Episode 24. One-offs.

Doing gigs as part of the crew can be a lot of fun and when you work with one band regularly, quite a formula. For a tour, you have anything up to six weeks preparation before you even set out on the road and in that time, you have a good part of it in rehearsal rooms where new equipment is ordered, delivered, set up, tried out, adjusted and set. That may, for example in the case of a new drum kit, then lead to needing a new drum riser which has to be spiked (a posh world for marking where the legs of all the cymbal stands sit) or a new set of flight cases to be designed, ordered and delivered. Spares are needed for a tour so a list is drawn up which would include drumheads, cymbals, stands, sticks, gaffer tape, leads for electronic equipment, etc and appointments are made to see the representatives of various sponsorship companies to blag those drumheads, cymbals and sticks along with any amount of T-shirts, caps, stickers and you can get your hands on. Small adjustments are made to everything as the band go through their set day after day and come the end of rehearsal time, both band and crew are ready for the month or so of gigs ahead of them, each prepared for any little thing that could (and often does) go wrong at a show.

 

There are no such luxuries with the one-off gig, especially if that one-off gig happens to be a band you have never worked with before. These gigs usually start with a phone call or a casual question from a fellow roadie along the lines of ‘Are you busy on Wednesday?’, said day of the week usually being less that 72 hours away. It’s difficult to answer ‘Sorry I’m busy’ to this kind of request for several reasons. First and foremost, what your mate is really saying is ‘I need some help’ and you know that if you asked him the same, he’d be there for you. Second, they usually paid cash so you didn’t have to declare it to the taxman and third, even though you’ve never heard of the band, there is always that possibility that they will be the next big thing and you don’t want to miss out on future work. That said, you do start the day with no idea about the equipment, personalities of the members, their onstage requirements, their music or their prospects so it’s a case of getting in there, doing your best and hoping it all goes well – usually, it does. I don’t know how many one-offs I did but a few of them did throw up unexpected bonuses; here is one of them.

 

‘Are you busy on Wednesday?’. The dulcet tone of Tony’s voice came through a grin that I couldn’t refuse. They were spoken over a second pint he had just bought me in the Balmoral Castle, a pub on the corner of Brewery Road and Caledonian Road, London N7 the previous Monday night after we had caught up on each other’s recent activities. I was in rehearsals with John Wetton and new line-up of Asia (Wetton, Palmer, John Young, Alan Darby) who were about to go out and do some festivals around Europe with The Beach Boys and Tony – if memory serves me well and I have to admit I’m not too sure on this point – was working with Bob Daisley in the Gary Moore band. In fact, it was Tony who had recommended me to John to do the tour as Tony had previously been John’s bass tech so as well as being a mate who needed some help, I felt I owed him a favour. Tony of course knew I wasn’t busy on Wednesday as he had just dropped in to see his old employer and had noted that John and Carl had told the band and crew that Wednesday would be a day off from rehearsals. Hence I couldn’t refuse on several counts and asked ‘Who is it then?’. ‘Torino’ he replied ‘at the Hippodrome.’ 

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Backstage (Not 'Back Stage) pass

That Monday was 14th August 1989 and at that time in the UK, the charts were full of computer sequenced Pop, manufactured by producers who were more famous than their artists. It was the birth of modern Pop, the majority of which fills the charts today, a bland over-produced selection of songs that are so computer generated, they cannot be reproduced on stage without a bank of computers and autotune units. Rock music seemed all but dead in the UK, one of the final nails in the coffin of Rock being the moving the legendary Marquee on Wardour Street to Charing Cross Road, a site it would occupy for seven years but in truth, felt by many to be in name only, not in spirit. It was a depressing time for many who had lots of hair and had supported the hairspray industry for the last few years but Hair Metal now seemed to be receding as fast as the young bands could get to the barbers. A few did carry on flying the flag for the genre though and one of those was Torino. In fact, they seemed to have bought up surplus hairspray stock from every chemist they could find…

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Torinio publicity photo

Hailing from Liverpool, they released their debut album on FM Records to good reviews in 1988 and just a few months prior to this gig, had released their second album, again to good if not ecstatic reviews. They had a few weeks of touring around the release of that album but then like most other UK bands through the summer, had been quiet unless they played one of the major festivals and bear in mind at that time, there were only three, Glastonbury, Donnington and Reading, the first and last of which had already been taken over by Pop acts. I hadn’t heard the latest album but I had the first so was at least aware of the kind of music and as they were all scousers (a UK slang name for people from Liverpool) I knew I would get along well with them. The Hippodrome originally opened in 1900 as a circus and what was known as Variety Entertainment back then but in 1989 had become a nightclub, Wednesday being Rock night hosted by DJ Krusher Joule; the bands went on at midnight. I met up with Tony around 5pm in a pub around the corner and was surprised to learn that all the gear was already set up so it was just a soundcheck which took less than half an hour before we could head back to the pub. Torino came with us but then headed back inside around 7pm, Tony and I followed around 9pm after the doors to the public had opened. The good thing about those Wednesday Rock nights is that it didn’t matter who was playing, lots of people turned up just as a regular night out because as mentioned earlier, there were places closing everywhere so the Hippodrome was the obvious place to go to get your Wednesday Rocks off. The gig went well, no technical problems, Torino were happy as they made their way offstage to pose and pull in the VIP backstage Star Bar. 

 

There really wasn’t much equipment. Tony and I had it half packed away in fifteen minutes when someone tapped Tony on the shoulder and said ‘We’d like to use your gear and have a jam if it’s ok with you. I’ve already asked the band and they said it was ok’ ‘Well who are you?’ Tony replied a bit indignantly (it was 1am) to which the stranger replied ‘Bon Jovi’. It turns out that some of the members of Bon Jovi and Skid Row were enjoying a night out before their gig at Milton Keynes the following Saturday and having been supplied copious amounts of free beer backstage thought they would give the audience a night to remember. ‘Oh all right then’ said Tony and we put the amps and cabinets back on stage, Tony somewhat grumpily. 

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Bon Jovi at Milton Keynes poster

Krusher announced the surprise gig which consisted of Jon Bon Jovi and Ritchie Sambora from Bon Jovi, Dave Sabo, Rob Affuso and Sebastian Bach from Skid Row, rounding out the band was Lemmy on bass. Bon Jovi introduced the members and they launched into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Travellin’ Band. I was stage right looking after Snake; Tony was stage left looking after Ritchie. Something went wrong with the lead Ritchie was using halfway through and it had to be swapped so a lot of improvising went on. Once sorted, they attempted Hound Dog, Led Zep’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and Ace of Spades but the adrenalin quickly ran out and no one other than Lemmy seemed to know the arrangements so the songs broke down quite quickly. It was all over in 20 minutes and we started to break the gear down again, lugged it to the fire escape and left it there to be collected the next day. Tony wasn’t in a good mood and opted to go home whereas I wandered around the club for a bit looking for people I knew. Normally, there would have been a couple of dozen regulars I could have had a beer with but for some unknown reason, all of them had decided not to go that night so I made use of the free beer in the Star Bar, had a brief chat with Jon and Snake and wandered home around 4am. The next day I was back at Asia rehearsals. It all seemed a bit unreal.

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The Hippodrome jam

Postscript

It wasn’t until late last year (2020) when I was talking to Krusher that he mentioned this jam was filmed by the in-house cameras. Lemmy had played him the entire thing and after a search around the internet I found the first song, the others apparently being removed some time back to copyright issues. It was good to see it and remains my favourite one-off gig although a very close second is the one where I had a chat with and bought Britt Ekland a drink. I may tell that one in another article.

 

You Tube link to Travellin’ Band:

That’s me in a white T-shirt wandering from the back to stage right and taking a swig of beer around 1 min 8 secs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHK3B-q5Db8&ab_channel=IanFreeman