Touring over on the continent has always been enormously rewarding, particularly if you’re used to playing the UK! I’ve been doing it for 15 years and there has always been a vibrant scene over there for blues rock music. I mainly tour in Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Austria although I do venture out to other countries whenever we can make the routing work. Living in the UK, we always drive out taking the ferry to France. Driving over there is quite a heavy slog and normally takes a full day of non stop travelling, but once we’re there it’s worth it. It means we have our own backline and don’t have to worry about flight restrictions on weight etc and hiring equipment over there. We don’t carry PA equipment as that is provided by the venues so we can literally load up the van with whatever we want. There are normally five of us on tour – four musicians and one tour manager and we travel around in a Mercedes Sprinter which has been converted inside. Whilst the very back of it is partitioned off for the gear, the front is nice and cosy with recliners and DVD surround sound! It really does make a difference to have something comfortable to travel in – on a 3 week tour we can easily cover in excess of 3,000 miles!
Touring in Europe, the first thing you notice when you arrive is the hospitality. The clubs and promoters out there really do make you feel welcome – there’s always a nice cold buffet waiting for you with a fridge full of whatever drink you could want! Don’t be fooled into thinking this is your evening meal though, they also give you a full cooked meal prior to the gig. They normally take you to a local restaurant where your choice is anything from the menu. The venues are really cool too, on a tour we play a mixture of sizes with capacities ranging from around 150 to 600 people. The size doesn’t really make a difference though to how enjoyable the gig is – each one has its own charm. Most of them are done out with a theme specific idea that really creates an atmosphere and sets the scene for live music. There’s one in Germany called the Blues Garage. It’s located on an industrial estate and from the outside it looks like any other lockup, but open the door and you literally step into another world. Henry, the guy who runs it has spent plenty of time (and money!) creating this place with a heavy American theme. The front of the stage actually sits on an old Cadillac! The whole place is literally packed with memorabilia: life size statues of The Blues Brothers, huge paintings of Hendrix etc, old valve radios strewn about…. Old sofas, guitars coming out of the wall…. In fact the mixing desk also sits on the front of an old Cadillac which is jutting out of the second floor facing the stage! You really do have to see this place to get the full effect but you would never find anything like it in the UK. Although like many clubs out there it’s tucked away, it’s well known to fans of blues rock and it rarely has less than 350 people. Typical of audiences out there, they are up for it as soon as you step on stage. These guys just know how to let go and enjoy every minute of the music. There’s no ‘warming up’ period, they’re with you from the first note!
Accommodation on a tour is taken care of by the venues – normally a hotel local to the venue and once out there the tour quickly gets into a flow from day to day. A typical schedule would be arriving at a venue for around 5pm. We’ll have probably driven a few hours by then so as soon as we get there we’ll have a bite to eat and a drink before loading in all the equipment – they normally help with this too! Once the gear is set up we normally get going with sound check around 6pm and this can take anywhere from half an hour to over an hour depending on the venue. The sound systems in the venues are normally top notch and the standard of house engineer is also very high too. Once we’ve got that out of the way we’ll head somewhere for dinner around 7. We normally go on stage about 9pm so once we’ve finished with dinner it’s off to check into the hotel and take a well needed shower before showtime. Most venues like us to do two sets of around 45 minutes with a break. This gives them a chance to sell beer (very popular!) and us a chance to sell merchandise which normally goes like hot cakes! The second set always goes way over and it’s rare that we play for less than 2 hours in total. A lot of these clubs have late curfews so time is never a problem here!
Once off stage it’s over to the merchandising area to sign and mingle, normally with a beer or two! Again, their hospitality is first class – anything you want to drink in any quantity!! This would never happen in the UK… Unless they were billing you for it! Of course the inevitable pack down and load out at the end of the night is never something we rush into, it’s rare we’re out of a venue before 1 am. By the time we hit the hotel it’ll be getting on for 2 o clock by now so getting up as late as possible for breakfast is the key! Most hotels don’t serve past 10am so it’s normally a choice between more sleep and getting something to eat! Checkout is normally noon so once everyone has dragged themselves down we’ll be on the road to the next city. Making sure we have a show every day means sometimes we have long drives between venues but on days where it isn’t too far we’ll go to the hotel first and check in before heading to the venue. This whole cycle basically goes round and round on show days which normally amounts to six or seven in a row before we’ll stop for a day off. Days off are normally spent sleeping, as by this point we’re pretty worn out!
Three weeks spent doing this is normally the limit for me as by that point I’m pretty fried and missing my home comforts! These tours are always tremendous fun though and touring over there twice a year alternating the territories means we rarely play to anything less than packed or sold out venues.
Of course coming back to the UK and playing here is a very different experience! I’ve been playing the UK even longer than Europe so I have built up a good loyal fan base over the years and have got used to the different mentalities. The main thing that hits you when you return from overseas is the difference in hospitality and the venues, particularly with the way they’re run. The venues are less flamboyant and the audiences are typically more reserved but that’s just the English way – they’re still having a great time, they’re just not quite as vocal! As long as you’re aware of this and are prepared to pay for a coffee or a pint and a bag of crisps at the bar then you’re fine! Asking for a hot meal is normally out of the question so we normally look after ourselves on that score 😉 You gotta love the English way though!
So… That’s what touring is like! I absolutely love doing this and wouldn’t change a thing! Every night I get to play my own music to a crowd of loyal fans and I come off stage buzzing. Into the bargain, this is my job so life really couldn’t be better!! I couldn’t do it without all the venues, promoters, crews and fans out there supporting live music so thanks to you all for keeping me and all the other bands out there on the road, doing what we love doing! Cheers!
– Aynsley Lister