18 Oct Writing Archive (Music) – Battle: Confessions of a band in a van
I’ve recently been unpacking after a move and in doing so have uncovered many items I haven’t seen for years. Items deliberately saved, but hidden from view. Yesterday I found all my notes from a few days I spent out with Battle, which saw them play the Reading and Leeds stage and then the first day of what turned out to be their final jaunt across the UK. I posted a photo on instagram and a few people said they’d like to see the article, so I’m going to slowly work my way through finding old pieces and getting them online for all to see. Frustratingly I can’t yet find the original images, so here’s how I uploaded back in the day, annoying Creative Commons licenses embedded too.
This was written and shot for Reverb Magazine – which was the in store publication that you could pick up in sound control stores, a publication for musicians and hope-to-be musicians. After the few days with the band, my aim was to make the life of a touring band with regular airplay, positive press, and a degree of success, somewhat more realistic. To make the readers aware that it’s hard graft and that the luxuries you think you’ll get aren’t afforded to the 99% of bands on the circuit. It was never actually printed as the company went into administration just as the presses were about to roll. Only a few people have ever seen this. Enjoy!
CONFESSIONS OF A BAND IN A VAN
Stories of life on the road make up some of the most iconic and legendary tales of excess and debauchery in rock history. But just what happens behind the scenes on tour in this modern day and age? Reverb’s answer to Michael Palin – Ian Miller – heads out with London based Battle at the height of the festival season, for an inside look at what a band has to go through to make the show happen.
It’s just gone midday and I’m sitting with Jason and Oli from Battle (vocals and drums respectively) in a cafe just across the road from their North East London rehearsal studios. The remaining members of the band – Tim (bass) and Jamie (lead guitar) – are stuck in traffic. We calmly sit and wait, chatting; without any worry to the fact that we should’ve left an hour ago.
The van arrives and the band load all their gear. As we set off through the heaving Tottenham traffic, talk is only of the unexpected luxury onboard. Our seats are leather and we’ve both CD and DVD players. Jamie – who’s doing the lions share of the driving – is especially chuffed with the included sat-nav.
We’re heading to the Leeds Festival, where the band are playing the alternative stage. Lunch is provided by a brief pause at a service station where we discover the side door on the van won’t shut, slam it harshly or softly, it bounces back open. It’s the first of many problems that start to bubble to the surface.
The traffic grinds to a halt and we pass by what seems like a never-ending stream of roadwork’s and collisions. It’s quite frustrating, but it seems part of the norm to everyone on board. Jason reads a book to pass the time, he seems as calm as a monk even when taking calls from people who’re finding out where we are. After seven hours of driving we arrive onsite, but there’s no time to rest after such a long journey, Battle are due onstage in just over an hour.
If it can go wrong, it will go wrong
The van is unloaded, Jason and Jamie immediately unpack their guitars and restring them prior to their set. Oli runs the drum kit onto the back of the stage and sets it up. Myself and Tim head off to artists catering to collect food for all. With no maps of the site we rely on the guards at various check points to direct us. It seems, however, that not one of them knows where they are, let alone where anything else is. “It’s probably down that way, but then again, you might’ve just walked past it,” one helpfully advises. We eventually find catering and grab some food for ourselves before collecting take out for everyone else. Stuffy and the Fuses – a band who’re friends with Tim – join us, as does Charlotte Hatherley, its a good opportunity for some PR, so copies of the band’s debut album are handed out.
As we walk back with dinner for everyone else, the paper bag we’re carrying it in snaps – one meal is lost all over the grass. Tim is mortified, but soon shrugs it off and comments, “Can you see how we’ve developed such a morose sense of humor? If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” It’s a key sentence that ends up defining my time with the band. Twenty seconds later you would’ve found us banging on the exit to the artists compound hoping someone would let us out after it was locked from the other side.
After such a long day, the band’s set passes by in a flash. Everything is struck off stage and dumped on the grass behind the tent ready to be packed away. There’s time for a quick drink and chat with Jeremy Warmsley’s band before we leave.
On exiting, once again we find that no employee seems to know where anything is. We’re given so many inaccurate directions that we soon find ourselves driving down several dirt tracks and, shortly after, towards a huge crowd leaving the arena after the headline set. Yes! We’ve ended up in the main campsite! We plow onwards thinking that it can’t get any worse, of course, it does. As the crowds part to let us pass, an ambulance is spied coming in our direction. Reversing isn’t an option – we’d run someone over if we did – so we carefully manoeuvre past each other. It’s no mean feat, at one point we were scarily a centimetre or so apart. We eventually get back onto roads for event traffic, but still have to venture through the public car park to get there. We arrive back in London shortly after 2am.
Heading to Reading
The following day we set off and roll into Reading bang on time. Everything seems far more organised here, though Jamie is slightly cautious of taking directions from stewards following last night’s campsite incident. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t long before the problems start rolling in – the first of today sees the stage manager asking the band to use a generic backline to assist the fast turnover times they’ll have. The band don’t want to. Tim goes off for a private discussion, he returns ten minutes later silently fuming having not gotten their way.
With the whole day onsite, Jason and Jamie head off to do some TV and radio interviews. With the album out in a week and practically the entire UK music press onsite there’s not a wasted moment. The rest of us head to catering. It’s an absolutely scorching day and everyone seems to be heading for the water cooler, its probably the busiest social point on the site today. Jamie joins us later with the news that Jason has managed to get a copy of their album into Win Butler’s hand during the afternoon.
The stage manager has changed her mind and is now allowing bands to use their own equipment, so with the sun setting, everything is readied for tonight’s performance. Despite clashing with the start of the Chilli Peppers, a strong crowd of a couple of hundred have turned up to see Battle, they all sing along and the band reciprocate this interaction. It’s really hot onstage, but there’s an amazing vibe and all agree it was one of their best ever shows.
Once again, the stage is struck and van loaded. Leaving the site is far less eventful tonight, although as we turn onto the main road the side door is still wide open – it won’t shut again – its something that doesn’t stop being funny, especially as Tim becomes increasingly impatient with it. One of the stewards, luckily, rectifies the situation for us just before we speed off.
What a difference a day makes
After the festival weekend, day three sees Battle start a tour supporting Kubichek! We drop by their label’s offices to pick up some vinyl to sell, then head west towards Bristol – where tonight’s gig will be held at the Louisiana.
Upon arrival the difference between a festival and standard tour date are immediately apparent. There’s no welcome party coming to see who you are, or to check your passes. There are no roadies to help you setup the gear, the band have to carry everything up a flight of stairs. The success afforded to them so far still makes them no different to a band playing their first gig in this respect. Everyone introduces themselves to each other and whilst Kubichek! begin to setup, Battle go out onto the venue’s terrace with plenty of tea and enjoy the beautiful weather that’s shining down once again.
With more time on hand today, the lads get a full soundcheck. After the long weekend, Jason’s struggling with a sore throat, so opts to only sing a few lines of each song to ensure he can get through tonight’s set. With the doors open and the venue packed, Battle take to the stage and play through their thirty minutes.
They get a warm reception from the crowd, but its all taken its toll on Jason who comes straight off stage and throws his head under a towel and into a steamer – his voice is shot. The rest of the band are left to load the van as Jason takes care of his ‘instrument’. Opting to head home each night, the drive back to London begins again.
It’s been a fairly uneventful day in terms of how right or wrong events have transpired, not to disappoint the engine decides to overheat just as we leave the M4. It’s cold standing on the other side of the hard shoulder at 2am, but we’re not there for too long: luckily we’ve stolen so many bottles of water from various riders over the past few days, we’re able to refill the radiator and cool everything down without calling out the AA. I get a lift home, and the Battle van drives off heroically into the sunrise. The tour continued… The door still wouldn’t close properly…
Battle’s debut album “Break The Banks” is out now on Transgressive Records
Ian Miller – 2006