Summer music festivals: On the road with Attic Lights, part one

Attic Lights live
Attic Lights live

I’m going to the Benicassim Festival in Spain. The line-up looks fantastic – The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of The Stone Age and a band from Scotland called something like the Attic Monkey Lights or Attack Plights or something.

Actually, that would be my band, Attic Lights. I love playing at festivals and it has been a good few years since I played a summer festival. So this should be great. Or it will be if I can actually get my band from Scotland to Spain in one piece.

I’m normally the singer and guitar player. However, for this little trip, I’m also the Tour Manager. I’m already regretting the conversation with my manager where I offered to tour manage Attic Lights during our weekend playing at the Spanish version of T In The Park this July.

He looked at me in disbelief. If he was a character in a comic, a thought-balloon would have popped out his head saying, “This should be funny… if nothing else.”

I reckoned that if I made some phone calls and we all turned up with our guitars in one hand and passports in the other, it would work itself out. This is my normal operating procedure. Throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. I have now learned from bitter experience that this is not necessarily an effective professional approach to organizing a band on the road. But it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime.

I realized I needed to get organized and to avoid at all costs, a return to my laissez-faire approach of turning up and expecting everything to work itself out. From now on, it’s diligent professionalism all the way.

It does not begin well. I can’t figure out how to work the Ryanair website. It’s only a website. I look at websites every day. Why does this website seem to be designed to give me panic attacks, to thwart me at every turn? Yes, I am so enraged I used the word ‘thwart.’ I’m that frustrated. Why won’t it let me tick the boxes? Why can’t I put the information in? Why does it keep asking me if I want a car or a hotel? I hate you, you big, stupid, competence thwarting website!

This is not a good start. I phone Colin in a panic. He takes pity on me and books the flights. I suppose you could call it ‘task delegation’ if you were feeling charitable.

After that hiccup I’m determined to get to grips with things. I WILL get Attic Lights to the ball on time.

Turns out, aside from booking flights and then a car to take you from Barcelona to Benicassim, you also need to speak to the festival stage crew, artist accommodation, internal transport staff, online promotion staff, and artist coordinators.

I now have a level of respect for Tour Managers that leaves me humbled. The rest of Attic Lights will tell you that, even on my best days, I’m not the most organized person in the world. Or even the second most. In retrospect I’m beginning to understand the look of shock on their faces when I announced my intention to be tour manager for this festival. (I’m not a good reader of other people. It’s entirely possible that what I mistook for shock was actually abject terror.)

By now the rest of the band are either laughing at my pathetic attempts to be a tour manager or looking through their emails in horror as I try to navigate through the swathe of messages from a confusing list of names all asking a multitude of questions that I don’t have the answers for, and all, let it be said, native Spanish speakers whose English puts my attempts at high school Spanish to shame.

But I think, at last, I’m getting on top of it. Well, when I say “I” this does not include my panicked, late night phone call to our record label to ask them to help me out, which they kindly did – but obviously don’t tell that to the rest of the band. I plan to take full credit. (I’m fairly confident that they won’t read this. Having to listen to me on a daily basis has somewhat lessened any interest they might have in any further ramblings from the depths of my disordered mind. If they are reading this… then I’m only joking, I didn’t phone the record label for help. I did it all myself. You guys owe me!)

In all the hullaballoo of my administration nightmare, I’ve forgotten another major aspect. We need to start rehearsing our set list. There’s no point playing a festival if, you know, you don’t know how to play your own songs.

Unfortunately, rehearsals prove problematic when one of your guitarists is currently moonlighting somewhere in the American Midwest as session guitarist on Camera Obscura’s new tour. The last I heard from Tim was a Facebook picture of him stuffing a glorious looking three-tiered, barbecue sauce covered, heart-attack-in-waiting hamburger into his mouth somewhere south of Portland, Oregon. Come back to us in one piece Tim. We miss you! Also, I note that you are playing a concert with Zooey Deschanel’s band tomorrow night. Feel free to pass her my phone number and tell her that while I find New Girl watchable, I prefer her movies. She will appreciate my candour and obviously fall madly in love with me. This is how Hollywood works. It will be just like in the movies.

A few more days of fevered back and forth emailing and I think I’m getting it under control. The rising sense of panic I’ve experienced every morning for the last three weeks when I look at my emails is lessening and now I can feel a sense of calm, of dare I say it, accomplishment? Slowly but surely it’s all coming together.

However, we’re not there yet. This is Attic Lights we are talking about. This is a band who have been slow handclapped onto airplanes (twice) because we were in the pub when we should have been at the check-in gate. Hey, it’s rock’n’roll! (The cabin crew didn’t buy this line either.)

But, new diligent, tour manager Kev Sherry will not fall into that trap again. Besides, it’s going to be great fun. I’m really looking forward to playing the festival and hopefully catching some of my favourite acts in the process. Primal Scream, Queens of The Stone Age and the genius that is Johnny Marr. Even the thought of sharing a stage with such legends makes all the hassle worth it.

So, I think everything is sorted. I’m checking off my list of things to do and it’s looking almost complete. It’s sorted, taken care of, job done.

Now I just need to get us over there and then, you know… everything will work itself out… somehow… I’m sure it will be fine. All you really need is your guitar, passport and some luck. I’ve done all the complicated stuff now, right? I mean, how hard can it be to get five guys to a festival in Spain? Easy peasy. Tour managing is a cinch. Funny how your instincts kick in; in my case just ‘hoping for the best’ once again in full effect.

Original article


Bruce Springsteen live review for STV

English: Bruce Springsteen and Max Weinberg Ph...
English: Bruce Springsteen and Max Weinberg Philadelphia October 14 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who plays for three hours these days? I mean, seriously? Does anyone? It sounds ridiculous. It IS ridiculous. Who could possibly keep a crowd not just interested, but ecstatic for three hours?

New Jersey’s most famous son arrives on stage at Hampden Park armed with a battery of classic songs that redefine the whole concept of a stadium show.

The forty-odd thousand people in attendance for the Glasgow leg of Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball world tour are an amorphous mass of die-hard fans, curious journalists and the kind of people who only buy greatest hits albums.

Like any modern stadium show, there are the two giant screens at each the side of the stage. However, unlike most other modern day stadium shows, there are no special lighting effects and no pre-recorded video footage. This is elemental rock and roll stripped of anything but the bare necessities.

Opening with lead single, We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce and the band tear through a sprawling set list that covers all forty plus years of his professional career. Badlands, I’m On Fire, Tougher Than The Rest, No Surrender. The Boss (as he is known to his fans) mixes hit singles with obscure b-sides and reworks well known songs in innovative ways. It’s testament to his audience that they remain supportive of this eclectic approach.

You will be hard pressed to find a musician anywhere in this world able to command the rapt attention of an entire stadium and hold them in the palm of his hand for three whole hours. This is at the core of what Springsteen does. His personality radiates from the stage, inviting us all to partake in the sacrament of rock and roll. We see his enthusiasm and embrace it as our own. This is the true gift of Springsteen the performer. He makes you want to join the party. He makes you want to dance.

For all his naysayers, the Born To Run hitmaker is unashamedly epic and passionately earnest to the point where few could doubt his sincerity. What makes this gig appealing as opposed to self-righteously dull is the earthy humour and sheer sense of fun that Bruce and The E Street Band demonstrate throughout the three hour plus Hampden show.

For a group of men and women in their early 60’s (during the encore of Twist and Shout, Bruce actually announces, “I need a break, I’m 63-years-old.”) these musicians put generations of younger bands to shame with their endurance and sheer joy of playing music.

If Hampden Park stadium had a roof it would well and truly have been blown clean off during the climactic performances of Born To Run and Dancing In The Dark. These songs of yearning and escape are ready-made for a stadium audience and the Glaswegian crowd lap them up, making more noise than the band, singing along to every hook and riff. This is rock’n’roll as catharsis, as moment of transcendence. By the time The Boss gets to his final acoustic performance of Thunder Road, it’s hard to tell who is more tired, audience or band. What is clear is that something wonderful has happened. The redemptive power of rock and roll has swept across a stadium and reminded us why we buy music and why we define ourselves by our musical idols.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band offer a primal, no-nonsense take on the rock and roll myth that celebrates the most visceral aspects of rock and ignores fashionable cynicism in favour of joy and sheer fun. It’s an impressive trick to pull off and even more impressive to witness as the happy Glaswegian crowd wanders exhausted into the night.

Original Review