Thursday, 16 October 2008

Sex, Toast and Rock & Roll

I've dipped my toe in the various pools of the music industry. I admit I'm no major player - I've got nothing on the guy who removes brown M&Ms for Van Halen, or the Photoshop genius who edits Lady Gaga's dick out of every publicity pic - but I've done enough to know that it's a pretty nutty business.

Your first look at a tour rider is enough to make you realise this. Divas run amok. From stadium-touring girl groups to the grimmest black metal bands, musicians are ready to flip without warning if their dressing room is found to be without the vegan-friendly, wheat-free, gluten-free, Fair Trade lettuce that they asked for.

The funniest example I've ever heard of balls-to-the-wall craziness involved a certain mega rock band who for legal reasons, will not be named. Suffice to say they are smashing, pumpkins.

A chap I know, who we'll call Jim not so much to protect his identity as through a long-held desire of mine to write a story that required a name change, has a job driving vans at Reading & Leeds Festival every year. I was surprised to learn this, not least because he looks 11 years old, which last time I checked is not old enough even to own a provisional.

Bands arrive and get driven around the huge site by Jim, for which he gets a free ticket and camping. I begrudge him this, because I or anyone else at the festival could quite easily perform this simple task in order to get a free ticket. I'd probably struggle after the daily crate of cheap cider I consume, but I'm pretty sure I could do it without fatalities. (I don't actually have a driving licence, although I do have all gold cups on Mario Kart 64, including the Mirror Mode ones)

So one time, Jim is happily driving this particular rock band around site, and is given the fairly major task of ferrying them to stage for their headline performance in front of 80,000 fans. Having done so successfully, presumably navigating a course of lost and drunk students along the way, Jim arrives backstage with the band in one piece. He smiles, switches the engine off, and there's a silence which would normally be punctuated by the band saying their "Thank yous" and stepping out.

Suddenly, frontman Billy says to Jim: "Eat this bit of toast."

Jim, momentarily confused and fairly certain that 'What to do if a headline act offers you breakfast' wasn't covered in the short Dos and Dont's speech that the festival representative gave the crew on Friday morning, manages to quickly regain composure. Flying solo without prior toast-based guidance, he swiftly thinks on his feet and replies: "No thank you."

Strangely persistent, Billy says again: "Eat this bit of toast."

Jim replies: "No thank you, I'm not hungry."

There's a shift in the mood of the van. Suddenly there's a tension. Billy seems offended, then irately and with deadly seriousness utters the immortal line: "Eat this bit of toast or we are not going on stage."

And with that, Jim accepts the toast and forces himself to eat it, secretly knowing that his action and his action alone is responsible for the headliners taking to the stage that night. He bravely shoulders the responsibility and refuses to disappoint 80,000 anxious fans, consuming the toasted bread. The band went on to play a hits-packed set to rave reviews that night, their first UK festival appearance of the decade.

And I just want you all to know that we have Jim to thank for that.

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