behind a beer-stained amp, with only the faint smell of someone else’s body odour and the itchy crumbs of Dover services’ Monster Munch for company, it had a fair bit of work to do.

In place of a professional driver with years of experience in transporting bands across the continent, we had rock’s answer to Rainman in bassist Chris

And what better welcome than the venue manager, flinging open the door and announcing ‘We’ve made a mistake with the tickets.’ Fuck.

They’d spelt our name wrong, for a start. France would now know us as Action Rain - a moniker somehow sightly worse than the one we’d chosen for ourselves and sounding like a theme tune from a Top Gun movie - but perhaps slightly more worrying was the fact that they’d also written that doors open at 8pm, instead of 7:30.

No big deal, you might think. Until a glance at the running order for the evening confirmed that we’d take to the stage at 7:45. To a venue that, as far as the rest of Paris is concerned, is still closed for a further 15 minutes.

Of course, there are upsides to living the life of a touring band - even one that plays before doors open and has to pull up to shows in a car specially designed for Essex boy-racers.

One of which is the provision of a rider. Free booze, and effectively (though many won’t admit it), the primary reason most young people decide to quit their school jazz band and spend their evenings in a rat-infested, mouldy rehearsal room instead.

And boy, do the Europeans like a rider. In England, ALL requests are automatically printed off and used as emergency toilet paper by promoters who simply provide a warm crate of the cheapest beer available in the local Lidl instead. So much so, that when we were first asked for a rider, we didn’t have a clue what to ask for. So we did what any self-respecting rock ‘n’ roll band would do: We phoned our manager and got him to nick one of his other band’s riders, and change the name at the top to ours. Job done.

For the next two years, every venue in the UK gave us a crate of beer and, if we were lucky, some crisps.

But all that changed when we landed on European soil. Here, we were shown to sumptuous backstage dressing rooms (they had a chair in them and didn’t smell of piss), where fridges were full to the brim with.... organic yoghurts, low fat hummus and water.

After three days of disappointingly healthy riders and late-night trips to kebab shops, we phoned our manager to see why anybody would see it fit to hand four pasty, 20-something year-old band members a spread that wouldn’t look out of place at a Woman’s Institute tea-party.

A quick three-minute conversation and all was revealed. “That rider we borrowed a few years ago,” explained our singer, “was from a fucking hippie vegan band.” And there began the sudden realisation that for two whole years, the entire UK toilet circuit consisted of promoters and fellow bands who thought we were tree-hugging hippie pricks.

To be fair, ‘pricks’ wasn’t always an entirely incorrect description of us on tour, with the amount of vodka consumed, coupled with a Thatcher-esque lack of sleep. Yep, it’s fair to say we had a fair few scuffles, though mostly among ourselves.

And on this tour, things were no different. After a particularly drunken show in Luxembourg,  I had a blazing row with the singer about his refusal to help clear up the equipment. He thought I was being drunk and mouthy. I thought he was being a typical egotistical frontman. I was right. And, perhaps, there was a modicum of truth in his beliefs as well (there you HAPPY NOW, Niall?)

But that didn’t stop our argument spilling out into the street where we both walked side by side, with me having (finally) convinced him to take a handle of the drum breakables case, our spare hands both clutching guitars.

To be fair, ‘pricks’ wasn’t always an entirely incorrect description of us on tour, with the amount of vodka consumed, coupled with a Thatcher-esque lack of sleep.

And there we went, drunkenly struggling up Luxembourg’s biggest hill, dripping with sweat and snarling insults at each other, both unable to free up a hand to land a killer punch, and not willing to drop a case for fear of being labeled the lazy shit of the band.

By the top of the hill we were both too out of breath to even complete the endless round of ‘you’re a c***’, ‘no actually mate, YOU’RE the c***’, so we packed the Fiesta in silence while glaring at each other over a pile of beer-covered amps and pilfered organic yoghurts.

But perhaps the saving grace, when looking back on our relatively brief stint as a touring band, was that we managed to get out in one piece. We’re still mates, we all moved on without an irrational hatred for the music industry, and some of us even managed to form other bands.

But I’ve seen first hand what a life of excess can do to a person. After all, I’ve been on tour with Juliette Lewis. And as our first European tour came to an end at Newcastle’s Student Union, she gave us the perfect insight into why our constant failure to ever become a headline act could easily be deemed a success on our part.

As the distortion of two abandoned guitars screeched through the venue’s PA, we slinked offstage to enjoy our last night of the tour. Inside our dressing room, we pulled open the fridge to retrieve our brand new rider (two vodka, one coke...) and each found a corner in which to catch our breath.

A knock at the door broke the post gig slump. Niall kicked it open and standing in the doorway was Juliette Lewis.

Finally, recognition! Some kind words from the woman herself - the Hollywood actress we’d watched years earlier as she shot to fame in Natural Born Killers. We fell silent, waiting to hear what she thought.

“You guys are good!”

There it was. We’d made it. We were there.

But then a quizzical look fell upon her face. She was confused.

“Have you ever played in Europe before?”

An awkward pause. We look to the floor while she stares, blankly into middle distance. Finally, Niall clears his throat and moves to speak.

“Um... yeah. With you... Last week.”

We all stare at the floor again. I pour a vodka and cry a little inside.

“No,” she mutters, finally breaking her silence as she edges nervously back into the corridor. “I meant Germany.”

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