Writer and Entertainer Sue Barton – the right vehicle

ford transitWriter and Entertainer Sue Barton is part of a family of entertainers. Here she writes about the importance of having the right vehicle for the job of life on the road as a jobbing entertainer/musician.
Back in the 70’s the preferred method of transport for any discerning band was a Ford Transit van. Not the white models, but various colours, often hand-painted. As was expected in the day, it would be customised, either with flames flying gaily along the sides or a giant Union Jack painted across the bonnet. Unfortunately, our Union Jack was forever visible through the front windscreen as the bonnet was constantly being lifted to ensure we could ‘patch things up’ to get us to the venues. Patching things up became a constant chore with a kit including spare tights for the fan belt and raw eggs for the radiator. We had to regularly push the van off, and we soon learned that this was easier to do before we loaded the equipment in it!
By the 80’s the more affluent bands had progressed to the Mercedes T or 306, longer vans which enabled them to include a crew compartment and still have enough room for the myriad of equipment needed to produce an acceptable sound. We built a crew compartment into our Transit. Well, we actually fitted a bus seat and lined the walls with hardboard which we then covered with publicity photos of other acts, but, at least it felt luxurious. At one point we even had a primus stove in there too, in case we fancied a cup of tea, but we soon realised that it was a lot easier to buy a crate of beer for the way home. These were the days of the giant mixing desks which were usually sited half way down the Concert Room and needed an army of ‘Roadies’ to fulfil the promise of a professional sound. The Roadies often travelled to the venue separately, leaving the band to swan into the Club at the last minute with a clothes bag slung over their shoulders. Even the inadequate musicians could give an aura of being a pop star.
Around the time of the Millennium, a lot of bands had reduced to being duos and trios and found that they could fit all the equipment into a large car, such as a Estate or a 4×4. Gone were the days of camaraderie where the bands could recognise each other in the takeaways, motorway services and late night garages on the route home. The smaller cars certainly gave anonymity, but one wonders if the privacy detracted from the enjoyment of it all.
Many acts today do not include musicians. Consequently, the equipment needed is minimal. The reduction in the size of PA systems has decreased too. The modern solo artiste or duo can fit their equipment into a saloon car, and with the cost of fuel, the budget conscious artiste can save a lot of money if they choose their transport well. There may well come a day where the contemporary artiste can fit all their equipment into little more than something the size of a handbag. The setting up and packing down will certainly be quicker, and the ‘carry’ a lot easier. But, will they feel the same solidarity and have as much fun as the bands of yesteryear with their jumbo sized equipment and transport, and the hardships they endured.
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