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Elizabeth Kinder
 
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Ages before Spinal Tap defined a musicians’ sanity through his or her relationship with the rider, David Thomas of post-punk art rockers Père Ubu was specifying the thickness of the bread and width of the ingredients in his sandwich down to the last millimetre in a way that would leave Nigel Tufnel gasping with admiration. Thomas was, remembers Alan James who worked with him, notoriously picky, though appreciative if the food met the specs. “Delicious sandwich,” he would say.

Whilst Tufnel’s reaction to his carelessly stuffed olives seemed brilliantly disproportionate, fact is, the significance of the rider in a band’s life can’t be underestimated. Not only does it signify your place on the ladder of commercial success (100 white doves? Certainly, madam), it can actually mean the difference between life and death itself.

James remembers touring with a band where one of the members was diabetic. Arriving at the sound-check at a gig in the-middle-of-nowhere to find the promoter hadn’t bothered with the rider at all, the band had no choice but to find somewhere to eat after the gig. At which point the diabetic collapsed in a hypo­glycaemic fit.

In other circumstances, it’s the careful provision of the rider that can do for you. On a rock’n’roll tour in America, one of the members of the band I was with, swigging from one of the many bottles of Jack Daniels plucked from amongst sea of beer and wine asked: “Where’s the snow? No snow, no show!” And so it appeared. Enough to keep the entire population of Colombia marching for years. He collapsed a few days later.

And excesses in the folk world? Alan James who now manages Spiro and 9 Bach, says: “Sometimes arriving at a gig after a long drive and being asked by the promoter ‘Would you all like a cuppa?’ makes all the difference.” He fondly remembers the joyful occasion when a cask of ale was provided unasked by the Brighton Dome to the Young Coppers and another time when the local baker in Holmfirth turned up at the stage door to offer the Imagined Village a tray full of his home-made pies. “I thought the band might like these.”

Then there was the time Joe Strummer who, playing a gig in Brixton supported by the Drummers Of Burundi, was horrified by their rider: “The Drummers of Burundi liked chicken and chips. Their rider in Brixton was six half cans of Heineken and a couple of sandwiches. Joe saw this and brought all the Clash’s rider into our dressing room, loads of fruit and cold chicken and bottles of beer and wine.”

The rider protects the promoters’ interests. Giving the musicians something to eat and drink whilst they’re all at the gig – ie not getting lost in a strange town – the show’s more likely to go on. But more than that, aside from testing that the promoter has read the contract (the endlessly creative 3 Mustaphas 3 whilst on tour in America did actually get their request for “a fully stocked fridge on stage and a country & western band to serenade us in the dressing room” fulfilled), it sends a comforting message to the band. They are being listened to. Their needs are being met. They are welcome and valued. And what’s mad about that?!

Elizabeth Kinder


 

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