Kaotican Alphabet

Roadie #42 – Blog #108

It's all glamour for #42

It’s been 159 shows, 17 months and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how many miles. I believe that the first blog entry of this tour was written on a flightcase in the corridor of Brixton Academy and included the line: "The crowd’s gone home, the floor’s a mess and the truck’s nearly packed."

Well, looks like this is where we came in…

Wembley, of course, is poetically the most perfect place the Viva tour could finish. Production rehearsals for the tour took place at Wembley Arena, which sits aside the Stadium. The end of tour party tonight will take place in the entrance lobby of the arena – where the first members of the public came into the venue to watch the "friends and family" mini-gig all that time ago.

Wembley for me, though, has a much longer history.

I first set foot in Wembley Stadium at the age of 15, when I went to see Pink Floyd. As a lad from the west country, even being in London seemed like an adventure. The gig though, was a push-pin in the map of my life. Experiencing a show on this scale was akin to visiting another planet for someone of my tender years from a tiny town on the coast.

Fast forward a few years to age 23 and I’d just moved down to London and begun my career in roadie-ing. In between "transit van" tours with baby bands, I was doing "local crewing" for a company called Stage Miracles. U2 were in town with Popmart and I was called up to be one of the hundred or so "locals" brought in to help them load-out.

I remember pushing one of The Edge’s AC30 amplifiers up the ramp off the stage and thinking "this is it, I’ve arrived". Now, it’s universally agreed that the Popmart shows were a very long way from U2’s finest hour. But I was still over-awed by the size and scale of the machinery. Seeing how a stadium show worked from within was incredible to me. Immense amounts of gear, endless amounts of trucks. Everything about it huge.

Fast forward again to this week. I’m 37 and I’m standing in the middle of our stage at the new Wembley Stadium. Given my history, I’d have been pretty sure my first thoughts would have been different to what came to mind on the day:

"Actually, this doesn’t feel that big".

It is, of course, huge. It’s the largest crowd the band have played to on this tour, I believe, outside of festivals. Part of the reason, is the fact that there is a roof. The middle of the roof is open, but the terraces are still covered. The fact that it’s all contained makes it feel like a "regular" venue. From the middle of the stage, it almost seems like "just a big arena". It’s also partly due to the fact that the production has grown to fit and fill the space. Certainly, when we put the arena show into the Skydome in Canada a while back, the scale was much more striking.

There is also the fact that this tour itself has been 159 shows. Since I began, I’ve done four or five hundred shows with Coldplay. I remember the Rush Of Blood tour feeling like one long immense growth spurt throughout. Every few weeks, we did the biggest gig any of us had ever been part of. I remember some of the American outdoor sheds and arenas feeling just cavernously huge.

Now we revisit those places and they feel very comfortable. Tours get bigger than this, of course they do. I feel somehow, though, as if we’re past some kind of milestone and have passed some kind of test. The shows can get better and more ambitious, but the venues and the size of the audiences don’t really get significantly bigger than this. They’ve planted a flag. They’ve been here and they’ve done it – and they’ve nailed it.

I remember a quote from Phil Harvey as we left the production rehearsals a few weeks ago at the site of the first of these big outdoor shows. "I’m totally happy that we’ve got all the tools in place now to do something amazing". I’ll combine this with a comment from Chris at the end of the X&Y tour. "It’s not about getting bigger now, it’s about getting better". Watch this space folks…

I’ll not write a great deal about the Wembley shows themselves, as they were so excellently covered by Mr Anchorman in the liveblog. If I were just to recount my personal memories, they would include turning around during the encores to see a crowd gathered behind the Video department’s control world, all dancing to his monitor speakers. Is that Jay-Z? It most certainly is! Who’s that with him? Clear Channel rep, Julie Metway – and bugger me, Phil Harvey is trading moves with Mr Z!

The Scientist is the penultimate song in the setlist. Normally, this means people start getting ready for load-out. Tonight, though, roadies all around are man-hugging and telling each other it’s been a pleasure – and it has. It’s been a very long tour and without a shadow of a doubt, I’ve never seen anything so demanding upon the spirit – nor a bunch of people rise to the occasion with such grace and style. Join me then, in a communal group hug to all those here in the "team photo" and indeed all those (at least another fifty percent again) who slept through it or couldn’t stop working…

The aftershow, as I’ve mentioned, took place in the lobby of Wembley Arena. Out on the concourse, there’s a posh food van serving bacon sandwiches, which inevitably is where the roadie contingent ends up, arriving in waves as the trucks get finished. It’s too early for it to actually feel like it’s over. I spend most of the night saying to everyone "yeah, but it feels like in ten days we’ll all be back at the airport." I wander about and find I lack the necessary wristband to get into the "VIP" section. In all honesty, I’m too pooped to be much bothered. I head back out through the loading dock looking for a runner vehicle back to the hotel and stop only to grab a "Coldplay: Everything This Way" sign off the wall for my office door at the new studio. (Sorry Marguerite, I’ll bring it to Argentina…)

The exhaustion continues the next day, when myself and Mrs. 42 fail completely to get our shit together enough to make the last Sunday train home from London. We decide to admit defeat and book another night in the hotel for a chance to collapse in a heap properly. We wander through the posh reception and I ponder the fact that really, this might be some slightly sad attempt to cling onto the touring experience. Above me there is a pianist playing classical pieces for the diners below. I wince as I recognise what he’s playing.

It’s the Erik Satie piece that Chris always plays at the close of Politik.

I couldn’t escape even if I wanted to…