Article by James McDuff
Touring and sharing small, intimate spaces with people you don’t like being intimate with is tough. Hi, I’m James, guitarist to a rock-band extraordinaire that our lawyers have wisely advised under no circumstance should be affiliated with my writing and all names changed to protect the innocent. Want to know the highs and lows of touring with a top-notch, moderately successful rock outfit? Then follow me into the realms of my band’s underbelly. The belly of the beast. The belly of Rock and Satan.
I joined the band about four years ago, having lived with its creative force eight years back when I was a student—we have since toured select parts of the UK, and most importantly, released an album which, speaking entirely objectively, was the best album of that year; promoting it brought us to Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh.
This is what a touring cycle will do to you; health is abandoned, books are unread, staring out the window is commonplace. The head-honcho of the band opted for sensible travel arrangements, four days in Edinburgh with his girlfriend and no worries. The rest of us decided the opposite would suit better: charging our good friend and drummer with the responsibility of renting a camper van. They say the best journeys are those that are unplanned. We chose to roll the die with Death in a camper van from a Polish company (that we shall name Wonderland Camper Vans) for the price of $100 a day for five days.
I will not speak ill of the Polish for the rest of this article, but suffice to say, them’s some sneaky voodoo-bastard bitches.
Before our drummer (who was also our driver) turned up, I was preparing myself for a lush trip—I thought the van would have individual bedrooms, perhaps en suite, and I proceeded to pack my lunches with the same delicacy my mother would so many years ago, staring out the kitchen window at her adored son playing tic-tac-toe on the pavement while trying not to mingle with the bigger kids.
And getting mad pussy.
Our drummer had said it was a six-berth, which once I stepped into the van I associated with the pain of spreading one’s legs and forcing a bowling ball out from the vagina. He said it would have a shower, a kitchen and a fridge, but what he actually meant was a bidet that leaked antiseptic fluid, a counter and a cooling unit that could only function when the engine was running, so the nights we slept or all of the hours we weren’t driving contributed to the gradual cultivation of herpes on all of my freshly prepared tuna-fish and salad-cream sandwiches.
When we first got into the camper van, the handle to the door snapped off—this was our first warning sign, but something we foolishly brushed aside as I’m sure Israel did when Hitler first came to power. I also thought I’d be Xboxing all the way to Edinburgh, but it turns out that legally you can’t sit on beds in a moving vehicle, and Polish fucking voltages don’t comply with UK gaming consoles.
Goddamn bastard-voodoo bitches, man.
More hilarious still, our vocalist asked our drummer before setting off whether we needed any extra duvets, so as to "cover the gear" we had in the van’s hold, and so our sleeping arrangement of three small duvets for two double beds and one single (I say single, it was more a table that would convert into a much smaller table that you would cling on to for dear life) became a lesson in suppressing sexual dreams once lights out.
Because of the weight of two amp heads, three guitars, drums, recording equipment, and five people (a reserve driver included) we soon found that the vehicle struggled with anything heavier than a spare wheel, especially when going uphill. The walls would rattle, and we would look as nervous as the Enterprise’s crew going into warp drive with a defunct reactor core. Thankfully, once we got out onto the open road we were good, even though the bass player and I had yet to solve the problem of our very slack seat-belts—should the van have halted suddenly, amputations were in the cards.
Our travel patterns were set in concrete within an hour of departure with a pit stop and a McDonald’s; our ratio was 50/50 travel/rest. My sandwiches and Moroccan lentil dish was due to go fungal over the next five days so I went through the seven stages of grief and joined the crew in eating shit food. This is what a touring cycle will do to you; health is abandoned, books are unread, staring out the window is commonplace, and not showering for a good couple of days is taken to the extreme that all water is Holy water.
Our first night over at a rest stop went fine, since after discovering that we had parked in the wrong zone and our fee was a hefty one, we found out that they couldn’t stop us from leaving without paying. They merely had faith in the goodness of people, so we said "fuck it, we have Polish plates," drew little moustaches on our faces, and drove by the parking lot’s security cameras with our middle fingers raised high and proud from the windows. This was the most rock and roll thing we’ve ever done, and will most likely ever do.
We finally got to our destination having shat our pants at our driver’s gradual descent into madness—sleep deprivation and energy drinks all of a sudden made "Elgenfoot" funny enough to laugh at the floor with the lives of five other people in his hands, the relationship between the steering wheel and the road forgotten for the great jokes his shoes were telling him. A warning to bands touring by road: always have a reserve driver, even if he is an android sent from the future by your drummer’s parents.
Our first gig went down smoothly, so we celebrated the nightlife of Edinburgh where black people walk noticeably more on edge than they do in the more liberal South; drunk Scotsmen did not deter our drummer from parodying the city’s dialect by talking like a Liverpudlian and prancing like Ted Levine at the end of Silence of the Lambs.
We lost our vocalist at some point, somewhere, despaired (the guys will tell you I cried for him but that’s a load of bullshit—more like laughed at him sucking dick to get home), found him again, woke up the next day, took in the town as tourists, and I will say this, if you have the chance to visit the places you play in during your downtime, touring in a band is an absolute luxury, despite the genital rashes and Chris’ penis brushing my nose while we slept at odd-ends. Whatever the author Irvine Welsh may think of the city (going by the film Filth), I was truly enamoured by Edinburgh.
Not so much at night-time on a Friday though when we had drunks clambering all over the camper van, but that sealed our stay in Scotland’s capital, a sublime final lager at the local brewery, the next morning coffee and growing tensions, depleting energy levels AND YOUR COCK TOUCHED MY FACE WHILE I WAS SLEEPING, CHRIS! while our fifth band member warmed his toes and marshmallows by his hotel room’s fireplace. His trouble-free stay culminated in another night comforted by linen sheets while ours was a two-day return trip in the rickety camper van that just then decided to loosen its bowels and shit all over our parade.
The toilet blew out, the septic tank (which had not been emptied in four days) leaked, our clutch went, and we were forced to pull over outside of Birmingham. While awaiting our rescue team (the owner of Wonderland Camper Vans drove out to meet us with a replacement van—suspect much?), we thought it would be a good idea to gloss over the terms and conditions of our contract, which we discovered to be in such broken English that it would fail to hold up in any court of law. There was something about removing the hair, teeth, and nails first and then adding lots of lye, but otherwise, "If break-down van should electricity work not my problem."
So the guys ransacked the contraband Polish DVDs that came with the camper van and relaxed while I stood on the edge of the highway in the middle of the night and tried emptying the septic tank. This is done exactly like sucking gasoline out of a car.
Delicious like all the colors of the rainbow.
Our saviour, so to put him, after numerous phone calls, turned up just as we were about to be towed away, his partner in crime quickly filling the broke-down engine with vegetable oil and taking off in a trail of industrial smog. None of us knew if he would ever make it back alive, and I don’t think any of us cared, least of all the friend he had come with. So we were driven back to our drummer’s house where linens, cold pizza, and beer awaited with stories to tell.
I have omitted a fair deal—the drugs, the prostitutes, our absurd demands for unicolored M&Ms—because we are actually a Christian rock band and must keep this on the DL in case Jesus finds out, but the excursion will remain one of the fondest memories of my life. Everything that could go wrong did, and it all happened so bleeding perfectly.