You see them at every gig – they might be wearing a grubby pair of jeans, old Converse trainers and a stained tour t-shirt dating back to the 1980s; they’ll invariably be carting around amps and bass drums. If you’ve been to a gig just once in your life you’ll have noticed them: the roadies, the unsung heroes of many a gig. But have you ever given a thought to what goes on in the mind of a roadie? Dubliner Patrick McCarry has – and the play-cum-gig Moonshine Travellers – which you can see at Electric Picnic this weekend, or at the Sugar Club later this month – is the result.
Moonshine Travellers isn’t some po-faced, serious epic, however. Instead, it’s a funny romp through the goings-on at a charity gig in Dublin, where the roadies embody all the glorious stereotypes of their chosen career, and where for a change they get their chance to shine. But as well as the roadies themselves, the show will feature live music from three acts.
The idea for the play first came to Patrick in 2007, and it was premiered in Vicar St in 2008. As expected, Patrick’s inspiration for the show came from, well, attending a gig. ‘I was at a charity gig in Vicar St, and it was one of those things with five or six different bands. They had a comedian who was acting as an MC, and the roadies were working away. But at the same time the MC, I think it was David O’Doherty, he was giving the roadies a bit of a slagging, and there was a bit of [banter] back and forth.’ The witty banter between the MC and roadies got Patrick thinking about the esteem – or lack thereof – in which roadies are often held. It’s usually the roadies and technical crews who do all the -hard’ and physical work at a show. When the band floats off stage on their own egos after a triumphant gig, it’s the roadies who have to get down and unplug the leads and pedals, dismantle the drum kit and collect the guitars, often getting booed in the process (when it becomes obvious the band aren’t coming back).
‘Most of the time they are left get about their business and they can do that in front of 20,000 people or 80,000 people – there they are in one of the biggest stadiums in the world and yet they don’t have a chance to have their story told,’ is how Patrick puts it. ‘It’s giving them their chance to have their story told – in a funny way.’ To prepare for writing the show, Patrick drew on his own experience as a gig-goer as well as turning to some friends who knew more about the life of a roadie. ‘When I first came up with the idea I was talking to a few people about it – people who are involved in the entertainment industry; people who are in bands and who are actors. I actually found out that a lot of them in their spare time do a bit of work like that. And then they introduced me to a few characters as well,’ says Patrick.
He has a particular interest in these -characters’- the roadies who have seen and done it all, and have the battle-wounds to show for it. ‘The people I am interested in are the people who have been at it for years and who have all the stories. They get a glimpse of fame and they rub shoulders with famous people,’ says Patrick. ‘Some of them are eager to tell you stories; the others have a sort of unwritten rule about it, you know, -whatever happens on stage, stays on stage’. Some of them take it way too seriously, which is even funnier.’
One of the central characters in Moonshine Travellers is just that sort of roadie – his job is his life, and music is his religion. But no matter how serious he takes himself, Patrick gives him some of the funniest lines. ‘The main guy, the older guy, [Sonny Flidgeon] he is just a big massive fan of Bon Jovi and all soft rock music. So I had good fun. Throughout the show he is constantly quoting Bon Jovi lyrics. He goes around on stage – he put his back out on a show years ago – he goes around on a scooter and if people are like -what’s the scooter all about?’, he says: -I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride’,’ laughs the young playwright. ‘They have their own catchphrases and words they use – -I tech’d for them ten years ago’ [for example]. He calls himself a -vet’, a veteran of the scene as well.’
The story centres around a young man, Ray Harknett, who is on his first night on the job as a roadie. Sonny becomes his mentor, and as a veteran he takes it upon himself to show the rookie everything he thinks he knows. Ray, meanwhile, is doing the job in order to raise funds for the recording of an EP by his band, The Moonshine Travellers.
The night itself is centred on a fundraising gig that’s being held to raise money for victims of an avalanche in the Swiss Alps. The organiser of the gig is its MC, Nick Mulwrainey, a member of the late 90s boyband sensations Sexxpack who still hasn’t forgotten the heady days of fame, when pre-pubescent girls thumb-tacked his face to their bedroom walls. Now that he’s somewhat over the hill, he won’t throw away any opportunity for a bit of publicity.
This isn’t the first unusual take on a topic that Patrick has come up with – he’s also written a play ‘about a guy who writes a screenplay for Rocky, and his old high school buddy robs it on him, and this old high-school buddy turns out to be Sylvester Stallone – it’s kind of like another comedy as well. It’s basically about these guys who are making a really bad version of Rocky – they were the originals but they never got the fame at the same time’. Then there’s his play about a travel writer who finds himself being bribed by the locals in the town he’s been sent to write about.
‘The way I often get a lot of thoughts is -what would happen if this happened’, -what would happen if someone put a mic on these roadies’,’ explains Patrick. ‘Most of them are comedies – anytime I try to write anything serious I’ve went back and read it a few months later and thought -that’s terrible, it’s really treacly or something’.’ When it comes to writing, there’s a certain element that he particularly enjoys: ‘The funniest characters to write are often the asshole characters. The evil characters, -cos you get the chance to say things you would never say yourself, so you have fun.’ Whether you’re a music nerd or a musician, or if you just want to pay homage to the unsung heroes of the gig scene, then Moonshine Travellers will offer you plenty to laugh, smile, and – if you’re a current, past, or recovering roadie – nod knowingly at.
Moonshine Travellers will be performed on Saturday 5th September at the Electric Picnic festival in Stradbally. It will also be performed as part of the Bulmers Comedy Festival in the Sugar Club in Dublin on 16th and 17th September. Tickets for both nights at The Sugar Club are available from Ticketmaster. Call 0818 719 300 or check www.ticketmaster.ie