QueenOnline On Tour: Notes From The Road Part 1
"I would love to be involved...just for the opening show even."
That was pretty much the pitch to management to get on the plane for the Queen + Adam Lambert North American tour. There were a few other lines of personal endorsement of course and what I could offer to the jaunt, but I kept it pretty simple, 12 years on the job and you hope that you might have some credit in the bank.
"The whole tour? Ah, I would love to, but..."
Having two young kids and a wife just starting a new job a few weeks before the tour kicked off...I would have come home to an empty house. However, after a minute or so of negotiation (see or being told what was on offer), we settled on the first six shows and that I was it, I was officially 'crew'. My online position had been cemented as part of the touring team, plus, I agreed on "a few other jobs that might come up", I was in. Rock n' Roll. Have you seen 'Almost Famous'? That was I.
Two days later, I get an e-mail headed "Production Assistant: Job Spec". My role had been expanded; those "few extra jobs" were a lengthy list. Hell, I didn't care I was on the plane, and bus as it turns out. Now to tell the wife…
It was back to business of course for the next six weeks, the ‘Queen Machine’ was thundering on, the Extravaganza was touring, We Will Rock You closing, launching the Official Queen Podcast series, plans for the 2014 releases had be produced, presented and agreed, plus of course we were in the business of selling tickets for the expanding tour.
In between all that I was slowly planning 'my tour', it was all was coming together: confirming flights, setting up time to talk to Roger and Brian on the road, meeting Jil the Tour Production Coordinator, would I be able to meet a friend in Chicago? What bag I am taking? DO I need new underwear and socks? How is the childcare going to work out? I am missing Father's Day, the kids have chickenpox, the wife thinking I was heading out on some 1970s sex and drugs magical mystery tour...real stuff.
The Queen Team meeting on Wednesday 11th was great, we rattled through several projects and made some decisions and threw around some great ideas. 2014 has been and will be busy, 2015, well the fun just doesn't stop, there will be a whole lot more to enjoy as a Queen fan all being well. The imminent tour was of course discussed, I was calm, but a wry smile appeared across my face as Jim Beach packed us all off at the end of the meeting.
"Have fun Nick, see you in Chicago!"
I am finishing this off, just as I am waiting for my flight to LA from Heathrow's Terminal 3. My friend and colleague Justin Shirley-Smith, Queen's long serving sound engineer, has just chipped off to catch his earlier flight, so I am officially the last member of the crew to leave the UK for the tour. I am looking forward to hooking up with the Queen team again and finally meeting my new friends in Adam’s camp and the iHeart Radio team. You just have to keep an eye out for the Pete Malandrone chap...
I know I am lucky to do what I do, but all things I have worked on have led to this and, frankly, I can't wait. So, look out for updates and images from the road on all the Queen channels, the links are all below, blah, blah, blah, I see some images of the stage from the iHeart Radio show have leaked already, shame really, but it just adds to the thrill of it all I say. I just hope I get to watch some of the World Cup.
The 'Once In A Lifetime' Tour, it is exactly that for me too. I'm ready to rock...and to work my ass off.
Right, I am off now to wander around this shopping centre that also doubles as an airport to spend about £50 on stuff I don't really need.
QueenOnline On Tour: Notes From The Road Part 2
Touch down. Los Angeles
After an 11 hour flight, three films and two bags of Maynard's Midget Gems, I was picked up by Eric, a very cool Irish/Puerto Rican guy and within minutes we were best buddies; talking music, American history and shouting out quotes from Wayne's World and Jaws – I love Americans. I was heading straight to rehearsals, no point in mucking around I say, let's get it on.
However, before we get to the rock n’ roll, I wanted to go back to the flight for a moment, and the films I watched, they had triggered some Freddie thoughts. The Dallas Buyers Club, actually as recommended by Roger's PA Justine a few months ago, was the most obvious, with Matthew McConaughey's stunning performance as the real-life AIDS patient Ron Woodroof. Set during the same period in which Freddie had to deal with HIV/AIDS situation, it again brought home to me the work I do with the Mercury Phoenix Trust and how much has been achieved since the mid-80s. I am not going to review the film for you though, watch it yourself, have a think and then donate to us! ;)
The second film I watched was a little lighter thankfully and was called '20 Feet From Stardom' and concentrated on backing singers. It was a really great insight into a often overlooked roll and told the stories of several sensational, yet little known singers and how they found their place in the music industry, their role on records and on stage and why they didn't make it a lead vocalists. Most of the singers came from gospel backgrounds and could produce soaring vocals that were just so uplifting...you know where I am going he don't you? The Golden Boy, Somebody To Love and Let Me Live. I just kept thinking what would Freddie have produced as solo artist if he was still with us...did he have a full on gospel album in him? Freddie backed with a gospel choir...imagine the power!
I also flipped to see what the music options on the in-flight entertainment - top of the A-Z list? 'A Night At The Opera'. It's all a bit too spooky, but it does make you smile and feel that little bit proud.
Anyway back to business, sorry about that diversion! The rehearsal hangar, and yes, it is actually an aircraft hangar with a short runway, confirmed once again Queen do big, really big. The stage is at one end behind some large hanging black curtains, the images that leaked do it no justice...it's bloody HUGE. I picked up with the production team, grabbed my desk, my AAA crew pass and started to take a proper look around. I didn't get far. I stopped at catering.
Saw Brian, gave a quick hug, he said he was feeling good and that it was "all coming together" and it certainly sounded that way when I watched the run through of the iHeart Radio set, of which I can reveal there is one track they are playing that will surprise EVERYONE. I have also seen the main set list and there are a few more lovely additions to what they played in 2012. I got that 'fan' tingle again; I can't wait to see this in Chicago at the opening show in a packed arena.
I had managed to go 25 hours straight without sleep and it was time to retire, until...
"Fancy a beer back at the hotel?” Silly question.
I ended up in a bar with Justin, Pete, Nigel (RT's drum tech) and Rob and Kerry, the Welsh comedy duo from hell, watching some HUGE ice hockey game between LA and New York, it seemed to go on for an eternity, but it was very entertaining and the place exploded when LA scored the winner in overtime. For the next five minutes I found myself high 5-ing complete strangers shouting "Yeah Baby!” much to my own amusement. Only God knows what would have happened if New York had scored...
Today, Saturday, is the tech rehearsal, no band, just a basic run through, health and safety bits and prep...all quite low key, which works for me as I didn't get to bed until 1am and had to be here at 8.30 this morning.
So, 30 hours with no sleep was the final total, can I keep this up? We shall see, the buzz of rock n'roll, that's all I need right now.
QueenOnline On Tour: Notes From The Road Part 3
The taste of things to come…
Today is dress rehearsal day, the full run through of the arena show. Things just got real.
Firstly, thanks for all the feedback so far on the updates; I am not trying to be funny or clever, just throwing it all out there in the way that I see it.
Secondly, a little mention about the football. England lost, yes, but at least we played with a lot of heart and, I felt, we absolutely went for it. A bunch of us from the crew hit a very scruffy sports bar to watch the game. It was the perfect setting actually, a mix of hardened but entertaining barmaids, big screens, a rowdy atmosphere and us, a bunch of Brits providing a novelty for the locals. We left in good heart, with croaky voices and confidence after the game...I’m not sure if it was the pride in watching our young lions offering hope on the pitch or the beer if I am honest. Rock n' Roll football.
Once again it was down to the rehearsal hangar for 8.30am after being picked up by Doug one of our drivers. Doug is great, the journey in the van is only a short one, but in every journey he manages to give us all a general US news update, crack several jokes and rely about three of his rock n' roll stories in about 6 minutes, he really is quite the force of nature, but we love him. This whole circus is just full of characters and I was about to meet another...
“Nick, this is Neil.”
Neil Fairclough, the bassist for the tour, what a lovely man. What is it about Northerners from the UK? They are so damn friendly. He even admitted to reading my Notes From The Road blog, I thought he was just being nice, but he really had! Another thing about Neil is that he is so funny and entertaining, you can see why he got the gig, not only do you have to get on musically of course, but personally too. I could also hear Spike arriving outside the Production office; you ALWAYS know when Spike is in the house, a whole bunch of nonsense is normally round the corner. Not long after, Brian also popped his head in and gave us all a smile too.
Tonight we load out and lock up the stage and all that comes with it and get set for Chicago on the 19th, but before that tomorrow evening we have the our event down at the iHeart Radio Theater. This one off over in Burbank is small show for sure, but a big deal for the few hundred who are going to be in attendance, for which I am lucky to be one.
So how did the dress rehearsal go you ask? I know that is all you really want to know about. Am I going to give you any pointers of what to expect? I have already hinted at a few treats in the set list, but no, that is your lot I am afraid. Think about it though, this is a Queen show. It's big, it's bright, it's loud and packed full of soul, that’s a pretty good start don’t you think? The music is not too bad either.
See you on the road!
QueenOnline On Tour: Notes From The Road Part 4
Can you be tired, but wide-awake at the same time? I guess so, I am currently working on a cocktail of jet lag, late nights, hard work and a dash of adrenaline, it’s a confusing mix but it seems to be getting me through just now. To be honest it's only when I am switching off does any fatigue really kick in.
"Hang on, you are here in LA, about to jet off to Chicago and then tour with Queen for two weeks.” I'll sleep when I'm dead thanks.
This morning I woke up to double the excitement. We had our micro show at the iHeart Radio Theater later in the day, but my first job was to unleash the news across the Queen channels that we are releasing Live At The Rainbow '74. I have seen the reaction to the news and I am thrilled you have been so receptive. This is not the place for me to be rolling out gushing sentiment, but the whole team has been behind this release with such gusto it has been and will be a pleasure to work on. Like I have always said, my fellow colleagues and I are professionals, but also fans of great music and this just what Rainbow is. So in conclusion it looks like we have uncorked the 'non-moustache' years of the 70s live catalogue...feels good doesn't it?
Anyway, back to last night - the 'Load Out'. As soon as Roger, Brian, Adam, Spike, Neil and Rufus left the stage following their last run through of the arena show there was a swarming of the stage…one moment, name check time, Foo Fighter and band friend Taylor Hawkins was there to watch the rehearsal, I only just remembered, right, sorry lets carry on …
I kid you not, there was the sound of a marching army, a roar of 6 trucks and two cherry pickers thundering their way down the hangar towards us and the stage, and literally within minutes parts of the stage where being broken down. It is very striking to watch. That said, this in the very 'un-sexy' side of the live show that many don't see, there is lots of lifting, pushing, pulling and hard graft for which is essentially a big jigsaw puzzle that has to fit logically for load in at the other end. Impressive stuff, indeed I say. Of note, the haulage company we are using are called Truck N' Roll and are the same guys we use for the Queen Extravaganza when stateside...UK tickets on sale now folks! Queen - the masters of crossover marketing!
Today’s main event at iHeart in Burbank was fun. A little different to a regular performance as it was effectively a live TV show. It was another early start as there was much to do. My online role on this tour has been doubled up with a place in the production team so pre-show I was confirming guest lists, delivering shoes to wardrobe, finally meeting my work mates from iHeart, watching Germany smash Portugal in the World Cup, putting up signage around the venue, distributing set lists and most importantly taking silly pictures of Pete Malandrone, I tell you that mans ego is out of control.
The event went really well. The bonus for me was that it was hosted by Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe fame. I love him. Great songwriter, an engaging radio host and huge music fan, plus, I must say that album that Mötley did with John Corabi in 1994 just smokes, the best thing the Crüe ever did to my ears. Sorry, back to the action.
The room itself is half club, half TV studio with a shallow upper balcony, its pretty tiny, but isn't that where you want to see your favourite band? In the smallest place possible?
The 8-song performance was preceded by a neat little video piece that showed the iHeart Radio Festival performance from Las Vegas, rehearsal footage and Roger, Brian and Adam's recent interview with Nikki. If I am honest the show for me was a bit of a blur, it rocked past at lightening speed, plus I was nipping back and forth backstage doing a few jobs as well as tweeting the set list as it happened. I did however make sure I got stage side for the opening, Roger joining Adam on lead vocals and singing the backside out of Under Pressure (my favourite Queen song) and the finale. As for the crowd, you guys were rabid! The now famously devoted Glamberts and the feverish, loyalty of Queen fans was a potent mix. LA you should be proud of yourselves; the noise when the band hit the stage was defending. We salute you! After the show is a bit of tidy up backstage and back in the van.
It's all out there now of course, but here is the set list from tonight’s iHeart show. For those of you who did make it down or managed to watch it online, I would love to know your thoughts on Love Kills. For me it is an utter delight. It was such a nice shock to see it the set list, and how about that arrangement? I reckon we will be hearing a lot more of that track...
We Will Rock You
Another One Bites The Dust
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Fat Bottomed Girls
We Are The Champions
Don't Stop Me Now
Tomorrow, we all travel to Chicago for the big one, the opening show, why we are really here. I am hoping to hit town and catch up with some friends I have there, so you might not hear from me much tomorrow, but do you really want to know about a plane ride and what I had for dinner? I wouldn't.
"Baby, don't you want to go...Sweet Home Chicago!"
QueenOnline On Tour: Notes From The Road Part 5
Just a quick one for today.
I say that, but I do have tendency to ramble on a bit, so lets see how it goes...
Yesterday was a travel day; we were flying out of LAX to Chicago for the opening show. My first job of the day was to heard cats and make sure we had our crew downstairs in the hotel lobby at 8.00am sharp to get the bus to the airport. I need not have worried, all but one were down there 15 minutes early. They maybe a motley crew of characters, but they are good and they do it right.
The flight was pretty non-eventful; apart from the live World Cup matches you could watch on the plane! I was quite giddy with excitement when I discovered this. I love America.
Apart from that, the main topic of conversation on the bus, on the plane and as we stood around the airport was the reaction of the iHeart show from the night before. I was suddenly quite popular, as the guys were coming to me to see what the fans were saying and pointing out what parts of the show they enjoyed. This did not shock me particularly, but it was really nice to see that they really cared how the show had been greeted, even though it was just an 8 song promotional gig. I made a point of speaking to Pete and Nigel to see how the band felt it went.
"Brian was thrilled, he loved it.” said Pete. Nigel then chipped in and relayed that "Roger was up for more, he would have played on if they had let him.” Bingo, it looks like we are all set.
Chicago then, I had never been. I was meeting a family friend who spookily lived just 6 blocks from our hotel. He gave me a tour of the city by car and then later by foot and I fell instantly in love the place. It has such a great vibe, a relaxed lightness if that makes sense, a very cool mix of modern and tradition in its culture and architecture, its like the people who live here REALLY like living here and make an effort, oh, and of course, Lake Michigan, a sea in most other countries. So yes, I managed this complete analysis of this major world city in a 10 minute car ride and having only been in there for about 2 hours. Bonkers? maybe, but I am coming back here for sure, it's my kind of town, plus it has immense rock n' roll credentials.
Following dinner and stroll around Millennium Park, I bid farewell to my host and was going to slide up to my room, but was collared by a handful of the crew in the lobby, led by you guessed it...Malandrone. He is getting way too many column inches in these updates. Anyway, I am so glad I joined them because the chat was just tremendous. I am learning so much from all these guys, on what they do as part of the production and ultimately I always get round to asking them who they have worked for before, and some of the great stories that entertain me every single day are a real highlight of this trip. I have a few tales of my own of course, but I am nursery school storyteller compared to these guys.
"Metal bands? Metallica, yeah I’ve worked with those guys."
"When I'm out with Clapton..."
"Rhianna, was a HUGE production..."
"Madonna loves a great joke..."
"Chili Peppers, Radiohead, um, Pink was a fun one…”
So that was up until last night, well early this morning if I’m honest ;), and as I finish this, it is ‘pre-load in day’, before the big kick off tomorrow night. If I have time, I will try and squeeze another update in a little later, I just have to get this gold spray paint off my hands...to be continued.
QueenOnline On Tour: Notes From The Road Part 6
A small update bridging yesterday and today: Opening Night!
Yesterday was a 'Pre-load in day'. Apparently this is a treat for the crew, as they have an extra day to get ahead of themselves. For me it was all about setting up the production office and getting to know the venues. Moving tables, and chairs, setting up the wi-fi connection, doing a walk around of the United Center's vast backstage area, watching Spain tumble out the World Cup rather spectacularly, putting up signage so we all know where to go, sticking down carpets in dressing rooms and just mucking in, as well as doing my regular Queen updates, oh and getting creative with some gold spray paint for Poppy in the wardrobe department.
In the evening, amid a Chicago styled downpour I met a great friend of mine for the very first time in person. He is local music journalist who covers all the local shows here and a walking, talking encyclopedia on Bon Jovi, his knowledge is staggering, and his passion for all music unbridled. We did pizza, talked kids, went to a record store and he then gave me a tour of some of neighborhoods, highlighting all the live venues and who had played there and the stories attached. A brilliant night.
This morning we were allocated our tour buses for the rest of the run, we really are on tour now, and everything is lined up to roll.
One final thing, it has been noted on some of the comments here that I have not mentioned Adam in my updates, it is something I was aware of, but for no particular reason. I have not met Adam at this point, only witnessed him on stage in 2012, here in rehearsals and at iHeart. I am not going to enter any debate on his role here, it bores me. The guy has stepped up to tackle one of the greatest music catalogues ever and is clearly his own man, delivering the goods with brutal confidence. I am part of a team here to support him. It might sound like I am toeing the line, but the guy is good, really good and with each song he sings that I witness I just find myself nodding, cheering him and the band on from within.
Right, things to do, guest lists to sort. Enjoy tonight Chicago; we can't wait to meet you.
Adam, Brian, Roger, Spike, Neil and Rufus - good luck guys, may the force be with you.
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 7
Busy business this touring lark. Sorry for the delay in this update, I am sure your worlds didn't stop without it. Anyway, some of the reason I have not blogged was that I was dealing with all the reviews that have come in. Every cloud and all that...
The above is all you are getting from me. I am not going to review the Chicago show, it's not really my job, read the reviews they will tell you all you need to know about our stay at the United Center.
However, what I will say is that as much as I have been gushing about my time in Chicago and how it was my new favourite place, the crowd just topped off my new affection for the city. You were right there with the band, in the pocket. I know music is a huge part of this city, the artists, the venues, hell, you even have your own version of the blues, but you guys really smashed it tonight, so thank you, no really, thank you for helping us kick off this party. Rob, our Welsh front of house sound engineer, is not a bit of joker and you can't often take anything he says too seriously, but for a man who has 30+ years experience to tell you dead pan to your face TWICE, "That crowd was loud, and I mean really loud", you lot must have done something right. It looks like the gauntlet has been laid down for all those waiting to greet the band on the rest of the tour.
I really enjoyed walking through the crowd during the show and just watching so many people lose themselves in the music. I know that social media and mobile phones have changed the way people interact with live shows and call me old fashioned, but I would rather watch the show through my own eyes rather than a small screen. It’s not a criticism, more an observation and personal choice, people have paid their money and can enjoy how they wish! Yes, it is also true and I'm and fully aware that the thousands of images taken in the arena will have in some way help promote the show that Adam, Brian and Roger have brought out, but I just hope that you didn't miss some of the many beautiful moments that were there live and right in front of you, because there are many to enjoy. (Opinionated section of the blog over…haha!)
Glamberts. I had been warned.
Whilst strolling around the arena just before the show and as people were taking their seats, I was making my way down an aisle and had to politely ask a lady if I could get by, it was then when I was unmasked.
"Oh you have an accent! Are you Nick!?" Wow. That was good. Sherlock Holmes is in the house tonight.
It turns out that people were reading my updates and before me was Jill and her friends thanking me for the insight I was giving. They were lovely ladies and we got chatting about Queen, what I was up to and even family and kids. I was happy to pose for a photo and waved goodbye, only to see there was queue of people wanting to meet me and get some snaps...well, two, a nice girl and her mum who had also been following my online ramblings. Walking an inch taller and my ego nicely stroked I headed backstage as showtime was looming.
Between 8.15pm and 10.15ish a rock n' roll show took place in the United Center.
At 2.45am I boarded our bus to Winnipeg. Much sleep was attempted, I need to get used to this sleeping on a tour bus malarkey. After watching a couple World Cup games, eating mountains of crisps, sorry chips, several stops and breaking into Canada, I finally hit my hotel room at about 8pm. Bus call to the venue was 5.45am this morning, so naturally I stayed up until way past midnight do nothing in particular reducing the minutes until I had to get up...no change there, I have two kids under 4, I am used to operating on no sleep!
It's a shame I have not had a chance to get out and about here, but on the plus side I am going see a friend here who has tickets for tonight, she has helped me work on some Canadian presence for Queen’s AIDS charity the Mercury Phoenix Trust in the past couple of years, so it will great to say hi.
Right, I'm off...
"Catering is that way Rufus..."
Sorry, name drop. Oh, and here comes another, on the subject of my Adam mentions or the lack of, as some had pointed out. I've now met him and what a lovely guy too. Honestly, he's just nice, and nice people deserve good things.
So Winnipeg, shall we dance?
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 8
A comment was made on Facebook about the previous blog that I just uploaded (Part 7), and it was a fair one, that more details on the backstage arrangements, the stage and pre-show rituals would be of interest rather than my personal insights. Maybe I have fallen foul to my own press?
Just to be clear though, as I am sure most of you understand, there are certain things that I can't talk about or take photos of back here, yes, I have unprecedented access, but I also respect people's privacy, security, space and that they have jobs to do. However, with that on board I can offer up this hasty follow up...and it's proved quote a interesting one too, it's all about timing.
I am currently eating a banana so I thought this insight apt; Catering for the crew is generally self-service breakfast, lunch and dinner, sometimes breakfast can be at the hotel, but for most it is at the venue and served from about 6 - 9pm depending on the get in time for the show. The breakfast menu does not change dramatically from venue to venue; cereals, lots of fruit, a pastry selection, muffins, eggs of some description and bacon, always bacon. Lunch sees the catering room retain the cakes and fruits, plus cold meat cuts, cheese, salad bread and sides, plus a couple of hot plates, today in Winnipeg, for example, it was chilli, pulled pork, rice and fillings for nachos. Cookies and candy normally pop up as treats around this time too. Dinner can be anything really, but soup often appears as a starter, plus plenty of carbohydrates are on offer in pasta and potatoes. During the whole day you can pop in and take fruit, drinks and biscuits.
As I am writing this sound check has commenced. Adam has run over some lines from Bohemian Rhapsody with accompaniment from Spike, Brian revving up the Red Special has just followed this up and he is currently cranking out the intro to Fat Bottomed Girls. I'm popping out there to see what is going on...
Back again. The whole second stage is set up ready for a run through, Pete is tuning guitars side of stage and Neil's bass tech Steve is attending the stand up bass. In the arena the final chairs are being arranged and aisles are being swept and some attention is being given to the Q tail walkway by Stage Manager Jim and a carpenter, lights are continually flashing on and off in no particular sequence. They must have been testing the dry ice too, that or they have lifted the smoking ban.
I saw Roger in his dressing room on my way back to the Production Office and I went in to say hello having not managed to see him properly so far, we had a quick chat and both agreed on how warm the Chicago crowd was. "I hope they are all like that!" he commented.
As he does everyday, the nicest man on tour, Neil, has popped in before his soundcheck to say hi. Neil is a huge Queen fan and also used to play in a Pink Floyd tribute band. After the Chicago show we sat around briefly discussing our favourite deep cuts from the Queen catalogue. He went with 'Spread Your Wings' and I opted for 'You and I'. Both Deaky tracks funnily enough.
OK, this time I REALLY need to go, we are just under four hours from showtime and I have a guest list meeting to attend with the Tour Manager.
See you down the front Winnipeg!
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 9
Exciting news! I have a new job, 'Toweling Robe Assistant', when the band does what is known as a 'runner'. This basically means that when the band leave the venue straight from the stage, as you guys are still applauding, I have to greet a band member right behind the stage, hand them a towel, drape them with their unfolded toweling robe and show them to their waiting vehicle. It does not happen at every gig, but I have to say it was actually rather exciting when I did it after the Winnipeg show.
I was stood ready to go after ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, before the encore, and the energy at that moment is incredible, I have chills just thinking about it. The crowd was roaring and stomping away out front for more, the band are buzzing around behind the stage in a huddle, clearly full of adrenaline, security was now present and a clear avenue has been cleared towards the cars that had their motors running, as the noise in the arena soared even higher Roger shouted "OK, let's go!”, it took all of my discipline not to run out there with them! It was thrilling to be part of. ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Champions’ flew by and the next thing I know I am being told the same old jokes by Neil as we skip down the ramp towards the cars...does that man ever stop? I stand back as the rest of the guys quickly filter down, a beaming Brian whizzes by acknowledging people on the way, I give him the thumbs up, he slaps me on the arm and says "Thanks Nick!" and that's it, they are gone. That memory is a keeper, a little thing in the whole scale of this trip, but I am taking that one with me.
The show itself also stood out for me for two reasons, an addition in the set list and the fact that I was assaulted.
During the latter part of the sound check in which they ran through 'These Are The Days Of Our Lives', 'I Want It All' and 'Love Kills' the band got together and for a discussion on the stage. A few minutes later it was announced. "Set List change, can you redistribute these please?” 'Don't Stop Me Now' had been added after 'Radio Ga Ga'. Get in. For many this track is some what of good time anthem, well it is round my way and caused mayhem on the dance floor at my wedding, and it was great to see it dropped into the arena show after it brought the house down at the iHeart show in LA. I think Chicago got a tiny bit jealous... ;)
The attack: Being the professional I am, I was doing my online job side of stage and just about to take a picture of Adam above me on one of the walkways and I was groped. Full blooded backside action, a really handful was grabbed. I jumped out of my skin, remember is quite dark round the back of the stage, Glamberts I thought, and spun round with a glare ready for action, but no. All I could see was RT's drum tech Nigel running way, screaming with laughter holding Adam's gold microphone stand like a spear. A few of the crew were chuckling away and pointing at me, I even saw a couple of the audience who witnessed the ordeal give me smile. He'll keep, he'll keep.
Here we are in Saskatoon then, show number three and by this time next week I will be at home. It's been a riot so far, but hard work and long hours, but the experience has been immense so far and I have met some truly great people. Yesterday was a day off and almost the entire crew, even the non-football loving ones, and couple of Adam's team headed into town to watch the USA / Portugal match. It was good game, but the highlight for me was Rufus and the impassioned rant he gave me about his thoughts on England captain Steven Gerrard and his performances at the World Cup, I could not stop laughing. Not sure Stevie G would have been quite so amused. The bond we all have as crew grows everyday, it sounds cliché but it IS like a family and many have said that the vibe in this tour is an absolute joy. There was a lot of love in that bar...and lot of empty glasses.
I have a few ideas on forthcoming blogs including 'Bus Life' and the 'Load In/Out', so hopefully I can get to those topics shortly.
One final thing, if you are interested, my highlights of the shows so far, in no particular order, are: 'In The Lap Of The Gods', Roger and Adam smashing 'Under Pressure', 'Love Kills' on the B-stage and 'Who Wants To Live Forever' and the disco ball.
Saskatonians, let’s see what you’ve got.
Fact: Canadian musician Joni Mitchell calls Saskatoon her hometown, and funnily enough the Tour Management team here were just the other day showing off their new orange flight case that used to be owned by Joni, it has her signature scrawled all over it in massive silver print.
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 10
Late afternoon in Saskatoon. Wow, now I'm dealing in poetry and rhyme.
"I just shook Brian May's hand. How about that? Quite the deal for me, big fan, big fan." - The security guard sat outside our production office backstage.
Bless him. I get that, I really do, I STILL do. I am fan of many artists and it can still be a thrill no matter if you work in this business or not. There are plenty of people I would like to say hi too, not that I chase that kind of thing.
Roger has turned up for sound check looking pretty suave; he's wearing a black trilby. Classy. I told him so too.
He popped in a little later, pulled up a chair and we discussed the Chicago show and he asked about the reaction online to the first couple of shows. I showed him the Foo Fighter clip of them covering ‘Under Pressure’ which he liked and finally, I asked him if he was enjoying himself as he was leaving..."Oh yeah!" he grinned.
Sound check is blasting out at as I type this. It has consisted of THAT solo from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody; Brian cranking the riff to 'Stone Cold Crazy' and 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', all of these are instrumental, although Adam was with them on stage (I just popped out to see what was going on). Adam eventually then started to warm up under Spike's guidance to 'Somebody To Love', before nailing 'Don't Stop Me Now' and 'Killer Queen' with the full band. They also tinkered with a small section of 'In The Lap Of The Gods'.
OK, 'Bus Life' as promised.
It's not as bad as you think. Having said that I'm only out here for 2 and half weeks, I might feel differently after 6 weeks hammering the highways. We have 4 buses shipping us around and no, for those of who have asked, Brian, Roger and Adam do not have a bus, they fly between the dates with management and their teams.
It is important to note that as soon as the show ends at 10.15pm or so, the guys leap into action to break the show down and load out and we are normally clear and ready to hit the bus by 2.30am and travel to the next venue, so in most cases a lot of the 44 crew have pulled roughly 19 hour days. Prior to getting the bus everyone will have a shower between the hours of about 12am and the 2.30am mentioned, the venue provide the towels and the facilities, we all bring a 'day bag' which contains a change of clothes and wash bag. Most change into 'comfies'. Baggy shorts or bottoms, a fresh T-shirt, hoodie and flip-flops are pretty standard. The dirty, stinky roadie tag seems a thing of the past.
"We're a bus." That means everybody is on and lets move on out.
We have 12 bunks, two sets of six either side of the gangway in the middle of the bus, and there is a seating area at the front with a table, TVs, and the 'kitchen', with another to the rear. The sleeping arrangements all start with the most senior member of the bus picking his bunk, in our case it was Head Carpenter and fellow Essex boy Keano who got first dibs, after that it was a free for all. I have a middle bunk on the right side towards the back; I think I am over a wheel. The bunks are actually pretty comfy and you have curtain that blocks much of the light, it took a while to get used to it, but it is 'coffin-like' and after doing such long days you do sleep and well, I think the motion of the bus helps too. The longest stretch on my tenure was when we did 15 hours from Chicago to Winnipeg. Oh, and you have to sleep with your feet facing to the front for safety reasons so you don't crack you head should we brake.
First and last rule of touring on a bus. No solids in the toilet, from either end. Let's move on shall we?
The bus has a regular turn over of drinks and snacks on the bus which is called 'bus stock', this is refreshed everyday by the catering boss Pete. In the beverage department, it currently includes a selection of juices, beer and wine, plus there is a constant supply of bottles of water. Food-wise there is always bread, crisps, spreads, chocolate, fruit and cold meats to tuck into. Once again, going back to the time we all eventually look to leave the venue there will be some food specially prepared for us as we board. After the Winnipeg show it was a huge platter of sushi, once again, not the sort of image you have of a road crew, all of use stilling there with little plates, chop sticks and discussing pickled ginger and who likes wasabi and who doesn't.
Our driver is called Scott. He's a very nice man. Just thought I would give him a mention. That is about it, we all get on, we talk nonsense most of the time as most guys do, some people read, others watch TV; the World Cup being on is helping too.
Nothing to do with the bus, but I thought it worthy of inclusion. Laundry - we do, do it. We just stick it all in a bag, attach an envelope to it with $20 inside and your name on it, take it to the production office and our runner takes it away, it all comes back by the end of the day. Again, the grimy on the road image is something of a myth.
Oh and I need a haircut, I need to get to our next day off and sort it out. Get myself a 'local' trim.
The next two days will be tough, we have a 'back to back'; Saskatoon and Edmonton, that means load out, on the bus for just 4 hours, then straight into the venue for another long day, no day off in between. See you on the other side!
"Shook Brian May's hand, oh yeah." Our security guard has just told someone else of his Queen related experience, he really is dining out on this one. You can see him holding court on Christmas Day at the dinner table rolling out that tale, I bet he'll embellish it too as time goes on. "So there I was jamming with Brian...."
(Edit: I have just come back stage mid-way through the show here in Saskatoon...my goodness, what a crowd, you guys are smashing it, what a noise!)
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 11
Hello again, sorry for the radio silence, the back to back shows in Saskatoon and Edmonton were full on and then yesterday we had a much needed day off in Calgary. Many of the crew took advantage of the time off by catching up on sleep and doing a bit of shopping. It nice to see so many of us, band included, out and about enjoying the sunshine and the shops on 8th Avenue, which is the main drag for tourists like us to gravitate towards. I managed to get that hair cut too.
I took some time to catch up some e-mails and bit of work back in my hotel room for a hour or so, it's still all go elsewhere in the Queen world with the Live at The Rainbow release coming in September. I really can't wait for you all to see and hear it, I am really fond of it, but have also been measured in not delving into it too much because I still get a thrill from getting the finished product and taking it all in just like everyone else. Check out the latest trailer here.
Back to Calgary.
Poppy, who heads up wardrobe, claimed she was celebrating her "32nd" birthday yesterday, we all knew different of course, but that didn't stop several of us meeting in the hotel bar and purchasing some fancy overpriced drinks in her honour. Brian turned up too, he was in a fabulous mood, hugs and high 5s all round. Myself, Brian and the two Welsh Sound Wizards Kerry and Rob talked about how good the Edmonton show was and all of us commented on how 'up for it' the crowd were too. What was also great was how Dr. May then became the unofficial Birthday Party photographer! He was insistent on getting some great shots for Poppy's big day. I then sat at the bar with Neil and once again talked music. It really is getting a bit ridiculous now, we could chatter away for hours, days possibly, we even bumped into each other in the street earlier in the afternoon and stood there in beating sun discussing the merits of 'Hot Space' and the Rolling Stones 'Undercover' album.
You will always find Poppy's room near the band dressing rooms. She will be in there adjusting garments, fixing little bits, making sure shoes are clean, ordering laundry etc. She will always pop in to the production office (the main hub of backstage) listing little bits she needs for the runners to go out and get, for example in Edmonton she need some particular elastic and some sequins.
She also oversees the 'dressing' of the dressing rooms. With each different venue, comes a different room, so she will direct on where the furniture goes, if they need another rug to fill the space, where plants are put, if extra lighting is required maybe, replenish candles, a few shows back Adam's room needed a new kettle, that sort of thing.
During the show she will flit between the side of the stage incase of any 'wardrobe malfunctions' and the back of the stage in the ‘quick change tent’ to assist with costume changes. With Adam it is a two-person job, due to his accessories
Other points of interest include: There are 9 flight cases for wardrobe and the dressing rooms in total; Poppy has a great cleaning tip that includes vodka that I was sworn to secrecy on. The last artist she worked for was Rhianna on which she had 4 assistants due to the number of changes and garments involved in the show. Poppy carries a different print out of the set list, which includes all the wardrobe changes, obvious I know, but it was interesting to actually see it. If required she will bring in a local seamstress to help with any major repair work. Oh and she’s lovely, but she’s still not 32…
I originally started writing this entry about technical bits and bobs on the tour and load in, but it was turning out to be rather dry and it was becoming a list of facts and figures, so I changed tact to what you have above. However, it did give me an idea for my NEXT update which will be Random Facts from the Queen + Adam Lambert North American Tour...and I mean random. It will be a collection of facts and figures, things I have found out about since being on the road and a few personal tit bits, a real mish-mash, and it should be fun.
See you tonight Calgary!
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 12
As promised, 50 Random Facts from the Queen + Adam Lambert North American Tour...
Last show for me tonight...sob!
There are 13 trucks pulling the stage and backstage equipment around this tour.
The crew is made up of Brits, Americans, Canadians, one Irishman and one New Zealander.
Our Head Carpenter "Keano" was a tree surgeon in the village I am from, Writtle in Essex.
The show is shot on 5 cameras every night.
Jil our Production Coordinator used to work for Lord of The Dance Michael Flatley.
There are 285,994 light 'actions' per show - this means a movement or being on or off.
Adam sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" for his "American Idol" audition.
Pete, Head of Catering used to be Kurt Cobain's cook.
He has also gone on to cater for Dave Grohl in the Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures and Queens Of The Stone Age.
Brian has 18 Vox AC 30 Amps on the tour with him.
Rob our stage designer cycles to the venue from the hotel at every opportunity.
We seem to be following Cher and Heart around the same venues. We find traces of them at each venue.
Rufus Taylor on meeting Paul McCartney when he was tiny found it easier to call him "Beatle Guy" than remember his name.
I had to bring over Marmite, Chocolate Buttons and UK Mars Bars for some ex-pats that now live in LA.
There are 44 Crew on this tour, made up of the Production Team, Riggers, Carpenters, Lighting, Video, Audio, FX, and Backline Team.
Adam's first ever live show with Queen was at Independence Square in Kiev, in front of 300,000 people.
We have 4 buses carrying the 44 crew. 12 bunks on each bus.
The next gig for one of our lighting team, Robin, is with Oprah Winfrey.
We are carrying 36 tonnes/ 80,000Ilbs of equipment on the road.
Our printer in the Production Office is called Malcolm.
I made that last fact up.
We have 4 confetti cannons in the kit - not always used.
Neil Fairclough and I could talk about Queen and music in general for about 6 weeks non-stop.
Benji in the Lighting team also worked on the Queen Extravaganza US Tours.
There are 27 different T-shirts to chose from on the Tour Merchandise stand.
I have interviewed Rufus and Neil for the Official Queen Podcast.
I am not going to take pictures of the band member’s dressing rooms and upload them.
Carpenter Andy Bews was the drummer in early 2000s UK rock hopefuls Hundred Reasons and I once reviewed their debut album.
After show Toweling Robes - Brian: black, Roger: black, Spike: light grey: Neil and Rufus: dark blue. Adam puts on a clean T-shirt.
Leah, who works in Adam's team, used to work for the late, great Jeff Buckley.
Roger on average uses 6-8 pairs of drumsticks a night - although he has been know to use just one pair.
You can get a good haircut in Calgary. Thanks Mohammad.
On average we take 3.5 hours to load out of a venue each night.
There are over 1000 flight cases being carried on this tour. I did not count them.
I am collecting the entire set list print outs during my time here.
Before the Edmonton show the crowd performed a Mexican Wave.
This is the longest I have ever been away from my kids.
Adam's dad was a DJ at his college radio station and he played a LOT of Queen songs.
On this trek Sting's Fields of Gold is always used to test the audio equipment before sound check. The track is good for setting the PA tones.
We are carrying specialist electrical equipment that converts US power to our UK needs.
In Calgary Brian and Roger were given the "Freedom Of The City".
We use about 40 local crew at each show...and they all get a Queen + Adam Lambert T-shirt to wear and keep.
VIP and stage side seated guests are given a backstage tour before the show.
There is over 30 miles of cable used in the whole show.
There are over 1 million pixels in the main stage LED screen.
Neil only uses a pick on Under Pressure and he has used the same three picks since LA rehearsals.
The gold fans that Adam uses in Killer Queen - I spray-painted those.
Prior to sound check Brian's guitar tech Pete has been known to play 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' by The Darkness.
I had the best hot dog ever - a 'Japa Dog' - in Vancouver.
On upload of this update I have just 9 hours left on tour.
QueenOnline on Tour: Notes From The Road Part 13
"You gave me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it...I thank you all."
OK, that is going a bit far of course, but you guys actually reading my blog really did spur me on. The feedback was flattering at times and also constructive, therefore it helped me think a little more about what I was observing and what you wanted to know about. So once again, cheers guys, I think we both got something out of this.
So, as a treat, here's one for the road as it were a final peak "Behind the curtain, in the pantomime..."
Vancouver: My final day on 'Planet Queen + Adam Lambert' was pretty unspectacular. Still fun and hard work, but it was nothing out of the ordinary really, just because I was jumping ship did not change anyone else's day, we still had a show to do and that suited me just fine. I think it is OK to admit now that to start with I was not operating at 100% first thing in the morning. The Three Stooges from the backline team Messer’s Malandrone, Prior and Burchett, honorary Brit and happiest man to escape the asylum Conrad Perry, my boss and on the road big sister Jil and special guest Marcus, formerly of the Paul Rodgers camp made sure I did not forget my final free night out here in the Wild West. Oh, boy.
Despite my actual physical well being taking a little time to get kick started, my soul was a little dampened knowing my time was nearly up, but I was quickly cheered knowing I was going to see my girls again - it was only when I stopped to really think about it too, but on a show you just do and crack on. To be fair and almost contradicting myself, the day was little different in that I was showing Sammy, the new Production team member and in effect my replacement for some jobs, how my day panned out and what to do. Post up the signage, set up the wi-fi, arrange the Production office, bus rules etc, everything I had to learn quickly when I turned up in LA two and half weeks ago. I have to say it was actually rather enjoyable; everyone loves relaying knowledge don't they?
The benefit of having Sammy with me meant we got things done a little quicker and freed up a slot in my day grab "Bass Department Neil” in the Band Lounge for a quick interview for the Official Queen Podcast series. We had been trying to catch up previously, but had to rearrange on several occasions because things change on show day very quickly if the band want to work up some ideas in sound check or have meetings etc. As I have stated previously Neil and I get on very well and it was time to get our nerdy music discussions on tape. I only think I asked about 3 questions but I managed to over 30 minutes from him! Rufus was in the room too, just basically taking the rise out of Neil any opportunity.
"You can shut up, you're next matey!"
And to his credit, Taylor Junior, coolly shrugged and said, "Yeah, man, I'm in." Awesome, bonus material.
Both 'interviews' are pretty raw, but fun. Knowing the pair of them as I have come to, I just knew I did not even need a list of questions or bullet points to work from and that is how I like it. Once they have been edited slightly, you can see what I mean, it really is just blokes chatting about music...and Queen of course. It was a nice break in the routine for me and really put a smile on my face the remainder of the day as we pushed towards showtime. I also left Neil with a little challenge; I do hope he comes through...
There was of course a set list change, the dropping of 'Don't Stop Me Now'. Not my business to know why, but we adjusted the print outs and dished out the news to all the departments.
Showtime was about 10 minutes away and I had this sudden realisation that I had not said goodbye to either Roger or Brian. Knowing that we were doing a runner after the show I was not going to see them again until after the Australian leg. Ah well, an e-mail will do, I will catch up with them later. Cheers chaps, it has been a pleasure, I have learnt so much.
Vancouver were loud too. In fact every show has been pretty deafening to be honest, there really has not been much between any of you. I shot my usual side of stage photos for the social channels, but made a point of really soaking it all in and walked amongst the crowd more than normal - I really enjoyed 'I Want It All' for some reason too, always liked the song, but it stood out for me in this show, it had a real crunch. Adam? Well he is just getting better and better with each show. Somehow he finds something extra each night. It might be note, or a move, or the banter is funnier. I just don't know how he does it in those shoes! Fair play to the guy.
During the day, I had been given several manly hugs and handshakes wishing me well for my trip home, and this continued throughout the show as I bopped around backstage, Ed in the video team said something very sweet which I will keep to myself, but could only have come from a fellow parent. I liked it most when I was asked if I was "coming back" or did I "have to go?", but who wouldn't? Sorry if that sounded big headed, but everyone gets on within this crew, EVERYONE. The place is full of laughter and smiles as people go about their duties and everyone is fully bonded, I would say the same to anyone else if they were leaving. I do hope I bump into most of them again sometime down the line.
I have made some real pals while I have been out here and I cemented a couple of true friendships too and I did get a little sad as we lined up backstage that final time, for me anyway, for 'Toweling Robe Duty'. How could you not when 'We Are The Champions' is blasting out and 15,000 people are singing at the top of their lungs and swaying their arms, my national anthem followed too! Shivers time. Proper soul music.
Neil jogged towards me, took out his in-ear phones, refused the toweling robe, as he did most nights, said something stupid as he did every night and we headed to cars as normal, a big hug later it was all done with little fuss. Perfect, just how I wanted it.
"You won't see Nick again, he is off home tomorrow..."
I looked up and there was Brian with his arms out stretched walking towards me. "Nooooo! Thanks Nick, wish you were staying!" I can't really remember what else we said, but it was all good, lots of smiles, a handshake and I wished him the best for the rest of the shows. I think I then shouted "Get out of here, your car is waiting!” I THINK he laughed...haha!
"The kids? Good on you, I've got 5 of them! That's the problem, you have to bloody keep them, haha!"
Just the response I wanted from Roger as I walked with him to his car as told him I was going home to see my girls. Manly hug No.23 of the day completed and I saluted him off smiling.
Job done. God Save The Queen. Home time.
Right I’m off for good now, I have a pile of washing to do and some Vancouver battered Roger Taylor drumsticks to position somewhere in my office.
PS: I have just dropped my kids off at nursery and even one of the nursery staff was reading my updates, which was cool. Then I realised I was also stood there in a yellow Freddie Mercury T-shirt…hmm, too much?