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Diary of a touring musician: in the beginning
Being full-time musicians we love playing live! With our new album STARLITE.ONE to share - we took to the road for a two-week UK headline tour. This is part one of the warts-and-all account.
We live to the northeast of Lisbon in Portugal and have to be very committed to travel by road the 21 hr 28 min and 1,375 mostly-toll-road miles to our first gig.
It was total madness but we hadn’t been to the UK for two years and wanted to introduce our new album STARLITE.ONE to our wonderful supporters and meet new people.
The next few articles will give a warts-and-all account of this epic trip and as a consequence, provide a frank and honest account of the current British music scene.
We will publish one or two editions per week and all are available to read here:
In the beginning
Last year we decided to create a totally new sound for the band.
We have been known for Blues, Blues Rock, Americana, Folk and in a small way Electronica, but now was a time for a change. Our ‘brand’ and name morphed from Starlite Campbell Band to Starlite & Campbell - a five-degree shift - but the music changed totally to a synthesiser-laden Art/Prog Rock extravaganza - a 180-degree shift. Why? Well, that’s another story, but change we did.
In July and October 2022, we released two LIVE albums and had a number of enquiries from UK venues wishing to book us, one being the Witham Arts Centre in Barnard Castle. Following the usual negotiation of fee and rider, the gig was booked through our UK agent Graham Steel, beginning the sequence of events that created the tour.
It’s not all about the money, but…
We love our work as professional musicians, but like everyone else, we need to make money. Whilst away on tour, all our regular bills still have to be paid at home. OK, utility and general living expenses will be reduced, but there is no escape from the rent and standing charges.
We do this through being paid fees, merchandise sales and the knock-on effects of tour marketing - online sales etc, plus of course subscriptions to our Bandcamp profile and this very blog.
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When we are on the road, it’s really important to be playing every night. On any days off, hotels/subsistence still have to be paid and it is very easy to lose money.
Apart from mastering our recordings, graphic design and serious gear repairs, we do everything ourselves: literally, everything. Suzy had the task of promotion, video creation and editing, booking the venues and accommodation; Simon was tasked with contracts, finance and all things technical. And so, Suzy started to plan a comprehensive tour, arranging them in a logical geographical order with as few days off as possible.
It’s all very exciting
We were like kids in a sweet shop. Exciting new songs, fresh new sounds and programmed a musical show containing mostly new material plus our fans’ favourite tracks from previous recordings.
Our third studio album STARLITE.ONE was recorded as a trio and apart from the drums - played by the wonderful Hugo Danin from Porto, Portugal - we tackled all the other instruments, which was a considerable challenge as before we started recording the album, Suzy had never played or programmed a synthesiser. Simon did have experience programming synths and drum machines, but not playing them in a live recording scenario.
STARLITE.ONE was written and conceived to be played live as part of a multimedia show, with accompanying actors and back-projected videos. Taking this on the road was troublesome, as between the three of us we only have three pairs of hands and six feet.
Of course, we could have drafted in a keyboard player - more of this later in the series - but those parts were either sequenced or recorded live and it would be impractical to take another body on the road: the deciding factor being the fact that the Van of Rock only has three seats.
Consequently, when Suzy wasn’t playing the keys herself, we ran all the keyboards and sound effects from our MacBook Pro using the fantastic Ableton Live (Digital Audio Workstation), connected to a most excellent Radial SW8 USB (many thanks to Jim Rhodes of Radial Engineering and João Velhinho of Merging Select for making this happen) with Suzy, Simon and Hugo playing as much as possible live.
It’s the first time we have ever contemplated this performance approach and it took a massive amount of work, learning and planning in advance. Simon busied himself with creating the Ableton sessions and Suzy with the 19 multimedia videos for back projection.
In the recent past, both Suzy and Simon have used quite a modest setup but the new album called for a little more tech which meant a new pedalboard for Simon with Suzy taking over Simons's old board.
But what is a pedalboard?
We don’t want this to be a technical article but they are basically a wooden or aluminium board fitted with a series of guitar/bass effects units which are used to change the sound of the instrument(s). STARLITE.ONE contains a lot of different sounds and in order to be true to the recording, we use these effects units to emulate the sounds you can hear on the recording.
Back in June, Simon ordered a new custom board from the wonderfully named Mr. Ron flight cases up in Porto but due to his schedule and intervening holidays, delivery was only possible at the beginning of September. In addition, we both needed to upgrade our switching system to the GigRig G3 and the estimated delivery was mid-August.
We purchased a few new devices specifically for the tour but couldn’t program or integrate them until every bit of gear had arrived. Some bits were really late and time was running out! Oh shit…
Finally, and bearing in mind the new highly visual art rock focus, we commissioned a new guitar for the tour. If you are interested in the details, you can read more about this here.
To add more ‘vavoom’ to the sonic recipe, we also took three synthesisers as well!!!
Bearing in mind all this new technology and the incredibly short timescale to become familiarised and programme it all, the learning curve was almost vertical - like a rocket!
Rehearsals and vinyl
Our new drummer Hugo is a very different rhythmic animal to Steve Gibson, who played on all our previous recordings. The rhythm section (aka the engine room) must be rock solid so we needed a couple of days of rehearsal to groove into both the old and new material.
Hugo drove down from Porto and day one of rehearsals was all about setting up the technical side of the show and the second day running the material.
Of course, there was a fair bit of laughter, beer, vinho tinto and improvisation.
As with all our studio albums STARLITE.ONE was produced on heavy-weight 180g vinyl with the lacquers cut by Miles Showell at Abbey Road. This time we opted for milky clear as we were reliably informed that this is the highest quality vinyl you can get.
Following some shipping delays, the wooden pallet stacked with the Portuguese shipment of new vinyl ended up arriving on the first day of rehearsals. There is nothing quite like opening that first box.
The tour consisted of mostly promoted shows, ie the venue or promoter being responsible for marketing the event and selling tickets, but we are always very proactive and ran a campaign of Facebook ads, coordinated by our superb partners Laser Red based in Lincolnshire plus a regular stream of posts and videos created by us on Social Media.
Our good friend Tiago Cruz designed all the posters, album artwork and Social Media banners based on Suzy’s collages and Paul Husband’s photographs.
The one concert we did promote ourselves was at The Met in Simon’s home town of Bury, North Manchester.
It was the only multimedia show of the tour as the facilities in the main Derby Hall include an HD projector and stage-wide white cyclorama screen - we were very excited about taking the performance to the level we imagined visually. We had also arranged for a seven-camera video shoot and multitrack recording of the event.
This was the fourth time we had played at The Met and know, trust and value the technical team who are top-notch!
It’s all gone stratospheric
Other than festivals where we flew in, the last time we visited the UK by road was pre-war and pre-pandemic. As you know all too well, costs have escalated to stratospheric levels worldwide, but we didn’t quite bargain for the financial horror of the UK and France.
Brexit has also added another level of expense and complication to the situation as now everyone entering the UK with equipment must have an ATA Carnet detailing everything (and I mean everything) of what goes in and out of the UK. We totally understand that this is unique to European musicians travelling to the UK and visa versa but for all of us that have been there, it’s a right royal pain in the arse.
As this series continues you will find out more, but let’s take a look at the upfront costs before we even pick up an instrument at our first concert:
Social Media Advertising
Merchandise (Vinyl, Compact Discs and t-shirts)
Printing flyers and posters
Fuel & depreciation
Tolls & ferries
Accommodation & subsistence
Travel & equipment insurance
ATA Carnet & Carnet insurance
Session fees for gigs & rehearsals
Equipment purchases & consumables
And finally, the pet hotel!! This was truly horrible as when we drive to gigs, our two Labradors (aka the girls) always come on tour with us. We are a family unit and really don’t like being apart for too long. But, due to the intensity of the schedule and the lack of room in the van, we had to leave them behind, albeit in the capable hands of Rita Cruz who happens to be their vet and owns the most excellent Hotel Canino da Quinta de Santa Maria.
Rita sent us lots of videos and photos and our girls looked so happy, playing and enjoying sipping cocktails by the pool.
We are really obsessed with detail and doing things right and no Starlite & Campbell show would be complete without the merchandise stand which was pimped to the max by Suzy, just awaiting the t-shirts.
We hope you enjoyed the preamble to the diary which we will be publishing over the course of the next few weeks.
Next episode will detail the drive to the UK and the considerable drama surrounding first few gigs.
If you want to be notified of the next edition, please subscribe to VIBES and feel free to leave any comments below; we are always interested in finding out your thoughts.
Suzy & Simon
Working on: mixing the live album from the multimedia performance at the Met, creating the video for the next single ‘The Voting Machine’ (set for release on November 2nd. 2023 at 2000 GMT) and thinking about the new track for release next year.
Thinking: the festive season doesn’t start until mid-December at the earliest.
What’s cooking: Chicken thighs, green beans, carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, bird’s eye chillies, paprika and chorizo with Carolina rice in a Portuguese style.
Listening to: Starlite & Campbell - Starlite.One on delicious 180g, milky clear vinyl.
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