Have you ever seen those buses with the blacked out or mirrored windows? Cruising Europes motorways, usually in the middle of the night. You might see them parked at festivals or outside venues and halls. They carry bands and their crews from city to city, gig to gig, festival to festival. You can't see in, but who's looking out? Could be your favorite singer or band or maybe one of their crew. Band buses, sleeper buses, or crew buses, ( some people even call them 'vans'! ), call them what you will, but never and I mean NEVER call them coaches! They can be single or double deckers, and are licensed to carry 8 - 18 passengers. As the 'talent' comes off-stage, takes a shower and a bite to eat, they'll board the bus and head off into the night to the next venue, waved off by their fans and groupies. Wannabe bands and singers frantically try to hand a demo CD to the driver as they go. I remember a tour, leaving a gig and we're doing 70mph on a German autobahn when a car draws alongside us and with one guy hanging out the window, trying to pass over a CD! Mad!! Driving a double decker whilst pulling a trailer full of 'back line' (stage equipment) across the Alps in January or a bus with a trailer through the narrow streets of London or Paris, its anything but a dull job!
A highly desirable job is the band bus driver! Or is it??? Its not quite the exciting job that it looks, trust me! First off, you'll have to be a very confident driver, comfortable with the size of your vehicle. Have a wee bump whilst driving a Stagecoach service bus and you'll end up explaining to your boss...same wee bump in a band bus whilst carrying Robbie Williams and you'll make the front pages of the national newspapers...! Word soon gets around and then you'll have bands requesting any driver but you!! Take the roof off or fall asleep at the wheel and you'll never drive large vehicles again. Then of course there's always the possibility of finding yourself on the receiving end of a law suit from one of the big legal firms that most bands and record companies use. If their 'talent' has to cancel a gig because they hurt themselves when you took a bend too fast, braked a bit heavily or mounted a pavement or kerb, they'll want compensated, and guess who they're gonna come looking for?!! Some of the spaces you'll find yourself reversing into or trying to park in would scare most drivers to death. Down narrow side streets and alleyways you'll go, easing the biggest vehicles on the road round narrow bends, between parked cars! Then back out again at night! Great fun, especially if you're pulling a trailer full of back-line...oh the joys!!
Sleep deprivation is by far the worst part of the job. You'll be expected to drive through the night whilst everyone else on board sleeps, and then when you arrive at the next gig, they'll always park you in the noisiest area, usually right next to the stage at festivals or beside the punters queue at gigs. So you're parked up and now you've got to grab some sleep before you set off again at 1 or 2 in the morning to the next city or town. Of course when you do arrive at the next town you can't head off to your bunk until you've sorted out your land-line and plugged into the mains supply, then you have do the cleaning and changing of all the sheets and duvet covers in all the bunks, this sometimes can number as many as 18, but is more usually 10-14! Best to put a notice up the day before, telling your guys when you're gonna change their sheets, cos' if you don't you'll find lots of wee 'tissues' and 'bunk socks' (think about it!) in among peoples bedding!!!...my advice....wear gloves!! Dealing with egotistical pop 'stars' is another part of the job that takes a bit of getting used to. You have to remember that, although its your bus, and ultimately, you're in charge, its also their 'hotel room' for the duration of the tour so you do have to give them a certain amount of 'carte blanche' whilst they're aboard. don't forget, you are their chamber maid, which means that when they are off the bus, you will have to tidy up their mess! Never touch their personal belongings though, they will notice if someone has been through their stuff! Oh, and its considered 'not cool' to ask for autographs and photo's, except on the last day of a tour. That's when most of the crew will be taking group pictures and its usually OK to get a few in yourself, including asking the 'talent' for a photo of you and them. Not all the 'talent' are the same, how nice they are seems to equate as to how famous they are (or how famous they perceive themselves to be!). Some will come down the front of the bus and sit and chat as you drive, some won't even say hello...ever! Some will join you at your table in catering and some will always eat off-site. When picking them up, sometimes at their home, some will even invite you in for a cuppa while you wait.
Driving the crew bus is a different game altogether from driving the band bus and in the industry it is generally considered the best place to be. As, like you, the crew are only there because they're being paid to be there, you will generally be accepted as part of the crew, or a roadie, even if they've all been together for a long time. They will treat you as one of their own, and this does mean there will be a certain degree of piss taking and good natured banter! If you can't take the banter, don't do the job! You may get on like a house on fire, but don't get carried away, smoking a wee joint with the crew (in Amsterdam of course!) might seem like a good idea at the time and nobody will say anything, but when you climb into the driving seat, someone may have a quiet word with the tour manager and your boss will be on the phone with your flight number home. The crew of course are responsible for all the instruments and stage equipment, so by the time its all stripped down and packed into the trucks, they're usually a couple of hours behind the 'talent' in setting off. When they eventually do climb board, they'll dive into the fridge for a beer and a sandwich before settling down in the upstairs lounge for the journey ahead. A few drinks, maybe a few 'cigarettes' and then its off to their bunk for a kip. You'll be missing all the fun of course, as you're all ;alone in your dark cab. A can of Red-Bull and a couple of 'Pro-Plus' every half hour or so, no bother! European driving regulations restrict you to 4.5 hours driving before you must take a break of at least 45 minutes. If you're lucky enough to have a double driver with you, thats his cue to strap himself into the Isri seat and your cue to hit the sack for 4 and a half hours. How well do you know him?Trust him not to fall asleep? To see what could happen if it all goes wrong, have a look at the pictures of the Domino Berryhurst bus that crashed in Spain whilst on tour with Alien Ant Farm on the MTV website here. Result...one driver dead, several band and crew seriously injured...scary stuff! No-one knows what actually happened that night, whether the driver fell asleep, took unwell or the involvement of another road user, but the bottom line?...obviously, don't fall asleep at the wheel!! Save it for your bunk! Its actually very easy to sleep in a band bus bunk, they're quite cosy once the curtains are shut, the gentle rocking of the bus sends you off to sleep quite quickly! Dreaming about being a rock n roll star no doubt! Yeh, sure!! Band bus drivers worst nightmare? Low bridges!! They're not always marked with the minimum safe height in some parts of Europe. If in doubt...stop and edge under it with your head out the window or better still, get someone out to watch you. Of course its not just low bridges you need to watch, I did a gig at 'Christiana' in Copenhagen one night and came out the exact same way that I went in, only by this time, someone had strung a banner right across the street. I wasn't sure so I stopped. The tour truck just behind me didn't stop though, he passed me and tore down the banner, only thing is, it was held up there by metal cables and they ripped through his air deflector and tore it right off his truck. Oh how we all laughed! hahaha...hmmmm! Discretion is the better part of valour! Don't risk it! Another downside to the job is the time spent away from home. Its most definitely not a monday to friday 9-5 job! I was working away for up to 10 months of the year, not conducive to a harmonious family life! And the promise of a couple of free tickets for a gig when you're near your home town doesn't tend to wash with your family....well not with mines it doesn't!! Its very much a single mans job. It can be a very lonely, nomadic existence.
I've driven all over Europe from Norway in the North to Spain in the South, Poland in the East and Ireland and Portugal in the West. I've seen hundreds of motorway service stations at 3 in the morning but very few landmarks and tourist attractions! I've been to Paris 12 times, seen the Eiffel tower once....at night, from about 3 miles away! Oh, on the subject of driving in Europe, although most of the border controls are gone now, some still survive, like when you cross from Spain into France at Irun, near San Sebastion or coming into Britain, you'll find some sort of passport control. They'll probably board the bus for a nosey, and thats all it is, a nosey! There is no justification for them to board the bus, but they know its a band bus and they want to meet the 'stars'. They'll wave all the tourist buses through and stop the band bus...oh yes, every time. Good advice is to get some 'swag' from the merchandise guy, they'll usually give you a handful of T-Shirts (sometimes some confiscated counterfeit gear!) for the border guards. Keeps them happy and fascilitates a speedy progress through control! Oh and don't forget to stop half an hour before the border to ensure all the ashtrays are emptied into the bin. It won't go down well when the guards see an ashtray full of suspicious 'stuff'!! You'll find that its a very hard job to get into in the first place....and then when you've had enough, its an even harder one to get out of! By the way, I'm reffering to bus drivers here as 'he' and 'him', but thats not to say that there's no women that on the job, there is a few, and very good they are too, but by far the majority of drivers are male. Reading this page so far, you'd think this was the worst job in the world! Not so...I love it! It is a very enjoyable job and the perks and wages can be very, very good. On the bigger stadium and arena tours there's sometimes extra money to be made from working the follow spots or if you've a head for heights, the truss lights. There may be a 'clicking' job going. This involves standing at the entrance, using a counter to count people in to the show, just to make sure the promotor or venue isn't ripping off the production. These jobs are usually (but not always) done by the bus and truck drivers and are very much sought after. On the smaller tours, you may get a wee job working ;the merchandise stand for a few extra quid or a free Tshirt!
The fans and the groupies? Well, what can I say, they seem to be drawn to you because they think you can get them closer to the star! (Not at all likely with the big stars, but then why not make the most of it while you can!!). Some girls (and guys!) really will do anything for a backstage pass. On the big stadium tours, like U2, Bon Jovi or Red Hot Chili peppers, theres an enclosure area at the front meant exclusively for the fan club members. Go ask the head of security for a handful of wristbands that will allow entry into this area and watch the faces of the fans light up when you walk out into FOH with a handful of these! With your AAA laminate you can even walk people into the gig, even if they don't have a ticket. Always handy to remember that one. Don't abuse the privilege though...its not cool and it makes you look unprofessional. You'll collect lots of goodies for ebay like laminates, clothing, itinerarys and signed stuff. I keep all of mine of course, but some people stick them on ebay right away. A crew tour jacket from a Bon Jovi tour recently sold on eBay for £170! Laminates can go for anything up to £20 each so grab as many as you can. I keep my own and any doubles I get do sometimes find their way onto eBay! Some crew guys don't collect them and will leave them on the bus when the tours finished.....hello eBay! Of the many thousands of bus and coach drivers there are in Britain, theres maybe only about 50 or 60 that regularly drive band buses. On the road, always wave to other band bus drivers whether you know them or not. Throughout festival season, which runs from April to September, which is by far the busiest time in the industry, I bump into the same guys again and again in various parts of Europe. I've made friends whilst on the road that I'll keep for life, including other drivers and band and crew guys as well. Driving band buses is probably the most sought after and enviable position you can get with a bus licence and sure beats driving the 330 service bus from Forest Gate to Canning Town!
I love driving band buses...........sometimes!
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