I kidnapped the BBC tour manager
"The first night is
kind of a trial by fire," Pete Weiss warned me.
(Part two of a three-part series)
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
I definitely blew the steer on this day of driving. (Please read part
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.
This column aims to be funny. If you can read anything else into it,
you're on your own.
is a writer and musician living in Austin, Texas.
from the San Francisco Bay Area, he claims strong ties to Seattle, St.
Petersburg, Florida and North Platte, Nebraska.