From time to time I get asked questions about what goes on when you get asked to tour. Here are some of them.
When do you start preparation for a tour?
You would expect to start planning 12 months in advance of your first show. The main reason for this is the availability of venues. If you plan to tour Europe and the USA, promoters need to be booked and they will need to start publicity for shows very early. I’ve had as little as a few weeks to prepare, even days if you have to fill in for a musician who has pulled out. Before the tour you are expected to make yourself available for various media, promoting an artist’s single or album.
Rehearsals go through different stages. Songs will be chosen six to 12 months in advance, generally when an artist has a new album to tour. Your first rehearsals start four weeks before the first show, and once the rehearsal studio has been booked, the rhythm section, guitars, backing vocalists and keyboards would be expected to rehearse every day. This time is spent working on basic song structure, new songs, and joining songs together. You’ll work on ideas for the show, such as acoustic sections, and dance choreography. After this, extra musicians and onstage personnel will start post-production rehearsals about three weeks before D-Day. In the final two weeks, the show is put together with every musician present. You run the show again and again until everything is memorised and tight.
Who is at the rehearsal?
Most of the time the main artist is present, but not always singing: sometimes they are just listening. This is particularly hard because you have to play some songs – and sometimes the whole set – without vocals. That is a real test of memory because you take so many musical cues from vocals. The management also pop in from time to time to see where all the money is being spent.
What has been your best musical experience?
It’s a great feeling putting a show together and then going on to perform all the hard work you have put in. My favourite would have to be Nik Kershaw. He is a pleasure to work with and it’s always a kick-ass band. All the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with have been great.
Any negative experiences?
If it can be called a negative, it would be getting called at the last minute to do a major tour for a musician who can’t make the initial shows. This involves a lot of work and you feel rushed. You always need to be better than the dep and do everything like the other guy. The upside is that you can charge a lot more.
Having travelled overnight from a show to the next city we arrived at our hotel around 5am, so we all got out of our bunks on the bus and headed for reception to get our room keys. After a brief goodnight, I made my way to my room, but I had an uneasy feeling about something. At breakfast, people were asking if anyone had seen the keyboard player: no one had seen him since the journey after the show. We discovered that he had been trapped on the tour bus all night. He tried shouting to get our attention but it was useless. He then tried calling everyone including the tour manager, but we were either unconscious or had our phones off. Needless to say that was it for the keyboard player all tour: he couldn’t go anywhere without some reference to the tour bus. The thought of being alone on a great big bus with 20 bunks, two lounges, a kitchen, and no one about is rather like in The Shining when Jack Nicholson is all alone in that haunted hotel.
Paul Geary attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musician’s Institute of Technology. He has played with artists including George Michael and Westlife. He also heads up the Academy Of Contemporary Music’s bass school.