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Our own Tim Matthew is currently on tour as a sound engineer with FLIT (coming to Mareel on 2 November), so we asked him to keep a diary giving us a behind-the-scenes look at this brilliant event.

Day 1: Friday 21 October Rehearsals in Cambridge

This is my first day although the band have been here since Wednesday. We rehearsed this show intensely in the run-up to the initial performances at the Edinburgh festival back in August. A lot has happened since then though and a lot of other shows been played by everybody, so these few days involve much head-scratching and remembering as well as various adjustments to the show.

We’re set up in a smallish room here in the Junction in Cambridge and it is now mostly full of bits of musical electronica joined together by piles of tangled cabling. By the end of the day we’ve run through the show 3 times and it’s starting to stick together again.

It’s the first of many days where I’m going to see little daylight. I’m working at the coalface of the entertainment industry!

Last night when I arrived, half the group were out at a session in a nearby pub and we played tunes till we were chucked out at closing time. Tomorrow however is the first performance and as well as doing a gig we’re loading in a lorryload of light and sound gear plus the massive set, building it all, soundchecking and rehearsing. Reckon tonight will be an early one, and also our last in a real bed for a while.

Day 2: Saturday 22 October Cambridge

First showday, and the rest of the technical crew have arrived on the train from London. Load in is 9 o’clock and our stuff has travelled from a variety of places so there are 3 trucks to unload – set, PA and lights. This is the first time we’ve put it all together since August so there is a bit of time spent walking round big bits of set and comparing instructions – tab A fits into slot B etc etc. It all goes together and it’s all pretty big in this little space. Eventually we get the technical stuff up and running and we have a quick soundcheck, an even quicker bite of curry in the dressing room and it’s showtime!

The house is packed and what a relief – the show goes very well. The first performance of a run like this is always a bit nerve-wracking for everybody, and even more so for Martin because half his family is here, including his Granny who started the whole train of thought that led to the creation of the show.

Once the audience leave we dismantle the set, the lights, the PA and the band equipment and load up the one lorry that will be touring the country with us. Finally done by half one in the morning we then move into our temporary home which is a pretty flashy tour bus. A couple of beers and off to bed because in a few hours it’s time to do it all over again!

Day 3: Sunday 23 October Gateshead

I wake up outside the stage door of The Sage in Gateshead. A fine, though too short, night being bounced up the motorway. It’s a bit like being on the North boat in good weather.

A shower and a good cup of coffee and I’m ready for another load-in. This venue is an even smaller rom than last night and it’s a serious challenge getting all the set in. I leave the experts to it and turn my attention to Martin’s equipment. Although my job on this tour is sound engineer, I’m also here as an expert in Martin’s setup, which is idiosyncratic to say the least. Yesterday’s gig was after a few days rehearsal and Martin’s gear had organically grown into a pile of teetering effects pedals with tangled festoons of wire – like some weird art installation. It took about an hour and a half to pack away. Today I spent a large portion of my time pulling it all apart and rebuilding it into neat and tidy usable blocks of technology. Very satisfying. The dressing room looked like an explosion in a cable factory for a while.

Once again, we had a great crowd and the show was a success. The very efficient local crew made sure we were loaded out a full hour earlier than yesterday so while the performers were away visiting friends, we the crew sat around eating cheese sandwiches and drinking beer. This is the life!

Back on the bus and we hit the road about 1.30am. Buxton tomorrow…

Day 4: Monday 24 October Buxton

wp_20161024_003We wake up parked on a slope outside the stage door of the Buxton Opera house. This is a really beautiful venue, opened in 1903 and is like a chocolate box inside. The loading doors are amazing – right onto the pavement beside our truck and double height, like a giant’s stable door. The crew here are proper old theatre union staff, speaking in a different language specific to theatre world. Funnily enough a lot of the old theatre terms are similar to nautical terms because sailors were the best equipped to haul on the ropes to raise and lower scenery etc. The rest of the crew on tour are from theatre world and they are happy to be in a proper theatre at last.

We’re getting better at putting the show together as well and today we even manage to have a lunch break. No dinner break though as we use all available time to run through stuff.

Another good show and tomorrow is a day off so once we get loaded out (around midnight) we all pile onto the bus and have a good tune and a few drams as we bump our way through the Derbyshire dales in the middle of the night.

Day 5: Tuesday 25 October Bristol - Day Off!

We wake up in Bristol! Can’t check into the hotel until 1pm though so everybody shambles around the town in yesterday’s clothes until lunchtime. I don’t see anybody else until teatime when the crew all go out for dinner together. It’s very common when a bunch of people have been living in each others pockets on tour that when you have a day off the whole team scatter. Tonight we also have a hotel. Luxury to sleep in a bed that isn’t moving. And for more than 4 hours too!

wp_20161026_017-2Day 6: Wednesday 26 October Bristol

Much refreshed after our day off we head across to today’s venue – Colston Hall. It’s a beautiful place, an old, old concert hall with a cool glass-fronted modern extension. When we arrive the local crew are waiting for us. Local crews are a fascinating breed. When you’re on tour they are the people who will provide you with the most intense experience of the local accent/dialect. I think it’s a lifestyle choice being local crew. They are wild, piratical, unkempt, often on the fringes of society, definitely a subculture of their own always delighted to heft heavy boxes in and out of trucks and venues. Today's are no exception. With constant shouting, verbal abuse and jostling they help us get our stuff in. Now (as the crew told me), millions of pounds have been spent building the new part of Colston Hall but nothing much has been done to the concert hall itself which remains mostly unchanged from decades ago. Beautiful, slightly threadbare grandeur. This is one of the Biggest venues on the tour with some of the smallest doors! The result of this is that some of the biggest bits of set have to travel around the venue before we can align them up with doors that’ll take them.

Set in, we soundcheck, rehearse and have our tea. The Green room is set in the spooky lower levels of the hall. I’m sure it must be haunted as it was the site of slave auctions back in Bristol’s grim past. Mister Colston made a lot of money from that terrible trade.

The gig was very good, best yet and after loadout I arrive back at the bus to find we’ve been visited by our pals Lynched – a fantastic folk band from Dublin. They’ve been playing in town as well and we have a good few beers and a fine tune before our driver fires up the engine and we head off into the night headed for London.

Day 7: Thursday 27 October London

We wake up, not outside our venue but in a bus park near the O2 Arena. The Barbican centre where tonight’s show is can’t provide parking space for a bus so at 8am we’re picked up and driven across rush hour London to our loadin. The truck driver Kevin is furious because a rival company has left a trailer in his space which meant that he has had to park in the road for 6 hours and thus had to sit in the driver’s seat to fend off traffic wardens rather than get some sleep.

Today’s loadin is tricky. The venue is two floors down. The set is too big for the lift and the lorry too high for the underground passage so the big items must be carried down the passage, through the lobby, into the auditorium and down through the seating onto the stage. It’s a pretty long-winded operation and we’re not looking forward to the loadout at the end of the night.

The Barbican is one of my favourite places – built in the 60’s and 70’s in a war-flattened part of London and it’s a brutalist architectural dream. Cast concrete everywhere. The concert hall is a very nice room – large capacity but intimate.

On this tour we have a pal Rhona Dalling who is acting as a support act – not on stage but out in the foyer. She has built a kind of cave out of brown paper in which she performs each night. It’s a nice way of making our presence felt in the building even before the audience enters the performance space.

A London show on a tour is always a big one – bigger audience, more likelihood of being reviewed and usually more pals turning up. This is no exception and there is a little bit more adrenaline backstage before we start. This is aided by the fact that the centrepiece of the set, the massive zoetrope stopped working during soundcheck. Much scrabbling around, rewiring and hammering and it eventually came back to life. Handy as we don’t have a spare.

Once again it is a great show and the extra adrenaline pulls another level of performance from the band. The backstage area fills up with friends, press, industry people and we the crew get on with the 3 hour packup and loadout. An extra layer of farce is added by the fact that the Barbican aren’t allowed to load out after 11pm due to resident complaints so we have to load the truck without clanging bits of metal. Much shushing and sniggering ensues.

Tonight’s special guests are Will and Ainslie from White Robot who made the beautiful animation part of the show. They got a special shout out and then came back to the bus with us. Just for the craic they decide to travel overnight with us to the next destination. It is good craic!

Day 8: Friday 28 October Poole

After the excitement of London our boss the production manager says we can have a lie in and load in at 11. This is extremely welcome, as is the news that the venue has a loading door that opens right onto the stage. When we get round to it we get loaded in in record time. Very satisfying.

There are 12 people in our touring party: 5 musicians (Martin, Adrian, Dominic, Adam and Becky), 5 technicians – Ben who is production manager, lighting designer and lighting operator; Crofty who runs the projections, me on front of house sound, Pete on monitors and Dan who is in charge of the set. We also have Penny who is the producer and tour manager and Rhona who sells the merch and performs in the foyer. Added to this team there is Kev who drives the Lorry and Scott who drives the bus. We don’t see much of these two because they drive while we sleep and they sleep while we work.

Another nice gig tonight in a bonny venue that is not quite finished. They’ve been having a refit and there are still various bits of building work around. Doesn’t put off the public though.

Day 9: Saturday 29 October Leeds

This morning we wake up in a delightful part of Leeds – right next to the civic dump. Due to parking restrictions this lorry park is where the bus will stay all day.

We get a taxi into town and start the longest day of the tour. The venue is built onto the front of the Grand theatre in Leeds and while the theatre has a massive lift that takes a lorry up to stage level, we have to carry our set up the stairs and put the gear in a little lift.

I had time to take a quick walk around the old part of the theatre backstage. It’s an amazing historical place.

Load out was even longer as it was the same time as the opera loaded out of the theatre. This meant we had to park our truck on the main street in the middle of a Saturday night at Hallowe’en. Pushing boxes and carrying set up a hill and round a corner. It was also extremely entertaining though as we were accosted by zombies, pirates and regular drunk Leedsites throughout proceedings.

Day 10: Sunday 30 October Brighton

I start the day by hot-wiring the tourbus. Scott the driver filled up in the middle of the night somewhere on route and left the starter key at the service station. Not a problem at the time because he’d left the engine running but when he arrived in Brighton he realised that once he stopped the motor he’d be stuck. I did some tinkering and left him with a couple of bare wires sticking out of the dashboard.

It seems to be still summer in Brighton (maybe it always is) and the stage of the venue opens directly onto the loading road, so we get ourselves set up with the massive doors wide open. It made me realise how little daylight I’ve seen over the week and it’s good feeling the sunlight every time I walk past the doorway.

The venue backs onto the famous Brighton pavilion and shares some of its crazy Moorish design. Inside it is huge and grand with velvet seats and brass rails.

Tonight we have the biggest attendance of the tour and possibly the biggest PA too. It’s a good impressive way to end the English part of the tour. Added to this we have a veritable army of local crew to help with the loadout. So efficient are they that I’m still packing up Martin’s equipment while they dismantle the staging around me. We are loaded out in record time, by 11.30, and are on the bus while the band are still in the pub.

Once we’re all on board Scott twists his wires together, we open the tequila and whisky and head north to Birmingham airport and onwards to Shetland!

Flit arrives at Mareel on Wednesday 2 November - get your tickets here now!


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