We couldn’t do what we do without the support of these wonderful people
Diary from the Wings: The confessions of a Firefest Roadie
Way back in '78 I met a bloke called Jem Davis. He was playing keys in a local band called Stranger. I met him through my ex-wife who lived in the same village in Bedfordshire. Stranger went on to merge with Bedford band Force which then morphed into Tobruk in the '80s. Great player, nice guy I thought. For the record, he had a mountain of gear, even in those days!
I’ve always played bass since my early teens but never to any great standard (even though I’ve played in numerous pub cover bands), so I ended up being roadie and front of house sound for Stranger. When it became Tobruk I left and pursued other careers. I kept in touch with Jem through the next 25 years and kept track of his career even though our paths in life were very different (but we always had the music in common). I even did some work with Oasis a couple of years ago for a friend of Jem’s when he was unavailable to help.
I’ve always been a great fan of FM and have all the albums (and T-shirts). So when, 6 weeks ago, he asked me whether I’d like to roadie for him and Merv at Firefest, it was a great honour and pleasure for me to accept. It was a bit of a weird experience to turn up at Papa Joe’s rehearsal rooms and meet the guys. First meeting didn’t go too well. I trod on one of Pete Jupp's crash cymbals. Great start… but when you have size 14 feet you're always treading on something… I was then treated to a private gig! Awesome! They were a few months into rehearsals by the time that I arrived on the scene, but even at that stage they were gig-ready in my opinion. I soon got to know them and realised what a cracking down to earth bunch of blokes they are. Soon the piss-taking started with reference to my OCD with regard to making lists… It only took me 5 rehearsals (and counting) to learn Jem’s set-up and 45 seconds to learn Merv’s!
The day of Firefest arrived and I’d got Smudge (an old mate from a previous job who had worked with me with Oasis) and my wife Ali to give me a hand. Smudge was going to help me with the keyboard set-up and Ali was going to handle the merchandising.
ON THE DAY
Up at 6am and after the initial shock of seeing ‘Batch’, my roadie room-mate in nothing but his underwear, the day began with load-in at the venue an hour later. My greatest fear was that we would have to set up Jem for the soundcheck and then break him down again, if there wasn’t enough room during the other acts’ performances. Luckily we just managed to squeeze them in side-stage and after soundcheck folded them into themselves to save space. It takes about 20-30 minutes to set Jem up and there is only that time between acts so it was a huge relief for me.
Soundcheck was special for band and crew alike, as it was the first time in 12 years
that they had played together on a proper stage and I knew from the expression on
the assembled crowd's faces in the auditorium, that the night was going to be something
special. Sue Ashcroft’s expression was a picture!
The rest of the day was spent running around doing errands for the band. I popped into town and bought a new harp for Jem. Comedy moment the previous evening had been when Jem had sucked a breath through the harp and due to a blockage had nearly swallowed it whole!
Pete was a crash cymbal short, so after a lot of asking around I managed to borrow one from Tyketto’s drummer. Unfortunately, two numbers from the end of their set, he split it - scuppering that idea. B*gger! So Pete had to play on a compromised kit. Not good from anyone’s point of view but he pulled it off all the same. What a pro! We lost a flightcase with some of Pete’s bit and pieces in it. It didn’t turn up until after the gig. Some kind soul had put it under the front of the stage at load-in.
The gig went real well except for the power problems. I still don’t know what went wrong as the PA guys fixed it. Jem gets very tense when the power goes down. It’s understandable, as sometimes the surge can cause all his patches and settings to be lost. Not what you want in the middle of any gig, let alone one that’s a high-pressure comeback!
For those that don’t know, from a crew’s perspective the show should be uneventful if the prep’s been done right. Most of the time you’re looking for gear that’s come loose or spillages on floor. I try to tune Merv’s spare bass every 15 minutes. Jem only needs his harp handing to him twice in the set and the wireless Van Halen look-alike ‘strap-on’ (keyboard that is) to be switched on and configured with the right patch during the gig. So apart from that, it’s all quiet for me. Smudge did have an unexpected dash downstairs during Only the Strong Survive to fetch Andy’s slide from his jacket pocket (must put that on the list).
There was a time issue as to whether there could be an encore due to the power cut. We were going to run over the very strict curfew. I was getting pressure from the venue stage manager to finish. As the band came off stage I shouted at them all to get back on stage again for the encore as they only had 2 minutes left. I figured that the venue wouldn’t get them off half way through Grapevine… (sorry guys, now you know why I shouted!). In no time it was over. Smudge and I just made sure that there was an open can of beer for every band member as they walked off stage and before we knew it, it was 12.30am and the gear was all away. (Thanks for packing up Merv’s gear Ali)
Great band, great crew and a very well-organised and professionally-run festival. If Steve the backline roadie from the PA company is reading this, thanks for the tuner. You’re a star! I will never forget the awesome response of the crowd. And thanks to Jem and the guys for giving me the opportunity and making it one of the most rewarding nights of my musical life. Can’t wait to do it again. Must start making a list…