Please note: This article contains a humorous story that some may find offensive

What is your name & location
Robbie McGrath
Devon England.

What is your field(s)
Sound Engineer.

When and how did you get started in the industry?
Back in the 70’s I played drums in a few different local Dublin bands so I got to know a lot of the Irish bands & managers on the scene back in the day. My first weeks’ wages as a roadie was in 1974 working for an Irish traditional rock band named Horslips. I was an apprentice jeweler in Dublin earning £5 a week & one day while walking up O’Connell’s Street I bumped into Eamon Carr Horslips’s drummer. He told me that they had just finished booking a summer tour of the Irish Ballrooms (every Irish City, Town & Village had a ballroom) & they needed a roadie, he offered £15 a week, so not only did I love the band but ten quid more than I was getting?  I jumped at it. I then had to tell my Dad that I was leaving the jewelers & going on the road with a band, I needn’t tell ya that didn’t go down well at all. I’d left school at 16 because I was obviously an amazing academic. I went through a few different jobs after I was asked to leave the educational fraternity. I worked on the building sights, sold shoes in Tyler’s shoe shop, worked as a barman in Mooney’s, was a cook in a few different hamburger joints, did a year on the fishing boats & finally to my Dad’s joy settled into the jewelry business as an apprentice. 

Can you describe the atmosphere when you first started touring?
I was driving a transit van with the five band members & all the band’s equipment. We had a WEM PA consisting of 4 WEM columns, 2 amps & a small 5 channel mixer that was placed at the side of the stage. We could set everything up in about half an hour. We spent the summer of ’74 touring every corner of Ireland. I couldn’t get over the number of women that wanted to talk to us and get to know us, to a young 18-year-old testosterone-driven guy this was heaven.

In Ireland at the same time, there was Thin Lizzy & Rory Galleher, Joe O’herlihy who now mixes house for U2 was looking after Galleher. Horslips were the only rock band touring Ireland extensively, back then most of the bands that would venture off into the far-flung towns in Ireland would have been showbands, they were hard-working talented bands that would play from 9 pm until 1 or 2 am. They were a cabaret cover band that mostly played country music with the odd chart-topper.

How would you compare the industry today to when you started in the industry?
Well, it wasn’t really an industry back then especially in Ireland, every band had their own crew & there were only a few small outlets that sold equipment that suited what we were doing, obviously, there were shops that tended towards dealing with orchestras & classical music & a few equipment hire places that would mainly be supplying stage productions & tv-shows.

I remember when I saw my first flight case, it was at the Rainbow Theater London in 1975 when The Doobie Brothers & Little Feat wear part of a Warner Brothers touring package. I thought they looked amazing & I knew there & then I was cut out to be a roadie, I mean who else would drool over a fucking flight case,🤣  I also remember the first time I realized I’d never be a successful drummer, it was watching Led Zeppelin in Belfast’s City Hall in 1969, John Bonham just blew me away, I was in shock for days after that show. 

Things changed fast for me when I started to tour outside Ireland & especially when I moved to London & would regularly tour Germany, Holland, France, Canada & America.   

Can you describe the atmosphere as you progressed in the industry?
Leaving Ireland & moving to London was incredibly exciting. The number of bands we went to see, the clubs we hung out in, & the connections we made were all amazing, suddenly we were in the heart of the beast & it felt great. Finding out who was who & where to get what was what was such a great buzz & everybody was incredibly helpful, friendly & full of ideas. I’m afraid that has all disappeared, now it’s a bad idea to talk too much to anybody about what you’re doing or how you’re doing it incase somebody pips you to the post & jumps in all over your idea or undercuts you. There was a certain camaraderie feel back then, we were more pirate-like & full of fun no matter what the consequences.

When I went to London first, I was still with Horslips & we all lived in a house together off the King’s Road & when I finally moved to London for good I was with the Boomtown Rats & again, we all lived in a big house in Chessington where we turned the old ballroom in the house into our rehearsal room.

There was of course plenty of professional jealousy between ourselves & other bands over the years, if you saw a band that had something that looked or sounded great you’d definitely have to find out where they got it, get one & put your own spin on it.

How would you compare the industry today to as you progressed in the industry?
The shows today are amazing, there was no way we could have ever pulled off anything like it back when I started. Technology has launched the live touring industry into a completely different world of possibilities & because of it, unfortunately, everything has to be dealt with on a more business, money-making professional footing. Back when in the day doing two nights at the Hammersmith Odeon meant you were on top of your game, now it’s two nights at Wembley Arena or one night at Wembly Stadium in order to make an impression.

Can you describe a normal gig day, load in, soundcheck, set change etc ?
Well, the soundcheck has always been important to the band & the sound crew, but I have to say that with all the recall we have going for us & the amazing sound systems & technology we have these days, it’s no longer absolutely necessary to soundcheck every day. It depends on the size of the venue you’re doing as to how your day goes.

Back when all the gear was in a 3-ton truck, there was only ever 3 crew, Lighting, BackLine & Sound, & all of you drove. You’d turn up to the gig & more often than not there would be no house crew, so, hail rain or shine you’d have to offload the gear into the venue & the 3 of you would start assembling everything including wiring into the nearest 3 phase power supply & when the show was over you were on your own when it came to stripping down, loading out, & heading down the road in the direction of your next gig. We liked driving at night because the lack of traffic meant you could put some miles behind you much quicker at night than during the day.

Things obviously got better as time moved on & we went from a three-toner to an artic, the arrival of the articulated truck meant that there was bigger production & more crew so along came the sleeper coach, that was a game-changer, now being a roadie you didn’t have to know how to drive, read maps, deal with floats & foreign currency, handle carnets, manipulate truck stops, book your own hotels or know how to maintain your truck & keep it in good shape & motoring well, Instead, we all piled onto the sleeper coach after load out & got stoned, half pissed & went to bed & woke up to breakfast at the next gig.

What sort of challenges did you incur?
When there was only a few crew everybody knew the show inside out & we all helped out because it all had to be in working order when the band walked in no matter what, and it was our job to make sure it was all up and running. If I was having a sound problem & was running behind, the other lads would help out or if the lighting guy was having a bad one we’d chip in, we all knew how to repair the gear & we had one toolbox between us & a reasonable supply of spares.

These days there’s at least one sleeper bus, one or two artics, 15 or so crew, catering although catering is beginning to disappear on theater tours in England & even on the bigger tours it’s not as good as it used to be in the mid-’80s & ’90s.

Everybody now sticks to their own job & at times there can be bad feelings between the different departments but I have to say if you get a good production manager he’ll usually make sure that type of thing doesn’t take hold & will actively work against such nonsensical drifts. A good production manager can be a joy to work with & can make or break a tour for the entire crew.

When you’re doing stadiums it’s always a good day when it doesn’t rain & the wind behaves itself. 
When it comes to arenas your local crew can make or break your day a good arena crew is worth their weight in gold, again if you have an experienced production manager he’ll know how to get the best out of most house crews.

The local crew is also very important when doing theaters they’ll know the venue inside out & can furnish you with a wealth of handy information. 

When it comes to clubs always listen to the house sound guy he’s done that room more times than you’ve had hot dinners & knows how to get the best from his system, unless of course, he’s a complete drug-addled arsehole.

What was the audio gear like when you first started, and as did you progress?
My First PA.

The work & planning involved in putting on shows today has changed out of all recognition from the days of my first PA 🤣

What sort of technology did you have to make your job easier?
There was little to no real technology involved in the early days as you can tell by my first PA photos, if you needed to time aline speakers you’d have to tie knots in the cable in order to slow down the signal 🤣. Today of course it’s all very different, we have some amazing helpful tools in our arsenal.

Here are a few really cool technical advances that are helping us greatly these days: 
(1) We have fantastic line array systems which have the ability to cover some of the biggest concert spaces known to man with a clear & very audible well-dispersed sound. 
(2) We have the ability to time aline as many speaker zones as is needed which allows us to take into consideration the speed of sound & manipulate it as needed, giving the listener a constant clear sound throughout the venues.
(3) We have IEMs (In-Ear Monitors). These wonderful systems allow the artists to hear their mix clear & without interference from the venue’s acoustics. They have also gone a long way in helping some singers prolong their touring careers.
(4) We have some amazing digital sound desks with recall capabilities allowing us to handle huge musical productions & with the flick of a button, we can recall programmed changes from song to song in nanoseconds. 
(5) Plug-Ins which allow us to have racks & racks of processing living in your laptop & manipulated through your desk.

When I did The Monsters of Rock 1991 in Moscow with AC/DC & one point one million punters showed up, our last delay tower was about half a mile away so time alignment was very necessary but back in 91 we didn’t have anything like SMART (look up smart time alignment if you want full details) to help us time aline the many delays. So, I drove out to each delay tower on a trials motorbike with a walkie-talkie & the system engineer played a click through the PA and I’d tell him faster or slower on the delay, we used KT delay units but today with Smart it’s all much easier, thank Christ.

I was mixing AC/DC & my good friend Mick Hughes was doing front of house for Metallica. Happy Days. 

When I went to one of the many production meetings about the show the question of rain came into the conversation & we were told “It won’t rain” to which of course we asked how can anyone tell it won’t rain? & believe it or not folks, they told us that they can stop it from raining by “feathering the clouds” we all looked at each other, smiled, shrugged our shoulders & carried on because at this stage the gig was already far too big to stop.

We arrived on sight in Moscow 4 days before the show, the stage structure had already been erected & it was ready for all our production cosmetics to be added, I must say that even then it looked like rain, but hey, we got on with it. The show went on & there wasn’t a drop fell from the overcast rain clouds until two hours after the show had come down, holey shit, the heavens opened & everything was drenched in seconds, the rain was not your usual rain it was large drops and consisted of a sticky dark grey substance? Make of this what you wish? but it happened.

Please share any relevant experiences or fun stories from your past on the road.
After Live-Aid I was working with Bob Geldof & his band The Vegetarians of Love on a European City Hopper Concert Tour, which meant we were flying everywhere. One day flying from Amsterdam to Berlin I was stopped in Berlin Airport & stripped searched. The customs officer stuck his finger in my arse & asked me to cough repeatedly to make sure I had nothing inserted up me bum, he then proceeded to run his hand under my balls & around my cock to make sure I wasn’t concealing anything anywhere in that area. I was totally naked & to say the least feeling uncomfortable, after he was finished checking the obvious places on my naked body where a man could conceal drugs, he told me to get dressed. He asked, “are you with Bob Geldof?” to which I replied “yes,” he said, “could you get his autogram for me?” I replied, “get it yourself,” he said “I’m a little shy would you mind asking him for me?”, What?! a little fucking shy? fuck me, he wasn’t shy when he had his finger up my arse & his hands all over me ballocks,  I looked at him & said, “don’t be going shy on me now darling, you’ve done great up ta now” so I gave him the nasty goodby look & said, “you’re on your own from here on in mate” & fucked off out of the examination room.

What would you say to folks entering the industry now?
Stay away, the fun days are over & the wages are getting worse all the time, God only knows what band managers will be offering after this covid shit has had its evil way with the world economy?

Anything else?
Get into video, it’s the way forward.

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