Splendid Books Limited – 251 pages paperback [Publication date: December 2012]
‘Postcards From A Rock & Roll Tour’ is: “a series of personal daily journals,” or as the Moody Blues co-drummer and author Gordy Marshall further elucidates: “more like extended postcards” from the road.
Marshall has spent well over 20 years at the coalface, drumming alongside Graeme Edge in The Moody Blues.
He was originally a 9 week dep while Edge overcame injury, but as you become immersed in his daily tour life, you can see why, apart from his musical chops, he fits seamlessly into their environment. Down tools time revolves around nothing more risqué than cheese sandwiches, decisions about what film to watch on the tour bus, and the occasional drop of wine.
Rather than the standard kiss and tell, sex, drugs and rock and roll format, Marshall discovers his muse as a writer through a Zen like fascination with describing the ordinary – be it frequently jogs or late night jazz club visits, venue history and architecture, in sum: “what it’s like on a rock n roll tour in the 22 hours we are not on stage.”
Graeme Edge’s foreword calls touring: “The continuous kaleidoscope that is life on the road.”
If you are a Moodies fan this ain’t a book that lifts the lid on the band. Indeed there is a surprising paucity of personal observations about his fellow band members. This comes as no surprise in a jet setting environment, which starts out at Heathrow’s terminal 5, as he silently mutters: “John Lodge and Justin Hayward were somewhere around, having begun their journeys from different European cities.”
He frames his own musical mission as: “performing something that you have worked really hard at mastering and then having the results judged and commented on by thousand of people sitting in front of you.”
And so he initially takes us with him on 6,886 mile North American tour spanning 2 countries, 30 days, 14 states, 25 cities and 24 concerts, followed by a few months off, prior to a UK tour plus Amsterdam.
We’re quickly into a series of lobby calls, gigs, early hour plane dashes – private jets – and luxury bus rides.
In America they board “The Good Ship Everything” which takes care of all their terrestrial travel over occasional tri-state days, as the band zip across state and country, punctuated by numerical postcards denoting different cities on the tour.
Such is the laid back nature of his touring experience that the unexpected moments such as hitting himself in the face with drum stick on day 5 of the tour, or much later witnessing a pedestrian being knocked over, comes as something of a shock.
One of the recurring themes of the book is the way the touring ensemble lives a “back to front” existence compared to the traditional 9-5 model. This in turn leads him to the repeated question of: “working out where the hell I was.”
Occasionally he turns his gaze to the music, to either marvel at the band, or to remind us of the physical side of touring. ”Today is a day off, and my hands hurt from the force used to hit my drums as hard as possible.”
His first really notable port of call is Detroit’s Fox Theatre which he describes as “an utterly breathtaking establishment “, saving an extended description for several other huge venues along the way.
There’s fleeting references to the natural elation of playing, particularly after a great night in Des Moines: “I’ve been touring with this band for almost 20 years, and the novelty of performing never, ever wears off.”
He also helpfully gives us some historical framework to some of the festivals and venues the band play, most notably Lake Michigan’s Summerfest, which attracts up to a million people each year.
They play all manner of sizeable venues, including a zoo in Toledo, and even Bethel in Woodstock, which leads to the observation: “Seeing the looks of rapture on people’s faces from the stage as they hear the music of their youth, performed by the people who composed it, is nothing short of a privilege.”
There’s plenty of self deprecating and humorous moments and some funny anecdotes, which you will have to buy the book to share.
The UK section focuses more on his own increasing fatigue as he effectively holds 2 jobs – The Moodies tour and a west end gig – and a few more personal reminiscences from his youth, triggered by Bournemouth and his home town Nottingham.
“Postcards” is a light but compelling read, mainly because the author conveys his own personality and circumstances through a consistent inner voice that resonate sufficiently to carry us through 251 pages of what life on the road for a mature musician is really like.
Sprinkled with passing memories, an understated humorous pull and a real love for the job he does, this is the perfect book to read when you are travelling, the very thing that inspired this book in the first place. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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