Stuart Coupe on Roadies: “The music industry could be doing more in terms of finances and recognition.”
The first question that Stuart Coupe gets from media figures when interviewed about his latest book Roadies is, “How did you get them to talk? I’ve been trying for years!”
Roadies have a secret code and brotherhood, and no one is allowed in.
In Coupe’s case, he’d gotten to know many of them personally when he was managing the Hoodoo Gurus and Paul Kelly.
The crew community was impressed by Coupe’s no-bullshit retelling of stories in his earlier The Promoters and Gudinski books.
Two of the most revered names of road crews, Howard Freeman and $crooge, accepted he would do the right thing by the road crews. Their approval opened the doors to the most reclusive of the legendary roadies.
Coupe recounts to TMN, “This is seriously the first book I’ve written where I did not want it to end. I had the best time with these people, they are real raconteurs.
“They’re side-splittingly funny most of the time, poignant and heartbreaking at other times. “
Coupe had made it clear that Roadies – The Secret History of Australian Rock’n’Roll – was going to be more than just about the sex and drugs, but also a guide to what exactly goes on to being part of a road crew.
“I was personally staggered,” he reveals.
“But the more I got into the book, the more I realised I had no idea of the ingenuity and the hard work and the smarts of these people.
“A roadie doesn’t ask, ‘Can it be done’? That’s not part of their thinking. It’s ‘How we do it?’ They are lateral wizards.”
This, and their work ethic, has seen their stand-outs in demand internationally.
Ted Gardner, founder of USA’s Lollapalooza festival, says, “No one loves their bands as much as Australian road crews, you won’t find that loyalty anywhere else in the world.”
There are venues where roadies must lug gear up three or four flights of stairs… and down again a few hours later.
Usually after that they grab some speed, and drive through the night and set up 14 hours later in another city.
“The RSL clubs were worse,” Coupe relates. “They’d have elevators but they wouldn’t want these horrible roadies walking through their foyers.
“So they’d have to load up four, five, six, flights of metal fire escapes in the rain with really heavy equipment.”
Invariably the crews would at the end of the night have to put up with jealous boyfriends and angry fathers of teenage girls.
Violence is a daily occurrence for crews, and some of them admit they enjoy the battles.
Martial arts expert Howard Freeman’s extremely funny recollections sum up the dramas in country towns.
“You’re treated like second-class citizens, and all the guys are going ‘You’re just here to root my sister’ and I’m going ‘Abso-fucking-lutely’ and then it was on.”
Freeman was tour managing Dragon on their first US tour when Marc Hunter told a rough Texas crowd and shouted, “All Texans are faggots and John Wayne fucks his horse.”
The enraged crowd flung enough rubbish onto the stage to fill three huge containers while Freeman had to get the band out of there before they got lynched.
Roadies includes anecdotes of Bon Scotty’s “stolen” motorbike, an international soul singer “inspired” to lift his performance with his drink being spiked during interval, the craziness of doing four shows in a day, staving off-road boredom by leaping from one car to another as both hurtle down a highway, Ted Mulry and his guns, and how Chisel’s roadies would have a line waiting for Jimmy Barnes behind the PA stack so he could have a quickie in between.
Invariably the roadies’ back-breaking work would break their backs. Many came back from the circus with injuries, broken marriages, estranged children, low self-esteem, an industry which invariably put “just a” before their job title of “roadie”, and a suicide rate five times the national rate.
The formation of the Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA) by Ian Peel and Adrian Anderson, primarily to keep an eye on each other, has drastically cut down the suicides.
Says Coupe, “The music industry could be doing more in terms of finances and recognition.
“There needs to be a much more increased awareness of the toll and the mental health issues that is so rampant within this community,
“It is scary and horrifying of the number of Australian crews who have died by their own hands. This is not mirrored around the world. This is not a global problem; it is an Australian one.
“There needs to be a lot more recognition. A lot of them talk about themselves in the context of soldiers who’ve returned from a war.
“They’ve done their tour of duty where they’ve had camaraderie and support.
“Then they come back to what is essentially a different world, and with no support.
“You hear of a number of musicians and promoters giving 10 cents from each ticket sold at a show or a tour for a roadies’ fund.
“Every band and every promoter and every venue should be doing that.
“Ten cents from a ticket is not going to cripple one artist or one manager or one venue or one concert promoter in the least.
“ It will just help make a hell of a lot of money for people who need it – and spend their lives making musicians, for much of the time, look and sound better than they deserve to!”
Roadies – The Secret History of Australian Rock’n’Roll by Stuart Coupe is published today by Hachette Australia, rrp $32.99
The Roadies Luncheons with panels and live sets are held in Sydney (Wednesday, September 26, The Factory Theatre) and Melbourne (Thursday, October 4, Thornbury Theatre).