With very few exceptions, every issue of Zero Tolerance over the past 6 – 7 years has featured Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill’s column (yes, that loud mouth from Primordial, Dread Sovereign and other degenerate bands); from recounting the weird and sometimes hilarious experiences of his globe-trotting as he tours the world with his bands – to social commentary, the man at the front has something to say about, well, just about everything. Some of it you might like, some you might hate – some might go right over your head or give you an involuntary facepalm, we don’t really think he cares – but we’re sharing it here anyway.
Touring in a night liner is one thing, but the van tour is the test of your metal. It’s how you earn your stripes as a metal musician. It’s tough and unforgiving and separates the men from the boys. Primordial paid the dues back in the day and every summer gets back in the van here and there, but I would admit it ain’t 2000 anymore, we have moved on a bit. Of course this doesn’t mean last summer I didn’t wake up on the floor of an overheated van more or less sizzling like a piece of bacon from Brutal Assault in Czechia to the mountains in Austria. 14 hours we spent in the van with no air conditioning that day after no sleep whatsoever the night before….and the air conditioning was broke. Anyway, sweating is good for you right? Gets the toxins out. This said, I went back in time recently to do a Dread Sovereign van tour for three weeks with our comrades in Procession. So here is a typical 24 hours: The journeys are generally six to ten hours at least, but sometimes this can drag on to 12 or 14 hours if you have to drive the whole length of Poland for example. So the wake up time is 6-8am, anything longer is a sleep in. You wake in a shared dormitory or the floor of some punk venue, sometimes you get your own bed, sometimes not. There’s no money in a tour like Dread Sovereign and Procession so proper hotel rooms are a luxury. So let’s say this time it’s 7am waking time in the boys dormitory. The room stinks from the gig the night before, booze sweat and wet leather. If like me you have trouble sleeping then you’ve had two or three hours sleep lying awake listening to snoring or someone drunk trying to put the key in the door at 5am the night before and then falling round the room trying to find their space. Depending on where we are in the tour this could be the third or fourth night in a row you are living on a handful of hours of sleep.
The amount of times I’ve been sitting on the backseat and had to clamber over sleeping bodies to reach a driver about to blackout is more than you might think.
I can’t sleep easily in a van. Comes from a lifetime of insomnia and being unable to switch off, so I always ride shotgun with the driver. In this case our great friend Daniel from Killtown. It’s important on long journeys to keep the driver company, to keep him alert and awake and simply not let him feel like he’s the only one concentrating while everyone else passes out. The amount of times I’ve been sitting on the backseat and had to clamber over sleeping bodies to reach a driver about to blackout is more than you might think.
So we talk……and we talk……and a happy coincidence of sitting upfront is I control the stereo. If you’re driving through the night and want to put drunks to sleep then Bohren und der club of Gore is like a sleeping pill, if you want people to wake the fuck up some classic Motörhead is the answer….a dramatic Alpine mountain pass? Let’s roll with some Woven Hand or who knows, we might rock some Depeche Mode or Can.
You anticipate that something will inevitably break, so you have to set off earlier than you imagine. In Barcelona, the van was broken into and we were robbed so we spent the morning in the police station. In Italy we find the alternator in the van is having trouble with the mountain climbs….we crawl over the Alps. So you learn to snatch an hour or two if you can, there’s no place to worry about sleeping on top of or snuggled in beside someone. You do it. I find a tiny crawl-space right on top of the gear where I can lie wedged against the roof. Every now and again I relieve myself of talking duty and sneak an hour or two there, I always have sleeping pills on me. They are essential on any tour as when you have to sleep you have to. Or else no voice the next night. We ration them out when we need to…..On a 12 or 14 hour trip I might take four -five hours in the crawl-space if I can. Usually not though.
You might get fed properly, you might get a bowl of cold pasta and ketchup. You never can quite tell….
So let’s be frank now. Motörhead is called Motörhead for a reason, and the reason is that they did this exact same thing back in the ‘70s and found one simple and effective method of pushing through with no sleep. Speed…..You aren’t naïve enough to think three weeks or more in the back of a van would be a holiday right? 6pm is medicine time. If you are lucky enough to have had some sleep by now then good for you, if not then you won’t by now….Usually between 4-6pm we should be arriving at the venue, but sometimes you have to load out straight onto the stage and play 20 minutes after you get there. No time for sleepyheads so I call it tactical speed. It’s functional and serves a purpose and in my opinion better for you than drinking three cans of Red Bull a day. Cocaine is a pointless luxury, we will leave that for our tour of Narnia…So taking into account the usual fuck ups on the van journey – from robbings, police encounters, piss stops, broken GPS co-ordinates, driving around for an hour looking for parking – eventually you get to some small venue and go straight to the load out. There’s no money for anyone in a tour like this so some venues have people to help, others don’t. Sometimes you load the back line (drums/amps/hardware) straight from the back of the van, up three flights of stairs and onto the stage. You might get fed properly, you might get a bowl of cold pasta and ketchup. You never can quite tell….Some of the band choose to live on chocolate for three weeks. We won’t say who. Backstage. What backstage? We all share a tiny space with guitar cases and amp heads. Change where you can and get up there and do it, this is where all the fucking long hours pays off. The moment you get to make some noise and get up there and play. Like I said Primordial is one thing, we don’t thankfully play to no one anymore, but Dread Sovereign is like going back in time… starting at more or less the beginning, so if there are 100 people there then that’s a fucking triumph. However there could be 25. In the end the worst headcount is about 20 in Slovakia, and near to 200 on some of the doom nights. We sell out of our CDs and lips halfway through and come home with only s, xl and xxl shirts. However tonight we find ourselves playing to, let’s say 65 people in a tiny sweat-box in Spain. I crank the bass amp up louder than it should be….you need to feel it in the pit of your stomach, right?
I’ll strip in public for dry clothes, I really don’t give a fuck.
There’s nowhere to change so you do what you can in a usually fucked up toilet. Some guys can sit around in wet stage clothes but I can’t; I’ll strip in public for dry clothes, I really don’t give a fuck. However 18 people all trying to find somewhere to dry their clothes? Every day……in the ‘backstage’? You need to be made of stern stuff to not get sick. No doubt people can smell us from a mile away. I tend to throw socks and jocks away every day but there are days in some freezing cold backstage where it’s either live in your wet stage clothes or nothing at all. You want privacy or a moment alone? Fucking forget it. I try and tune my bass and get my eye in. I’m not a natural bass player so need to concentrate more than the others, Primordial is like muscle memory now but finding a square metre of space to just play for 20 minutes can be impossible.
Yet we all watch out for each other. We sell each other’s merch, when your gig is finished you aren’t finished at all…..you will watch the stage in case something fucks up for Procession, and they do the same for us. It’s not an exaggeration to say you become family, you see more of them then possibly any other person in life – certainly your own family or best friends at home. Throwing a tantrum or bitching and complaining and moaning is not an option or else you will simply get what’s coming to you. I push through the tiredness with the elation of playing but it ain’t easy, I ain’t 26 anymore. You sell some merch, you chat to people….we pack up and take down the stage, load out the gear. You might now have anything from two to three hours before we start again the next day, or best-case scenario, you have five, maybe six hours to put your head down. Most small venues don’t have showers, some do…..but 18 people all trying to take a quick, often cold shower in the same one to two-hour period? Forget it. Some people try and get laid…..with half an eye on hopefully a cleaner, dryer bed – a shower and maybe not listening to snoring all night and some coffee in the morning. Yeah….not much has changed Lemmy. I lie awake and listen to the snoring, the drunken conversations, the gig still humming in my ears. Three hours to van-call and we go again. We are the road crew……
Photograph by Gareth Averill
The views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily shared by the magazine or Obdurate Ltd. This column appears in the current issue of Zero Tolerance Magazine, #078 – onsale now…