ConstantCommentary® Vol. XII, No. 180, April 21, 2011

Mike Jasper at 56




How I kidnapped the BBC tour manager
(Part two of a three-part series)

"The first night is kind of a trial by fire," Pete Weiss warned me.

I had replaced Weiss as guitar tech for English alt rock band Bombay Bicycle Club Tuesday morning and now it was Wednesday night and I stood in an alley next to Latitude 30, the club hosting the British Music Embassy SXSW kickoff party.

What to do, what to do? I literally had no idea what to do, other than to wear my black cowboy hat. The band asked for that hat specifically.

Louis Bhose, the backline tech, gave me the rundown on each guitarist's pedal board, and I sort of got the idea.

"This is Jamie's and it'll be stage right. Jack's board is in the middle and Ed's is to the left of him. The guitars go in on this end starting with the tuner then exit here where you connect the—"

What the hell did he call it? I forget, but it was a cable with two color-coded ends to plug into the amps. Only one of the colored cables needed to be plugged in, the other was backup in case the first cable failed. Fortunately, the band only traveled with guitars and pedal boards (aka guitar effects stomp boxes), so there were no amps to lug around.

I know, I thought. I'll tune the guitars and the bass. I definitely know how to do that. Don't I? Wait. Should I use their guitar tuner or my tuner? I know my tuner better, but they're used to their own guitar tuner.

Man, maybe I'm overthinking this.

I decided to use my guitar tuner, because I'm used to it. Besides, the same company made both tuners. I mean, it's not like England has a different interpretation of A 440, right? Wait a minute, they do use different damn electricity over there. Maybe they tune to 444 or something. Also, I think I heard somewhere that the amps go up to eleven.

I clearly needed to settle down.

When the band took the stage, I stood in the wings by two guitars on precarious, easily-knocked-over guitar stands. Toward the end of the set, Louis and I would hand off these differently tuned guitars.

"I'll handle Jack's guitar, you handle Jamie's," Louis told me. That would be lead singer Jack Steadman and lead guitarist Jamie MacColl, respectively. Fortunately, Ed Nash, the bass player, stayed with the same bass during the entire tour, although he had a backup in case the first one went down or lost a string.  I didn't have to worry about drummer Suren de Saram at all, except for the pronunciation of his name. I think I called him sorghum a couple of times.

Hmmmm. Sorghum.

When the fourth song ended, it was time to spring into action. I jumped on stage and grabbed the guitar from Jamie. Then I put the guitar strap of the new guitar around his neck. When the fifth song finished, we switched guitars again. It all went off without a hitch and very quickly, about 10 seconds per switch.

I was a guitar tech now.

After the show, we loaded up my truck with the gear. "So what are you going to do now?" Steve Down, the BBC tour manager asked.

"Well, I'm going to park the truck in a ghetto and then come back and party with you guys."

"Sounds good," he said.

"You have no idea what a ghetto is, do you."

"I do, but I thought it might also be American slang for garage." We both laughed and I drove off in the truck. As I was on my way home, I wondered who would be the first to say, "Did we just let this Jasper guy—who we met only the night before—drive away with all our gear?"

The next afternoon, I was to meet the band at Klub Krucial, a venue on Sixth Street in the slummy, drug-abusing side of town. My orders were to be there at 5 p.m., but at 4:00 p.m. I got a call from Steve as I was en route.

"I've been told we shouldn't get there too early. Can you make it at 6 p.m. instead?"

I said sure and drove the truck to a Burger King for dinner, because I was still wearing my black cowboy hat and when a Texan fancies he'll take his chances, chances will be taken.

Around 5:15, I decided I should make my way to the venue, even though I was less than ten blocks away. Not only was the SXSW Festival now in full swing, it was also St. Patrick's Day. The traffic would be amazingly bad and painfully slow. I decided the best bet was to head down Seventh Street and see if I could sneak in the back way.

It was a good plan. Unfortunately, I drove past the venue, since I didn't know the name of the side street (it turned out to be Sabine). So now I had to go up to 12th street, hang a left, go down Congress, then hang a left again on Seventh Street in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was nearly 6 p.m., so I would barely make it if I did. I called up Steve.

"I'll meet you at Seventh and Sabine. Do you have the parking pass?"

He did not. He had misplaced the parking pass. He told me he would meet me at the corner of Seventh and Sabine and we would charm our way in. As I wended my way down Seventh Street, a pedestrian walked in front of me in the middle of the street. I flipped him off.

"Hey, man, you shouldn't drive down here during SXSW anyway," he yelled.

"Look in the back of the truck," I yelled. When he saw all the equipment he yelled back, "Sorry dude, my bad."

I finally made it to Seventh and Sabine where Steve was waiting for me. Unfortunately, the cop wanted the official SXSW parking pass or the truck wouldn't be allowed on Sabine. The cop was not at all charmed by Steve's British accent or my cowboy hat, and I'm pretty sure he whispered the word, "Homos," as we drove away.

"Let's go around the other side of Sabine. We'll come down 5th Street instead," I told him. Rather than turn left and go all the way down to 12th Street like I'd done earlier, I decided to see if we could make it to Fourth, hang a right, and then come back up Fifth.

We could not. It was barricaded, and even worse, we were forced to enter the I-35 freeway. I knew what Steve did not know—we were fucked.

"Okay, okay. We’re going a little bit farther than I thought we would," I said as we headed past the river out of town.

"Sounds good to me," Steve said, little knowing what fate awaited him.

I knew from the day before that going down Riverside to Congress would be a grave mistake, so I planned a new route that would take us down back roads to the Austin Convention center and downtown. The plan looked like it might work, but we were stopped by a cop.

"We're only letting people who live in the area down this road. Do you live in the area?"

"Yes. I live in the area," I lied. All part of the service.

"What's the address?"

"Ahhhh... It's that house over yonder," I said. Over yonder? What was I, Grandpa Walton? Was the cowboy hat affecting my language now?

"What's the address?" he asked again.

"All right, all right, you win. We'll turn around."

I started to turn the truck around and he yelled back at us. "Are you with a band? Because if you're with a band, you can come through."

Fuck me. I really will lie when the truth is better.

The cop let us pass through, but once again I decided to take a short cut.

"I bet we can take this road behind the Austin Convention Center and get there quicker," I said.

We could not. We wound up in a cul-de-sac, and this time I needed Steve to get out of the truck to help me negotiate the cumbersome U-turn. We were nearly an hour late now. How is it possible that Steve's not screaming and cussing me out? I thought. Does he not know what tour managers do?

I definitely blew the steer on this day of driving. (Please read part one here.)

Somehow, we made it to Fifth and Sabine and this time the cop let us pass. Whew. We made it. In fact, we turned out to be egregiously early, since the band wouldn't take the stage until 1 a.m., the final act of the night. I was told to return at 11 p.m.

When I returned, Louis looked glum. "I’ve got some bad news for you mate," he said. "We need to change the strings on two guitars."

"No problem," I said and meant it. I figured I'd have to change strings on four guitars. I was happy that during the entire tour I never had to change bass strings, something I'd only done once in my life.

Bombay Bicycle Club took the stage about 15 minutes late after a somewhat protracted sound check, but they killed. I noticed that the people in the front row were mouthing the words to songs, so they had some true fans in attendance. After the gig, we loaded up the truck, and I asked Steve if he and the boys needed a ride home.

"The band made other arrangements, but Louis and I will take a ride to Denny's restaurant. We can walk to the hotel from there."

This guy never learns, I thought. If it were me, I'd never get in that truck again. But then I wouldn't eat at Denny's either.

Must be the black cowboy hat. Every time I put it on, people think I know what I'm doing.

* * *

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This column aims to be funny. If you can read anything else into it, you're on your own.




Mike Jasper is a writer and musician living in Austin, Texas.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he claims strong ties to Seattle, St. Petersburg, Florida and North Platte, Nebraska.


© 2011 by Mike Jasper, All Rights Reserved. ConstantCommentary® is published whenever Mike Jasper feels like it. All material is the responsibility of the author.