'Friendships are tested on the road, but relationships are put through the ringer.'
So you're in a band and you're going on tour for the first time. What do you need to know to survive the next week?
As our 21 Ones To Watch for 2011 bands (see the list and read about them here) start to embark on that infamous rock endeavour, the tour, VF writer and tour veteran Giles Bidder a.k.a. acoustic punk artist Cynics, offers tour virgins some expert advice to make sure that they’re still around this time next year!
1 – Keep your van keys on you at all times. If there's a 24 carat golden rule of touring, this is it. Forget the booze and the birds, taking care of your van keys (and your van) is responsibility number one. I once made the mistake of leaving the keys on the dashboard before closing – and locking – the door. It's not the end of the world, but being stuck outside in a Plymouth car park at 4am – in winter, without coats, sharing a cigarette between five – is not fun and certainly not rock'n'roll.
2 – Keep a watchful eye on all band mates, particularly those with AWOL tendencies. It's almost inevitable that at least one band member will find their way to a stranger's bed at some stage of the tour – that's the nature of the beast. Just try to make sure you know roughly where they're going, check their phone has battery life and agree a time to meet the next morning. Otherwise you could end up losing them for half a day and missing your next gig – trust me, it happens.
3 – Hide the sharpies (permanent markers) or learn to stay awake. If you're on a low-budget tour it's likely most nights will be spent on a floor in a room full of people, most of them under the influence. Whoever falls asleep first is a prime candidate for pranks, such as all manner of permanent marker-based facial adornments. I once had to play a gig looking like Salvador Dali.
4 – Keep a bucket in the back of the van. Heavy nights + long drives = dodgy stomachs. Speeding up the M1 to make a 6pm soundcheck might not allow much time for luxury puke stops, so a bucket could be the only option. It's hardly glamorous but…welcome to touring. Come to think of it, air freshener isn't a bad idea either – puke or no puke.
5 – Book gigs in towns with leisure centres. There often won't be the option of showering where you spend the night – which could well be in the van, in a Currys car park. If there's a local leisure centre, however, you can head to the pool for a relaxing swim and a daily wash for only a couple of quid. And no, smelling like a dead animal is not part of 'the touring experience'.
6 – Do push your luck. Gigs in towns where you don't know anyone can be pretty quiet – and no punters equals no payment. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt to ask the promoter for a bit of petrol money, or at the very least a few beers for your trouble. Admittedly, with some promoters this might be like appealing to Vlad the Impaler for clemency, but many will do their best to help you out.
7 – …but don't push it too much. If you're supporting a known band who have a hefty rider of food and booze in their dressing room, ignore any burning sense of injustice and hold back the Robin Hood urges. It'll only lead to arguments – which you will lose – and potential blacklisting by promoters, venues and the band itself (who, if they like you and you play your cards right, might invite you to play with them again in the future).
8 – Don't bring your girlfriend or boyfriend. What may seem like a good idea at the time often spirals into bickering, tantrums and high-octane blow-ups – between you and the band, the band and your partner, and often between the supposedly happy couple themselves. Friendships are tested on the road, but relationships are put through the ringer.
9 – Do take a camera. It might sound obvious, but it's surprising how many musicians forget to squeeze a point-and-shoot into their skinny jeans. So much of the bliss/burden passes as a haze – both due to inebriation and the strange intensity of the experience – and you'll easily forget the small things that made you fall over laughing/crying if you're lacking photographic evidence. A case in point: if we hadn't taken a photograph of it, I probably would have forgotten that one particular drunken stupor resulted in me getting a tattoo of a, er, thin blue line on the underside of my arm, virtually out of view near my armpit. I'm not proud, but at least I know it happened.
10 – Don't complain. You may miss your girlfriend, your gran, your Xbox and whatever else, but you've made the decision to spend a week or more in a van with five other smelly, drunk musicians, so deal with it.
For more on Giles' musical exploits, visit www.myspace.com/ihatecynics.
To check out the bands set to light up festival stages up and down the country, head to our Ones To Watch page.