rock-o-the-north

When Europe and Joey Tempest were selling copies of The Final Countdown by the bucketload the band regularly flew by private jet to perform two sets in two different venues in one day.

They were relocated en masse to San Francisco by a record company for whom money was no object and travelled everywhere with at least four bodyguards. Only the best hotels would do, only the biggest dressing rooms would suffice and only the most outrageous riders would satisfy. That was the excess synonymous with 80s success.

These days even Europe have to be content with simple tour buses, backstage areas the size of broom cupboards and the odd bowl of fruit and a bottle of water. And behind the scenes, beyond the limelight, it’s the same story for scores of bands who, just 20 years ago, were treated like kings and funded by budgets which could run a small country.

In 2009 there may be a resurgence in classic rock and ticket sales suggest the genre is recession proof. But where there was once excess there is now reality. And depending on the venue it’s a very cold reality.

Earlier this year I stepped inside one dressing room occupied by a multi-million selling UK band who scored a string of Top 40 hits in their prime. And while they never enjoyed the luxuries afforded Joey and his mates, there was a time when nothing was too much trouble for these affable troubadours.

Fast forward two decades and the scene was sobering – if not sober – to say the least. For starters there were seven grown men packed into a space Meat Loaf could not safely occupy. On one side of the room was a bloke ironing his shirt on an old towel and on the other a queue for the single toilet. There were a few cans of complimentary beer, a couple of bottles of wine, a bunch of grapes and a ripe banana. Back in 1989 any self-respecting band wouldn’t have got out of bed for 10 times as much.

Of course films like Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster and Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 have given us an invaluable insight into life in rock’s fast lane. But these are the biggest names on the planet. And then there was Anvil – a soul-searching documentary dealing with the opposite end of the scale.

It’s a fact that 95% of gigging bands find themselves better off than Lips and his mates but a world away from James Hetfield and his fellow multi-millionaires. There’s very little glamour, minimum comfort and often a sweaty crush. And as for inviting friends and family backstage after the show – it’s like some skewed attempt at the world record for piling the greatest number of people into the smallest room possible.

But there’s a sense of camaraderie, a feeling of fulfilment and, crucially, a closeness to the very people these bands are out to entertain. These days most bands don’t earn much more (often less) than the average man in the street and there’s no chance they’ll lose a grip on reality or drift into a cloud of self-indulgence. Joey Tempest admits there was a time when the budgets blew his mind and lifestyle beggared belief but 20 years on he’s never been happier. Poke your head around the door of dressing rooms the length and breadth of the country and his peers will tell you the same – unless they’re stuck in that queue for the toilet…