Bulls-hit on parade
I wrote this column at least 1,000 times in my head over the last eight weeks before putting it down on paper today. When ink did hit paper, I ended up with a very different version to the prior madness, and although it was very poignant it wreaked of an anger so deep with frustration and ugliness that there was no way to contain it in an 800-word essay.
You see, I was fired recently from a major sold-out arena tour that was to start up a week after the pandemic shut us all down. Then unceremoniously terminated – two weeks past the one-year anniversary, to be exact. Seriously, a year into a global pandemic, and then I get fired? Fucking ridiculous. Putting me out with gasoline while on fire is an understatement. And goddamn, I have been spitting piss and vinegar ever since.
Although I have been fired thrice before from other projects over what I would call on paper a successful and respected 35-year career, this was definitely different. Not that the previous times didn’t hurt and or make you question yourself and your abilities eight ways to Sunday, this had the added fear of a never-ending global pandemic attached to it with zero constructive communication from day one by my employers.
However, after checking my head with the help of some dear and trusted peers, the soul-searching melted into a clear and underlying suspicion that you had been employed by some incredibly dysfunctional and most likely heartless people that actually knew very little about large-scale touring and had zero interest in learning from the professionals that they hired to give such guidance. Not that I haven’t always had the classic Hunter S. Thompson quote about the music business in my veins to rationalise such shitty behaviour, but enough is enough. When you sell your brand heavily based on the plight of the working man and woman, the impoverished, the exploited, the systemic violation of human rights across the globe, then maybe it’s time to put down that copy of the ‘Anarchist’s Handbook for Dummies’ for a second and look in your own back yard and find out what your responsibilities are as a corporate employer of a large labour force.
Communication on the task at hand, and to the people you hire, is key here – with any of our touring projects, it’s the framework to getting all parts of the project built when applied successfully. You, sirs, give zero fucks. Add serious dysfunction and animosity within a group and your chances of that success are lowered considerably. Heck, I feel for you, man; everybody has that drunk uncle at the Thanksgiving holiday table, but please don’t pawn your personal problems onto the kids’ table. I’m just trying to have a piece of that apple pie, too, brother.
Contrary to what you are reading here, please note that I hold no ill will towards you. I love your band’s music, I wish you continued success and I cherish you as human beings, as we are all God’s children in the end. But we are professionals here, and we are tired of being exploited by such flippant behaviour. So please pay up and honour the commitment we all made when hired.
You need us to sign an NDA and now a Covid-19 waiver? Sure thing. And let’s use that same pen to sign my employment agreement…
With that said, here is a list of additional lessons learned during my pandemic along, with some tips that might be useful to IQ readers:
- Let’s make employment contracts standard operating procedure for production crew when being hired for a tour. We are the last hold-outs here and I’m not sure why. Every other technical arm of the entertainment business has agreements as standard operating procedure.
You need us to sign an NDA and now a Covid-19 waiver? Sure thing. And let’s use that same pen to sign my employment agreement while we are at it. Now that’s what I call sustainability.…
- Include a severance deal or arbitration clause in your employment contract.
- Get a good lawyer who advertises on motorway billboards.
- Get a meeting with the band before you accept an offer. Find out if they are in therapy. And if they are, ask if you can get in on the sessions. It may be the only time to get your production questions answered.
- Make sure you speak to your production managers directly when in need to discuss production. Not through the TM, not through your cousin who cuts your hair, and certainly not through your dog walker. (But I do love me a dog.)
- If the band members have mobile phones, explain to them how they work.
- If the band doesn’t have a manager because they don’t want a manager, make sure there is a qualified human resources rep hired for the tour and available to all crew employed.
- If the band does have a manager even though they say they don’t have a manager, but there is a person that says they are a manager but only really manages one member of the band, but that manager actually makes decisions for the other members of the band, and the tour too… have that ‘manager’ explain to you how that works.
- If George Costanza from the Seinfeld television comedy arrives on set as the band’s ‘visual designer’, call the HR rep immediately.
- If George Costanza is presenting their fourth-try visual design deck to the band via Demi Lovato’s Instagram page and off of his iPhone, just kill yourself and save the embarrassment.
- If the masseuse makes more than the rigger, call your HR rep.
- Explain to the band what a rigger is.
- Put your HR rep on speed dial.
- When you fire someone, let them know why with a personal phone call and letter. If you need help on how to use the phone or a pen, ask your ‘manager’ as to how it works.
- Better yet, call them personally before the action and talk about any issues you may have’ you actually may be able to work the situation out without termination. Unconfirmed third-party gossip can be very dangerous. It’s been in the news of late, I hear…
- And if you are still too chicken-shit to confront the issues like an adult, at least have your lawyer do it. Not via a phone call from yet another unemployed crew member who now has to make his living by driving a delivery van. Fuck, that is some tacky shit.
- Be prepared to take responsibility for not only my newly unemployed status, but some of the other crew members and vendors who will lose their tour jobs also because they were hired under my direction. We may not have employment agreements, but we do have billboard lawyers who also don’t give a fuck.
- Practice what you preach.
And so, I quote:
“It has to start somewhere.
“It has to start sometime,
“What better place than here?
“What better time than now?”
Production manager Richard Young passes away
Richard Young, the well-liked British production manager known for his work with Radiohead and Adele, has died aged 47.
Young began his production career in the 90s, having formed Catapult Productions in 1993, and cut his teeth working with Radiohead, succeeding Brian Ormond as the band’s production manager in 2003.
After getting his break with Radiohead, he went on to serve in similar roles for a who’s who of rock and pop, including Pink, Nine Inch Nails, Dido, Duran Duran, Will Young, Lorde and Adele, serving as PM for the record-breaking Adele Live 2016 tour.
When lockdown came in March 2020, he was on tour with the 1975, who had just wrapped up their European tour in Dublin.
During the pandemic, he had been working with Creative Technology on its livestreaming platform, Unity, as he explained to TPi last September.
Young passed on Friday (23 April) after being diagnosed with cancer. A tribute page on the website MuchLoved, set up by Young’s family, aims to provide a place online for friends and colleagues to share thoughts, memories and photos of Young.
Creative Technology’s head of music and touring, Graham Miller, says Young was “the master of asking the difficult technical questions, so you really had to be on your game – which I loved! He really wanted to understand every element of his incredibly technical productions. I even remember Richard getting involved in our LED load-in in rehearsals, just to understand how it all worked better.
“He brought so many of my dreams to life with such care and commitment”
“We worked together on some amazing shows, including the Adele arena and stadium shows, but I probably enjoyed the last couple of years the most, where we we met up for the odd lunch or dinner and just chatted as friends. He was an inspiring guy – the best at what he did, but still had the capacity to constantly think of other business opportunities or take a slanted view of how things were being done and asked if they could be done in a different better way. Richard, I will miss you.”
Torsten Block, who worked with Young in 2007 on a Pink show in Germany, remembers the late PM as a welcome antidote to the “difficult people” he usually worked with at the time. “You were different: Friendly, goal-oriented and every time calm and relaxed,” he writes.
“I met Richard when I was 16, just before one of my first-ever tours. I remember immediately feeling such warmth, kindness and mischief coming from the tall Englishman who I had just been told would be my production manager – almost before I knew what a production manager was!” recalls Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known as the singer Lorde. “He, myself and [tour manager] Peter Yozell were the wrecking crew for that first tour, and we had so many giggles between us.
“Richard treated me like an adult from the moment I met him – he never doubted or questioned the validity of my ideas, unless they were going to put us over budget! I looked forward to his knocks on my dressing room door where I’d throw my latest harebrained scheme at him, and he’d shoot very straight and immediately tell me what would be possible. I loved how no-bullshit he was, and I genuinely loved working with him. And he was always up for a joke around! We had so many fun times together: lovely big group dinners on South American tours, little chats backstage at festivals, and, of course, he steered us through every tech rehearsal block with a calm and steady hand.
“We built such beautiful things together – he brought so many of my dreams to life with such care and commitment. I’ll always remember that about him.”
Young’s family are raising funds for Cancer Research UK in his memory. To donate, click here.
New-found wealth in a time without touring
Most of us have been home for over a year now. The break from touring due to the pandemic has become a transitional period, out of an initial shock with the frailty of human existence on this planet, and into a new normal.
Are we the same people we were in 2019? My 5 am lobby call has been swapped out for eight hours of sleep. The after-show pizza and wine have been swapped out for reading a book or falling asleep to Netflix by 10.30 pm. I even have a workout routine and feel stronger now than I have felt in the last 20 years.
And then something else happened – I became a much better father to my ten-year-old daughter. Who knew? Despite the lack of work, I am incredibly lucky to be able to say this period has been enriching.
It’s an aggressive tug of war, pulling me back and forth between a healthy home life and the addiction to touring
With all this new-found wealth, why is it that some days I feel like I’m stranded in the desert, wandering around lost, looking for the loading dock?
The experience is an aggressive tug of war, pulling me back and forth between a healthy home life and the addiction to touring. This is a strong addiction and I feel the withdrawals every day.
Touring has instilled order in my life. I am regimented to a routine of: get off the bus, load-in, show, load-out, bus, hotel, load-in, etc. Disciplines are learned and muscle memory makes it all effortless. My body clock aligns with the job at hand. Responsibility, progress and accomplishment become my drug.
What do I do without this rush? How do I cope in this other world without that needed fuel?
There is no bigger rush than a great load-out
On the road, sleep is the thing I want the most and yet the hardest thing to get. I stand on concrete all day long. I drink probably more than I should. Why do I miss that so much? Is it because we are people who thrive on accomplishing routine miracles?
In our element, we get little hits of dopamine for everything we achieve throughout a 16-hour show day. It becomes part of our body chemistry.
There is a sense of belonging and tribalism we have with one another as well. We share teamwork and friendly competition. I love the banter between the stage-left PA fly guy and the stage-right fly guy as they compete to drop their last box.
There is no bigger rush than a great load-out. You know, the ones that flow so well it seems like the trucks are loading themselves? So good that even a cable bridge couldn’t screw it up.
On a personal level, I have accomplished so much more than I would have if touring had continued
The feeling of camaraderie is strongest when on the bus after a great load-out as you embark toward a day-off hotel. The wine tastes great and the food is hardy. The song being played is the best song you have ever heard. You can see the sense of accomplishment in each other’s faces. Life rarely gets better than at that exact moment. Man, do I miss it.
I do enjoy being home, though. Perhaps much of this withdrawal stems from financial uncertainty, which makes my feet feel heavy some days. But on a personal level, I have accomplished so much more than I would have if touring had continued.
This last year brought genuine life-changing experiences. I’ve had moments to sit back and ponder my and my family’s future. Build things. Create things. Experience things. I think it’s safe to say that I have grown personally.
Remaining optimistic throughout this period has served me well
Sometimes being scared can straighten you out a little bit as well. If I choose to think about money, I could easily fall down the rabbit hole of despair. Remaining optimistic throughout this period has served me well, and the spotlight at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter by the day.
The thought of going back to work again won’t be abstract for much longer. I look forward to walking into the venue to the aroma of bacon in the air, watching the trucks unload and feeling the euphoria of the house lights going out to start the show.
The pandemic has devastated our industry. Crew, vendors, venue staff and all the various businesses that support us have all had major setbacks. But as we begin to find our way out of the desert, it is possible that some wonderful things have also transpired.
I hope in my heart that after we get back to work and the anxiety has subsided, we can look back at 2020 and 2021 and have something to remember them fondly by.
Chris Kansy is a production manager who has worked with Roger Waters, Muse and Massive Attack.