Diary of a touring musician: day nine
In September & October 2023, we took to the road in the UK to introduce our new album STARLITE.ONE. A working men's club, fish & chips and a raffle! This is part nine of the warts-and-all-account.
If you happened upon this episode for the first time, a good place to start would be to check out the other articles in the series by heading over to:
Breakfast with Annie
It was 0900 in the village of Hornton, south of Birmingham and we convened in Annie’s kitchen - a picture postcard of English farmhouse life resplendent with ‘English’ things including the Rolls Royce of cookers - the mighty AGA!
Annie is a really lovely person. She has a light, relaxed and fun demeanour but you can also sense that her foundations run deep, complimented by the smile of a cheeky child with a comedic glint in her eye.
We traded stories of concerts, working in TV - where both Suzy and Annie had worked professionally - plus other adventures, whilst a delicious full English breakfast was cooked for us. The table overflowed with berries and juices and coffee and fun! Suzy and Simon avoided the bread as they were trying to watch the calories, but what a brilliant morning!! Within the hour it felt like we had known each other for years.
Red Arrow Music Club, Ramsgate
Our next gig was at the Red Arrow Music Club in Ramsgate which meant putting 172 miles (277km) on the clock - scheduling five hours for the drive to allow for any traffic hold-ups.
We set off with a sense of joy in our hearts and straight away - Boing!! The van of rock was still demanding more of its AdBlue chemical fix so we had no choice but to stop off at a motorway service station.
There was a long line of people queuing to pay and it was a surreal experience as everyone started talking to each other about a bad accident we had just passed on the motorway.
It was like something out of a movie: a triple-lane motorway and the road was totally empty on the opposite side - then we saw a big helicopter sitting in the middle of the road with a team of paramedics pushing a hospital trolley towards the air ambulance and lots of flashing blue lights where the police had stopped all the oncoming traffic.
In the blink of an eye, we had passed it and had a really bad feeling about it. It transpires that a motorcyclist had been in an accident with a lorry after a car pulled out in front of him. Terrible!!!
It’s strange how a tragedy brings out a sense of community in people.
A man in the queue helpfully directed us to the AdBlue pump in the lorry section which was a relief and much easier to use than fiddly containers - plus we discovered that it was actually cheaper to use the pump! You would never have guessed that in a month of Sundays!!
VIBES is a reader-supported guide to life, culture, music and current affairs accompanied by a weekly music-inspired podcast. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support our work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
Geoff Pine books the bands for the club and contacted us after seeing our band play the headline slot at the Great British Rock & Blues Festival in Skegness a few years ago. It was only now, after the pandemic, that we were able to fulfil the booking and it was also fortuitous to be able to get a gig on a Tuesday night: Mondays and Tuesdays are notoriously difficult to fill.
The music club is based at the Red Arrow Sports & Social Club off Newington Road. We arrived at the venue and had no idea what to expect and joyfully discovered it was a perfect example of an old-school British Working Men’s Cub - it was like going back in time.
Working Men’s Clubs
Hugo had never seen anything like this before and didn’t know what to make of the venue with its stage adorned with the customary gold tinsel curtain, reminding Suzy of The Press Club in Manchester where she had spent many a celebratory night when working on various TV shows.
The venue was a typical example of British music history at its finest. In the 60s, 70s and 80s these grassroots venues allowed thousands of bands to learn their craft and playing them is an experience like no other.
When you look into the history, as institutions, Working Men’s Social Clubs (WMCs) were first created at the tail end of the 19th century, by and for blue-collar workers in industrial areas.
“The very first social club was founded in Reddish, Greater Manchester, to give workers a place to relax. Typically these spaces were only available to men, and as well as the sale of alcohol, food was often provided, as well as games such as pool, snooker and darts.
In their heyday of the 1970s, there were some 4000 working men’s clubs open and thriving across Britain, providing space to congregate, communicate, celebrate and, well, drink beer” - Katie Mather
“Over time, these places of recreation became vital to communities, becoming central to local charitable activities, and offering large, accessible spaces for local workers to enjoy live music, comedy, bingo and night time entertainment, especially over the weekend.
Where pubs were often focused on drinking and not much else, clubs were multi-use spaces where working class men (and later, women and children too) were welcomed with no time limits or obligation to buy drinks — all they had to do was pay their annual membership.” - CAMRA.org.uk
Simon had cut his teeth playing in these clubs in the North East of England during the 70s and the Red Arrow Music Club was now a firm part of the UK touring circuit.
The get-in was easy and ran smoothly with the able and swift assistance of Steve Gardner and we started to set up. For this gig, we were working with Griff, their usual sound engineer who would be turning up at 1730 for micing up and sound check.
Booking in and overbooking
In the middle of setting up, Goeff kindly drove Suzy to check in at the hotel which was part of the Marstons brewery chain and about a ten-minute drive away. It was expensive but the only hotel with safe parking we could find near to the venue.
Time was tight as they made haste across town only to discover on arrival that they needed the credit card that we had booked the rooms with to pay - we thought we had already paid when we booked??!! Stress!! We only had a slim window between setting up and the sound check so it was pedal to the metal and some nifty driving to rush back to the venue, drive back - pay - collect keys and dash back!
If only we had the luxury of having a tour manager as well as crew - where we could just rock up at a gig, soundcheck, eat, play and meet people - with no other admin hassle to deal with!!
En route Geoff also took the opportunity to apologise to Suzy explaining that he usually only books two bands a month but for our particular month, he realised he had made a mistake and booked too many and as a result, our ticket sales suffered and it wasn’t going to be a full venue. In fact, for some unknown reason, the past few months had also been low on ticket sales and he didn’t know why.
So what do you do with that? You can’t get angry because everyone is doing their best, we have worked so hard to get the tour on the road and the guys were such a friendly bunch of people.
Naturally, it’s disappointing but whether it’s to 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 - we always give 100% - let’s get on with it!!
Griff, our sound engineer for the evening, was an amiable chap who rocked up bang on time. You could tell he knew his stuff and promptly set about micing up and only then we realised he did not have quite enough channels on his desk for what we needed.
It was intense and pretty stressful and we are so glad we brought our Allen & Heath mixing desk with us. Griff and Simon had a really good chat and talked about ways of different technical setups moving forward that would help us achieve the onstage mix that we needed to realise the potential of the musical performance.
There was so much time spent with Simon sorting out the tech for the drums that it impacted on the time he needed to set up his own gear and sort his guitar sound out.
Playing guitar is a craft that needs time and focus to set up your sound in response to the room without having to rush. Again we were reminded that we need crew!! We only mention it here for the non-musicians to help you understand that playing the guitar is not just a case of putting gear on a stage and switching it on.
The merch finally arrived!
Our supplier Razzamatazz had printed a new batch of band tour t-shirts to replace the lost ones - all we needed was an address to send them to near the venue. Geoff had a friend who was able to take delivery and we were delighted to finally receive the shirts five days into the tour! All good.
Fish & Chips
We love fish & chips and Geoff popped out to collect our dinner from an award-winning local chippy. Again Suzy had to leave most of her meal until after the show.
Portugal is a nation famous for its Bacalhau (salted cod) and we were totally surprised to discover that Hugo was not a fan of the British version? How can that be? It’s an institution!! Perhaps, like Suzy not liking olives until a few years into living in Europe, we need to feed him some more of our culinary heritage!
No WMC worth its salt would be without British Bitter (a relatively weak beer, served in pints and known as a session drink) and we washed down the excellent meal with a couple of tasty pints of locally brewed craft ale.
It’s a gig!
People started to arrive and to Simon's surprise, Simon Pocock - one of his old University friends and staunch supporter turned up. Quite a few of our fans arrived and one, Toby Gower, who had been talking about this gig for months, brought us a gift of Sang Tao #5 coffee: it was wonderful to finally meet him in person.
There is a tradition at WMCs for half-time entertainment either in the form of Bingo a raffle or most infamously, female strippers! Simon has a great story about the latter when playing Newcastle Labour Club back in the 70s - a story for a future post.
Today’s half-time entertainment however was in the form of a raffle raising funds for the local community, towards which we had donated a Starlite Campbell Band Live! CD as one of the prizes.
It truly was like going back to your childhood and school fêtes!! There’s so much fun to be had if you are prepared to join in the spirit of the occasion! Don’t you just love those balloons too - a leftover from a birthday party on the previous weekend!
The gig went really well, we enjoyed playing and Griff did a great job on the sound. Thanks to photographer Martin Miles for sharing the photographs of the evening with us.
We thankfully had lots of help for the get-out, including a Portuguese friend of Hugo’s who turned up for the evening. We also discovered that Steve Gardner who helps run the club, used to be one of the drummers for The Wombles!! Surreal - especially as The Wombles song ‘Banana Rock’ was the first single Suzy bought when she was a child on a rare family holiday in Bournemouth.
It was late but we had a right laugh loading the van before we made our way back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.
Before we left, Geoff, in an act of unexpected generosity, paid us more than we had initially been booked for two years ago - what a total gent!! Everyone at the club was brilliant and we felt looked after and valued - thank you!
Next up - day off, a day trip to Margate, Cliffs Café & Record Shop, The Albion Rooms, a return to St Albans and more curry!