In the final moments of the final song of the final show that we played as special guests to Steel Panther on their ‘heavy metal rules’ European tour, I took a moment to pause and look out at the crowd – in a packed club called ‘Cypress Avenue’ in the lovely city of Cork in Southern Ireland – and think, rather randomly, about how my life has turned out.
It certainly brought a smile to my face.
Here I was, 52 years old, in another band on yet another tour, and despite that undeniable fact, still feeling like a teenager, still playing music, still dreaming, still seeing the effects that live music has on people.
In that almost epiphanic moment, it occurred to me that we all have a central role to play in life, and although my life is multifaceted and complicated just like everyone’s, it just so happens that my role and the roles of my comrades in arms is to entertain and (hopefully) bring some joy to strangers. Kind of a weird thought I know but, there it was!
I left the stage feeling a curious mixture of joy tinged sadness.
It is, on paper, a very simple proposition Isn’t it? However, it is, when you examine the concept of being in a band, a wholly ridiculous notion, one that I have wrestled with all my life. It’s certainly not ‘normal’ or for most part, a good earner, but I keep coming back to it. Why? Well, it’s the creation of the music and the privilege of playing that music to an audience, but it actually not what you think it is – take this tour for instance: we started out in Estonia having flown via Ryan air to Talin and then over the course of five weeks we visited eleven countries travelling almost exclusively in a splitter van, all together with our crew of three. It’s sandwiches, crisps and the odd hot meal when we can find the time, it’s living out of suitcases, snatched FaceTime conversations with loved ones, it’s not getting your clothes washed, it’s hours backstage in cold inhospitable dressing rooms waiting for the show to arrive, it’s illness and coping with it, it’s moments of madness, it’s friends and fellow dreamers all supporting each other and all for 45minutes on a stage playing – certainly in this case – to audiences who largely didn’t have a clue who we were. In this crazy bubble environment, you do find yourself wondering if it’s worth the effort at times and the answer resides somewhere between the moment the lights go down and the final roar of the crowd.
I’ll be honest, it’s not easy picking up the baton again in this business, especially at this moment in history. Not only do we have the fact that nobody is buying music anymore, or at least not in the way it was consumed back when I started, but as we set off on this jaunt, we also had the spectre of Brexit and all that it means to travelling musicians looming. It is perhaps prophetic to be on tour at the exact moment the U.K. left the EU, a union that had allowed bands to play without restriction for so many years and that now holds an uncertain future for our business and relationship with our nearest neighbours. To travel around the beauty of all those countries and be welcomed with such grace, to be applauded by citizens of those countries despite the fact I couldn’t speak a word of their native languages shines a light on the reality of what music means to people the world over. I’ll be honest, I felt shame and embarrassment as well as euphoria and a sense of camaraderie, what happens in the future is a guess right now, but all I can say is I love Europe and how it has treated me and us over the years – and never a better experience than this one with Panther.
I wish peace on everyone and still hope for a brighter future for all in that peace.
So, what of this tour? Well the first thing to reiterate is how wonderfully we were treated by the Panther lads and their crew. It has been the most wonderful experience I think I’ve ever had as a support act to a major band. They simply couldn’t do enough for us, treated us as equals and made the whole experience one to cherish.
I know Panther elicit cries of outrage and adoration in equal measure, they really are a love or loath band, but it cannot be denied how entertaining it is to watch those guys deliver their show – and that’s the point – it’s a show, a brash, hilarious, profane, filthy, glittering show of epic proportions, and they can play. Really play.
What’s so extraordinary about them is the audience they attract; it is a mixture of rock fans and a more mainstream crowd who are simply there for the spectacle. This is why I feel it has been such a great tour for us to be on. It has presented us with the challenge of introducing ourselves not only to rooms filled with rock fans who didn’t know the band’s name but whom also were probably not familiar with my or anyone else in the band’s history. We were, for all intent and purpose, total unknowns. I’ve always taken this challenge head on, it was the same back in the day opening for Cinderella and Marillion, we had to prove ourselves worthy of attention and applause. I actually relish this – it’s how you build a following after all.
I cannot recall one show on this 22-day tour where we didn’t leave the stage with all hands in the air and the room jumping. This is the task: let the music do the talking. Songs are what matter and how they communicate. Like I’ve said many times, music is the great connector, it transcends boarders and cultural differences, it bridges the gap between languages and levels the playing field for all. We are all, after all, looking for a way of understanding life and all it’s difficulties and triumphs and what better way to do this than in a concert hall, swigging cold beer from a plastic pint glass, singing at the top of your voice to loud rock n roll?
What’s great, is that since October last year we have spent a lot of time in mainland Europe and I can definitely see advancement for us, the reviews have been very positive and again, the crowd reactions have been off the scale.
So, to answer my own question ‘Has it been worthwhile?’
A resounding YES, and plans are afoot to get back in as a headlining act as soon as we can. This game is difficult and fraught but can also be triumphant and life affirming. I choose to keep believing in the future and I know all the guys in the band feel the same.
I send my personal heartfelt thanks to all on the Panther team; Russ, Darren, Ralph, Travis, Sean, Adam, Alex, Nicki and Nic Rucker as well as to our amazing crew; Luke, Sam and Steve, all Trojan’s possessed of a positive human spirit beyond the call of duty.
It’s been a blast and a rollercoaster, but what a ride!
Thanks to everyone that came along early to support us and who had kind words to say after the shows, it means more than you’ll ever know.
See you all soon!