HOW THEIR ROAD MEN INSURE THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS
by Joe Bivona (CIRCUS RAVES Magazine)
It was a sunny, slightly chilly morning in New Jersey when the ELP crew arrived to set the stage at Roosevelt Field. The setup went along the well-thought-out schedule that was used for all the other ELP gigs on the massive tour, but Mother Nature had different plans in store for the road crew that summer day. We were all sitting around eating - this was about 12 noon, one roadie recalled, "and then it started to drizzle. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were in their trailers, and they wanted to do a sound check. Catching a breath, he continued. We went to turn on the power, and it just wasnt there.
As one listens to their stunning in-concert set, Welcome Back My Friends, it seems hard to imagine so ridiculous an emergency disrupting ELPs thoroughly professional and specialized tour operation. The album itself is an exact copy of the show ELP has already performed for hundreds of thousands of people, and will perform for many more - the most technically advanced and amazingly complex show that was ever put on the road, bar none. The pyrotechnics that take place onstage - from Emersons aerial piano to Palmers rotating drums - are the result of many months of work by the band - and the men out of the spotlights. It takes 26 people to handle and account for the sound and light equipment that make up the famed ELP extravganza, and Circus Raves Magazine decided to check out the inner workings of the show that never ends.
Equipment skyline: The job of a roadie is well known - do what has to be done to get the equipment onstage and working - and with most rock bands, its a difficult enough undertaking. But then, ELP is not your average rock band.
The backstage scene before an ELP concert is a stark contrast from the backstage antics of a typical rock production. The job of handling the enormous amount of equipment with the proper care and efficiency turns the ELP roadies into specialists of sorts, with each man of the road crew designated for a particular job.
Its all very organized," says one member of the ELP team who spoke to Raves. It has to be. We have twice the equipment of most bands on the road, and ten times the headaches. We cant afford to have everybody wandering around looking for something to do - if that happened it would take us days to get the show together.
An ELP gig starts as early as 8 oclock in the morning - the time that the road crew starts to unload the three forty-foot equipment trailers that spent the night at the venue ELP will be performing in twelve hours later. Usually a union crew is provided to help the ELP roadmen out, but sometimes theyre left on their own.
Heavy-duty forklift trucks bring out the equipment, piece by piece, and line it up at the back of the stage, as the construction of the sound towers at either side of the stage begins. The sound towers and the wall of speaker cabinets lining the stage when fully set up could very easily be mistaken for a miniature N.Y. skyline, and after that phase of the set-up is done, the electricians come on to hook up the speakers and amplifiers.
Wire wizards: The team of electricians that wire ELPs sound set-up is headed by Andy Hendrickson, who also handles the sound mix that is fed to the sound towers at stageside from ELPs specially constructed mixing board. Allister Coleman and Bill Huff are key men in the chain; they supervise the work of the electrical technicians from I.E.S., the company that provides the traveling sound system for the show. While the work of the other roadies is important, Hendrickson, Coleman and Huffs work is crucial; the PA. mix the audience hears, the monitor mix that is fed back to ELP (while they are performing), and the quadraphonic sound mix that the album came from, are all their responsibility.
Another of the roadies, describing the way the crew works together, drew an anology to a football game. "Hell, everybody knows their job so well, he said, its just like a football team - sometimes you're not quite sure how the ball gets from the 50-yard line to the goal - but we just make sure it does." All of this activity takes place in the morning, and is usually finished by early afternoon, allowing the band time to do a sound check before the show. But it's hard to keep a good band away while the heavy work goes on.
They really care about what happens before the concert, one roadie told Circus, "and Bill Huff has a rough time keeping the boys at the hotel until its time for the sound check. Theyre not like some other bands that dont give a damn what happens before they step onstage.
Personal watchdogs: Besides the road crew that sets up the stage, wiring, and lights, there are six roadies that cater to the individual needs of the three band members, and they work under the watchful eye of Mike Shamus OShay, ELPs stage manager. Keith Emersons huge keyboard setup requires no less than three roadies to keep it safe and in working order. Rocky and Bobby Richardson are responsible for most of the keyboards, and a newcomer, Mick, is in charge of Keiths infamous synthesizers. Mick is the Moog expert, said one stagehand. Keiths got this prototype, polyphonic synthesizer - he can play chords on it - and its so goddamn delicate you always need somebody around who knows how it works.
Setting up Emersons many keyboards and synthesizers requires that these men know as much or more about the way the synthesizer works than Emerson himself.
Roger Powell, creator and performer on the synthesizer set-up used in Todd Rundgrens Utopia, is one of the original designers of the basic system Emerson uses onstage, and he let Circus in on what goes into setting up the complex system. As a synthesizer player you have to start early to get the machine patched, or wired, properly - the machine doesnt make any sound as is. Every time it is uncased, it has to be built up from scratch. What Emerson has basically, said Powell, is an older model Moog, the one model, but hes added some extras and had some modifications made.
Four dimensional synthesizer: As with all synthesizers, the roadies must tune Emersons four different ways - for pitch, volume, tone color, and attack-decay. All of those elements of the sound must be tuned for each voice the synthesizer is producing. All of this is done on the patchboard on the face of the synthesizer, and it takes time and "smarts" to get it right. Keith is a perfectionist about the way his equipment is set up and doesnt stand for screw- ups - as Rocky and Bobby found out at an ELP gig in New Haven, Conn. When Emerson went to his organ, and found out something was haywire, he ripped it out and threw it off the stage. They caught a bit of hell for that one, chuckled one amused roadie.
Palmers massive custom-made drum set requires the services of yet another two roadies. It has to be perfect, said one of them about Carls set-up, but its not that much of a hassle, because the mikes are built right into the drums themselves. Theyre heavy as all hell, though. John Chichester, a reserved but lovable roadie, has the honor of supervising Greg Lakes assortment of axes, and keeps watch over them while Lake performs onstage.
It cant be emphasized enough how professional these guys are, said a friend of the crew, yet that gig ELP played at Roosevelt Field last summer put the road agents to an endurance test that gave them nightmares for weeks. After the rain subsided, the roadies managed to restore power to the stage and the P.A. system. As the sun poked through the clouds and all looked clear, ELP sashayed out of their trailers and ambled up onstage to do the sound check, which came off without a hitch. Satisfied with the way things sounded, the band took to their trailers while Bobby, John, Rocky and the rest of the crew hung out, enjoying the sunshine and free time.
Killer rain: Out of nowhere swept back the clouds that haunted them earlier in the day, and the carnival atmosphere that had settled over the site was dampened by the sound of pouring rain. Greg was speaking to a girl at the site when the rain kicked up again. She later told Circus, Ive never seen a look of shock like the one he had on his face in all my life." The torrents that soaked the stage area were brutal. Roadies trying to cover the valuable equipment with tarps dove for cover in the trailer.
Ravaging winds: Bobby and Rocky, Keiths roadies, were the only ones left on the stage as they tried to shield Keiths valuable and fragile keyboards from the downpour. As if the rain weren't enough, the winds that started to blow around the stage created a small tornado, which lifted the massive canvas covering onstage, and ripped it to shreds. The towering speakers were no match for the winds raging fury and much equipment was literally blown across the stage.
As the band and crew looked on with horror and amazement, the wind caught the 8-foot high bank of synthesizers -the same one Bobby was trying to save - and toppled it, wedging Bobby between the stack and a packing crate. Other roadies, seeing Bobby almost crushed by the stack, ran to his aid. But Bobby, alarmed at his peril, pushed the stack off himself in a feat of super-human strength. I dont know ow I did it, he wondered in a trailer between slugs of hard liquor. The blasted thing must weigh five times what I weigh.
But the damage was done. Emersons unique stack of synthesizers, patch boards, logic circuits and oscilloscopes, were soaked to the resistors. The antique grand piano that was rented especially for the New Jersey gig was drenched, reducing it to so much soggy firewood.
The rush is on: If the ELP road crew ever sweated, it was after the torrents of rain subsided. Rocky and Bobby, now recovered from the mishap with the mountain of Moogs, quickly tore down the stack and rushed it out to the I.E.S. warehouse in nearby Queens, N.Y. Using air hoses to blow dry the delicate synthesizer circuit boards, the two roadies warded off damage that could have doomed the rest of the tour.
While there was no way on earth the show could go on as scheduled, the diligent work of ELPs road crew prevented a wet day in hell from drowning the show altogether - without them, Emerson, Lake and Palmer could have re-named their album "Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Almost Ended..."
Melody Maker, October 17, 1970
A name like Barrington Marsh-Ward conjures up pictures of a country squire riding with hounds on his country estate - but it actually belongs to Bazz - a roadie as well known on the pop scene as the personnel of the bands he has worked for during his nine years of humping amplifiers across stages all over the world.
Dark-haired, bearded, bespectacled, and with great powers of suction when it comes to pints of lagers, Bazz watched the Nice grow from a £25 a night act to £2000 a gig superstars.
Now he has the task of handling the many tons of equipment belonging to Derek and the Dominos - and if anybody has to be right - Eric Clapton has!
Ten years ago Bazz was drumming for a group called the Pressmen - and he took to roadying when he discovered their roadie was earning more than he was. Now his long list of employers includes Goldie and the Gingerbreads, Screaming Lord Sutch, Freddie Mac, the She Trinity, P. P. Arnold, Santana, and Johnny Winter.
But Bazz's years with the Nice gave him most satisfaction - "I can remember when we played our first gig on September 1, 1967, and we were booed off stage because the crowd wanted sock-it-to-me music, " he recalled.
"When Keith (Emerson) used to smash his organs about, it was up to me to repair things. Once he broke a rib while jumping about on and off his organ and he never found out until the skeleton photos were done for the 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' album. At one time I was almost managing the band before they were really well known.
"A good roadie needs patience, know-how and stamina. I go to trade fairs and things to see new equipment, and look around at new vans on the market to see if there are any better ones than those we are using.
"Some bands treat roadies very badly, the pay isn't very good and the hours are terrible. There are fringe benefits though, like birds - and Green Shield stamps on all the petrol."
Stories stemming from ten years on the road are legion - like the time a guy turned up in a Volkswagon saloon to take the Nice's equipment to a gig, or like the time Bazz discovered an organ that had been left behind half way across the Atlantic - and he had to go the next day to get it.
"I want to write a book on roadying when I give up", says Bazz. "Did you know I was mentioned in that book about groupies - I was the roadie called Bert in that and the things they said were true. I guess I'll keep on roadying until I can't lift a Hammond any longer."
John Robson, now looking after the gear for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, after work with the Nice, spoke to the MM from Glasgow as he took a break between setting up Emerson's complicated mass of stuff.
"It's a pretty groovy job, but it's bloody hard work as well. Once upon a time we roadies had few problems, but now with all this complicated stuff around, you have to cart around a bloody workshop with you." John lives in London with Keith.
"Anecdotes? Christ, I must have loads of tall stories to remember. Like maybe the time with the Nice in Antwerp, Fleetwood Mac and Yes were also travelling, and when the roadies got to Southend Airport, we found we had to load the gear on the plane ourselves. We put nets around bulks of speakers, and tied things together before working our way over to the plane on one of those fork-lift devices. After a lot of laughs and struggles we got it all in.
"Well we were all pretty exhausted, and were relieved when we sat down in the plane. Then we are told its the last plane of its kind still flying, built around 1950 or something. Sure enough we look around the thing, and there's a quarter of an inch gap between the door frame and the door, and you could see the English Channel flitting by underneath.
"Working with Keith has given me some hair-raising moments, especially when he had the frequent habit of knocking everything to pieces. But he's not doing that so much now, thank God.
Does John have to keep fit? "Very fit, mate, very fit. You have to be fit automatically with this job, and it keeps you fit all the time. Trouble is you don't get much sleep."