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Tour Managers Not Touring axed after backlash

Tour Managers Not Touring (TNT), a fundraising initiative intended to aid several famous DJs’ out-of-work tour managers, has been quietly pulled following a backlash on social media, where commentators criticised the artists’ apparent reluctance to put their hands in their own pockets.

TNT saw tour managers including Ian Hussey (Carl Cox), Tim ‘Dingo’ Price (Dubfire), Zak (Seth Troxler) and Gabriel Torres (the Martinez Brothers) selling a series of self-made mixes, along with collaborations with the artists with which they work, for a minimum of €5, with all funds going direct to the tour managers involved.

While apparently well intentioned, the idea apparently went down like a cup of cold sick in the dance music world, with electronic music industry figures such as BarkerKornél Kovács, DVS1 and Maceo Plex tweeting their displeasure. “Please give your money to real charities and NOT to rich DJs and their staff,” wrote Plex.

The most widely shared criticism came courtesy of trance producer John Askew, who recorded a now-deleted video rant (rescued by Dutch DJ Cassy) asking why the likes of Cox, Troxler and Nicole Moudaber “aren’t they covering their tour managers’ costs and giving these mixes away for free, or charging money and giving that money to the medical services, the NHS [UK National Health Service] and every other country’s equivalent?”

“Please give your money to real charities and NOT to rich DJs”

“These are guys with multiple millions of pounds, euros, dollars in the bank,” he said, “and they’re asking the general public to keep their tour managers afloat?”

As spotted by Selector, the TNT Bandcamp page went dark shortly after, and the mixes are no longer available to buy.

Cox in turn criticised the backlash, writing on his Facebook page that he has “never seen anything blown so far out of proportion without context” and saying that idea came from the TMs.

“A group of the hardest-working tour managers out there wanted to get creative and have some fun by getting together and seeing who could actually DJ,” he says. “They asked me to support them, as they support us touring DJs week after week throughout the year. All of us did that without too much thought or hesitation through our social media channels and gave them a mix from one of our shows.

“There was no suggestion ever made that this was to cover ‘wages’ – that is simply ridiculous and I feel saddened that this has even been suggested.”

Cox’s comment, however, is at odds with tour manager Tim ‘Dingo’ Price (Dubfire), who on launching the project stated: “Our goal is to release some new and interesting content to help with the #StayHome initiative and also try and gain some financial support for us tour managers during this unfortunate time, as most of us, if not all, are not paid a salary – we are paid per show.”

It remains unclear whether the aforementioned DJs will now be coughing up to support their crew, as John Askew has suggested.

 


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Tour Managers Not Touring release collaborative albums

A group of tour managers for some of the biggest names in dance music have launched Tour Managers Not Touring (TNT), a fundraising initiative intended to support them through the coronavirus shutdown.

With the fate of the 2020 Ibiza season in the balance, TNT – which includes TMs Ian Hussey (Carl Cox), Tim ‘Dingo’ Price (Dubfire), Zak (Seth Troxler) and Gabriel Torres (the Martinez Brothers) – are selling a series of self-made mixes, along with collaborations with the artists with which they work, for a minimum of €5, with all funds going direct to the tour managers involved.

The first release, The Sofa Sessions, is available to purchase on Bandcamp now, with more planned for the weeks ahead.

“It’s an interesting concept to explore the sound of the tour managers in comparison to the sound of the DJs we work with”

“The tour managers in our scene are like one big dysfunctional family,” says Price, whose contribution is a 57-minute mix called ‘The Hour After the After Hour’. A lot of tour managers play themselves and have great musical taste. So we thought this would be a great way to come together, and an interesting concept to explore the sound of the tour managers in comparison to the sound of the DJs we work with.

“Our goal is to release some new and interesting content to help with the #StayHome initiative and also try and gain some financial support for us tour managers during this unfortunate time, as most of us, if not all, are not paid a salary – we are paid per show. This project is being done out of love of music, our scene and the people involved in it.”

 


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The Gaffer 2019: John ‘Lug’ Zajonc

It was a hell of a year for John Zajonc in 2019. Having masterminded Metallica’s massively successful North American tour, within days he found himself in Europe overseeing a build for the band’s arena tour that he’d put together between stadia shows stateside.

But that was child’s play compared with what was about to happen. During a break in the tour schedule, Zajonc travelled to Saudi Arabia to help another long-term client, WWE, prepare for its Super ShowDown event, only to wind up in hospital after a massive electric shock.

“Let’s put it like this; I’m now officially retired as an electrician,” he reports of the incident that would certainly have killed lesser mortals. Thanks to his general levels of fitness, he lived to tell the tale, despite some horrific injuries. “I was electrocuted: 400 volts across my chest and back. The force of the shock  ripped my shoulders out of their sockets and broke them both.”

Within hours, Zajonc checked himself out of hospital and took himself to Amsterdam to resume duties for Metallica. But more on that later…

“I was electrocuted: 400 volts across my chest and back”

The memory remains
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Zajonc loved sport from an early age, playing soccer, baseball, ice hockey and “anything that could get me outdoors.” But it was an indoor pastime that would earn him a place in college. “I won a wrestling scholarship, but the plain fact of the matter was that I hated school, so I dropped out after a year,” the 51-year-old tells IQ. “My dad’s reaction was that if I wasn’t going to study, then I needed to work and start paying my way in life.”

Zajonc recalls some of the many jobs: “I drove a cab, I drove a laundry truck, I worked in construction – just anything to earn money, but I worked really hard. My dad’s mantra was that if I was going to dig ditches then I should be the best damn ditch digger in the world, so that’s what I tried to do.”

Perhaps noting that drive, a friend presented Zajonc with an opportunity to earn some extra money, helping out local firm Capron Lighting & Sound with some concerts. “I did two or three shows and I really liked it, so I stayed and ended up doing their Summertime Anytime beach parties. I just did whatever I was told to do and a guy called Steve Sergeant took me under his wing.”

Wherever I may roam
A couple of years after starting at Capron Sound, Zajonc got itchy feet and decided to give sport another shot.

“That’s the case with most people on the tour circuit – you learn on the job”

“I moved to Florida to become a golf professional,” he says. “It was a hard life and I soon realised that I didn’t have the right connections – I couldn’t find sponsorship and, unlike other people, I couldn’t rely on my family to support me financially, so I moved back to Boston and went back to Capron Lighting & Sound for a while.”

Eager to start moving up the ranks, Zajonc began bombarding people in the business with job requests. “Eventually, a friend at Show Power in California said he would give me a chance if I promised to stop calling him. So in the early 90s, I moved west and started to work on bigger tours.”

As Show Power’s new kid on the block, Zajonc threw himself in at the deep end and made sure he was always on hand to help out, no matter the task. That work ethic paid off.

“I got a job as the cable guy on a Genesis tour,” he recalls. “It was a nice gig as I had no responsibility really. I did that for four or five months, until the final show at Knebworth, but that’s when things really started to take off: from there I was straight on a plane to Hershey for rehearsals with U2, and then I was on the road for months with the Zoo TV tour; then Madonna; and then back to U2 again, and so on.”

“As a production manager, I’m also a part-time therapist, uncle and father to a pretty dysfunctional family”

By the mid-90s, he had worked his way up to electrical crew chief for tours by the likes of U2, the Eagles, Metallica and others. “I’m now certified, but I’m pretty much a self-taught electrician. That’s the case with most people on the tour circuit – you learn on the job – and, thankfully, I’ve worked across every department on the road, so I can turn my hand to most things, if needed.”

Things changed when Show Power was acquired by General Electric. “I had a desk job for a few months, but it really didn’t suit me working for such a big company. They didn’t want me to limit myself to entertainment, but I wasn’t really interested in some of the other stuff they wanted me to do, so it was time to move on.”

Turn the page
In 2001, alongside fellow road warriors Henry Wetzel and Carlos Oldigs, Zajonc established Legacy Power Services to provide concerts and tours with portable power systems and solutions. “Legacy has been great to work on – whenever I’m not out on the road, I’m back in the Legacy building in Las Vegas helping other productions with their electricity needs,” he reveals, talking to IQ from those Nevada premises.

Having amassed more than a decade of touring experience, Zajonc’s next step up the ladder came about when Scott Chase, stage manager for Paul McCartney was sidelined with an injury. “Scott asked me to fill in for him, and I spent the year with McCartney, followed by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill until Tim and his team asked if I would take on the role of production manager.”

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 87, or subscribe to the magazine here


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“I could see he was a star in the making”: Chris Marsh is the Gaffer 2018

When a small PA company in Wiltshire, UK, took on its latest crew member in 1997, neither party could have imagined the career trajectory that would follow.

From helping tribute acts with their sound requirements in tiny clubs and pubs dotted around the rural west country of England, Chris Marsh has scaled the production crew ladder like a bionic rigger, learning a number of specialist tech roles along the road before finding his way to the exalted level of production manager for, arguably, the biggest star on the planet. “I know that Chris took a significant pay cut to come and work with Ed,” reveals Sheeran’s agent, Jon Ollier at CAA. “But Chris has been integral to everything that Ed does live: even when he started out working with Ed in 2011, he was vastly experienced, so it’s great that we’ve all been able to grow together and achieve everything that we have so far.”

Sheeran ended his 2018 touring commitments in early November when his sold-out North American leg came to an end at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. That gig was his 94th stadium show of 2018, including 25 in North America, 47 in Europe, 12 in Australia, six New Zealand dates and four across Japan and the Philippines. Marsh is already hard at work on the next leg of the tour, which begins in February by dominating the ‘souths’: five shows in South America, four in South Africa, one date in South Korea, and then two in Southeast Asia. From there, the ÷ tour returns to Europe for a mix of 35 outdoor dates – the majority in stadia, but with a couple of festival headline slots and some outdoor greenfield sites thrown in to keep Marsh and his crew on their toes.

Not that those different venue settings keep this year’s Gaffer Award recipient awake at night. “One of our biggest achievements on this tour was when we wrapped up the European shows in Poland, loaded out onto trucks and loaded into two 747s, then played the same show in Los Angeles less than a week later,” says Marsh. “That flexibility is one of the joys of working with a solo act, I guess: we could not have cut it any finer between the Rose Bowl and the shows in Warsaw.”

“Chris has been integral to everything that Ed does live”

Growing up
Born in Southampton, England, and raised in nearby Romsey, Marsh was heavily into music at school and followed his father into the church choir. “I was a chorister at Romsey Abbey from an early age, and I also learned piano and played French horn in the school orchestra, too,” he says. That love of music saw him join a number of bands in his younger days and take on double O-levels in music at South Downs College, where any ambitions of becoming a rock star quickly evaporated. “I discovered at college that I was among a bunch of phenomenal musicians and that I wasn’t good enough. But I started to love the technology side of things and could see another avenue into working in the music business.”

Marsh found work at a small PA company in Salisbury called Midas Sound & Lighting, where he found himself loading and unloading gear for tribute bands and other local acts, while in the summer he would be involved in supplying equipment to small festivals.

Around the same time, in 1999, Marsh met Lars Brogaard and the duo started working together to build an audio subrental company that would eventually become Major Tom Ltd. “It meant that I stopped being on the road so much, but it was great to work with Lars, and we eventually also launched Colonel Tom for the video side of the business and, because of that, I started doing more than just sound. “Lars has been something of a mentor to me – he’s been there from very early on in my career and has put my name forward for some great jobs, so I’m eternally grateful to him and I’m delighted to have him in my corner.”

That feeling is definitely mutual. Brogaard says, “Chris started working with me over 20 years ago when he was just 18 or 19 and he has done fantastic – I’m very proud of him and view him like a son.

“I can remember him telling me that he’d met this young artist that he thought was really special and that we should get involved, so we helped out with equipment on that first Ed Sheeran tour and we’ve been with him ever since.

“Chris is a great production manager and sound engineer and he could get a job with anyone at any time he wants, so I’m beyond happy and grateful that he’s remained as my partner at Major Tom.”

“He’s unflappable in all manner of situations”

Everything has changed
Enjoying his career as a freelance sound engineer, one of Marsh’s early gigs saw him working on a Michael Ball tour, where he witnessed a difficult relationship between the production manager and the artist. “Phil Bowdery was managing Michael and during a conversation with him I just happened to mention that it shouldn’t be that hard to make the artist happy. That’s when Phil suggested I step up to the production manager role, and in 2003, I did my first UK tour around 2,000- to 3,000-seat theatres.”

As president of touring international for Live Nation, Bowdery has nothing but praise for Marsh. “Whenever I want him to work for us, he’s too busy with Ed Sheeran. He’s unflappable in all manner of situations and when you work with Chris, it’s service with a smile.”

Recalling how they first met, Bowdery adds, “Chris was running everything for Lars Brogaard at Major Tom, dealing with the logistics for multiple tours, and it was fairly evident he was a very together guy, as well as a bloody nice bloke.

“He joined us on a Michael Ball tour and did a brilliant job as sound engineer, so I wasn’t surporised that he was also able to take on the role of production manager. I could see he was a star in the making – and now he’s mastered stadium shows. I like Chris a lot – I’ve got all the time in the world for him – and the Gaffer award is well deserved.”

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 81, or subscribe to the magazine here

 


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‘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.”

London’s calling
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.”

 


 Read the rest of this feature, along with testimonials from Depeche Mode, SJM Concerts, Brit Row Live Nation, Sensible Events and more, in issue 75 of IQ Magazine:

The Gaffer 2016: Bill Leabody

In 1977, with Britain deep in the grip of one of its worst post-war recessions, young construction trainee, Bill Leabody, decided to take a break from the building site to become a roadie for a few months. Gordon Masson learns just how Bill reached the top of the production ladder during his 40-year sabbatical…

As The Gaffer for 2016, Bill Leabody joins an elite list of winners that includes Jake Berry, Chris Kansy, Jesse Sandler, Jason Danter, Wob Roberts and Arthur Kemish. In addition to being production wizards, at the top of their game, that group also share something else in common – none of them set out to become a production manager.

For Leabody, his route into music was entirely fortuitous, as the 61 year old admits that he cannot play any musical instruments. “I can’t play a single chord on a guitar,” he laughs – despite being a tech for the likes of The Edge down the years. “Oh sure, as long as it’s plugged into a tuner, I can tune a guitar,” he says. “But back in 1977, I don’t think anyone who went to a gig by The Damned would have noticed if the guitar wasn’t properly tuned.”

However, his love affair with music has been life-long. “My sister used to take me to the Gin Mill Club in Godalming. I saw Genesis there. They were like the local band because they were at Charterhouse School, so I saw them first when I was about 14 – something I was only too happy to tell Peter Gabriel about when I worked on his tours.”

After four decades in the business, one thing Bill can profess to being is one of the world’s best production managers – a fact that current employers, Coldplay, took advantage of five years ago when they persuaded him to take on the gaffer role for their Mylo Xyloto stadium tour.

“For Coldplay, we’ve all been working with them for a long time and everyone wants to push the envelope to make each show better and better.”

“I’d known Bill for years and he’s a legend, so when the position became available in our world, he was at the top of my wish list,” says the band’s manager, Dave Holmes. “Bill has a very even temperament and is never rattled by anything. He’s extremely well liked by the crew and the band and always has solutions, which is vitally important for a production manager.”

And when it comes to touring acts, there aren’t too many who are more demanding – in a positive way – than Coldplay. “They are very ambitious: I don’t think people quite understand that,” reports Bill. “They are determined to put on spectacular shows and groundbreaking tours, so it’s a pleasure to work with such creative minds.

“Coldplay have a tendency to change their minds about things at the last minute, but that’s just one of the challenges that you have to expect when working with great artists and it happens with most bands. I think it’s because a lot of acts don’t understand drawings and when they see the reality of a creative plan in the actual production, they want to change things so that it matches the expectations of their vision. It puts a lot of pressure on everyone working in the crew when that happens, but for Coldplay, we’ve all been working with them for a long time and everyone wants to push the envelope to make each show better and better.”

 


Read the rest of this feature in issue 69 of IQ Magazine


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The Gaffer 2015 – Arthur Kemish

Having just wrapped the biggest artist tour of the year – Taylor Swift’s 1989 – it’s fitting that veteran production manager Arthur Kemish is the recipient of this year’s Gaffer Award. Gordon Masson caught up with Arthur between tour dates…

As one of the very few production managers who can take on a global stadium tour, Arthur Kemish is at the top of his game. With more than 40 years in live music, Arthur is one of the most experienced production managers in the business but like many of his Gaffer Award predecessors, he confesses that luck played a significant part in his career path. “Working on tours is the only thing I’ve ever known – it’s been my life and I love it,” he says.

“The main difference with the new people coming into production is that they are a lot smarter than we ever were. But they have to be because of the high-tech gear they have to work with. They have to fix the lights or the desk on the fly a lot of the time and it’s not a problem for them. So they aspire to the job, whereas we just stumbled into it.”

“Usually the hardest thing you have to do on tour is when you switch between arenas and stadiums – which is exactly what we’ve been doing on 1989”

Working with a crew of tech-savvy professionals has been crucial to the Taylor Swift tour, which came to its eight month conclusion in Melbourne on 12 December. Talking to IQ from his second home in Maui, just prior to that final Australian leg, Arthur revealed one of the main secrets to the success of the production.

“Usually the hardest thing you have to do on tour is when you switch between arenas and stadiums – which is exactly what we’ve been doing on 1989,” he reports. “But for this tour we put in a sub-deck and then built on that, so essentially we can put on the same show no matter what size of arena or stadium we are in. Stageco builds the sub-deck, which is about a metre high and then we just put Taylor’s stage on top of that. The first time I remember seeing it done was in the 1980s on a Mötley Crüe tour with Jake Berry as production manager. It’s not new, but it’s very smart.”

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