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Road Worthy

Article from Making Music, January 1987

Can you cope with a life of motorways, transits and cafe grease? Roadside Rescuer Adrian Legg advises from grim experience.

The wind in your hair, the smoke in your eyes. Yes it's life on the road, and Adrian Legg is here to tell you how to survive in the harsh outback of a transit van.

A PROFESSIONAL driver was how Richard Thompson once described himself, and Richard Digance said his late night Capital Radio stint was "better than the M1". Being on the road conspires to sound vaguely romantic. In fact it's the penance a musician pays for enjoying work, a sort of soul improving rack, mortify the flesh and all that.

The biggest usual problem is finding the gig. When you've just clogged it 200 miles through the green and pleasant, the brain may well not be up to coping with vague directions garbled through the window in an alien accent. When you accept the gig, get a precise street address, and details of local landmarks — launderettes, pubs, nicks, Post Offices, etc — and one way systems designed to spew you out on a clearway to somewhere else.

A-Z atlases cover most major conurbations now, and can be found in motorway shops or good bookshops. Get the ones without coloured maps, then you can colour in your projected route in flash-up pen. If you use bookmarks, and number them in the order you need the pages, the system becomes idiot-proof and can be squinted at quickly at traffic lights. I found Pebble Mill first time doing this when previous less planned trips had ended in despair round the Bull Ring.

Another goody is the AA book of town plans which has a lot of the Arts Centres already marked in. You can get one-off town maps free from the AA if you're a member — unfortunately you have to put up with being sent heaps of imbecilic sales crap in order to have them maybe fix your car. I prefer the RAC, who have been pretty ace at the roadside, and have a better recovery service. Note carefully the AA "Relay", which can actually involve shunting you from AA centre to AA centre on the way home. When my brakes failed in Bath, the RAC picked me up after the gig and whisked me straight home in a car-carrying rocket.

Extensive travelling can mess up your health, so it pays to be cranky about food. Motorway and fast food chain eats should be completely avoided. I once spent a whole Radio Humberside interview trying not be sick after a no-names-no-writs breakfast, and thought I would die on the A30 after some "Cornish sausages". Fry-ups don't travel for me and many others.

If you can, ask the promoter about local health food restaurants, where you can at least get a decent fresh salad. The more raw greens and so on, the better. Omelettes are a fairly safe bet in most places, and surprisingly perhaps, I've always found carry-out kebabs the least damaging late night food when restaurants are closed or expensive.

But pick a busy shop and maybe skip the chilli sauce.

Once again, preparation pays, and sandwiches and a Thermos are life savers when your metabolism starts grinding to a halt in the middle of nowhere. Apples freshen you up, and are a great way of getting blood sugar levels back to normal. Overdoing sugar in easily absorbed forms can cause levels to peak rapidly, and then crash through the bottom. Fizzy drinks in glass bottles are dangerous. I was in a small van with four other people when two bottles exploded from heat and vibration. We weren't hurt, but people have been blinded. So, plastic bottles only.

German trips used to be famous for constipation — hours on the autobahn can sabotage the most efficient digestive tract. It's the same in the UK, and if you compound the irregular hours with duff food, your guts can make life a misery. The hard bogroll at, for example, Watford Gap or Bridgewater public loo, and the absence of bogroll elsewhere makes a stash in the gig bag de rigueur. Remember, Milk of Magnesia if you can't, and Kaolin and morphine if you can't stop, and if it drags on, see the doctor.

While on medicaments, stash a few Paracetamols, a couple of clean hankies and some Savlon and plasters in the gig bag. Minor cuts, headaches and sneezes happen all the time, and particularly when you get a bit run down.

Watch out for the hayfever season as you'll pass a good few meadows chucking pollen out by the ton. Piriton and many other anti-histamines can make you lethally dozy. Check with your doctor the best times to take them. I found one 4mg Piriton before bed left me groggy in the morning, but OK to drive about 11 am, and with sneezes fairly well suppressed. If you have to take the max three a day, you have a difficult problem. I found I was drowsiest for half an hour after taking the pill, then reasonably okay for two or three hours, and then very dozy again as it wore off. I found they buggered up my playing quite badly as well, so two factors operate on timing the doses.

Overnight stops are worth considering even on one-offs. The namby-Rambo stay-home Americans in '86 helped drop some rates in empty and panicked hotels particularly off the tourist track and off season. I got a room with colour telly, kettle, en-suite bathroom and loo plus a good breakfast for £15 at the Swallow in Stockton on Tees in November, and have seen a similar set-up cost £30-£40 elsewhere at other times. The trade-off is, do you belt home at night with less traffic, or have a good kip and crawl home behind the trucks on the A19 contra-flows? Add into the equation the fact that hotel tea is usually gnat's, but the coffee could bump-start a tank.

"German trips used to be famous for constipation — hours on the autobahn can sabotage the most efficient digestive tract."

There is a theory that if you can't sleep in a hotel, you should move the bed around onto the same compass bearing as your home pit. I tried it in Cambridge and can recommend it. Ask the promoter if he gets any local deals on tariffs, or check the RAC book and phone in advance to see if they still want that much.

A radio keeps you going on long trips, and I'm a Radio 4 fan — Afternoon Theatre can get you from Liverpool to Birmingham quite pleasantly. Radio 3 can be fascinating if you don't get to hear much classical as a rule — a former colleague and I waxed happily apoplectic for 40 miles during a sickly double tracked version of the Bach Double Violin concerto.

Local radio stations are handy for traffic news and a background feel on the local audience. One of the less wally things Filofax produce is a list of stations and their frequencies, so you could pre-set tuner buttons instead of fumbling in the fast lane. Super-duper in-car hi-fi is just asking for smashed windows in some places, and having a rear-engined car I can get away with a decent quality small tranny unless it's raining, then the wipers interfere with it. But it's good to have something in the dressing room or a hotel, and short wave facilities can get you some English language broadcasting if you're stuck in foreign parts for a while.


Every musician has a police story — one classic concerns a drummer who played in a band at Balmoral for the Queen. He was given a brace of pheasant for his trouble, and got nicked for poaching on his way home. The local Bill checked out his story in the end, but poor Michael Balls, who was finally forced to give his surname and was promptly breathalysed, had his car given a really thorough going over.

But there is a crucial risk I reckon a lot of semi-pros are taking. If you put down your day job when you apply for insurance and don't tell the company you plan to use the car for your other business as a musician, you are very likely driving about with an invalid policy.

Using a vehicle without insurance is a heavy duty offence. Section 143 of the Road Traffic Act prescribes a penalty on level 4 of the 1-5 scale. Currently the maximum fine is a grand (or half an Archer). It carries penalty points from 4 to 8 on the totting up procedure, discretionary disqualification, "using" can include others in the car, there is a possibility of aiding and abetting, if it is a company car your employer could be done for 'permitting', and just maybe you might be done for obtaining insurance by deception. See Stone's Justices Manual Volume 2 at the library for chapter and verse.

Go to a broker for a deal. The AA and RAC schemes are expensive, and some companies won't touch musicians at all. I got a good deal from the Dominion Insurance Co. Some companies differentiate between classical musicians and us drug-crazed, alcoholic, irresponsible sex-maniacs who shouldn't be let out with a push-chair. That's what it feels like, anyway.

If you don't have your documents with you on a pull, you'll have seven days from midnight on the day of the pull to turn them in to your local nick. Go over this time and you may be done for failure to produce and using uninsured. I was when my documents got buried at DVLC Swansea — this turned out to be about the only acceptable excuse when I proved it, and the charges were dropped. But one of the things the nocturnal Bill want to know is if you've nicked the vehicle, so it makes life easier if you have the relevant stuff with you, and as the bit about being a muso is on the policy rather than the cover note, you might as well have it in the bag as this point has been checked lately.

Watch how you pack your gear. The laws about dangerous or insecure loads apply, and your vision and your rear view mirror must not be obstructed. Balance the weight so it doesn't catch you out if you have to brake into an unexpected comer.

The temptation to hammer through a built-up area late at night is strong. Resist it, some nights you get so tired you wouldn't notice a fire engine on your tail, let alone a Q car.

Tiredness is the big killer. I've had dreams in bed at home that I've been driving, and have taught myself to wake up immediately and double check it really is bed and not the M1. The day I don't bother could be the day I die 'cos I got it wrong. A band I worked with years ago lost its manager when he dozed off in a Mini-Cooper.

There comes a time when you've got to pull off and have a quick kip. Watch for your body temperature to drop, you can get a nasty fit of the shivers. Wear good warm clothes on a long run, then you can open the window without getting pneumonia — varying the heating works well for me. As a rule, don't do more than a hundred miles on a motorway without stopping for a brew and walkabout, and that could be pushing it some nights. Every hour could be safer. Adjusting speed consciousness downwards is difficult at the best of times. At 4am after a three hour thrash, you stand a better chance of going through the Brent Cross roundabout than around it. But after a while on the road, you see enough carnage and grief to slow you down. I liked the old habit in Ireland of painting a white cross on the road, or a wall or tree where someone had died in a crash. It was more effective than speed limit signs.

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Elka Orla EK44 digital synth

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The Value Of The Valve

Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Jan 1987



Feature by Adrian Legg

Previous article in this issue:

> Elka Orla EK44 digital synth...

Next article in this issue:

> The Value Of The Valve

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