From Rolls Royce mechanic to rock ‘n roll roadie… that’s the story of Pat Baker, legendary music tour manager.
The elements decided his fate when he was working in a Rolls Royce Mercedes-Benz dealership. A local contact approached him, said he needed a truck driver for two weeks. Pat said yes and found himself driving Squeeze around in 1979 in the height of the “Cool For Cats” tour.
“I had the best time of my life,” he grins, “and then they handed me a big bunch of money at the end of it. I suddenly realised I was in the wrong business.” Chatting away in the snug operations office of The Olympia Theatre Pat gives me a modest history of his professional adventures.
After the Squeeze job it took him a couple of years to hit the tour trade full time. He managed to get himself sacked from Rolls Royce the day before a Chris Rea tour started. He jumped at the chance and set off selling T-shirts. He worked his way up, watched and learned. He describes himself as “roadworthy”. Capable, willing, consistent, good craic and able to consume more than a few beers is probably what he really means.
During his ascent through the ranks he did keyboard tech, (having never played a keyboard) for Chris Rea, drum tech and African drums for Paul Simon on the Graceland tour, stage management for Adele and Goldfrapp.
He attributes his progression to two things. One, doing all the jobs. He’s been the truck driver, humped PA’s about, done rigging and set ups, lighting and backline. The other success factor is his mechanical mind and his ability to fix things. “You didn’t necessarily have to play the instrument. It was all about set up, strip down, tune and repair.” Nowadays as tour manager for acts like Chris Rea, Pat reckons that because he’s done every role he can anticipate and deal with the problems the crew might encounter. Small venues like The Olympia for example require a different rig than an arena. So Pat’s job is to have the right equipment planned for the right venue to roll out the set up on the day of the show.
Regardless of whatever issues the crew have the old adage “The show must go on” applies to the crew more than it ever does to the band. So whatever shit happens Pat’s gotta fix it.
But that’s alright, because he loves his job. As any successful professional will tell you, it’s about having the right team around you. Pat stands by this referring to the accountability of the industry. “If you’re crap, you only work once. If you’re good, you’ll work with the same people over and over”. Though the industry is populated with lots of young people Pat is adamant about the value of experience.” It’s fine if you can specialise in one instrument, but if you’ve suddenly got to go into a venue, the truck’s broken down and it’s eight hours late it’s knowing how to cope with those situations that will get you through and will get you hired again.” Passing his pearls of wisdom on to anyone considering the production industry Pat’s advice is “Don’t be cocky, watch and learn. None of this ‘I need a tea break’ because no matter what you must do whatever it takes to get the gig up and running. Finally, check and double check everything.”
The hard work pays off though. A lifetime of rock ‘n roll adventures, travels all over the world. Fun filled encounters with old style rock ‘n rollers with Squeeze. Pat did the Paul Simon Graceland world tour in 1987/88 and The Rhythm Of The Saints Tour.
That was 49 countries in 18 months. He was part of the team for the Paul Simon gig in Central Park to 750,000 people in August 1990. He did 149 shows on that tour with lots of time off. A week off in Bali, a week off in Melbourne and a week off in Florida were just some of the perks Pat was young enough to enjoy and appreciate.
Referring to more recent acts Pat speaks fondly of Adele and Goldfrapp, lovely people, great tour. He’s got some right old yarns to tell, however despite my discreet encouragement he declines. Fair enough. After all, what goes on tour stays on tour.
Professionals like Pat and his rigging crews are under the public radar and highly underrated. These are the guys who unload the boxes that contain the magic that makes the show. Whether it’s Ed Sheeran, Queens Of The Stoneage, The Killers, Peter Gabriel or AC/DC none of it would happen without the crew. The next time the house lights go up and your artist is gone back to his hotel these guys will be taking the kit apart, packing it carefully and taking it to the next venue. Driving through the night to deliver the dream to the next set of fans waiting at the barrier.
They’re not called Fly By Night for nothing.
Post by Ciara Sheahan. I’m a self confessed indie rock n’roller. Live music addict, writer, blogger, festival veteran. Native to Dublin, my degree in Journalism is from The University of Sheffield. With a proven track record in business and a creative side that refuses to recede I’m firmly focused on my future in the music/creative industry.