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A Day in the Life: On Tour With the Circus of Horrors

Ever get that sense of deja-vu?

Ever get that sense of deja-vu?

…that could go on for a while and get annoying quickly, but you get the idea. Being on tour is a lot like that, especially with the Circus of Horrors (COH). As I said in my first COH (thank god for abbreviations!) blog, we’re in a new town/venue almost every day, with very few back to back dates in the same place. What this leads to is a jam packed and very hard working schedule that follows the same pattern pretty much every day. Often when speaking to the girlfriend/friends/family I’m asked how my day has been. The answer is inevitably the same, “the usual.”

Obviously some towns and venues are more memorable than others, and I’ve been very lucky to see the majority of the country now; something I’d been guilty of not taking advantage of before. Each day can normally be ranked by the following criteria:

1. How far do we have to travel in the morning?
2. What’s the get-in at the venue like (winches, small scene docks and tiny stages are frowned upon!)
3. Does the venue have wifi?
4. Is there a Wetherspoons and Tesco Express within walking distance?

Here’s a recount of our day at the Manchester Opera House – a textbook day in the world of the COH.

9.30: Leave Travelodge
We played at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow the night before, staying at a Travelodge in Carlisle overnight. This is standard practice for a long drive – go halfway the night before and do the rest in the morning. This is one of the longer drives we have to make, but for me, as long as I’ve had my cup of tea and porridge pot (God bless whoever invented these…) I’m good to go, and normally have a good nap in the minibus anyway.

Travelodge sidenote: We’ve all become quite the Travelodge aficionados. You quickly learn that some are a LOT better than others, with the main culprit normally being the bathrooms. Some are fine, while others suffer from ‘drippy tap syndrome’ (DTS), ‘no bloody hot water virus’ (NBHWV)…or in a few rare cases, ‘shower head so low it’s only suitable for a dwarf’ (SHSLIOSFAD). This last one fortunately works out well for Captain Dan on our show.

12.00: Arrive at venue for load-in
We arrive at Manchester with no problems and park up outside the theatre a little early to find the truck and other minibus have gone to the wrong post code. So it’s time to find a dressing room and hang around until the truck gets here.

The Manchester Opera House is a lovely venue, 1900 capacity, massive stage and right in the middle of town. The downsides though (see list above) are it has no wifi – normally the first thing a lot of the cast ask for, and the loading doors are situated about 12 foot higher up than the stage level – meaning everything has to be winched down. This show has a lot of gear, so we fear for the worst. However the crew at the venue clearly have lot’s of experience at this, and it takes a little over an hour to have the whole contents of our truck down at stage level. With the band stand set up it’s time for the band to get our own gear set up as quickly as possibly so we can get to lunch. For the record, the band stand is a horrible metal monstrosity that weighs a tonne…but admittedly does look very cool and means we as the band get to play a part in the show rather than be sat in a remote room or down in the pit.

1.45: Lunch and exploring
With our gear set up and line checked we head out into Manchester to eat. With the theatre right next to Deansgate and the Arndale shopping centre we’re spoilt for choice, however our keyboard player ‘The Professor’ had been raving on about a place called BarBurrito, so myself, him and Hannibal Helmurto (sword swallower extraordinaire ) make tracks…we were not disappointed! So much so I went back for (sloppy?) seconds a couple of hours later, helpfully escorting our lighting guy, John ‘Thrustin” Thurston (there’s your name check, John). It’s just a shame it seems like it’s a Northern franchise – take note Southampton!

After food, the Professor and I explore Manchester a little. Even in the middle of a Monday afternoon there’s a definite buzz about the place (must have something to do with United going back to the top of the league!). However, having been to just about every city centre in the country now, it’s very much a case of same-shops-just-presented-differently.

5.15: Soundcheck and cast meeting
2 hours before every show there’s a cast meeting, to run over any problems or mistakes from the night before and to talk about any logistical issues for tonight’s stage (where props are moved to etc), as well as get an update on where we’re staying overnight.

Before that, the band run a quick soundcheck. If we’ve got time we’ll try and throw in a new idea every few days to keep the show progressing and give us a new challenge. It’s quite amazing listening back to recordings of the show from the first leg of the tour (October-December) and now. It shows the benefits of playing with the same musicians every night and really getting to know each others playing. The challenge is often to throw in classic TV theme tunes and melodies, with Inspector Gadget, The Professionals, Apache and Ghostbusters all making appearances.

6-7.30: Relax
This is the dead time before a show where there’s not much to do, other than a bit of web surfing, head to the pub or, in the Professor’s case (and if there’s free wifi) hit up Chat Roulette with an assortment of masks…for this particular show most of the band partook in the Alan Partridge DVD box set.

Up until recently I’d never really bothered to warm up before a show, thinking that because I’m playing the same material every night my body has learnt to cope with the playing side of things. A couple of weeks ago, out of boredom I whipped out the old practice pad for half an hour, and was amazed at how comfortable and relaxed I played that night. Since then, I always try to get 15-20 minutes in before a show to warm up my hands. I’d love to reveal a top secret routine but it’s all simply a lot of RRRR LLLL’s, singles, doubles, flams and six stroke roll permutations (that’s drummer talk for tapping a lot). I’ve just downloaded the Tommy Igoe ‘Great Hands for a Lifetime’ DVD from Hudson Digital, and can’t wait to get stuck into that when I’m off the road!

7.30: Show time
The next 2 hours are normally the highlight of the day – it’s the part we’re paid for after all! The show is split into 2 halves with a 20 minute interval. For the band we’ve always got to be on our toes as you never know what might happen. This show passes by pretty smoothly, however in the past there’s been all sorts of things such as the power tripping, problems with DVD playback (name check #2 for John Thurston!) and even the final Illusion trick not working properly after DA (Guitar) had forgotten to take out his laptop interface box from the steps!

Despite having played the same show so many times there’s always something new to throw in or work on. Recently I’ve tried to focus on my technique, staying relaxed and throwing in a few new licks, which is definitely one of the best aspects of this show in that we’re not restricted to having to follow a pad note-for-note every night.

9.45: Pack up
The shows over! Huzzah, time to relax? Well, no, not really. With such a busy schedule, the load out gets started almost straight away, with props winched up to the truck while everything else gets packed. The drums go in the truck quite early so after a little post-show chit chat and change of clothes I have to be down getting them packed and off the bandstand so that that can be dismantled. On this tour I’ve been loaned a huge flight case (dubbed the sh*t box thanks to it’s dodgy wheel and consequent sh*t steering) to put everything apart from my bass drum into, so I know it’s safe and sound.

It’s quite amazing how quickly a full theatre show can be packed up when everyone knows what they’re doing. We’ve averaged an hour for most shows with decent loading bays and access to the truck; I’ve played small function gigs that take longer! So soon after 11pm everything is packed and ready to go.

11.00: Move on out
Our show tomorrow is only an hour or so away so we’ve been booked into a Travelodge just outside Manchester, so we were all happy in the knowledge that we’d be in bed before midnight…WRONG! No sooner had the minibuses pulled into the car park than a power cut to both sides of the services completely went. After hanging around for a bit, we got transferred to the Oldham Travelodge. Another short drive later and we’re checking in, only to find that because our arrival hadn’t been prepared for, neither had our rooms, so a convoy of Circus performers descend on reception yet again to get moved. It’s amazing the mess some people leave a hotel room in!

Finally, by 1am everyone has vomit-in-toilet-free-rooms (VITFR) and it’s off to bed.

So there you have it, a day in the life of a musician in the Circus of Horrors. It’s amazing how many odd things have happened; the strangest being that I’ve already forgotten a lot of it, or it’s become the norm so I hardly take any notice. There’s now only a week left of this tour, so I’ll try to post at least one more time before the end – most likely on the 9 hour ferry journey to Jersey, where we’ve been booked for 3 nights straight – something that hasn’t happened since the very first shows at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in October (which seems like years ago right now!).