No Sleep til Roskilde
A MADE UP TRUE SHORT STORY
Story cover design Matt Law
It’s summer 1996 in London. A certain international football tournament has reached the semi final stage, Britpop is about to hit it’s sell-by-date and a new pop band is waiting in the wings with a single called ‘Wannabe’. Horace is on the verge of his 27th birthday, his band are on the verge of splitting up and he is doing a pointless admin job in a Soho picture library. But then the phone rings and he gets an offer he can’t refuse.
Or read below…
No Sleep til Roskilde
Things weren’t going according to plan with the band. I had given rock stardom a good shot, but now, on the verge of my 27th birthday, and knowing this was the age most of my musical heroes had popped their clogs, it was time to smell the coffee, or maybe it was more appropriate to say, face the music.
I needed a plan B. The trouble was I didn’t have one.
To pay the rent, I found some temporary work at Marshall Cavendish, a magazine publisher on Wardour Street in Soho. I was temporarily employed in their picture library as an admin assistant on a cheap and grubby serial killer magazine called Murder in Mind. Although this was not quite how I had envisaged things, it was a cushy number – there was hardly anything for me to do, long lunches were compulsory and everyone had a sideline.
One day the phone on my desk rang. I picked up. The voice at the other end of the line belonged to someone with a northern accent I didn’t recognise.
“Is that Horace?”
How did this person know my old nickname? Since leaving my previous job as a vinyl mis-filer at Selectadisc, a record store where I had somewhat unfairly earned the nickname ‘Half a job Horace’, I had left Horace behind. I no longer knew who he was.
“Formerly known as….” I said.
“Alright, Horace. It’s James Endeacott here, manager of the Tindersticks.”
“Oh right, hello.”
I sat up straight. Why was the manager of the Tindersticks ringing me? The Tindersticks were a six-piece band from Nottingham who had recently got Melody Maker’s album of the year and were now wowing crowds across Europe. I was a big fan and half-knew a couple of the band members, as they had also previously worked at Selectadisc. That explained how he had known my nickname.
“You got a driving licence, Horace?”
“I do.” I decided not to mention that I also had three penalty points for once parking on a pedestrian crossing. That was a whole other story and not my fault. Plus, it was a Sunday.
“OK, good, we got a couple of shows coming up and we need someone to drive the band’s gear.”
“Er… yes… sure… when is it?
“This Thursday… we’ve got a theatre show in France, and then we need to get them to the Roskilde festival in Denmark. It’ll be four days. Is £300 a day ok?”
I wanted to get this straight. The manager of the Tindersticks wanted to pay me to go with the band to France and Denmark. Did the Pope shit in the woods?
“Is a bear catholic?” I answered. “Yes, definitely.”
“Great stuff. OK, you got to be at their studio in Old Street on Thursday morning at 6 am. Don’t be late as you need to get the 10 am ferry. We can give you more details when you arrive. But we got you for four days after that?”
“And you know how to tune a guitar, Horace?”
I answered that I could, although it wouldn’t be my chosen specialist subject.
“OK, might need you to guitar-tech too.”
“Er…right, yeah, OK,” I said.
He gave me the studio address and we said our goodbyes. I put the phone down in something of a daze. I was off on a European beano for four days and would earn more than I did in a month at Marshall Cavendish.
I could sense my line manager Ange glaring at me, so I pretended to do some work, but there was nothing to do. It didn’t matter anyway; I would be out of here soon. This trip was the start of something. A sideline in tour managing! If I could reel in one of these each month, I could quit the day job, see the world and maybe focus on writing that award-winning sitcom. It was a win-win-win. Getting a few days off would be a formality; if not, I would throw a sicky. I had plenty of spare grandparents.
The Wednesday before my departure was the small matter of the Euro 96 football semi-final, England v Germany. Deluded excitement was sweeping the country about England’s chances of winning the tournament following victory over Scotland with Paul Gascoigne’s wonder goal and dentist chair celebration and then a 4:1 dismantling of one of the tournament favourites, Holland. England manager Terry ‘El Tel’ Venables’s team were going to lift their first trophy since their 1966 World Cup victory 30 years before. Fate was in the air, as were fluttering St George flags everywhere – draped from windows and attached to cars as the sun shone continuously.
And a new England football song had captured this giddy excitement. ‘Three Lions’ was a darn catchy slice of indie pop, courtesy of the Lightening Seeds and comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. It was an odd pairing, but their lyrics perfectly articulated every England fan’s desire to lift the trophy, with a ridiculously infectious chorus of ‘It’s coming home’. Football songs were typically crap, but this tune – plus New Order’s 1990 anthem ‘World in Motion’ and the infamous John Barnes rap – had bucked that trend.
My venue to watch the game was Quinn’s, a notorious Camden boozer and late-night drinking establishment on KentishTown Road. It was run by octogenarians Ma and Pa Quinn and their three sons, and was the Mecca for all those still thirsty at 11 pm. As the last order bell rang in pubs across Camden, someone would pop the fatal question “Quinns?” and everyone knew it was either time to go home and save yourself a hangover or a pilgrimage to this slightly scary drinking den of iniquity.
But Quinn’s was also the best place for watching football – lots of big screens and tables to secure a good vantage point and discuss tactics. Was it really coming home? Lurking on the horizon was the spectre of penalties and the Germans. But England had home advantage, and they also had Gazza. So, yes, it was coming home! Getting past the Germans would be a formality. Then I had four days swanning around Europe with the Tindersticks before my return on Sunday to see England in the final. And then it was my 27th birthday the next day. Football, rock ’n’ roll tour, football, birthday. Funny how life could magically click into place sometimes. I just needed to ensure I didn’t get too bladdered watching the game because it was an early start the next morning. But then again, I was driving a van. How hard could that be?
But as my alarm rang stupidly early at 5 am on Thursday morning, I felt no excitement about my four-day trip, only severe dehydration and a pounding head. Why had I watched the game in Quinn’s? And why had I agreed to that final cleansing ale at 1 am? And why on earth drink Furstenberg, a German wheat beer? One pint was lethal, but how many had I consumed? I dared not know the answer. All I knew was that Furstenberg should be banned.
I drank some water and necked some ibuprofen, but things felt decidedly shaky as I left my flat on Delancey Street and walked to Camden tube. I took the Northern Line southbound, feeling very nauseous as images from the match popped into my head, Shearer’s opener, Gazza’s outstretched leg in the final seconds as the ball agonisingly scooted past the post, so close but yet so far. And then that Gareth Southgate penalty miss. He would feel terrible today, but not as bad as me right now. I shuddered. Oh, to have a leisurely day doing nothing in a picture library. But no, I had to drive to France. Why did I agree to this trip? And why go to Quinn’s? Bloody Quinns. And bloody Germans.
I emerged at Old Street and followed directions to the Tindersticks rehearsal studios through a maze of little backstreets bordering the city. London was quiet and the roads were empty, which was a blessing. I saw the silhouettes of two men waiting outside my destination. It would be the two road crew, or ‘roadies’ from Nottingham – one was a guitar tech and the other the lighting engineer. I had never met them before. Both had shaved heads. I resisted the urge to do a quick casual vomit.
“You’re late, Horace.”
Was I? Only by a minute or two.
“It’s ten past six. Don’t be late again.”
God! They were a bit uptight. I thought about attempting a half-hearted joke about how in London, ten minutes was considered fashionable, but instinctively I knew this would be of the lead balloon variety. Plus, I had lost the power of speech.
The roadie spoke. “Right, we need to crack on and load up the van.”
“Yes, let’s get crack on,” said the lighting engineer..
I hated the term ‘crack on’ at the best of times, but it really jarred now. I had been hoping for a cup of tea to lubricate the joints, but there seemed no time for that. Instead, we embarked on a military-style operation to load up the van. But to my surprise and horror, this was no bog standard transit van; it was a big articulated lorry. I had never driven one of these before, and it seemed excessively big. But, as we started loading up, it was clear they needed a vehicle this large as they had a lot of gear – drums, keyboards, pianos, amps. In total, there were 25 heavy flight cases to load up. Some of them were a three-man job to lift. After about half an hour, we were ready to go, but time was becoming of the essence. And, there was still no sign of a cup of char.
I was handed a bunch of keys.
“You know your way to the ferry port, Horace?”
“Er, yes,” I lied.
They eyed me suspiciously. Being from Nottingham, they didn’t know the streets of London. Their fate was in my hands. And my hands were trembling.
Luckily, the ibuprofen had kicked in and I had sweated out some of the toxins with all the heavy lifting, but I was in no way fit to drive.
“Which ferry port is it again?” I asked.
“Dover, Horace! You should know that.”
“You know your way to Dover, Horace? ’Cause we haven’t got long. And it’s the only ferry.”
“Um, sure,” I lied again.
It hadn’t occurred to me to bring an A to Z, but fortunately I had made the journey down to East Sussex to see my parents many times via the Blackwall Tunnel, so it was just a case of following the same route and then taking a left at some point. No doubt signs would point us on from there. Given the situation, it was quite a high-risk strategy, but it was the only one I had.
My two companions jumped in the passenger side, and I climbed up the steps into the driver’s seat. It was high off the ground, making me feel more giddy than I already was; the pressure was on. I had not driven a massive articulated lorry like this before. And I wasn’t exactly sure where the keys went, how the gears worked and which were the indicators. Neither of the roadies were that smiley or chatty either. Not very encouraging. More shouty types. I responded much better to gentle cajoling and cuddles. It was early, and maybe they weren’t here to make chums, so I decided to focus on the task at hand.
I just needed to get onto Old Street and then I would know my way. But getting to Old Street was more complicated than it seemed. I knew it was over to the left. I could even hear the traffic, but we were in a maze of back streets and, in London, just because a road turned left didn’t mean you were headed left – the road might quickly turn back on itself. And I couldn’t ask the two roadies because (1) they wouldn’t know, (2) they were eying me suspiciously.
The only answer was to wing it.
After several false starts, I crunched the gears and we pulled off. My focus was total. Not only on how to operate this beast but also on where I was going. This was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Not that I had done many hard things.
I was pleased with my choice of direction as the road seemed to take me straight to Old Street’s intersection. But, annoyingly, I couldn’t take a right turn at the junction. I would have to go left, which was the opposite direction. I indicated, but the windscreen wipers came on.
I smiled, slightly embarrassed and gripped the wheel.
“Isn’t it that way?” said the guitar tech..
“Yes, but no right turn. I’m just going to turn around.”
“You sure you know the way, Horace?” said the lighting engineer.
Jesus, the only thing worse than a bald backseat driver was two bald backseat drivers. Plus, my name wasn’t Horace! I would have to put them straight on that. I turned left and drove up Old Street towards Islington, looking for a chance to do a three-point turn. But such was the size of the lorry, this was easier said than done. I took the first left, hoping to find my way back through the maze of little back roads. But the road started to veer the wrong way. Eventually, we came to another intersection, but I wasn’t sure which way was north or which was south.
“Are you sure you know the way, Horace?”
I assured them I did. But, a few minutes later, following a couple more turns, we arrived back at the rehearsal studio.
“Fucking hell, Horace.”
“What’s the time?” asked the roadie.
“We’ve just over two hours until the ferry Horace and missing it is not an option. You better crack on.”
That bloody crack word again. I didn’t want to think of the ramifications of missing the ferry, but they were now very real. We set off again, and this time I took another road that seemed to weave in the direction I wanted to go. I took a left at the junction and mercifully the Old Street roundabout appeared before me. I noticed my grip on the wheel was vice-like, and the back of my shirt was soaked in sweat. I knew my way to the Blackwall Tunnel from here. The only worry was the traffic was starting to build up. We had missed the window to get out of London before rush hour.
“I don’t like the look of this traffic, Horace,” said the guitar tech.
“We better make the ferry Horace,” said the lighting engineer.
Jesus, this was stressful. They were both chewing their nails nervously. I thought of my usual journey to work, the leisurely bike ride alongside Regent’s Park, breathing in the scent of the summer flowers in bloom and birds gossiping in the trees. Winding my way through the streets of Soho as I woke up from the night before, grabbing a toastie from Brunos. Life was easier in my previous life.
The traffic inched forward, as we made our way at an agonisingly slow pace along Commercial Road through the east-end neighbourhoods of Whitechapel, Stepney and Bow, my old stamping ground in my college years. We were officially very late now. And the chances of making the ferry were very much the wrong side of 50/50. Plus, the three of us hadn’t exactly bonded. Neither of them were conversationalists. I resisted trying to lighten the mood with one of my funny stories about our family dog Max the golden retriever (who didn’t retrieve).
Eventually, we made it through the Blackwall Tunnel and hit the A2 towards Canterbury. Luckily there was no traffic, so I hit the fast lane to make up lost time. One of my passengers flicked on the radio, but it was a report on the German football fans singing ‘Three Lions’ and the radio was promptly switched off. But, too late, the song was in our heads. It was too damn catchy. But now the chirpiness of the music took on a new pathos – a sad tale of lost hopes and dreams, of delusion. I could relate to that. And the idea of coming home. I suddenly thought of my flat and bed, and felt overwhelming tired. My eyelids began to droop. I needed to vanquish thoughts of my duvet and two soft pillows – I just needed to get us on the ferry, and then I could have a kip.
But then, a new fear gripped me that I didn’t want to articulate to my co-passengers, namely that, although we were careering at a decent speed, I wasn’t entirely sure this was the direction for Dover. Through force of habit and extreme tiredness, I had been following the signs to my parent’s house in East Sussex. I now couldn’t remember if, or when, the road might give us the option to turn off. I wasn’t religious and hadn’t spent much time praying to God, but I was now willing to start a dialogue. I really was in the shit.
“Please, God, let there be a sign for Dover and I will do whatever you want – knocking on doors, handing out literature, you name it. I honestly will be a good person. And I will never stray from the path again. Show me a sign, oh lord.”
It was at that moment that a sign appeared.
Dover – 40 miles.
As signs from above went, it didn’t get much better. I owe you one, God.
Soon we arrived on the outskirts of Dover, but there was no time to relax. Not yet. Signs began to appear for the ferry terminal. I needed to concentrate hard. One wrong turn and it was curtains. We travelled through a series of roundabouts as our ferry came into view, with dockers waving us this way and that to join a queue. We had made it with minutes to spare. The relief was immense and I wanted to hug my new chums to celebrate, but they didn’t seem affectionate types. I couldn’t help feeling hurt by a lack of a pat on the back or a well-done ruffle of my hair. We boarded the ferry, and they went off on their own. I had rubbed them up the wrong way for some reason.
I spent a lonely and giddy hour on the ferry. The plan was to get some sleep but the boat’s rocking on the waves made that impossible and so I spent the majority of the crossing spewing into a toilet cubicle.
I felt mildly better post-vomit but as France appeared on the horizon, new nerves started to jangle, that not only had I got to get us to a theatre in France somehow, but I would be driving on the wrong side of the road. I needed to get my hands on a map, study it and win over my two co-travellers. We had to spend quality time together over the next four days and I knew, in years to come, we could look back on this and laugh. We might bond, become besties; it’s funny how in life, like the movies, the most enduring relationships start on the wrong foot. Also, for some yet-to-be-adequately explained reason, I had a chronic need for people to like me.
But as we made our way through the French countryside, no matter how much I tried to stoke conversation, my co-passengers didn’t seem bothered about bonding. They had each other and had decided I wasn’t worth getting to know. I tried several times to start a conversation but was met by sarcasm and little quips at my expense.
But then the chat turned to dogs, and I had an in.
“I used to have a dog.”
“Yeah, a golden retriever called Max.”
They nodded, half interested.
“I took him to the seaside once down at Camber Sands, and he swallowed so much sea water he blew up like a balloon. And when we returned to the car, I lifted him into the backseat and could feel the water swishing inside him.”
I paused for dramatic effect and to check I had my audience’s attention. Both were staring at me in deadpan fashion.
“Anyway, on the way back home, I was driving down these country lanes, and I looked in the rearview mirror and Max didn’t look happy. His ears were flat, his tail was between his legs, and the inevitable happened. He exploded with vomit and diarrhoea, shooting from both ends like a fireman’s hose. I had to pull over as everything was getting soaked.”
I was expecting a laugh, but not a titter.
“Yeah, it was so funny.”
This tale usually had them rolling in the aisles, but realising my current audience lacked a sense of humour as well as hair on their head, I decided to give up trying to impress and focus on the task at hand – that of a mute driver.
Our destination was the Théâtre Municipal Raymond Devos in Tourcoing, near the Belgian border. Thankfully, it was only a few hours from Calais along a direct route of duel carriages and motorways. As we pulled into the theatre car park, I let out a huge sigh of relief we had made it in one piece, plus an excitement that I was actually on tour. I was in France, and the air smelt of pastries and cigars, unlike London, where the streets reeked of piss. But rather than having a moment to appreciate that I was living the dream, well, someone else’s dream, a crew of bald French roadies appeared and started barking instructions about cracking on.
“Allez, mettons-nous au travail.”
A military operation began with roadies lifting and lugging gear into the venue. There was no time to stretch my legs, let alone breathe in the delicious croissant-scented air as we wheeled flight cases through corridors to the theatre’s backstage area and onto the stage.
The Tindersticks band members were dotted around the venue, chatting to people, suited and booted – no lugging or lifting of amps for them, just smoking Gitanes cigarettes and flirting with pretty PR girls. A couple of band members nodded hello, but they didn’t seem that excited to see me. OK, they were about to start sound checking for an important show, and, yes, I was being paid to bring gear in, and, yes, time might be of the essence, but we could at least have had a catch-up. Plus, I still hadn’t had a blinking cup of tea.
The band took an inordinate amount of time to soundcheck, before I could finally get some food. But I was now too tired to initiate a conversation with anyone, made worse by the guitar tech and lighting engineer who were very back-slappywith the band and crew, sharing stupid in-jokes. I started to feel a bit paranoid. Was their laughter at my expense? Everyone seemed to be having fun except me, and I had three more days of this. I thought about getting the train back to London, but then I wouldn’t get paid and where was the station? I withdrew into myself, at the injustice of the situation. I knew that sulking wasn’t going to help me because no one liked a sulker, and the best thing to do with a sulker was to ignore them, which made the sulker sulk more. I was in a vicious downward sulk spiral.
Didn’t they realise how much I had drunk at Quinn’s? How little sleep I had had? And the superhuman effort I had made to get us all here? I wanted to go home. I missed my flat, the noisy, polluted traffic outside my bedroom window, the toilet that hadn’t been cleaned for over a year, the insect infestation and the loud techno music that played every night at 3 am from the stoners upstairs. Yes, it might be a bit grotty and, yes, my flatmate Jeff-the-chef might leave the odd fish eyeball in my bed as a practical joke, but it was home – and I missed it.
Eventually, the venue doors opened, and the evening began. Usually, theatres produced in me feelings of awe and a sense of destiny. The stage was my home – the boards were where I belonged and where I could truly be myself. But now, as the audience filed in and the band took the stage to rapturous applause, I felt a profound sense of injustice that it wasn’t me on stage tonight. Why wasn’t I on the poster? The tickets sold should be to see me, not them. Even the novelty of watching a show from the wings as the band played some of my favourite songs felt flat.
At midnight the military operation began again; men with ho hair started shouting to pack up the van. My tiredness was taking on hallucinatory levels, and we were nowhere near finished. Once all the gear was back in the van we had to drive to the hotel and unload it again into the lobby, as the equipment was too valuable to be left in the truck overnight. We would then have to load it from the hotel lobby back into the van in the morning before setting off. And the kicker: it was a 5 am start to get the ferry back to the UK before heading to Denmark the next day. I hit my hotel bed at about 3 am, too tired to sleep, knowing my alarm was to go off just two hours later.
If France had been an unenjoyable 48-hour learning curve, the next two days at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark were a chance to reset things, especially after a bit of sleep in my London bed. The journey would also be less stressful as we were flying, which added a bit of glamour. But one thing that filled me with slight trepidation was that my role for this leg of the trip was that of guitar tech.
The flight to Denmark was a breeze compared to the previous two days in France. We were picked up at Copenhagen airport and driven to the festival. I was properly on the road now and enjoying the taste of a jet-set globe-trotting rockstarlife that had so far been denied me. At the festival gates, our driver took us through the crowds to the artist’s backstage area, flashing our ACCESS-ALL-AREAS passes nonchalantly at security as festival goers in different stages of inebriation made way for our van, peering in, trying to identify if we were a famous band. It was like being royalty.
I loved the carnival atmosphere – the thrilling sound of an up-and-coming band performing live on a nearby stage, their music carried in the air but temporarily lost with a change in the wind, mingling with the notorious smells of a festival – the food stalls, beer tents, spliff and overflowing portable toilets.
We disembarked into a muddy field behind the main stage, as another military-like, well-oiled machine of Danish roadies barked orders to turn things around in supersonic time. It was a hive of activity, and eye-opening to see how little time there was between bands on the festival circuit. No overly-long soundchecks – you had about 15 minutes to get your shit together. I stood around twiddling my thumbs. There didn’t seem to be anything to do, and I wondered why I had come along for the ride. But five minutes before the band were due to go on stage, one of the roadies barked at me.
“Horace, can you check Stuart’s acoustic guitar is in tune.”
“I don’t see anyone else called Horace.”
It wasn’t my name either, but I let it go.
“OK, where is it?”
I gulped. My mission was to go on stage in front of 3,000 people, retrieve his acoustic guitar, tune it up and then put it back on its guitar stand on stage. Tuning the guitar was not my forte. During many a gig, I had frustrated the audience and the rest of the band as I failed to tune my guitar mid-set.
But the invention of the guitar tuner changed all that. I ran out on stage and could feel the heat from the audience; thousands of Danes were waiting to see the band. I was now one of the shadowy figures I had watched countless times dart across the stage, enticing the crowd with last-minute technical adjustments. I was having a tiny taste of what walking out on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury felt like, and the misery of the previous 48 hours now felt worth it. I could recall this in a future memoir as a profound moment in my life, being on stage in front of 3,000 people. I could be economical with the truth; no need to say it was for another band.
I picked up Stuart’s guitar and resisted the urge to go to the mic and start singing one of my songs. Talk about being so close yet so far.
“Hello, Denmark. Thanks for coming out to see us. We’re Big Slice, and this one’s called Sinking….”
Oh, the temptation! How amazing to sing a song you wrote on a guitar in your bedroom to thousands of strangers who know every word.
I resisted the siren call and scuttled back to the side of the stage. I plugged Stuart’s guitar into a guitar tuner and tuned it to the best of my ability. It seemed all good to me. If I plucked the E-string, the green light lit up on the tuner, denoting it was in tune. I did the same with the other five strings, and, satisfied, I ran back onto the stage and placed the guitar back on its stand, feeling a thrill as the crowd cheered impatiently. It was all for me. I would take these cheers home with me.
I also knew I would return here one day with one of my bands.
A few minutes later, Tindersticks took to the stage, and the crowd erupted. I watched from the side of the stage. It had been a tough few days, but it had been worth it to experience this. And now the end was in sight; I recalibrated that the experience hadn’t been all bad. Tindersticks’ music had never sounded so majestic as songs like ‘Patchwork’, ‘Jism’ and ‘City Sickness’ floated across the festival site.
Towards the end of their set, Stuart announced they would play a new song. He picked up the acoustic guitar and strummed it, but no sound came out. He strummed it again – nothing. He looked to the side of the stage. The monitor guy shrugged his shoulders and checked the leads – still nothing. I started to panic.
“Horace, did you check the batteries in the guitar?”
‘Was I meant to?”
His colourful reply indicated that I certainly was. Meanwhile, Stuart strummed the guitar a few more times impatiently and then chucked some daggers in our direction before throwing his guitar back on the stand. He apologised to the crowd that they wouldn’t be able to play the new one as hoped, and, instead, the band moved on to the next song in the set.
“Fucking hell, Horace.”
I wasn’t going to take the blame for this. Plus, I needed to put them straight on something.
“It’s not my fault. No one told me to check the batteries! And anyway, my name’s not Horace. It’s Andy, so there.”
I turned and flounced out of the backstage area. It felt good to get things off my chest. Plus, I had an ACCESS ALL AREAS pass, so I might as well go and explore. As I wandered through the festival, a perverse calm came over me. This weekend was almost over. I had had an experience and got some hairs on my chest. Plus, I had learnt that being a tour roadie was not for me. And life was all about finding out what you didn’t want to do as much as what you did.
I gave it a couple of hours to let the situation diffuse. Undoubtedly, things would have calmed down by the time I got back. An hour or so later, I returned to the crime scene and not a squeak was said. Although judging by the glum faces of the two roadies, they had got the hair-dryer treatment instead. Not that they had any hair to dry.
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