I had to write a report about touring with the band for my church magazine (partly to explain my shoddy attendance!) But i thought i’d post it here too.. i will keep salacious details back for the novel.
It’s Stuart from the choir here. Except I’ve not been a very good choir member recently. My seat has been vacant and that’s because I’ve been touring the world with my band, Belle and Sebastian. Doreen asked if I could tell a little of what that entails, so here goes.
Now, a ‘world tour’ sounds very glamorous, and on rare occasions, it does hit the glamour mark. On the whole, however, it’s a lot of graft, a lot of travel, a lot of filling in blank time, and a lot of laughs with the band and crew.
We have been touring pretty solidly for a year now. We recorded an album in Atlanta, Georgia, in spring of 2014, and then we started our tour in the summer of 2014.
We tend to go away for trips of about 2-3 weeks, and then come back for a week, but this year there have been some longer- over 5 weeks to Australia and the Far East – and that certainly is hard on family life. I missed Marisa and Denny very much!
There are 6 of us in the band. We also employ a full time bass player and a cellist. Everywhere we go, we have a trumpeter and a four-piece string section waiting for us also.
Let me describe a typical concert day. I’ll pick one in America since we have been there 5 times in the last year!
If we are in the east coast or the south of the USA, then typically we will be on a tour bus. That means that we get on the bus after a concert, and sleep on the bus while we make our way to the next city.
We have two sleeper buses, plus a truck to take our equipment. The crew sleep on one bus, and the band on the other. This is to accommodate our large number, and also to accommodate different work times and habits of crew and band. And let me just point out, the crew bus is always much tidier and more civilised on the whole than the band bus!
So usually I roll out of my bunk at 9 or so. If the bus has arrived at the venue, I will go looking for breakfast, which is often provided by the theatre. Some of our crew will already be in the auditorium planning out the day with the local crew: a gang of guys and girls who will help us build the stage for the evening’s performance.
I will then go to work on the setlist for tonight’s show. We like to vary what we play from night to night, mostly to stop us from getting bored, but we also tailor the set to the venue we are in. For instance, if we are playing an outdoor festival set to 30000 Swedish teenagers, then you better believe we are going to try and play our most popular and upbeat songs, and try to get out alive. Playing to our own crowd in a nice theatre is different, and we can play a variety of styles, using strings and more intimate arrangements.
If it’s a theatre show, we will have a soundcheck in the afternoon. This is a technical rehearsal, for the crew as much as the band. We will often use this time to rehearse a new song, learn a ‘cover’ version for the night’s performance, or dig up an old song we haven’t done for a while.
After soundcheck, there is time for a meal and hopefully a bit of a rest until the show.
Often there is no time to look around the place you’re in. You just have to take your chance and disappear when you can. I love to wander out into the city we are in, get on a bus or a subway, get lost and pretend I actually live in a place for a while! This is especially possible on days when we don’t have a show.
I find there are certain things I like to do when I am travelling, to feel like I actually belong in the world -so I don’t just feel like a tourist all the time. They are
1. take public transport
2. go to a baseball game
3. go to a yoga/meditation class
4. go to church!
It’s perhaps a curious mix, but it works for me. Especially the last one. When you get up on stage night after night not even sure what day it is, a Sunday service is one thing that will provides an anchor to the week. And of course it is essential to remind yourself that God is God whether you are in a Baptist church in Memphis, Tennessee, or an interfaith gathering in Taiwan!
So although it’s quite an effort, and often requires a ‘leap of faith’ to embark on the whole thing year after year, I know that I will always treasure my touring days as some of my best memories.
We go to crazy lengths to take our music to faraway places, but when you find yourself up on stage in Istanbul or Sao Paulo with thousands of folk singing along, you know why you’re there!
And it sure beats working..