“The show has to happen and they’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
Australian author Stuart Coupe – the writer behind titles such as Gudinski and The Promoters – has released a new book that pays tribute to the local music industry’s unsung heroes.
Entitled Roadies: The Secret History of Australian Rock ‘N’ Roll, the book serves as a literary backstage pass, showing us the secret lives of road crew and the excess that comes with the job.
“They unload the PAs and equipment, they set it all up, they make sure everything is running smoothly before, during and after the gigs. Then they pack everything up in the middle of the night, put it in the back of the truck and hit the road to another town – to do it all over again,” a press release reads.
“They know everything about the pre- and post-show excesses. They bear witness to the overdoses, the groupies, the obsessive fans.
“From The Rolling Stones to AC/DC, Bob Marley to Courtney Love, Sherbet to the Ted Mulry Gang, INXS to Blondie – these guys have seen it all. And now they’re stepping onto the stage and talking.”
We recently caught up with Coupe to learn more about him and his new book. Take a look:
In the book Roadies you speak to some of the music biz’s most prominent roadies. Why did you feel this story/their stories needed to be told?
“I thought it was important because roadies are such an important part of Australian music history and with the exception of one book by Ron Clayton about his (ongoing) time with the Ted Mulry Gang, no other roadie had told their story.
“They’re all great raconteurs, and clever, smart and focused people – with some great yarns. And also given the terrible suicide rate and instances of mental health amongst the Australian road crew, I thought it was important to help give them a voice. And I hope it inspires more of them to tell their stories.
“They really are the unsung heroes of Australian rock ‘n’ roll and the better they do their job the more invisible they are.”
It often seems like a thankless, exhausting task. Based on your interviews, what’s the common denominator as to why these guys want to subject themselves to such a gruelling lifestyle?
“They love the lifestyle, music, and in most cases, the musicians they make look and sound good night after night.
“They’re usually people who don’t fit easily into 9 to 5 traditional jobs, they have an astonishing work ethic – one that’s the envy of road crews around the globe – and problem-solving minds.
“They’re like a version of people who run away to join the circus and it’s a nomadic, ever-changing, rarely dull working lifestyle that just really suits some people. It’s not for everyone – particularly the lazy and fainthearted!”
Based on your observations around their importance over the years, what makes a great roadie? What are the necessary skills and character traits?
“Great roadies never ask if something is possible or not – it’s all about working out HOW to do what’s required – and often they will solve those problems with a great deal in ingenuity. They need to be lateral thinkers, quick thinkers and function on not a great deal of sleep. They need to be cool under pressure and have a psyche that can deal quickly and efficiently with the unexpected.
“A lot of what they do is like flying a plane – the majority of it is pretty straightforward once you know the basics. You only really find out how good you are when something goes catastrophically wrong.”
Out of the plethora of Aussie bands you’ve been associated with or have worked with professionally over the years, which one has been the most fun to hang out with and why?
“Because we were all young, wide-eyed and with a head full of dreams (as Leonard Cohen says) I loved working with and hanging out with the Hoodoo Gurus. It was damn hard work but they were always fun to be propping up a bar alongside at 5am in the morning after a great gig.
“But I also had some hysterical times with Paul Kelly and The Messengers. And they were more fun to talk footy with because like me they love real football – by which I mean the great game of AFL. Go swans btw. Thanks for asking.”
As a music fan of some repute, who are your favourite three Aussie bands of all time?
“That changes daily – often hourly – but at 2.11pm on Thursday September 20, 2018 I would say: The Easybeats, Radio Birdman, and The Go Betweens. And I really wish I’d seen GOD live.
“Seeing as how’s now 2.12 pm it would be: The Saints, The Loved Ones, Courtney Barnett (not a band but are you trying to pick a fight here?)”