Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Unsung heroes of rock’n’roll life can tell a story or two

I’m not sure where to begin. So I’ll begin at the beginning as I try to navigate a subject that’s filled with all sorts of hazards. The subject is this: roadies.

Grumpy Dave never knew that he’d been set up by his mates...

Love them or love them, they are the backbone of any rock’n’roll tour. The guys who drive the trucks, set the stage, tune the guitars, and make it all happen are the forgotten heroes of any live music experience. Without them, the pampered stars who receive the praise would be cast adrift. They’d sound wonky, look like they’d just got up and their gigs would fall apart like a delicate chocolate sphere under a hot trickle of warmed passion fruit sauce. Or something.

My mate’s a roadie. He knows where the bodies are buried. He’s the see-all-but-say-nothing figure who’s spent 40 years touring and has more stories than a children’s library. He’s seen household names at their most tired, their most vulnerable and their most strung-out. And he’s as likely to spill the beans on any of that schizzle as Frank Bruno is likely to lead on a flower-arranging class. Which is to say, he never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, will.

And so, when we hang out, he offers the occasional glimpse of what went down, but it’s never anything more than a mirage. It’s a shimmering apparition, like hot air rising over tarmacadam on the hottest day. The facts are never clear. It’s just an illusion.

It’s a different matter, however, when it comes to the conduct of the crew. Then, nothing’s off the table. Everything’s up for grabs. And, of course, most of the stories are unprintable.

There are some, however, that while not being entirely wholesome are just about clean enough for a respectable family newspaper. Like the one about Grumpy Dave, the 50-something roadie, who’d spent a lifetime on the road and became less and less happy as the ardour of travelling, always being third best, and being mildly abused by fans took its toll.

And so, during a visit to Eastern Europe, his fellow roadies decided to do something to cheer him up. They paid a lady whose services were for hire to meet him in a bar and tell him he was the best thing since sliced bread.

And so, on the appointed evening, the lady turned up at the hotel bar, made a beeline for Grumpy Dave, draped herself across his malodorous shoulder and started to tell him he was the most interesting, best-looking, and damned nicest guy in the whole wide world.

The tour ended, soon after, the crew went their separate ways. On the next leg of the tour, Grumpy Dave was nowhere to be seen. He’d been replaced and his mates asked what had happened. He’d become uncontactable.

And so someone went to his hometown and found the pub in which he usually hung out. And there he was, with the lady he’d met somewhere in Eastern Europe, sitting in a corner. They were both wearing wedding bands. Grumpy Dave never knew that he’d been set up by his mates, just to cheer him up – instead, he fell hook, line and sinker and proposed to the woman shortly after meeting her, before setting up home and ditching his job as a roadie.

Another story also involves ladies whose services are for hire. I know, there’s a theme here.

My mate landed in Ukraine for a show. They went back to the crew hotel, where a concierge whispered in his ear: ‘Whatever you want – anything – we can get it. Just tell me.’

My mate went back to his room and wondered what he’d like most of all. Should he live out his sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll fantasies in downtown Kyiv?

He went back to the concierge and asked how much it would cost to ‘hire’ one of the ladies he’d been told about. ‘£30, for 12 hours.’

Great, he thought. He hired. The lady arrived in his room, dressed to the nines.

‘This is a funny question,’ he said. ‘But do you have a washing machine and an iron? I’ve been on the road for two months and not been able to wash my T-shirts.’ It was an easy night’s work for her – and my mate got his undies cleaned for less than the dry cleaners would have charged.

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