On The Road With The Police
Or, How To Put The Police On The Road. Tour Manager Kim Turner discusses the tactics of moving three blond heads and 60K of PA around the world. Paul Henderson takes in every little breath.
Kim Turner doesn't like titles, but effectively he's co-manager and also tour manager for the Police – a job that he enjoys and one which he fully understands. He's been with the Police from the beginning, when the four of them would load gear into an old van and play the usual God-forsaken places on the small-time gig map. He also understands the musician's side of things, having been the drummer in a band who's tour manager was none other than Stewart Copeland. Since those days things have changed beyond recognition. Millions of dollars and almost as many miles later, he's an experienced guide through the maze of the mega-tour.
The initial decision to tour is a joint one between the management (Miles Copeland and Kim), the band and, as there is usually an album to promote, the record company. The first major task of the management is to plan the areas that the tour will visit.
"The actual booking of the venues is handled by an agent that we bring in. We use one agent for Europe, and Ian Copeland's 'F.B.I.' agency for the rest of the world. I work with the agent to organise the best route around the desired areas and to keep a close check on the availability of the possible venues. The speed at which this is done, as well as starting the ball rolling well before the projected start of a tour, will affect how well it is finally planned, and also how much the whole thing will eventually cost."
If, for example, the desired cities are London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh, then late planning could end up with the routing being London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Edinburgh. A bit of a disaster if that kind of thing happens too often on a tour with cities thousands of miles apart in different countries.
"Of course, having a big name band shortens the time scale in which you need to get things done. If an agent is trying to organise a tour for a relatively unknown band, he's going to need to start a long time ahead, especially in the busy season when lots of bands are wanting the same places. But with the Police the agent could, if he wanted, book a whole tour, well routed, in one or two days. It would be messy to do it that way but it's feasible."
There are also 'rest' days to be planned into the schedule. It allows days off to fit in radio interviews or press calls or whatever, and importantly gives Sting a chance to rest the vocal chords.
"In the early days we might have done five nights a week, two shows a night. When we got it down to six shows a week, Sting's voice was still suffering. Eventually we got a system of three days on, two days off; and now we find that two on, one off seems to work pretty well."
Immediately the dates are fixed they book the hotels. It's not just hotels, but good hotels. If there's a convention happening, or it's a major tourist city in the peak season, you need to be quick off the mark to secure something decent. And they need to be when you're living in them for weeks on end. There can, after all, be anything between thirty and – with the 'Synchronicity' tour – seventy people to accommodate.
"You need to arrange the P.A. and lighting pretty quickly, too. The best rigs can be booked out months ahead, and we do need a good rig. That's not too difficult because, they want the Police account. It's important for them as well as us.
"For lighting I like to get the basic plant hire, then the crew – usually from the same company, but you pick your crew. We've been using the same lighting people since the 'Synchronicity' tour.
Same with the P.A., although some places we go, we don't take so many P.A. guys because we can pick them up locally which saves a lot of money when you're flying all over the place.
"The P.A. we use is Claire Brothers, and they have a couple of their guys here in England who know how to set the system up as regards stacking it or flying it, or whatever. I always take along one of these guys."
It's no wonder they need technical expertise on hand when you consider they are currently caning along an incredible power capability of 60,000 watts.
"Of course, we don't actually put out anything like that, but it's good to have that capacity in order to get a really clear sound. It means we can run it at around 5dB.
"And of course, all that stuff has to be moved around, which in the U.S. means five 48ft air-ride trailers. Now when it comes to trucking you have to use a 'rock and roll' company , of which there are only three or four major ones. If you use a regular driver or trucking company and put them in the rock & roll world, you'll never do the show. They'll be on their tea-breaks, lunch-breaks, dinner-breaks... rock & roll drivers give a bit more. They may do the same hours but are prepared for things happening at odd times and at the last minute. In fact the whole business is last minute, and it's good to deal with people who are used to that."
One of the major areas with which Kim deals personally, along with the agent, is the technical viability of each of the venues to be booked: Checking that the power supply is up to scratch or that there is sufficient space and support to fly the several tons of lights and P.A.
"We might consider putting the show into, say, the Lyceum. Now as the Police show stands at the moment, we wouldn't manage that because of the weight problem. At Wembley we had to use ground support because we wanted the P.A. in the air, which meant we could sell more tickets around the sides. Even when the weight thing is checked out and the tour is underway, you can still get caught out. We arrived in Syracuse to find there was a different weight limit to the one we'd been given. As it was February there was an extra 'snow limit' in case of a heavy snow fall. All of a sudden we were told that we couldn't put the show in without ground support. We managed to get hold of some, but it could have been a major problem. So when the tour goes out we now have an advance man checking places one or two shows ahead to sort out any difficulties."
"With a group like this you need big tours. Sure you're talking big money – but also talking big problems. My job is to make sure that the tour goes ahead as planned. I cover the whole scope of the tour and if something or someone screws up, in the end it's my responsibility."
Inevitably, tours involve money – lots of money. Which is why they attract the involvement of the promoter. He effectively puts on the show and cops for much of the outlay, so it's not surprising that he expects to make as much profit as he can. As the band management expect the same, there's an awful lot of haggling to be done and some pretty detailed contracts to be signed.
"We send the promoter a rider, which lists descriptions of everything that we require. One of the things the promoter has to fill out is a itemised list of all his expenses in order to meet these requirements. There's limousines, catering, staging, ticket printing, stage hands, ushers, security, electricians, insurance, medical, telephone, after show clean-up, hall rental, etc., etc.
We actually have to pay rental for the furniture and towels in the dressing rooms! They'll charge you for everything. Some of them we do ourselves, like limo's. If the promoter usually expects a 50 dollar kick back from the limo company for the deal, then going direct we can save 5,000 dollars on a hundred shows. So all these little savings on hundreds of shows add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the U.K. we like to use one promoter, whose production manager gets to know the show and what's needed. So after one or two shows everything's running smoothly."
The tour programmes, t-shirts and other merchandise, are licensed out to companies who specialise in that area. The management supply the photographs of the band and the licensee comes back with mock-ups of the finished article for approval by band and management. Sales of merchandise can provide a sizeable income when you're selling a band as popular as the Police; a fact that venues are not slow to make the most of.
"The agent gets on to the manager of the building to work out as good a deal as possible on concessions. The building will take between 15 and 50 per cent of your gross on everything – t-shirts, programmes etc – that are sold in the building. Wembley took 35 per cent. It's great for these places. They know they'll make money and there's absolutely no risk involved."
About two weeks before the start of the tour, the band will usually spend several days rehearsing the show in a theatre. It's particularly useful for fine-tuning the lighting ideas and designs that will have been worked out one or two months previously.
"We used to have problems with the follow spots cueing in the right place, so now we have four remote follow spots called Telescans. You can have them computerised or operate via a joystick control. The other great thing is that the beam can move very quickly. Rather than move the Telescan itself, the beam is reflected onto a mirror and it's the mirror that moves. On the recent tour we also tried a lot of things with the vari-lights, which we all thought were amazing things. Apart from the computerised or joystick movement capability – which is great – you have a choice of sixty colours on each lamp. And you can change colours in just a few milli-seconds."
A real pain looms heavily once a tour moves out into other countries. Each member of the entourage needs visas and work permits, which can take a long time to arrange. But the monster is customs. Every single item of equipment has to be listed on carnets, or customs forms, together with the number of the case that it's packed in. Each country's customs control can be the tour manager's nightmare.
"On this you just can't afford to screw up. The customs officer gets presented with a carnet covering, maybe 350 cases, which contain 5,000 or so items. Lets say he decides to look in case 34, which is supposed to hold a certain piece of equipment. If that item isn't in there they've got the right to hold your trucks for as long as it takes to find it.
"Now if you fuck up you're going to lose a show, and you're going to lose a lot of money. So that part of things has to be absolutely right. Obviously I don't pack all those cases, the road crew do it. But I pick the crew and that's why I pick the crew."
On the subject of foreign tours I was particularly interested to find out whether there were any special problems which faced them when they recently played one of the biggest venues – New York's massive, open-air Shea Stadium.
"Not really. For the most part it was pretty much the same as other large venues. The only big problem was the sound check. We were told that we could sound check on the day of the show.
Now, two days before the concert I got a call from the promoter. The police department was worried that with the build up of kids outside the stadium, when they heard the sound check they might try to run the barriers and people could get injured. Valid point. But the equipment wouldn't be ready on the day before, and we had to sound check there. It was one of the biggest shows we were going to do. After a lot of discussion we agreed that I'd have a cop next to me at the desk, and if he got a call to say there was a lot of movement I'd cut the P.A. and stop the sound check. It went O.K.
"Also, we were on the flightpath for the airport, which was really noisy. But we sent the flight controllers fifty pairs of tickets for the show and they managed to divert the air traffic for a few hours.
"For the show at Shea the bills were just astronomical. We had 365 New York police – which we had to pay for; 25 electricians; 50 stage hands and we had 400 more personnel inside for security. Big bills, but if you get a couple of law suits for injury that's your tour profits swallowed up. But forget the money, you're talking people's lives here."
At the time I was talking to Kim was preparing for the next batch of shows. This time not so much 'enormous venues' as 'enormous distances.' Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia. Did he forsee any trouble here?
"Not really, although sunburn could be a problem," he grinned.
Feature by Paul Henderson
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