‘A gentleman and true professional’: Tony Gittins is the Gaffer
Like his predecessors, Tony Gittins has something in common with all the winners of IQ’s highest accolade, The Gaffer Award: he never had any intention of becoming a production manager.
His journey, mirroring that of many other Gaffer Award winners, is a tale of being in the right place at the right time; a little bit of luck; and a lot of hard work. “I’d never even heard of a production manager and I hadn’t thought that people other than the band actually made a living out of touring,” confesses Tony. “But I’ve never had another job, so working with bands was my first job. And hopefully it will be my last.”
Born and raised in Middlesbrough, Tony grew up in a family with teachers as parents: “But nobody in my family was in any way connected with music.”
Leaving school during a time of deep recession, the prospects for teenage Tony were limited. “Unemployment in the north-east of England was really high. My choices were to either move somewhere else, or join the army like my older brother. So I moved to London.”
Jobless and relying on the kindness of friends who had made similar migratory journeys to find work, Tony found himself dossing on people’s floors and couches in west London. His quest to find gainful employment proved tricky, so to repay the favour for his makeshift accommodation, he offered to help his flatmates with their amps and instruments. “I had some friends in a band called Big Boy Tomato, so I’d help them set up their gear,” recalls Tony. And the rest is history…
“A good production manager or a good stage manager is a jack of all trades, master of none”
Despite not being part of any concrete plan, Tony’s voluntary act to become an unpaid stagehand caught the eye of other bands on the punk circuit – a fortuitous move for a man whose favourite band is “a toss up between the Ramones and the Clash.”
“Before I knew it, I was working with other acts like UK Subs and travelling around Europe with them. And because they were punk bands, luckily they didn’t notice I had no musical ability whatsoever, so I kind of got away with it,” laughs Tony. “My favourite band of the moment is Sleaford Mods, so I think it’s fair to say I’m still a punk rocker at heart.”
Although he quickly found himself trading the comfort of a sofa for the ‘glamour’ of life in a splitter van, Tony remained unfazed as he became used to waking up in a new place each day. He soon realised that he had found a job that was not the 9–5 career that many of his friends had chosen, but which allowed him to have fun with like-minded souls, while travelling to cities that he would never even have thought about otherwise.
Life on the road suited him well, but in an effort to find more regular pay cheques, Tony began working as a stagehand for Stage Miracles. “I started working as local crew – I think my first show was at Wembley Arena,” he says. “I stayed on local crew for about four or five years and then started working on rigging for them, probably for about another five years.”
“I hadn’t thought that people other than the band actually made a living out of touring”
Tony believes that being part of local crew was a crucial ingredient in the recipe for him becoming a well-rounded crew leader. “A good production manager or a good stage manager is a jack of all trades, master of none. But we need to have a good grounding in each department so that we can know what we can ask of people.
“Being at Stage Miracles was massive for me,” he tells IQ. “I was able to learn what local crews do, but I also got an education in working with lights, sound and video, so I was fortunate enough to get an all-round apprenticeship.”
Comparing his schooling to what is happening in today’s production sector, he states, “I’m not so sure that these college and university courses give the grounding and background that you learn by simply being part of a local crew.”
He adds, “One worrying element is that there are now people coming in to the business that do not have the experience of working on tour production. That’s a problem that, if we’re not careful, could result in things getting more dangerous.”