Roundhouse Time. – I discover the joys of the 130 hour working week

Working at the Roundhouse Theatre was both exciting and exhausting

About 1998, an old friend of mine, Robbie Simpson, asked me if I would care to be the next Production-manager at the Roundhouse Theatre where he was working at the time in some technical capacity or other. I thought this might be fun, so I applied for the job and to my considerable surprise got it, in spite of having really no real experience in that particular work. But then, the man who gave me that job – the Director of the Roundhouse Trust – had been in charge of the Egg Marketing Board before taking up his post at the Roundhouse….

Thus began what was probably the most amazing three years of my life.

Being Production Manager there meant being in charge of everything apart from Front of House and office type administration, so I was in charge of a staff of about 30 or so totally weird hippy-like stage hands, electricians, carpenters, cleaners and others, and was totally responsible to ensure that everything technical worked for incoming companies and the public.

It also meant working for anything up to 130 hours every few weeks as a new show came in (The Roundhouse was a sort of short run pre-west end theatre), as most shows came for about a month and then headed to the west end theatres if they were successful with us.

Being literally an old engine roundhouse – the first in the world built by Stevenson in 1836, it wasn’t actually a good structure for theatre, so we more or less completely rebuilt the auditorium and stage for each production…..

We had the most amazing variety of shows there, ranging from classical music concerts, musicals, film shows, huge rock shows every Sunday, drama and so on.. Anything you can think of could and probably did happen there at one time or another.

People who we worked with included, and this list is far from complete:-

Doctor John

Pink Floyd,


Stone Ground,

And outside the Roundhouse I had the pleasure of working with Frank Zappa as well… A man whose work I admired enormously…. And I am happy to say that he was every bit as pleasant and sharp in person as he seemed to be when one saw him being interviewed. An intriguing man and an incredible guitarist too.

Well to make the list shorter, we had almost every rock musician and band apart from The Beatles, the Doors, Hendrix and Joplin. For the rest more or less everyone who was busy with Rock in the years between 1969 and 1974 appeared there in one way or another…. One highlight was the first of the Stone’s Last concerts… That was circus to say the least, which I shall write about more fully later.


Pierre Boulez,

London Philharmonic Orchestra,

BBC Symphony Orchestra,

Le Grande Magique Circus,

Arian Menushkin’s Théâtre du Soleil,

Jean-Louis Barrault,


Peter Brooke,

Sir Lawrence Olivier,

Johnathan Miller

Jeremy Irons,

David Essex,

Bernard Breslaw (he was such a gentle person in spite of his impressive size)

Continue reading “Roundhouse Time. – I discover the joys of the 130 hour working week”

Life On The Rock And Roll Road – Part 2

On another occasion, also on the Traffic tour, but down in the south of Italy we ran into another curious phenomena of those days for the first time, the Rioting Maoists of Italy

In general Italy is a country that I am rather fond of, but as place for us to work it was really scary at that time. The Mafia controlled all pop concerts in Italy back then – and perhaps still do for all I know, and there were a large number of young people, who described themselves as Maoists (Not sure why), who felt that all such concerts should be free.. Certain lack of understanding of economics there I felt, but that is what they felt strongly about.

Anyway, this manifested itself in a sort of pre-arranged and orchestrated riot at all pop concerts in Italy at that time. So we would turn up at the venue, and the Italian Riot Police would already be there with their riot gear, armoured cars, water cannon and so on, and would be busy setting up huge fences around the venue. In due time the “Maoists” would start to gather, with their face masks, helmets and banners….

Mostly the riots took place outside the venue, as the cops managed to keep the kids away more or less. But in Naples it really got out of hand, and as the concert was moving nicely along, suddenly tear gas grenades started bursting in the hall, and as one, the entire audience whipped out gas masks, put them on and sat back to enjoy the rest of the concert. We on the other hand were not so well prepared, and had to carry on with streaming eyes and noses as the place filled up with tear gas.

Not easy.

After a bit there were a couple of huge explosions outside, shortly followed by a number of rioters rushing onto the stage, closely followed by riot cops armed with short rifles, who proceeded to beat the hell out of the kids with their rifle butts, right beside poor Stevie Winwood who was attempting to sing….

The unconscious kids were dragged off by the cops and we simply carried on….. Had no choice really.

We later discovered that the explosions were two car bombs the rioters let off outside….

Life on the road for a roadie was never dull.

Share with us:

Do you have any such road stories you would like to share with us here?  Do write about them and send it to me,and I shall post it.

Life On The Rock and Roll Road – Part 1

For some years I was a lighting rock and roll roadie – which meant that I worked with the stage lights used on rock and roll tours, and during the concerts, I was one of the follow spot operators.

Touring itself had its pleasant side to it, the chief being the cohesion of the roadies, we tended to become something like a small army unit, a very tight group of people, we knew we could depend on each other absolutely in all circumstances. This was pleasing to experience. The tours themselves tended to become something of a foggy experience, after being on the road for a couple of weeks with gigs almost every night tended to make us confused as to which city we were in, let alone which country. So in motorway cafes we generally ordered our food, and then simply held out a handful of mixed European currency and told the guy to take what he needed in his country’s money.

This was obviously before the advent of the Euro….  Must make life on the road so much easier!

Going across borders tended to be tedious too. We traveled in relatively large convoys of huge trucks and various crew buses and cars (Almost never with the group themselves, they generally flew from gig to gig). At every border we were of course stopped and taken apart by the Customs who were determined to find drugs on us, which they never did, for three reasons:

  • We all knew we would be searched thoroughly at the borders,
  • We actually hardly used drugs on the road, we were working to hard for that,
  • Any drugs there were with us ( mostly for the group’s use) were always in the TIR sealed trucks, so the border Customs couldn’t open them…

Idiocy of borders.

On a Traffic tour we experienced something totally Kafkaesque on the border between France and Spain. For once the band were traveling with us in cars. The bongo drummer with Traffic, a really nice, friendly and fine musician from Ghana had a visa for one visit to France, but when he got to the Spanish border control it turned out that his visa for Spain wasn’t valid for some reason or other, so he was not allowed into Spain.

Continue reading “Life On The Rock and Roll Road – Part 1”

One Of The Joys Of Being A Roadie – Machine Guns

In 1974 I worked on a European tour of the band Traffic during which we did a gig in Barcelona.  This was shortly after the death of Franco, and in many ways Spain was still trying to get over that long period of fascism, and one relic of those bad old days was still very much in evidence, and still very much feared by all and sundry – for good reason.  The good old Guardia Civil was still there in that curious uniform, wandering around the place with their rifles.

We arrived at the place for the concert (I have no memory of its name, but it was some sort of old theatre that I do remember), and set up in the normal way.  Which means a lot of very hairy and tired men carting vast quantities of huge road boxes out of the  trucks and up about three flights of stairs, along long twisty corridors and finally out onto the stage.

Pretty no?
Pretty no?

Having more or less filled the stage with all those boxes, we set about putting in place all the speakers, lights, cables, sound mixers, amplifiers, lighting controls, drum risers and all the other arcane junk needed for a Rock and Roll concert that these boxes had contained.

All this was completely normal and SOP for us… what was slightly less normal for us was that this entire operation – which takes hours to complete – was all carried out under the extremely cold and disapproving eyes of an entire platoon of those Guardia creatures, who stared at us like hungry wolves as we worked and swore our way to getting it all ready.

Continue reading “One Of The Joys Of Being A Roadie – Machine Guns”