Features September 27, 2018

The show must go on: The best stories from ‘Roadies’ launch panel

The show must go on: The best stories from ‘Roadies’ launch panel

Music industry gatherings are kind of like high school reunions; lots of familiar faces, old friends, a few nemesis in the mix.

The Support Act fundraising lunch for the launch of Stuart Coupe’s new biographical novel Roadies drew a refreshingly different crowd.

Among the book’s supporters, the regular industry faces such as ARIA’s Dan Rosen and two tables of media representatives, were the men and women we were at the Factory Theatre to celebrate.

Beards, heavy boots, black t-shirts and happy, world-worn faces filtered throughout the crowd, chatting together on the fringes, sucking down beers and tucking into the buffet spread with gusto.

The audience sat riveted by Coupe and his four guests: stars from the novel including the first female roadie Tana Douglas, “Kerry fucking Cunningham”, Nicky Curley Campbell and Ross Fergie Ferguson.

We learned many things through the half-hour of storytelling, not the least that roadies are tough, smarter and inventive; they will do whatever it takes to get the job done. And they’ve got a damn good sense of humour to offset what can be a very difficult life. They also played a far bigger part in musical history than they’ve ever been given credit for.

The panel could have gone for longer; these are characters whose stories are so rarely heard, and it’s high time the roles were reversed for them to take centre stage.

Kerry regaled us with the story of when he and Ray Arnold, “AC/DC’s first roadie” kept Bon Scott alive by stealing his Triumph motorbike before he went on tour, (but not to worry, “I know all the bikies in town, I’ll see if I can get it back for you.”)

They did this three times.

This bizarre act of kindness is coming from the same guy who, while in a sharpie gang, threatened Michael Chugg and beat up his security at Paddington Town Hall because they didn’t want to pay. Chuggy eventually hired him.

The four reminisced about life without mobiles, when they’d leave notes on the walls of venues for other roadies about issues with electricity or people to avoid, and the nightmare of breaking down on a highway.

“You’d see a house three miles up the road, pitch dark, and you’d have to walk up there and hope you didn’t get your arse attacked by savage dogs, and knock on the door to make a phone call and tell the band you weren’t going to make the gig because all the gear was on the truck. It was very difficult, but you had to make do with what you had,” remembered Curley.

Crew camaraderie pulled them through uncertainty, exhaustion and steep learning curves. “They had the same attitude as me: just get it done. If we say we’re gonna do it, you do it… you have two families, and two lives,” Curley continued.

The single sobering moment came after a story from Fergie about being “the pill guy” on tour with INXS, and the time a pill he gave Kirk Pengilly “turned him into a fucking jellyfish”. While the audience was is stitches, Fergie added a disclaimer:

“By the way – you’ll hear a thousand funny drug stories from us, and in the book. But for every one funny drug story there’s a thousand tragic ones, so you have to take them for what they are.”

It was a different time, and a different working environment.

Whether it’s the specialisation of roadies now vs the jack-of-all-trades mentality of their vintage, or the mass explosion of equipment – “I don’t know where all the shit came from! There’s too much shit!” grumbled Kerry – Tana summed it up for us.

“Is it easier now? Yeah, it’s easier now. But people are a little gentler now, so they probably wouldn’t have survived back then anyway, so I’m glad it’s easier for them!”


Thursday, October 4, Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne. BOOK HERE.

All net proceeds from the Sydney and Melbourne lunches will benefit the Support Act Roadies Fund, which is administered in association with The Australian Road Crew Association.

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