Awakes – the making

Pahiatua HospitalFor a week, around 20 musicians occupy an old, disused, hospital on the edge of a small town.

Late nights jamming and recording means walking around in near dark along echoing corridors with shadows at every turn.

And then there’s a statue. Moonlit. You just catch a glimpse of it through a window.

The wonderful way to approach the Outland Sessions, at least for me, is having no idea what you’re going to do when you arrive. Everyone gets to ‘lead’ a song, but you can collaborate with anyone and everyone. And I did!

Waking for the first time there, on day 2, I just had this germ of an idea. A malevolent ‘presence’, trapped in the statue for a long time, awakes. Sitting in my room at the tiniest desk known to mankind, I sketched out a rough ‘story’, complete with guide lyrics. I think in pictures, so the story unfolded as I typed;


A young lady wakes up in a hospital room. Drowsy, she puts on her shoes and opens the door. There’s nobody there.

She walks around, her footsteps gently echoing in the empty hospital ward, and slowly realises that the place is deserted. Closed down, like she has been asleep for too long and the hospital was abandoned, leaving her behind.

Then, quietly at first, she starts to hear sounds. Normal hospital sounds; the opening and closing of a door, a laundry trolley wheeled down a corridor. A tap being turned on and off.

Perhaps she is not alone after all. In the darkness.

She starts to feel uneasy. Who, or what, is in the abandoned building with her? At night. Did someone, or something, else awake when she did? Is it following her?

She finds a hiding place and locks herself in as slow, measured footsteps move down the corridor towards her, then fade as a door is opened and closed in the distance.

Then.

Silence. Silence, except for the sound of her own shaking breaths.

She opens the door. Peers as keenly as she can into the darkness left and right.

Then ….

[The song of IT]

What?

Am I awake?

Ah, I have been trapped so long in the statue, the coldness of stone.

Ah, I feel it. Yes, the echoes of this place. From my time. The time it ended. Faint glimmers of sound, but no light.

What?

Am I alone?

Ah no! I feel it. A presence. It is not empty. There is a trace. And I have been asleep so long, now I am hungry again.

[The song fades]

She walks in the near darkness, as quietly as she can, faint traces of moonlight the only help. Silver-white and cold.

From a doorway, a faint echo of an old fashioned tune played on piano. She creeps closer and for a few seconds she listens. Then it stops suddenly, mid phrase. Like someone heard her. Someone is coming.

She panics, she runs, she tries door handles that do not open, a window that slides up, but only a little and gets stuck.

And then the voices. Many whispered voices, too jumbled to pick much out. Loud whispers like she is in a crowd of ghosts.

From outside, you can hear her hammering on a pane of glass. Hear a faint cry for help.

She hears a drumming in her head. Energetic, chaotic, rising as she runs again.

[The song of IT]

Yes!

I feel alive!

And now this place is mine again.

And you, you are mine. I’ll take my time, but I am hungry once again.

[The song continues as an instrumental. And now we realise it picks up on the melody from the piano, warped and made loud, powerful. Then the song quietens.]

She tries more doors as she runs. And then, relief! A door that opens.

She runs through, down the concrete and out onto the gravel. The crunch of her steps, the ragged breathing, calming and slowing. Quiet enough to hear the faint sounds of ‘outside’; the sigh of wind in grass and trees.

But then, faintly at first, the piano tune again. It rises in volume, closing in. Then stops, suddenly, mid phrase……..


And gradually, over the course of the next five days, the recording came together. I had the melody worked out, and it deliberately starts in the middle of a bar, joins again at the end, in a never ending loop.

So now to find the band members and jam out the two sections of music. It was Bruce’s birthday, Evil Joe had got him drunk as a skunk, which didn’t help, but we got something worked out.

Next day, Bruce was tight as anything. following the white board structure I sketched in Ian’s studio. Tasmin recorded the rest of the band. Rock band for the first section, Black Sabbath for the second. Jesus Joe stepped in on bass and was perfect from the first note. I just love working with such talented people.

We were getting somewhere. But missing the vital ‘star’ performer; the girl.

And Katie was awesome. I sketched out the ‘sounds’ I wanted, and where around the old hospital to record them, and over two late evenings and a bit more Tasmin and Katie got everything done. Creeping, running, panicking, hammering, breathing. Doors, switches, taps, showers. I was the trolley pusher and creepy footsteps of ‘IT’, by the way (tricky trying to walk to that 6/8 time signature too!)

Katie was the star turn again, improvising piano to the main melody I gave her. Haunting or what?

Assembling the ‘choir’ in Andy’s studio was fun. And they had two jobs. The easiest was a rising chorus of a chord. Multi tracked.

And the real fun stuff. I tore a large sheet of paper into strips and on each wrote out a line ‘relevant’ to the story. ‘The doctor will see you now’, ‘maternity ward this way’, ‘he’s awake’ etc. They chose their own, and boy did they whisper. The way it came together still creeps me out.

Reece and Steve dropped into Felix’s studio to track out the awesome guitar solos at the end of part 2. Without me asking or being there. Just another example of how everyone just gets together and makes things happen.

Nathan has just the most sublime mastery of African drums (and he has plenty of them). His chaotic drumming added the finishing touch. It deliberately uses a different, changing time signature to the main 6/8, but comes back together every so often to build impact.

Andy recorded my frame drum (which was much tighter than I would have liked, but it was January, hot and dry). It’s the ‘heartbeat’ you can hear almost all the way through.

The vocals were tracked on the final evening. I originally envisaged Andrew screaming out some lines, based on the guide I had written, but it didn’t happen. So…. improv. I just laid them down as a spoken word, with Andrew roped in at the end to add some echo vocals. Ricky did a great job in recording those, and keeping Andrew on track.

I did a rough first assembly final night on my wheezy old lap top. Rough as guts but the first time people had an idea of what was in my head. Enough for real engineers and producers to work with anyway.

Almost everyone was involved. Here’s the track credits;

Words & Music – Nigel Parry
Lost girl – Katie Morton
Guitars – Reece Davies and Steve Starke
Bass – Joe Murphy
Drums – Bruce Wenzlick
African drums – Nathan Bregmen
Piano – Katie Morton
Choir and voices – Rose Easter, Steve Starke, Jess Beveridge, Tasmin Pritchard, Shaun Hutchinson, Andy Woodd, Nigel Parry
Voice of ‘IT’ – Nigel Parry
Additional vocals – Andrew Hutchinson

Recording:
Band – Tasmin Pritchard
Drum kit – Ian Moir
Lost girl and hospital sounds – Tasmin Pritchard
Aftican drums and choir / voices – Andy Woodd
Vocals – Ricky Hunt
Additional guitars – Felix Nesbitt
Piano – Ian Moir

Post production – Andy Woodd

Final mix – Ricky Hunt

That’s one hell of a team effort!

Awakes. Click here for Spotify linky thingAnd so, ladies and gentlemen, here we have the finished product. Best played at night, in the dark, through decent stereo speakers or headphones.

Alone…..

Awakes

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“Meet in the dining room at 1pm. Bring shoes.”

“Meet in the dining room at 1pm. Bring shoes.” And that was the start of something very special. Actually it started a day or so before.

I didn’t quite know what to expect going to the 2018 Outland sessions, but I knew I wanted to go. For almost a week a group of 20 musos, some of them recording engineers, took over an old cottage hospital on the edge of Pahiatua, a small country town a couple of hours from Wellington. 3 wings, 5 recording studios and spaces, a supermarket and several takeaways in town,

The focus was for people to get together, collaborate, and for each person to create and lead a song drawing in other people who are on hand and all seemed keen to help. Often that means from start to (sometimes a very late) finish. Totally absorbed every minute of the day and so inspiring to see people carrying instruments this way and that to work or jam together almost any time day and night. Energised and chilled at the same moment, with people I had never met before.

At the first gathering where all 20 of us introduced ourselves with video clips etc of each person’s style and what they could bring to other people’s music, I remember Bruce being about tenth and said, “I’m not going to bore you with videos to show what I do. I’m going to do this.” He hopped on the drum kit to beat out some great rhythms in more than one time signature.

When it came to my turn I had no idea what I was going to say, let alone what song I wanted to create. I remember looking up at these amazing musicians and suddenly thinking ‘lets have some fun’. I got everyone making percussive noises or humming, sort of like Bobby McFerrin or Fred Smith. I still had no idea what I was going to do at the event, but when I woke in the (not so) wee small hours (we stay up late, we jam, we drink and chat) the two things sort of came together. A drummer bored with beating out dull 4/4 and being unappreciated goes rogue with 5/4.

35238531_10160575168760046_6785256992840613888_oI stomped around every piece of floor in every room to find the right sound that was in my head. The sound of around 20 people stamping and clapping together was amazing and captured beautifully. Then the ‘band’ got together, including Bruce of course. I had a chat with him about drumming, just let him talk over coffee, and you’ll find plenty of drum references in the lyrics. Then on to record heaps of vocals and people noises.

It was just such a collaborative effort. I had the feeling that everyone was way better than me, and all the other musos were thinking the same thing about everyone else. The result; the most amazing collaborative week with everyone just pitching in with incredible enthusiasm and skills.

Wow. Just …. wow !

So here’s a little clip of the first, and major, part of Mr 5.

It was released as part of a 3 EP set (each EP collects the songs that go together), and here’s a rather good reveiw of the EP Daylight.

And here we have it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the finished product – Mr 5.

And for the REALLY curious, here’s the lyrics;

Ready with the skins, and limbered limbs, he strikes a pose.
Where his head is that, it’s just a fact, God only knows.
4 is just so boring, and my beat you’ve been ignoring
My hands are alive, let’s kick it up, let’s try in 5

Says Mr 5
Mr 5
Mr 5
Mr 5

Ready with the sticks, cue the click, there’s one beat more
Dancing on the skins, brush the cym-bals, here’s the score
I’m more than a banker, find the root, and here’s the anchor
Make the songs alive, Starts to drive, from 4 to 5

It’s Mr 5
Mr 5
Mr 5
Mr 5

[Br]
Let’s kick this off
Here is the hook
Mr 5

Here’s the fills and trims
Yeah, I’ll write the book
Mr 5

Signature,
just sing it
Patterns,
I’ll just wing it
Mr 5
Mr 5
Mr 5

Ba da da daa ..
Ba da da daa ..
Ba da da paradiddle
Ba da da daa ..
Ba da da ba-dum tish

And if you’ve read this far, might as well do the credits thing;

Mr. 5: NZRI11802160

Nigel Parry: Vocals
Bruce Wenzlick: Drums
Steve Starke: Electric Guitars
Chris Fursdon: Bass
Nigel Parry: Acoustic Guitar
Backing Vocals and noises: Rose Easter, Charlie Phillips, Joe Harrison, Steve Starke, Nigel Parry
Body percussion: The entire OLS 2018 group
Written by Nigel Parry
Instruments recorded by Felix Nesbitt & Jake Booth
Vocals recorded and produced by Andy Woodd
Mixed & mastered by Jake Booth at Mordecai Records

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Original Song Award Winner – Ship of Dreams

It’s an odd feeling. I wasn’t going to enter, then I was persuaded. I never expected to win.

That evening, hosted in a big RSA, there was a long list of entrants, a panel of judges and an eager audience. The contest was purely for original songs, and each had to be performed live on the night with no recordings or backing tracks.

There were many really good songs. So when third place was announced, I thought; ‘Yeah, good song.’ Second place was announced and I thought; ‘Really liked that one. Nice.’

Then, as you do, started casting my eyes around the room; who was going to be the winner? There were quite a few worthy candidates.

So when Ship of Dreams was announced, it took a few seconds to register. I never expected to hear my name or that of the song.

SongwritingAward01What?
Oh.
Wow.

It’s the only songwriting competition I’ve won. Then again, it’s the only one I’ve ever entered (usual crisis of confidence). Thanks so much for all the lovely comments on Facebucket.

And if you’d like to find out a bit more, maybe see the lyrics and the story behind the song, there’s this blog post.

Fancy a listen? You can find your Ship of Dreams here.

And .. well .. um .. gosh [blushes].

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Three Danish Galleys – and a bit of a Tease

A few years ago, on the campsite of a historical re-enactment festival in the south of England, my mate Dave came up to me with an obscure tome in hand. I had just been performing some middle ages music.

“What do you think to this?”

Viking-InvadersThree Danish Galleys, in a book by Somerset folklorist Ruth L Tongue. The lyrics tell a really gripping story of a Viking raid and the story behind the song, on the same pages, made it even more interesting. I’m not a great sight reader but the tune didn’t look like anything modern.

Three Danish Galleys

Three galleys come sailing to Porlock Side
And stole them away a new wed bride

Who left my true love, lying dead on the shore
Sailing, out and away
I never shall see my dear, home no more.

Then up to her stepped the Danish King
And her he would wed with a golden ring.

The bride she made answer her tears between
I never will wed with a cowardly Dane.

Then out of the galley they tossed the bride
And laughed as she drowned in the cruel tide.

There came three small galleys from Porlock Bay
They fought with the Danes for a night and a day.

They fought til the decks with blood ran red
And every man of the Danes was dead.


(Sung to Ruth L. Tongue in London, 1919, by “a sea captain born in Porlock”.)

Miss Tongue had this to say about it:

“I had just finished a Folk Song Recital in London, and made my way back to sink exhausted into my dressing-room chair, when there came a hearty bang on my door which opened, and an elderly sea captain came in. He was smart, grey-haired, scarlet-faced, and as full of enthusiasm as a young westerly gale -and he had a ballad for me. His family had been Porlock folk right back to Drake’s time and before, and they had treasured and kept strictly to themselves this ancient ballad. Now having listened to that evening’s Somerset wealth, he had decided regardless of family traditions that it must be brought to the free air of a singing world and that I was the one to do it. Before the force of this Severn Gale, I found my weariness blown clean away, and was soon singing too. He had a tremendous voice and it hit like hammer-blows into my memory. He sailed tomorrow he said, so I must learn it then and now. I did, every verse, and sang it back to him. He gave me a delighted smile, a hearty farewell and a handshake that clamped my fingers for the rest of the evening, and went away, forgetting to leave his name.
The Danish raids on Porlock are mentioned in the AngloSaxon Chronicle (918), and The Three Danish Galleys is a very ancient ballad which has survived the alterations of singers of other centuries, and is surprisingly unspoiled.”

Doubt has been cast by some observers as to the history of the songs in the book. All are claimed to be old folk songs collected, but maybe they are a little too odd, a little too similar? And I looked up Porlock on the Anglo Saxon Chronicles online (you can do the same).

So, either it really is an obscure old folk song, held in one fmaily for generations.

Or she made the whole thing up.

Either way, I think it is a very cool song, so I’m happy with both explanations. Here’s a version performed live at the Te Rangi Festival.

 

Incidentally, I have done a demo with the amazing harpist Karen Jones, which will hopefully lead to a full studio version soon. If you want to hear it (and it was recorded at the wonderful Tsunami Studios so, trust me, you do want to hear it), then come and ask at one of my gigs. Give me your email address and I’ll ping you a sectet little link.

Cool eh?

 

 

 

From The Chime Child, or, Somerset Singers, Ruth L. Tongue (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968) © Ruth L. Tongue, 1967.
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The Story Behind the Song – In the Dawn

It’s that wonderful, soft, warm feeling when you wake next to your special someone. And slowly, gently, one thing leads to another…

 

In the Dawn

The softness of your skin
The cool morning whispers
And the touch in your voice
As slowly we waken, in the grey of the morning
In the dawn

My hands do the talking
As a bird starts its singing
And fingers, do the walking
So gently stroking, feeling together
In the dawn

Your eyes they are saying
What my heart it is feeling
And your lips are so soft
As together embracing, making love in the morning
In the dawn.

 

A simple song, and one I enjoy playing – especially if there’s a special someone in the audience.

Oh, and you can listen to your heart’s content on Spotify.

Thanks, and enjoy.

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She Moved Through the Fair

I first discovered this haunting song on an album by a band calls All About Eve. Loved it ever since, so on my return to folk music a few years ago I started singing it again, with a newly developed guitar part.

The song, in this form anyway, was collected in Donegal around 1903 by a team that included the musicologist Herbert Hughes when he was 22, along with his brother Fred J. Bigger, and John Campbell, all from Belfast. The version of “She Moved…” collected by Hughes, Campbell and Bigger was adapted by the Irish poet Padraig Colum, and was published by Hughes in 1909.

The version Hughes published is;

My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind

And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kind”,

And she stepp’d away from me and this she did say,

“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

She stepp’d away from me and she went thro’ the fair,

And fondly I watch’d her move here and move there,

And then she went homeward with one star awake,

As the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

Last night she came to me, she came softly in,

So softly she came that her feet made no din,

And she laid her hand on me and this she did say

“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

There are other versions, including ‘Out of the Window’, and versions of such similar songs and themes that they might well have origins in the same song, from the isle of Uist (in Gaelic) and the north of England. There is little doubt that it has traditional origins.

You can find my take on it here;

https://nigelparry.bandcamp.com/track/she-moved-through-the-fair

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The Story Behind the Song – Ship of Dreams

Go out to your ship of dreams
Time to leave the shore
Row out to your ship of dreams
Don’t stand there waiting for your ship of dreams for ever more

Row Out to your ship of dreams - Nigel Parry

Album artwork and design by Grace Parry – cool eh?

If you have a song, A song you’d like to sing.
Just step right up and share it with the world
There’s music in your dreams
And soul in every note and every word.

If there is a soul, Someone in your heart
Do they know how much they mean and how you feel
Why hide behind your fear?
You’ll often lose a soul that’s never told

If there is a place, A place within your soul
A place that brings some meaning to your world
Start making travel plans
And the journey will be just as great a part

You may find your ship of dreams, In your heart and in your soul
In your own distant horizon that’s inside
Leave the fools gold
Only your ship can reach your rainbow’s end.

You know how sometimes you wake up in the night with something going round in your head (yeah, I’ve written a song about that too)?

Well, on one occasion it was something I had read years earlier. A short passage that said something about people waiting all their lives for their ‘ship to come in’, maybe they should go out to meet it instead.

Round and round it went. And the chorus and first verse were the result, that night while lying in bed. I got up and quietly sung the lines and melody into my phone.

Next day, the first version of the song was complete, with lyrics including an extra verse (which made the whole thing too long and didn’t add anything new to the sentiment, so was cut).

Originally worked out on guitar in standard tuning, the big leap that made the song come alive in performance was the use of open G tuning – something guitarist Julian Ward brought to the first on-stage performances and the recording on the CD Row Out To Your Ship of Dreams. I guess its sort of a title track.

And an ambition I hope to live up to, every now and then at least.

Here’s a version you can listen to (and purchase).

Julian dropped the whole tuning down to open F, but I play it live in open G.

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Music for a cause – telling a little story

kaik-e1479234108438

Photo: GNS

After pictures of the devastation caused by the huge 7.8MM earthquake that struck near Kaikoura were on every news channel, a folkie from Levin decided that one good community could help another. And you can still help (see below).

Folk music seems really appropriate; it is a great little community itself, folk music is made by and for people, not radio stations or record companies. And it so often sings of real people’s lives, of history and places, tragedy and heroism.

Hats off to Jo Sheffield, who started the ball rolling, put in plenty of hard work organising, and inspired so many musicians from around the country to give their time, talents, and for loads of people who paid to come to the concerts, or just gave a little of their spare cash.

servicesThe main fundraisers happened 8-11 December, and I was privileged to play in two of the concerts (Levin and Hastings). There was some really good music to be enjoyed at both too. $000’s were raised for people in need.

If you missed the fundraisers (or even if you were there), you can still contribute. And here’s how;

I was so inspired by Jo’s efforts that I created a new song. Earthquake themed, the power of folk music can often be to tell a really big story by telling a little one. And I recorded the song while making a video (a pop video? Err, well maybe a folk video anyway).

[Our Tim Is] Missing - click to show your sypport for victims of the Kaikoura earthquake

Please click to donate

You can donate by buying the track (I put the price at $1 but you can pay whatever you like upwards from that – the more the merrier, it’s in a good cause). Proceeds will go to the NZRC earthquake appeal via an official fundraising link. Please head on over there now.

As a wee taster, here’s the video of the song, but please remember to donate by doing the Bandcamp thing;

 

The quake caused much damage, with services disrupted, communities cut off and livelihoods ruined. You can help!

 

Thank you

 

 

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Did the first line of a song ever grab you? ….

Some songs grab you with a catchy, singalong chorus, some with a great instrumental break (would Gerry Rafferty’s career be the same without the sax on Baker Street?) You listen, soak them up, eventually hum along with a mix of pleasure and familiarity.

But you can also be grabbed by the first line. Yes, you have my attention. I really do want to listen to what happens next. Concentrate on the lyrics. Hang on every word. That’s real power.

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…” is pretty famous. What about today?

“It’s late in the evening, she’s wondering what clothes to wear.” We’re right there in the story.

“I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham.” There’s a colourful life story about to emerge here.

“Don’t start me talking, I could talk all night.” Elvis Costello has a lot to say.

“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips.” Can’t you feel it?

My current favourite is a less well known song. Here goes;

“Johnny, I know why you had to face the train.”

Wow, powerful stuff.

Immediately we can picture the scene, palpably feel the anguish, know what is going to happen but are powerless to stop it. And the writer wants to answer the great question; WHY?

Here’s all the lyrics;

Johnny, i know why you had to face the train
Johnny, i know why you had to face the train
the whiskey wasn’t working to drive away the pain
and there ain’t no use in sleeping when you just wake up again

you could have picked a high bridge you could have picked a gun
the engineer said you saw him but you didn’t try to run
now everyone’s so sorry and everyone’s so sad
but i don’t think it hurt you quite as much as what you had

now Johnny did you think about that railroad engineer?
he’s gonna see your eyes in nightmares for the rest of his years
he’ll hear the thump and rattle as you went under his train
he’ll see his locomotive standing bloody in that rain

Johnny i know why you had to face the train
Johnny i know
Johnny no

It is a true story, and a song called Johnny I Know by The Raventones.

I got in touch with songwriter TR Kelley via Twitter and this is what she had to say about the story behind the song;

Piano player i did occasional gigs with. Loved by the whole music community, respected, lots of gigs, gifted, great player, instructor at the college. Also an alcoholic fighting depression. Stepped in front of a UP freight in Eugene Oregon in July of 1997. Fast forward 20 years and I’m good friends with a couple engineers on the Coos Bay Rail Link (CBR), a shortline that runs behind my house. It’s way out in the boonies – over the years the train crews have learned they can stop here for any kind of help. mountain/woods/tunnels/curves can throw things at them sometimes and the radios aren’t so good in these deep coast-range valleys. I get to hear a lot of RR stories. Suicides are the ones they never forget. So this goes out to both sides of the awful equation of train suicide. I’m a card-carrying depressoid myself. I watch the whiskey, take my pills, play bass and stay off the tracks. Thanks for asking. 🙂 I wrote it for the engineers.

Reproduced with permission – thanks TR.

However powerful that story is to you, it really hit me, and here’s why;

I believe passionately about rail safety and have spoken to many train drivers (Locomotive Engineers to give them the correct title) about incidents. It can be an accident or suicide, but the horrific memory stays with them. They get time off and counselling support, but some never return to work. Or do, and get the jitters whenever they see a vehicle or person near the tracks. I have talked to an LE who still pictures that last split second, when a little old lady absent mindedly walking in front of his loco turned and looked right into his eyes.

I have even been to ‘incidents’ where ‘bits’ are being shovelled into a body bag. Very gruesome and it affects everyone involved including rail staff and emergency services.

I became involved in this through working for NZ railways. I ran the public Rail Safety Week campaigns for several years. That became far more imaginative than ‘hey, dont walk on front of trains, say the driers’.

collision-between-a-car-and-a-train-posted-for-ilcad-2010-youtubeOne year, KiwiRail organised a special demo; a car was parked on a level crossing and a train driven at it. The result was spectacular and had quite a bit of media coverage. Here’s the video.

Next year, I arranged for the wreckage of the car to ‘tour’ along with the video on a loop. It was there at the launch of the week in Wellington railway station, then moved to shopping centres around the country. Each time we set up in the middle of the shopping mall, with the remains of the car, a big screen video (with sound), and peopled by train staff on their day off. That really did create quite an impact; it was almost tear jerking to see kids tugging on their dads’ sleeves and pointing at the video, as if to say; ‘you wouldnt do that, would you daddy?’

waylonjenningsidiotnoIt also explains why I really don’t like so called ‘cool’ band photos with someone standing on the receding lines of a rail track. You may argue that you were safe, but just don’t do it. Don’t encourage others to think it’s cool. I mean it. Someone may end up being bits shovelled into a body bag because of your ‘cool’ photo idea. Not worth it.

Anyhoo, that gives you probably a bit more background on me than I intended.

And it all started with a powerful opening line to a song.

What’s your nomination for the best opening line?

 

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What Goes on Tour… – a story of band logistics

When Ed Force One thudded onto the runway at Christchurch Airport a few weeks ago, it wasn’t just the pilot that was unusual. Lead singer Bruce Dickinson was at the controls, while the hold contained all the gear for Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls world tour. And NZ Music Month was just about to begin.

That’s not your usual musicians’ transport. Our own Kiwi bands are more likely to cram everything into a van or truck and hope there’s cash left after fuel and food at the end of a tour. But when it comes to major events, logistics takes on a whole new dimension. 

IRON MAIDEN MONTERREY 1/3/16

IRON MAIDEN MONTERREY 1/3/16

While Iron Maiden carted their show to the Horncastle Arena in six trucks, AC/DC’s major world tour needed dozens of trailers total according to veteran production manager Robbie Barclay. That’s quite a traffic jam.

One of the first big logistics mega-world tours to visit us was David Bowie’s Glass Spider in 1987. Auckland was the last show on the tour and there is a long running rock ‘n’ roll legend that after the speakers and instruments had gone home the huge set, which is said to have weighed 360 tons and took 43 trucks to transport, was torched in a field nearby. The more prosaic story is that it ended up in a local warehouse and took years to sort through.

AC/CD brought everything. Like, everything,” says Dorus Hommels, operations manager for events company Oceania Productions. “Madonna’s got all her own [stuff].” While the rich and famous can afford their own show on the road, the more usual is to bring the ‘back line’ (instruments etc), tour set and specialist equipment, everything else is sourced locally. That includes a massive fold out stage used for Christmas in the Park and the Mission winery tour.

Know your country

New Zealand has it’s own event logistics issues. One is the availability of vehicles ideally suited to the job. “We don’t have enough of the big tour trucks,” says Mark Selwood, a long standing event logistics coordinator for the film and entertainment industry. “We make do with containers here.”

The standard handling unit is the road case; a large box on wheels tough enough to protect the valuable lighting or audio gear as it moves on and off stage, around the country and trots the globe.

The ideal trailer is 43 to 48 foot, solid side with load bars that unloads from the rear,” explains Selwood. We have less than a handful of those in New Zealand, while in other countries there are whole fleets of them to call upon. “Most of the trucking in New Zealand is curtain siders, they’re not good for us.”

So the entertainment industry falls back on 40 foot high cube containers, swing lifted to the ground at a venue for access. In addition to the extra handling hassle, the internal width is less than ideal for road cases. Yet Mark Selwood seems pretty unflappable and takes any issue in his stride. “To me it’s just a piece of cargo. You’ve just got to get it cleared and transport it. Even though Lady Gaga had big monster things, they still fit on pallets or in sea freight containers.”

Artists’ own demands have to be met as well. Apparently Bono from Irish group U2 used to insist on sleeping in his own bed every night, so it had to travel with him.

Advance planning – up to a point

Most of the time advance planning is possible for major tours. “That’s not always true,” says Selwood. “For Prince we only knew a week before, although that was only a small show. Usually three months ahead you have a rough idea how much they are going to have. You can’t do detailed sorting out until three or four days before. You can almost guarantee there will be some changes once an overseas production arrives.”

When a big show rolls into town, gangs of local hands descend upon the venue to help the tour crew unload and set up, including fork trucks and cranes if necessary. Usually installing the day before, pack down and despatch to the next lucky city is faster but the last truck packed and away, often the overhead lighting rig, is the first one needed for the next date so there’s an added first in last out (FILO) dimension.

img_1086mVenue access can have a part to play. “The AC/DC concert materials were all transported by train from Auckland,” says Clare Elcome of the Westpac Regional Stadium trust in Wellington. “Given our location shipments can be delivered onto stadium premises via the adjacent rail yards. We have onsite storage facilities around the northern end of the building and for AC/DC a total of 70 containers of equipment came and went throughout the course of the build phase.”

Hairy moments

Time allowed to move to the next city and set up can be tight and there are ‘interesting’ moments. “There are times when we only just made it,” says Barclay. “There’s always been delays, breakdowns. Also when you had a crash you get another truck, see what you can make out of it, repair other parts, put a show on.”

A few years ago a truck full of gear rolled in the Manawatu Gorge on the way to the Rhythm and Vines New Year festival in Hawkes Bay. “All of the stuff was destroyed in the truck, a competitor’s,” explains Hommels. “We had to scramble all of our gear to help out. That was the most last minute.”

Most of the time performers, sound gear, lighting and set get to the next show intact and on schedule. Ready for the roadies to descend on the trucks for another day and another town.

Hopefully, what goes on tour, stays on tour. Unless the end is nigh and you fancy a bonfire (allegedly).

ENDS

By Nigel Parry

This article was first published in Freight Transport Distribution, June 2016.

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