One of the things I remember about watching TV on Christmas Day afternoon as a kid was the adverts for holidays. No sooner had we put the Slade and Wizard records away than we had images of sun drenched beaches in prime time.
Now you might not have started making your travel plans for 2020 but I actually have. I’m not talking about the Costa Del Sol, or the French Riviera or Las Vegas. Well not at the moment although I do live in hope.
No, my travel plans are a little more local than that but I’m still very excited about the prospect of being back on the road again next year.
In many ways I’m not terribly good at forward planning or at least knowing off the top of my head what tomorrow is supposed to bring, but some things need a bit of forward planning and a theatre tour is definitely one of those things.
My new 2020 tour has just gone on sale, but it’s already been months in the planning. There are so many elements you need to co-ordinate for a tour.
The first thing you need to do is see what dates theatres have available. Even with 6 months to go many theatres already have a pretty full programme. For them it’s a bit like painting the Fourth Bridge. As soon as you book this year’s pantomime, theatres need to be thinking about next year’s Christmas show. Then there’s the print, the websites, the advertising.
What I realised was having done all of that for my tour last year, this time around it was probably going to be a good idea to work with someone else on this type of thing, someone who does it all year round.
I first met Ian Parsons when he was writing a book about the Swansea Grand Theatre. I think his background was in catering, but he always loved theatre. Now whilst many of us talk about the magic of theatre, and there is plenty of magic on stage, off stage there is no magic. Theatre tour planning is all cold hard numbers.
It’s all very well wanting to take the London Philharmonic on tour with you but if the theatre only holds 300 people and you can only charge £15 a time then it’s not going to work.
Coming from a background where you need to know the cost of the ingredients and how much it costs to employ a chef before you price a sandwich, Ian works from a very comprehensive spreadsheet which outlines the capacity and max ticket price and then he tells you what you can afford to do, or how much you will be risking if you take on a date.
Budgeting for musicians, crew and hire costs is really important and getting a bunch of dates can keep the costs down, but then again so is sequencing of dates. The idea is to put a run of dates together so that if you need to hire equipment then you can get a deal over a short period. This is where a map comes in handy. Whilst it is important to get the dates to run consecutively you also need to know the distance between venues. It’s all very well having one night in Swansea and the next in Aberdeen to save hire costs, but you do risk killing the performers and crew.
I used to think in the old days that when putting a tour together many theatrical bookers would actually look at the name of the artist, then they would get a map out of UK. Their plan would then be to try to write the name of the artiste, join the dots style, across the map. E.g. The M in Mal would mean starting the tour in Plymouth, next date Carlisle, then Birmingham followed by Sunderland and finishing in Hastings.
After all of the booking and launching and artwork etc you really should start to think about the programme itself. On last year’s tour I carried around a suitcase full of memorabilia which I had been given by my mum after she and my dad went into care. The idea was that I would pull something out of the suitcase which would remind me of a story and then a song.
It was quite an emotional journey for me with my old Rocket Records singles and photographs with people I’d worked with over my career. I’m just reliving that experience at the moment as I’m editing together a BBC Radio Wales Christmas Special ‘In Concert’ gathered together from a number of my shows last year. Anyway, what that means is that I can’t do the same thing again. I think it’s OK to sing some of the older songs that hopefully some of the faithful know but I’m also working on a brand new album.
Before touring this spring, it had been a number of years since I last went out on the road with just my songs. For me even my old songs seem new again. I suppose I’m lucky to be starting again. If you think about most successful artistes, they might have 20 albums but in reality most people want to hear their 10 greatest hits.
I suppose it must be hard for the artiste playing the same songs every night for 40 years, but we all know that feeling when you go to a concert wanting all of the good stuff and the artist says this is a song from my new album…
At this point I’m always reminded of a James Taylor concert. He started by saying, Tonight I’ll be singing some old songs.’ There was a cheer. ‘I’ll also be singing some new songs.’ At this there was an audible groan. ‘Don’t worry’ said James Taylor, ‘The new songs sound a lot like the old songs.’
One thing I really loved about my theatre tour this year, and it was something I had to get used to, people had come to listen. For a jobbing musician this can take some getting used to. For years I have taken gigs where I am the musical equivalent to wall paper. At first it was hard but after a while you come to terms with your role. People have come to an event, to meet with friends, you are there to provide background music and an ambience.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar that can be difficult. That was not the case with Mal Pope and The Jacks. We always knew our place but we also knew we were louder than anyone or anything else in the room so no matter how loud people talked we would win!!!
9th April 2pm https://www.swansea.gov.uk/swanseagrandtheatre/MalAndKev
One of the dates in particular should be a lot of fun. I’ve even got a special matinee at the Grand on 9th April chatting and singing with my old friend Kev Johns before a concert the same evening.
I will never take for granted the magic and privilege a theatre concert is for me as an artist. I will have some new stories and songs to share next year. In fact, some of the songs are yet to be written but then again, there’s nothing like a deadline to get the job done.