We are several days into our UK tour, I’ve just finished the Newcastle gig and am now enjoying some quiet time after the gig. I really like Newcastle. It’s a cool city with a distinctive look and character of its own. I like to take a brief walk around the towns when I get the chance. Many of the venues we played in France have fantastic backstage facilities with spacious rooms and private showers but these venues are often out of the main part of town. In comparison, the venues in the UK are not always as comfortable as venues on the continent and the City Hall in Newcastle is probably one of the less comfortable venues I’ve played in as it’s rather thin on backstage facilities and so today is a day when I don’t bother to shower! However I still enjoy playing here; its proximity to the main street means I get to enjoy a stroll around this fine city, maybe a chance to find a bookshop and pick up an interesting volume and a chance to stock up on toiletries and other bits and bobs that I need.
Living out of a suitcase has its challenges. It can be something of an art. Newbies to this business may be tempted to bring massive suitcases that weigh a ton and you’ll break your back trying to get your luggage in and out of the bus bay. You need to pack only what you really need - if you bring too much you’ll be carting a load of crap in and out of the venues, up and down the streets and into hotels and on and off the bus every day .It’s hard work and not particularly good for the hands and limbs. Nevertheless, for long stints on the road you have to think carefully about what you really need to take with you in order to be reasonably comfortable and clean for the duration of a tour.
Deciding what to pack is for the most part a matter of common sense, but generally the really important items of clothing consist of enough clean underwear to last you a couple of weeks before you have to get them washed - and getting clothes washed on tour is not always a straightforward process! Some of us have developed special ways of packing clothes. Colin found a neat way to package each t-shirt with a pair of socks and jocks and roll them up together which then can be packed neatly into a suitcase and every morning he reaches for his rolled up t-shirt and hey presto!-there’s the day's clothes sorted. The clothes generally need to be utilitarian-and hardy enough to live in day after day on the road. Dave manages to get by with a handful of t shirts and doesn’t seem to mind if they don’t get washed that much.
One of the most useful items to bring on the road is a travel kettle. This is mainly for the days off and although most hotels do have a kettle, if you have a day off and you have no kettle and you crave that all-important cup of tea, it will be a long wait before you can quench that craving. You also need to bring your own teabags because many countries outside of the UK don’t do tea. They have no understanding of it - that strange hard-to-grasp concept that you need to heat the water until it boils before pouring it onto a teabag to get the best flavour, not just stew something resembling wood shavings in lukewarm tap water. Some people also like to bring their favourite items of food - HP Sauce is one of Dave’s choices when we tour the United States and even the odd jar of Marmite (or even Vegemite!) has been known to be stashed away in someone’s luggage.
Most toiletries can be bought at supermarkets and as they can weigh a lot in one’s luggage and can cost a lot to carry on board the plane, it’s best only to bring what you need for a night or two and buy the big bottles on the road. However, one recent invention - flushable baby- wipes - is another absolutely essential item and it’s best to stock up on them when you can. Although things have improved in recent years, sandpaper-style toilet roll was not an uncommon sight in Eastern European toilets in the 90s in which could also be found a curious loo design consisting of a toilet in which the log is dropped onto an inspection pan so that one can admire the sight of one’s own ordure after the business is done. It’s a somewhat disconcerting experience but not quite as disconcerting as certain southern European venues in which the toilets are basically holes in the ground adorned with a couple of indentations on the floor on which to place your feet. Some of the more upmarket holes in the ground even have poles on either side of the abyss so one can firmly grip the side bars and assume a skiing position. This brings me to another travel essential: Loperamide. This handy anti-diarrheal medicine is great for long bus journeys or for those occasions when you’d rather not use the southern style w.c. Getting ‘caught short’ on the bus mid-journey is one of the great hazards of touring life. Plastic shopping bags come in particularly handy for moments like this so that when the ‘barbarians are at the gates’, so to speak, they can be easily dispatched and the bag tied up and discretely bunged out of the window when no one is looking.
I was having a conversation with Lorelei the other night and we reminisced about the times when we would tour before the Internet was widely used; without mobile phones, without laptops. It seems incredible to me now to think that’s how we used to tour because one of the first things we do these days when getting into a venue is ask if there’s any internet. In the past, if you wanted to make a phone call you usually had to get a special card and go out to find a phone box - none of this mobile phone malarkey. I remember the first ‘mobile phone’ we used on the road was during a short stint we did in Australia and Steve had borrowed a ‘mobile phone’ from work .It was some huge thing, a super-sized ‘Gordon Gekko’ style phone about the size of two bricks, which it took two hands to hold, and had a battery life of about 15 minutes: I thought it was just so cool to ring my mum on the road and say ‘Hey Mum, we’re coming into Geelong now. Guess what! I’m actually ringing you on a mobile phone!” Now, of course, they are everywhere and absolutely essential in this business as is the laptop or tablet to get on the Internet. But one of the best inventions to have made my life on the road so much easier for me is the e-reader - a Kindle or a Kobo - in which I can take a whole library with me on the road and read while I’m in my bunk or wherever. Books are particularly heavy and it was always a challenge for me to choose which books I would take with me on tour. These days, I still like to buy books and there’s never really anything to compare with going into an old, second hand bookshop ,to sniff the air into which is mingled the comforting smell of coffee and old ink. During the course of a tour Mike and myself often compare notes on the books we’ve found and lament the fact that we can’t carry all the treasures that we’ve seen on our travels.