Diary of a touring musician: day five
Being full-time musicians we love playing live! With our new album STARLITE.ONE we took to the road in September and October for our UK headline tour. This is part five of the warts-and-all-account.
If you happened upon this episode for the first time, we suggest you check out the other articles in the series by heading over to:
We were supposed to be leaving for soundcheck at The Pioneer Club in St Albans but due to the last-minute cancellation of the gig, we opted instead to use the day to rehearse. Ideally, we were looking for a space near to our next gig which was in Suzy’s birthplace, the market town of Ross-on-Wye in the magnificent countryside of Herefordshire.
Ross is very close to Monmouth in Wales and the home of legendary Rockfield Studios where we had worked previously tracking keyboards with Jonny Henderson for our last album The Language of Curiosity.
By legendary we mean LEGENDARY - they were the world’s first residential recording studio and have hosted a myriad of world-class bands and recordings from Oasis to Black Sabbath, Coldplay to Stone Roses but probably the most famous for being the studio where Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded.
Suzy has hung out and been to a couple of Rockfield parties and thought it would be great if they had the availability to rehearse there - and if not they may know a place locally. Having used the studio we know the owner Kingsley and his daughter and studio manager Lisa Ward. She called them up and Kinglsey answered the phone!
Sadly for us - and great for them - they were fully booked up.
As time was tight we thought it would be better to rehearse closer to where we were and managed to book a rehearsal studio in Watford which was on the way. On top of that, we also had to find a last-minute hotel in Ross. Everything was so expensive and ended up paying £160 for a double and single room.
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We arrived at Sanctuary Studios just before midday, unloaded the gear we needed and then proceeded to set up - which took a good hour.
[Geek alert] - if you are not technically inclined we suggest you skip the next few paragraphs and move on to ‘We need crew’. Do not pass Go! Do not collect £200.
Suzy deals with all the logistics and Simon the tech. It is now that his head started to explode.
As we were running sequencing and some playback for the show, we had to set up all the audio feeds, MIDI (a way that electronic instruments communicate with each other), negotiate the wireless IEMs (in-ear monitors), set up and get a good mix of all the instruments, click track and feeds.
The added problem with using IEMs is that to work properly, all the instruments need to be mic’d up.
IEMs are fancy earphones like you use to listen to music off your phone, but specifically designed for live performance monitoring. They aren’t cheap and you can pay well over £3000 for a set - yes, £3000.
We use Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS) which is based in Banbury, England and believe that they are the best available.
The ear pieces are made specifically and individually for you, moulded using a flexible cast taken from both of your ears so that they fit perfectly inside. The process involves squirting squidgy stuff into your ear and sitting still for five minutes whilst deaf - which is a most unusual experience - but expertly handled by Gerry McGoldrick when we visited the ACS office in London.
You can also choose what colour you would like, each earplug is coded blue or red to indicate left and right and it was a nice touch having your name inscribed on them too.
When you put the earphones into your ears (note the tube of ear-lube above in the case to ease this process) they totally block out any ambient sound and the only thing you can hear is what is being sent to you via the audio channels. Hence the importance and need for miking up all the sounds you need to hear.
It’s amazing the difference this makes - when you are playing conventionally i.e. using your home-grown ears - the balance is quite natural. Here, the level and tonality of each instrument must be set to a level and balance that is specific to how the musician wants to hear the music - ie. it’s a lot of work and requires experience.
Today was a total mindfuck. Driving the van, unloading the gear, setting up in the rehearsal space and then trying and get everything working then change your headspace to that of the artist - singing, playing guitars and synths and trying to focus on honing the performance.
We should have opted for the bigger room, but as this was an unexpected expense, we needed to be mindful of our budget.
Having said all that, rehearsals went really well and the staff and other musicians we bumped into were very cool, with a couple of them helping us to load up at the end.
It’s a great band and when in the music you forget everything else.
As ever, everything took longer than we thought and after packing and loading the van we were tired and hungry and left the studio at around 2145.
We need crew…
The most important thing that we have learned above everything else on this tour is that we must have the support of crew moving forward. Crew to drive, set up the gear, run the technical side of the shows and also load and unload the van.
For this tour, our budget was so tight we couldn’t even think about it. It’s not only the costs of paying the technicians but also the subsistence and transportation.
Next time, the two crew would drive up through Europe in the van of rock, rent another vehicle and then pick us up from the airport and boom, we’re off.
We don’t like supermarket fuel and when in Portugal normally fill up at our local BP as believe it or not, it gives you better fuel economy and by linking to our Pingo Doce supermarket loyalty card, we get a discount - YEAH!
According to Suzy’s brother Martin - who is a fuel additive expert - it’s also better for the engine: we love our Van of Rock.
The price differential in the UK is huge and given our deepening budget deficit we were looking for cheap fuel which is always tricky and on the way out of town, we located a TESCO filling station.
Just as we arrived, the kiosk closed and Simon had to use the automated pump but couldn’t get his debit card to work with the machine. The queue was building up, we were hungry and tired and left unfuelled, frustrated and in a bit of a huff.
Food was next on the agenda. We hadn’t eaten properly all day (just coffee and some snacks) and were seriously famished, stopping at Beaconsfield Services, the first service station on the M40. The fuel prices were, as we expected, astronomical and offensive, so we just put enough juice in the van to get us to Ross.
It is very easy to eat shit when on tour and we have learned that to remain healthy and feel good you need proper food.
Motorway service stations are not known for their healthy cuisine, but Beaconsfield was a little different as it had a massive food hall with a variety of takeout and restaurants. It was kind of a local destination as well, seemingly frequented by locals as well as motorway travellers.
Guess what, we found a takeaway Indian called Tapori and in M&S food, single cans of IPA - a match made in heaven. A staff member at M&S told Starlite that we weren’t actually supposed to drink the cans sat inside in the public cantine but that just sounded ludicrous so we paid no attention - seek forgiveness not permission.
Another good thing about Indian food - and certainly looking at the Tapori and its friendly staff - is most things are made from fresh ingredients while you wait.
We wolfed down the delicious Chilli Masala and beer and jumped back in the van. Result!
The creepy hotel
We arrived in Ross on Wye at around 0100 on Saturday morning and communicated the ETA’s with the hotel throughout the day but as already mentioned, didn’t expect to get in that late.
Being born and raised there, Suzy knows the town like the back of her hand (what a strange expression, have you ever looked at the back of your hand?) and we parked outside The Royal Hotel on St Mary’s Street just around the corner from The Old Court House where we were staying.
Unloading the raft of bags and briefcases we trundled down the deserted and echoey street onto High Street where the hotel is located.
This was the cheapest place we could find in Ross and only 75 meters from the hotel we were booked into for the following night.
We knocked on the door and were greeted by a very strange young woman in her dressing gown and slippers who showed us around and gave us the all-important Wi-Fi code.
We were all a little freaked out, especially Hugo due to her other-worldly manner - a little like one of the Martians from Mars Attacks but without the helmet. Perhaps we are being a little unkind as it was after all very good of her to accept us at such an unearthly hour and an 11th hour booking.
The house is 400 years old and felt - and probably is - haunted - with our rooms situated up two flights of very narrow and awkward stairs. Hugo had never been to a hotel like this before and it creaked with history.
Suzy picked the hotel as it had good reviews on Trip Advisor, but although quirky and very ‘country townish’, sadly seemed to have been neglected for some time.
The entrance was dusty and a little dirty and our room didn’t feel clean. The old breakfast room was now closed and you could see into it from above as you walked upstairs. We were a bit surprised as it was a complete tip inside - clothes and stuff strewn everywhere - just like one of those hoarders programmes on TV - and that is not an exaggeration.
Although there was a kind welcome, we can’t say we enjoyed our stay and overall found the hotel pretty seedy with a bad electric shower and poor bed linen.
But we were in Ross-on-Wye and the main thing is we did not have a long drive to our next gig, we were warm and dry with a bed to lay our weary heads in and could dream about our special concert the following evening.
We didn’t notice the email until we were just about to go to sleep. It was from Danny at The Pioneer Club asking us to waive our fee for the gig that they cancelled. He offered us to rehearse free of charge and a full day in their new Dolby Atmos studio when it opened at the end of October.
Simon saw our cash flow disintegrating before our eyes. We have our own recording studio and what we needed was the money. Hugo still needed to be paid and hotel costs covered. He replied:
It was 0145. Did we sleep? What do you think?
Next up: the 75-meter walk to the cool hotel and a special homecoming.