“It was madness”: New book profiles production pioneers
Veteran tour manager Richard Ames, who has worked with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Who, Kate Bush, Wings, XTC, Duran Duran and Mike Oldfield over five decades in the business, has released Live Music Production, the first book covering the early years of the production sector in the UK.
“I hope that this book as a piece of social history will inform, entertain and delight those who were either there, or on the periphery of, or are of an age when rock music was on its meteoric rise,” explains Ames, who initially worked as a PM from 1972 to 1986, when the business was in its infancy.
“Just as equally, I hope that this will become supplementary reading for tomorrow’s students, so they can see how the foundations of this remarkable industry were forged with the 24/7 strength and spirit of these pioneers.”
Alongside the book, published last September by Routledge, Ames also documents his stories from live on the road at his Road Stories website.
“I hope this book become supplementary reading for tomorrow’s students”
Live Music Production is divided into nine chapters – covering lighting, sound, stage design, full production services, rigging, trucking/outdoor staging, bussing/catering and travel agencies – featuring interviews with industry trailblazers such as Bryan Grant (Britannia Row), Del Roll (Edwin Shirley Trucking), Jon Cadbury (PRG), tour/production manager Roger Searle and late stage designer Ian Knight, as well as a foreword by promoter Harvey Goldsmith.
Ames began writing the book 11 years ago (“I’ve always wanted to tell the story of how this extraordinary industry that I have spent 40 years of my own professional life in came about”), and says he hopes Live Music Production will open the door for other similar ‘social histories’ of the live music business.
“I don’t believe that social history in my industry has really taken off yet,” he continues. “The benefits of knowledge of the past, in so many different spheres, can’t surely be disputed – but as for now, I hope to see more and more factual history research published for future generations to appreciate. [So the book is] pioneering, I hope.”
See below for selected (and frequently hilarious) extracts from the book, or buy your copy from Routledge. IQ readers can benefit from 20% off by entering the discount code HUM19 at checkout.
In 1970, Jon Cadbury carries Pink Floyd’s gear to the Netherlands for a festival – with no paperwork…
“Jeff [Torrens, friend and Roundhouse colleague] and I were going to go off and tour Europe with our truck, and Ian [Knight] said, ‘Well, why don’t you just come and take the lights to this festival for us, and then go off on your travels?’
“I hadn’t actually worked out that if you take the lights out there then you are probably going to have bring them back again. Of course, we didn’t think about things like carnets, so we got on the ferry at Harwich got off at the Hook of Holland and customs impounded everything!
“The guys who became Mojo Concerts, Berry Visser and Léon Ramakers, eventually sorted it out; they were the people who promoted that festival [Holland Pop Festival 1970]. They paid some sort of bond that got the lights in and got them out again. I actually took the truck to Schiphol airport to collect the Floyd’s equipment when it came in, and had the band’s entire equipment in this seven-and-a-half-ton truck…
“There was no carnet, so I had to do a deal with the customs agent at Schiphol – which was basically, ‘I have got to get this to the site: they’re the headline act on this bill!’ My deal with this customs officer, who was a young guy who was into music, luckily for me, was that he would release the equipment and he would come to the site with me as long as he could collect a bond.
“So I went to the site and told the organisers and [Floyd manager] Steve O’Rourke that we couldn’t actually unload the truck. I said I wouldn’t let it out of my truck until the customs officer had got his bond – which was probably exceeding my brief somewhat – but we got there. Everyone was passing the buck to someone else to pay the bond and I said, ‘Well, I’ll have to take it back to the airport, then. That was the deal I made with this guy, so if you don’t sort it out…’
“So they did pay the bond and it did happen,the Floyd made an album with all of their equipment lined up in a great photo on an aerodrome [the back sleeve of Ummagumma]. That was that equipment and those were the roadies who were dealing with it. It’s extraordinary.”
“Of course, we didn’t think about things like carnets…”
It’s 1973, and then-junior lighting crew member Brian Croft is on a Lockheed L-749 Constellation from Hawaii to Australia on a Rolling Stones tour…
“It was unbelievable – it was cold, there was no heating, no soundproofing, you couldn’t speak to anybody, couldn’t read really or anything – but it became a big thing and we had a tongue painted on it when we were in Sydney, and then we flew all round Australia. Of course, the band, [including] Keith [Richards, along with] Bobby Keys and Jim [Price] the trumpet player, all came on the plane, and then we are halfway across from Perth back to Sydney and Keith says he has had enough.
“‘I’ve had fun, drunk all the beer’, and all that, but you look down and there is nothing but desert. ‘Well, you can’t stop here, Keith – it’s a long way, it’s like 12 hours!’ So that was a bit of a nightmare. Up until now I’d been doing a lot of straight theatre, and it was almost like an out-of-body experience seeing these mad frontiersmen and hippies, and I’m part of it and risking my life for the glory of the Rolling Stones.
“It’s like madness when you think about it now, but we had some great fun. The important thing about that tour was when the entourage – the whole group: crew, band, roadies, tour manager, probably 22 people – would all go and have dinner together. That was what was nice about it: you would all sit down and have dinner together because it wasn’t an unmanageable number, whereas it’s hundreds now in the touring party.”
“it was almost like an out-of-body experience seeing these mad frontiersmen and hippies”
In 1976, travel agent Mike Hawksworth goes into his office, shared with the Who’s manager, Bill Curbishley…
“At about nine o’clock the phone started ringing. [Curbishley’s] receptionist wasn’t in, so I went to pick up the phone, and it was one of those old phones […] where you have to take the receiver off to dial a number. I’ve gone to pick up the phone receiver and the whole unit comes up – the receiver hasn’t come off; the whole unit has lifted off the desk.
“I said, ‘What the hell?’, but it kept ringing and ringing, so I went over to the next one and try to pick up the receiver, and the whole unit comes up again.
“There are six phones in the office [glued together] like this, out of seven phones: [The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon] had left one unstuck.
“I answered it and Keith said, ‘It took you long enough to answer the bloody phone, didn’t it? If this is the service I’m going to get, then I’m going elsewhere!’ and he put the phone down.”
“We ended up with a gladiatorial match between a forklift truck and an old car”
Led Zeppelin rigger Jon Bray recalls crew days off Knebworth in 1979…
“We had a long gap between the first and second show. The site was sort of empty, apart from a handful of us living there with our caravan. We had some very interesting times there.
“One night, things got rather out of hand and we ended up with a gladiatorial match between a forklift truck and an old car. Somebody tried to do donuts with the car on stage. I don’t know how nobody got killed, actually – we must have been fairly out of it. The car ended up being absolutely destroyed…”