The Way Of Touring – A Very, Very Rough Guide To A Very, Very Rough Life.
By Joolz, Who Toured For Twenty-Five Years.

Warning: This Guide contains adult language and themes. Which it bloody well should given the subject matter.


Touring is, of course, the mainstay of the working musicians life. It really is brilliant and better than you can imagine – I personally still love every good-bad-knackering-hilarious-desperate-insane minute of it even after all this time. All serious aspiring bands long to get on board that big old bus and drive off into rock n' roll paradise. Which is all well and good, but a few practical and genuine hints and tips on how to survive what is one of the most exhausting, physically demanding and mentally de-stabilising activities in the music industry will help you enjoy your touring life much, much more and ensure that you come out of it alive. Some don't. No-one will tell you this stuff, because there are no lessons on touring, and you're supposed to just 'know'. How that is meant to happen escapes me so here's what you usually won't be told until you cock up, when it will be too late.

A tour bus is either a single deck, or double-decker coach equipped with a number of bunks ranging from about eight to sixteen bunks with privacy curtains (and often a reading light and air conditioning), in tiers on either side of a narrow corridor. There will also be a toilet, kitchen-type facilities with a fridge and one or two lounges (if two, one is usually designated a 'quiet' lounge for people wanting to chill after a hard night's work, and one a 'noisy' lounge for playing music, partying etc.,) with TVs/DVDs. Please note that smoking is technically illegal on UK buses. Premium bunks are the middle bunk of a three tier bunk set and as far away from the noisy lounge as possible. You get the best sleep in those. Some tour buses are incredibly luxurious, some pretty basic. Never forget that you are paying a very, very great deal of money daily to hire it and its driver from a specialist rock n' roll tour bus company. If you damage the bus, you pay for it to be repaired. Nothing in rock n' roll is ever free, people.

Hints & Tips.

1) This is vital. Do NOT sleep with your head towards the driver. Always sleep feet-towards-the-driver. Always. Without fail. If you do not, should there be an accident (you figure it out – night driving for hours and hours in all weathers, all countries, for months on end – what are the odds?) – or even if the driver has to emergency brake – you will stand a good chance of breaking your neck as your head is violently crushed against the bunk wall. Death or spinal damage resulting in paralysis can, and has, resulted. Game over, in fact.

2) Accept that occasionally, you will hate the sight of either one of your touring party, or absolutely everyone on the bus (you will be living far closer with them than you lived with your blood family for example). You MUST learn to get along with your fellow band and crew members, otherwise your band will split up quicker than a greased weasel. You have to learn to work with people; this is a total no-brainer because if you cannot learn very fast to swallow your irritation with other people's little habits and get Zen about things, just give up now and become a plumber. Check your own habits – be honest – are you dirty, smelly, have stinky feet, snore like a steam train, or become a loud, tedious bore when drunk or stoned? Are you arrogant, whiney, rude, pushy, bossy, know-it-all, lazy, untidy, thoughtless towards others, a liar, a thief or have an attitude better suited to a big-haired 80's stadium rocker than a band on its first tour? All your – and everyone's – flaws and habits will be under the microscope on the tour bus. Learn to accept them. If you really can't, have a quiet, private word with the person annoying you and be prepared for them to mention your bad breath and ghastly trainers. Then sort yourselves out and get on with the tour because the tour always, always, always comes first.

3) No solids in the bus toilet. No paper, shit, tampons, nothing. Liquids only. If you badly need a shit, politely ask the bus driver to stop at the next Services or roadside toilets. If you are really caught short or ill with a stomach bug, in an emergency, line the toilet with a bin-bag, and shit in that, then tie it up and dispose of it outside the bus as soon as you possibly can. Solids in the bog destroy the toilet system and the driver will be justifiably very, very cross. Plus the whole bus will then stink of sewage until it can be fixed. Your call.

4) The Driver Is Not Your Mam. He/she is not there to tidy up after you/make your bed/do your washing/put up with your crap. They are employed by the bus company to drive you safely from A to B. This is important: do not piss your driver off. He can drive you in such a way that none of you will ever get a wink of sleep, or he can waft you from gig to gig as if on angel wings. So – do not blast loud music at him when he's driving. Do not suffocate him with dope smoke. Do not interfere with his concentration or do stupid things to him while he is driving (or at any other time unless you're really thick).Do not crash about/slam doors/make noise on the bus during the day when he is sleeping. Be tidy on the bus – bins are provided for your empties/rubbish. Use them. The driver will change your bunk-linen regularly but if you get Nutella all over it because you had the midnight munchies that's your call, mate. NEVER open the bus doors whilst the bus is in motion. Alarms go off and everyone will know you did it. Always tell the driver if you get off the bus at the Services or whatever, so he/she knows you aren't on the bus. Otherwise, they could drive off without you, unaware you're not snoring in your bunk and you could be left stranded in a Service station at night in the middle of Germany in sub-zero temperatures in your t-shirt and jeans with no money and no phone. It happened to me and it was NO FUN, trust me. Remember – respect the driver – your life is literally in his or her hands.

5) Be clean. No-one appreciates your stink, it's very unhealthy and anti-social (see Tip 2). Touring is a notoriously dirty occupation with few opportunities to wash your clothes, so take every opportunity to get a shower if there's one at the venue, or on your day off. Anti-bacterial wet-wipes are cheap and efficient, use them not only on hands, but feet too. You can't wash your hands too often whilst touring – venues are filthy and you do not want a stomach bug whilst on the bus; it's a small but perfectly formed version of Hell. Be clean, otherwise you'll get rashes from your filthy clothes and you'll be covered in spots, with green teeth and breath that would strip paint. That will give even the skankiest groupie pause for thought. Score – 0.

6) Sexual health. Wear a condom. Don't even think about not doing so. That cute chick you've pulled at the after-show will have been cute to every other touring band coming through her town, otherwise she would not be backstage or in the VIP Bar. You will be sharing the bacteria of dozens of other musos. If you are unlucky enough to develop a rash on or round your genitals, piss like liquid fire, genital sores and/or fever (like flu) – ask the tour-manager to arrange for you to see a doctor pronto. Do not pretend it's not happening because you're embarrassed. You weren't embarrassed to shag that bird over the bins outside the club off your head on coke, so let's not be silly now; not only your long-term health – and your fertility – will suffer if you leave sexually transmitted diseases untreated out of cowardice, but you risk infecting your real girlfriend/boyfriend (yes, you will cheat on them) with some vile disease. Try explaining that one away, bubba.

7) Take your prescription medicines with you. Do not forget the inhalers, creams, pills that you take regularly. Make up a little bag of useful (as opposed to recreational) drugs and first-aid stuff such as pain-killers, Imodium (essential emergency treatment for the shits), a cold remedy such as Nurofen Cold & Flu tablets or similar, plasters, antiseptic cream, etc. This will be invaluable when you get a cold (you will) or a rash (you will) or cut yourself (you will).Take your medicine bag with you on tour and you won't be sitting around with a banging headache and churning guts while everyone else is partying. Do not forget to read the instructions on the painkillers and DO NOT exceed the dose or take with alcohol. Drink plenty of water regularly and more if you're ill. No-one will look after you when you're ill on tour unless you take your mother/girlfriend with you, which is highly unlikely, so get into the habit of sorting yourself out efficiently. If you're really, really ill the tour-manager will get a doctor for you, but foreign doctors are expensive and A&E takes hours that you don't have to spare before a gig. Yes, it's boring, but if you don't look after yourself, whine to me when you've got flu in Slovakia and I'll just laugh.

8) Treat your crew with respect. They make your show – or break it. They will be professional technicians who will doubtless be earning more than you, the band member. They do not need your bad attitudes, laziness, immaturity, inability to work with a hang-over or sulkiness. They work balls-out all the time in a way the straight world cannot begin to imagine and only respect musicians who are dedicated to music and willing to work without complaint to get the show on. If you treat them like idiots they will destroy your rep, and your rep is worth more than gold in the industry. If you are a twat to people on the way up, they will let you drop to the bottom without lifting a finger to save you when you're not the hottest on the block anymore (which will happen, as it happens to every band in the world). Be decent, and everyone will help you get back up there. Your choice.

9) Drugs. You will take them so stop pretending; only your granny thinks you're an angel. Cocaine is the most over-used and tedious drug going and on tour, it's a nightmare of annoyingness to your travelling companions, the ruination of your performance on-stage and the death of your finances. Cocaine is NEVER free, even if it seems that it is. Somehow or another, you will be paying for it. It is highly addictive and turns you instantaneously into a boring wanker. Alcohol is the most destructive drug known to musicians after coke and more deaths occur as a result of alcoholism in the music industry than any other drug. You will be offered unlimited booze; learn to know when to stop or end up a failed drunk propping up the bar in some dead-end hole blathering on about what you might have been. Weed is everywhere and people have different tolerances to it; learn yours before you go out on tour as it will cause you to fuck up your performances if you can't deal with it. Also, in quantity it can make you paranoid, which is not good in the enclosed atmosphere of the bus. Don't even think about heroin. Remember that heap of stinky rags begging for change by the cash machine you jeered at? That's you in five years if you start with heroin. All drugs are your choice; just learn to be a pro about them. No-one, and I do mean no-one, respects a pathetic druggie.

10). Relationships. Touring is very, very hard on your relationships. Band members are exposed to and encouraged (by each other, the media and various other hangers-on) to participate in all kinds of behaviour, some of which may result in the betrayal of their partners back at home. Or, the long separations can cause stress, heartache and often, partners break up whilst one of them is on tour. This can cause rows by phone etc. which can be punishingly expensive in phone bills and given the claustrophobic nature of the tour bus, very embarrassing and often distressing for the rest of the touring party who have no choice but to witness you crying/begging forgiveness/yelling abuse at your at-home partner at 2.00 a.m. whilst being driven through Poland. So – keep your personal relationship problems to yourself as much as you can and try to row by text. This kind of thing is even harder if people in the band are romantic partners as tiredness/stress/who-was-that-dirty-bastard/bitch-you-were-flirting-with can ruin a show – and destroy a tour entirely. And no, you can't bring your bird/fella on the bus because you like, proper miss them, it's way too expensive and disruptive. The same goes double for random creatures of the night you picked up in Hamburg.

11) Restrict your luggage to one large sports bag. Women can have a handbag too if they stow it in their bunk with them. This applies for two weeks, two months or two years. Tour buses are extremely restricted in terms of personal space so think carefully about what you bring with you. Yes, they do sell socks in other countries.

12) If you have a wank on a tour bus everyone will know because the bus will shake. So be discreet. No shouting 'yeah, yeah, oh yeah, big boy', at the crucial moment. Someone will record you and play it over the sound system at sound check. Yes, they so, so will.

13) Leave your singing-along-out-loud-to-your-iPod-tunelessly at home. Forever.

14) Take a multi-vitamin supplement every day. You will never be eating properly even if you're eating expensively. If your diet is generally deep-fried pizza washed down with full-fat Coke it'll be a nice change for your innards to have some decent input. Multibionta is a good, reasonably priced 100% of everything you need supplement which is available from Boots/Superdrug. A healthy tour is a good tour.

15) On tour, He Who Sleeps The Most, Wins.

So – good luck and happy touring, folks.

Joolz is now a Patron of the charity IDAS - a practical, grassroots organisation helping anyone who is a victim of sexual violence in the North of England.

Copyright © 2019 Joolz Denby. All Rights Reserved.

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