Francis Neve shares his experience on the road with Marina and the Diamonds.
Europe, Winter 2012
So after many tours, taking in many countries, working in many of the most famous, and infamous, venues on the circuit I am now for the first time going to start writing an on tour diary. Of course I'm writing this in top secret. There is no way I could let my fellow crew, know about my diary. They would all insist on trying to read it. You see; one of the first things you need to understand to survive working life on the road with a band and crew is that your privacy and independence are almost totally surrendered. You are a slave to the schedule. Your own head space is an invaluable safe haven that must be preserved at all times.
I'm hoping this diary will, for me, serve as an ideal way to clear the head after a long and exhausting day and give me a good excuse to slip off for a bit of "alone" time before the inevitable drinking sessions recommence as we are driven to the next destination. Hopefully for you the reader it will serve as a genuine insight in to a world that intrigues and fascinates most of those on the outside that want to look in.
We begin in the little town I call home… London.
Saturday 17th: Limehouse, East London
Early start. 6.30am. After a brief shower I have to rush around and throw a few things in a bag, glug down a cup of steaming hot tea and get the car. I'm driving to Wiltshire this morning. I need to be at Real World studios for a 10am load in and I'm running late. As always the central London traffic is horrendous but when I eventually make it to the motorway I fly down. I arrive and the truck is already unloaded! I greet the crew and make my apologies for being late. I take a fair bit of stick. I'm put on to tea making duty in order to redeem myself. Today we are setting up for a production rehearsal. The plan is to set the band up and go through the set list for three days straight. Mainly to get everyone back in to it and to give myself and the monitor engineer a chance to get the mixes tight in time for the first show. I mix the Front of house sound. The sound that the audience / you hear. There are a lot of you to please. Therefore a three day production rehearsal was, and always will be, very welcome. Anyway it went well, without a problem, we ran through half the set with the band in the afternoon and finished around 7pm. I went in to Bath for a meal. For a few hours I managed to unwind and forget about work.
Sunday 18th: Wiltshire
I'm staying at the house in real world studios. The rehearsal room is just a short walk away so I leave getting up to the last minute. It feels like a Sunday. I go down stairs to the kitchen looking for breakfast. Toast and tea it was. There is a gentleman already in there when I walk in. We quickly begin chatting and before I've even finished brewing my tea I've learned that he's a record producer. He'd had a big hit in 2000. I was intrigued. The topic of conversation soon turns to the current state of the recording industry and how wrong it is that young people didn't want to pay for music. He explained how revenue for creative people in the industry has shrunk and how it was unfair that artists now struggle to make any income from selling records. This topic comes up a lot in our business. Its obvious something needs to change. I assured him I always pay for my music – which I do. After breakfast I stroll over to rehearsals. We do a solid day from 10.30am till 7pm stopping only for lunch. It's productive. I spend a lot of time on the bass and drums today, focusing on the bottom end. My mix is really starting to come together. I drive back to London for one final sleep in my own bed before the tour proper begins.
Monday 19th: London
I wake in my own bed at 6am and savour it one last time before I have to get up. I quickly pack my case making sure I have all the essentials; Passport, AAA Pass, a good book etc. I go over to the studio to grab a piece of equipment I need for the tour (it's a compressor and EQ for the main vocal) and then get a train to Real world. I arrive late again! The band had started rehearsing but it's all cool, no issues. We go through the set a couple of times. Sounds good. I keep switching between the speakers and headphones making sure the mix works on both. The band finished up so me, the monitor guy and the 2 back line techs pack the gear down and load the truck. We have dinner at real world. They have an in house French chef that lays on a spread.
A few glasses of red wine later and we are all just about ready to get on the bus. The tour bus arrives. It's a double deck 14 sleeper "Beat The Street" tour bus. There's me, the monitor guy, lighting guy, merchandise girl, two back line tech's, and a tour manager. The band members are also travelling on the bus with us. It has two lounges. A kitchen complete with fridges and a sink, and a flushing ceramic toilet Thomas Crapper would be proud of. Although rule number one on any tour bus is… NEVER crap in the toilet. We are driven to Dublin. This drive involves a ferry ride on extremely rough seas. It's 6am by the time we get to the crossing. I get a cabin as soon as I'm on the ferry and try to fall to sleep. This was a long day.
Tuesday 20th: At Sea - Dublin
I'm woken by the sound of a klaxon and then a voice announces over the distorted PA that my "captain is speaking." In a daze I quickly gather my things and go down deck to find the bus. Its 10am by the time we leave port. We arrive at the Dublin Olympia by midday. It's an old little theatre steeped in rock and roll history. Looking at the pictures all over the walls backstage you quickly learn that everyone who's anyone has played there. We load in and set up. It takes a few hours. I spend most of my time tuning the PA system to the room, basically getting it to sound good in the space, and then I mic up the stage. We sound check at 4pm and go through the whole set.
By 6pm we are done and go and eat. Nandos seems to be everyone's choice today. Show starts at 9.00pm. The place was a sell out and it was buzzing. Those few moments before the first show are always tense. In my mind I was going through the check list. Have I remembered everything I need to do? Are all my scenes on the desk right? Is the vocal going to be loud enough to get over the screaming crowd? I get the cue to hit the walk on track, I press play, the band walk out, I'm focused completely with my ears to the room. It's a level of concentration I find hard to replicate in any other situation in life! The kids are screaming as the artist walks out and opens her mouth to sing… I fade the band and the vocal up and the last few seconds before they kick in to the first number feel like an age… then… loud clear lyrics ring through the venue and the band kick in. It sounds big and powerful, it looks amazing, the crowd love it.
We are off… and the ride lasts for an hour and half. Its hard to describe how focused you get during a show if you are mixing. There is nothing else like it. Except perhaps, performing. For the length of the set you are unapproachable. After the show we pack it all down and load the truck. Much needed beers follow and at 1am we board the bus for our next destination. I hadn't looked at my itinerary. I ask where we are going next. Holland someone replies… another two ferries and a 24 hour drive. We drink.
Wednesday 21st: At Sea – Dublin to Utrecht
After four hours sleep I'm woken up again to board a ferry. The backline boys and I get a cabin again and sleep right through the crossing. When I wake up everyone else in the cabin has gone. I mildly panic and grab my stuff. Where is the bus? Which car deck was it on? Which colour door do I use? I stagger down the corridor watched by puzzled cleaning staff, I wasn't supposed to still be on the ferry. All passengers had gone and the vehicles were leaving down below deck. I finally get through to our stage mangers phone (he's the organized one) and he explains where to find the bus. Takes me a while of negotiating diesel fume filled corridors and squeezing between articulated lorries but I find the bus.
It was on its way off the boat when our stage manager screamed at the drivers to stop and wait for me. They thought everybody was on board. Someone couldn't count. Because of my notoriously deep sleeping habits I came very close to becoming a stow away. Lots of piss taking ensued. The day is spent watching The Inbetweeners on the bus. We arrive in Utrecht really late, like 11pm. A few of us go out looking for a beer and something to smoke. The town is beautiful. Like Amsterdam but without the tourists and sleaze. We find a decent beer bar and a café. I don't remember getting back to the hotel.
Thursday 22nd: Utrecht
Show in the Tivoli today. I arrive at the venue in time for lunch after a decent lie in. It's a cool venue. Built in Medieval times it was originally a monastary. Since then it had been a church, a base for the Nazis, a dance hall and now a pretty cool venue. It has a really decent Dutch PA system with a really helpful local tech. I'm in for an easy day. After sound check we were fed at the venue – chicken and veg, The show sounded really good tonight. As always we pack the gear down and load out straight after the show. The venue turns into a night club after so we have to pack down and push all our gear through the punters as they dance and get even more pissed. We call this a "disco load out" in the trade. When we are done we find the bus and drive to Hamburg.
Friday 23rd: Hamburg
I wake up feeling absolutely exhausted, my backs killing me. Can't sleep well in this bunk. We are in Hamburg. Playing the Markethalle tonight. I leave the bus cross the street and try and find my way into the venue. It's up a few flights of stairs. All our equipment and set has to come up in a small lift. Very boring. It's a pretty uneventful day. Chicken and veg for dinner again… The show is a sell out again and the band have a good gig. We load out and then go to the dressing rooms where we all spend as long as we can before having to get back to the bus again. Its Friday night so we have a disco when we finally get on. The drive overnight is to Geneva.
Saturday 24th: Geneva
I wake up and the bus is still moving. I can hear raised voices down stairs, sounds a bit like road rage. The bus driver is lost. They can't find the venue. I get up and notice we are driving around a residential estate. Cars are double parked and the turnings are tight, god knows how they managed to get our giant bus down there. Eventually, we find the gig after pulling over and asking some locals that spoke a little English. When we finally pull in none of us could believe it. The venue was like a village hall, euro style, low ceiling, glass exterior walls, a tiny place that looked more like a school gymnasium than a venue. We were in for a tough day. And when we got there we were told it was going to be a disco load out. NOOO!
Anyway it was a tough day with the local techs not having a clue and with no space to fit the band on stage or store our gear. We got through it and the show went well despite the rather subdued nature of the place. Knowing we have a day off tomorrow is a good feeling. Good enough for us to turn the bus ride to Zurich in to an experimental disco involving Ipods, pads and cocktails. We check in to the hotel at around 4am ish and I'm asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Sunday 25th: Zurich
Today was the first proper day off in almost two weeks. I wake up around 2pm and instantly remember there is a Spurs game on that I have to see. It's nice to have a bit of time alone. When you're touring you are living in each other's pockets almost 24/7 so you have to get along with people, it's as an important skill as your profession. Day offs are a valuable necessity. They help to keep you sane and fresh and likeable. So anyway, the stage manager and I went to the Irish pub in the centre of Zurich and watched the match. Hardly the best way to stay fresh! I bought a pint of lager and a corona and almost fell over when the barman asked for 17 swiss francs. That's like 12 quid. No wonder everyone else in the pub sat with an empty glass that looked like it had only ever had coke in it. We had a few despite the prices and headed back. I meant to have an early one but couldn't sleep until the early hours.
Monday 26th: Zurich
I get up bleary eyed and check out of the hotel. We drive to the gig. I step off the bus and see we are parked down a backstreet. I look up and instantly recognize the venue. It's at the top of a building. A lift for all the gear again, only this time its massive. Should be easy enough. I'm greeted in the venue by an eccentric coffee and cigarette riddled old roadie that speaks only Swiss German. He tries to explain the noise restrictions. In Switzerland you cant turn it up, health and safety. Tends to put a dampener on your day if you're a sound engineer but I didn't let it me get me down. The heating was on and it was so warm in the venue that we decided to do a skins load in. This basically means we are all topless as we set up the gear on stage. It's a good way to break the ice with the locals. The local crews serious persona and aloofness eventually cracked in to a smile at our traditionally British skins load in.
The day went well, it was a big venue so it was nice to do a proper gig after the last place. There was a cool backstage area with a big green room where we could all hang out. The show was a good one. Tomorrow we are in Munich. I love going to Munich. I dream about Wiess beer and Bratwurst.
Listen to Francis Neve's current single, 'Calls':
Francis Neve is currently working on his first long player, set for early 2013 release.