The Rolling Stones
No Off Switch
Andy Kershaw is a writer, a multi-award-winning broadcaster (he once shared an office with John Peel for 12 years, and has won more Sony Radio Awards than any other broadcaster, and was one of the presenters on Live Aid). He is also a foreign correspondent, who eye-witnessed and reported on the Rwandan genocide. His fearlessness as a reporter saw him banned from Malawi under the dictatorship of Dr Hastings Banda.
But that’s only part of this Lancastrian’s incredible story.
Kershaw has worked for Bruce Springsteen; was Billy Bragg’s driver, roadie and tour manager; went on a blind date with a then unknown Courtney Love (to see Motorhead); was propositioned by both Little Richard and Frankie Howerd; spent a week riding out with Sonny Barger and the Oakland Hell’s Angels; went with Red Adair and Boots Hansen to the burning oil well-heads in Kuwait in 1991; and was immortalised by Nick Hornby in High Fidelity, which was later filmed with John Cusack.
This has made Andy Kershaw a bit of a legendary figure—a kind of distant British relative to Hunter S Thompson. This and much more can be found in Kershaw’s excellent autobiography No Off Switch, which I can thoroughly recommend.
But let’s go back to 1982, when Kershaw was working for The Rolling Stones, as Andy explains by way of introduction to this extract from No Off Switch:
I had been, for the past two years, the Entertainments Secretary of Leeds University, booking all the bands and organising and running the concerts, at the largest college venue in the UK. Although non sabbatical and unpaid, I devoted all my time and energies to the job. We enjoyed a reputation - among bands, booking agents and management companies - as a highly professional operation with a long and rich history of running prestigious gigs. I had built up a good working relationship with the major UK concert promoters and, with my Leeds University stage crew, I was often hired by those companies to work on big concerts elsewhere. In the spring of 1982, I took a call in the Ents Office in the Students’ Union, from Andrew Zweck, right-hand man to Harvey Goldsmith, the UK’s biggest concert promoter at the time. “Andy,” said Andrew. “Would you like to work for the Rolling Stones this summer? And could you bring Leeds Uni’s stage crew with you?” Al, referred to in this extract, is Al Thompson, my friend and right-hand man in running the Leeds University concerts. Now read on…
Already the size of an aircraft carrier, the stage was only partially built when we arrived.
Members of Stage Crew, like the remnants of a rebel patrol, were threading their way down through the trees, into the natural bowl of Roundhay Park, and gathering behind the vast scaffolding framework.
A couple of dozen articulated lorries, and a similar number of empty flat-beds were parked up in neat lines. More were rumbling into the park.
We squinted up at the riggers, chatting and clanking, swinging and building, climbing higher on their Meccano as they worked.
“Fuck,” said Al. And we all concurred with his expert analysis.
It was an impressive erection, even for Mick Jagger. And, at that time, the biggest stage that had ever been built, anywhere in the world.
Roundhay, in Leeds, in front of 120,000 fans, was to be the final date on the Rolling Stones European Tour, 1982, which broke records, set standards and established precedents on a scale never seen before. The logistics alone were mind-boggling.
If the scale of the infrastructure being unloaded before our eyes in Roundhay was extraordinary, there had to be - for the Stones to play a handful of consecutive dates in new locations - three of these set-ups on the road, and leap-frogging each other, at the same time: one under construction, a second ready for the gig; and a third being dismantled following the previous performance. We were just a fraction of the total operation.
To meet the backstage requirements at Roundhay, I was to be in charge of those logistics and grandly titled, for the next three weeks, Backstage Labour Co-ordinator.
It was reassuring to find a couple of familiar and friendly faces in the Portakabin offices which had been plonked down overlooking the grassy slope of what would become the backstage area. Andrew Zweck from Goldsmith’s office, and Harvey’s earthly representative during the build-up at Leeds, is a bluff, blond Australian with a reputation for getting things done. Uncommonly, for the music business, Andrew is good-humoured and devoid of self-importance. Similarly, Paul Crockford – Andrew’s assistant for the Roundhay gig.
Dear old Crockers was about the only bloke in the music industry that I actually considered to be a pal. Just a few years old than me, and a former Ents Sec at Southampton, he was now working in a freelance capacity for Harvey Goldsmith’s concert promotion company.
A tour of the Rolling Stones magnitude had required the UK’s biggest promoter to be co-opted as the British servant of the the overall mastermind of the enterprise, the legendary hippy impresario and pioneer, Bill Graham. In fact, this Rolling Stones adventure – taking in Europe and the States over two years - was the first time one promoter had staged a whole tour, globally. Graham’s experiment with the Stones, in 1981-2, would become the model for the industry in years to come. For the moment, however, in this previously uncharted territory, Graham and Goldsmith were making it up as they went along.
Crockers - even when he was ripping me off, selling me bands for the University - is always huge fun. Like Andrew Zweck, he doesn’t know how to be pompous. And like me, Crockers is amused most by the ridiculous and the absurd. This was to be a quality we would find indispensable over the following couple of weeks.
“That’s your desk,” said Andrew, pointing to a freshly-acquired bargain, in simulated teak finish, from some second-hand office supplies outlet. My position was in the middle of our HQ, handily by the door, and with a window overlooking the side of the stage and the slope leading down to where the dressing rooms and band’s hospitality area hadn’t yet been built. I could keep an eye on everything.
Crockers dumped in front me a telephone, a heavy new ledger and a cash box containing five hundred pounds before briefly outlining the mysteries of double-entry book keeping.
It started to rain.
A stocky, bearded little bloke soon popped up at the door.
“Hey, you,” he said. “Who’s the guy around here in charge of all the purchases.” The accent was American.
“Me,” I said. “Mine name’s Andy. Who are you?”
“Magruder,” he snapped, as though he was a brand. And one that I should recognise.
“What’s your job here?” I asked.
“Site Co-ordinator, Rolling Stones.” It crossed my mind it was unlikely he’d have been there for The Tremeloes. “Get me fifty pairs of Hunter’s boots and fifty waterproof capes,” he snapped.
And he was gone.
More from The Rolling Stones Guide to Painting & Decorating, after the jump…
With kind thanks to Andy Kershaw