Roadies - The Secret History Of Australian Rock'n'Roll

Nicki Alchin
19th Nov 2018

Right here, Sydney Scoop will give you the low down on Roadies – The Secret History Of Australian Rock’n’Roll a ‘just in time for Christmas’ fascinating read showcasing life behind the rock’n’roll concerts everyone loves to attend.

We have no doubt you’ll agree with us it was high time for such a book to be written and that Stuart Coupe, whose credentials within the Australian rock scene lend themselves perfectly to such a task, is the perfect candidate to do the subject matter justice.

Roadies Review

As you can imagine, going to see live music is a fairly universal activity. This could be at your local club or pub or at a purpose-built venue of varying size catering to the music desires of a large city. Venues come and go; some stay in our memories and even become legendary while others blur with any number of spaces, faces and nights out. Unfortunately, rock bands also come and go. The numbers swell when rock is in favour by the masses and fall by the way side as genres such as hip hop and pop gain deeper footholds in the minds of the music listening public.

One constant though in the live music world is the need for roadies. You know, the people you see scurrying around on stage usually all in black sporting noteworthy tatts, setting up the band’s equipment, tacking down cords with duct tape, doing last minute adjustments to instruments, and generally ensuring the stage is ready for the bands who are about to come on and perform to an expectant audience. In essence, roadies are the people who bands rely on other than themselves and sound engineers to make a show sound and look great.

Roadies not only deal with the before and after tasks of working on a show such as unpacking and setting up gear only to then perform the dismantling and re-packing rituals, but they also ensure the show continues by rushing onto the stage to handle a multitude of tech issues or standing in the wings to tune guitars. They are trouble shooters with a can-do attitude, supporters of the act to the nth degree, and know exactly what is going on in front of and behind the scenes of any tour or one-off gig they are working on. Roadies are the people you should cultivate if you are a musician as they can make or break your performance like nobody else. All of this ingenuity and access all areas knowledge that roadies hold has been nicely accumulated by Australian music journalist, promoter, band manager and writer, Stuart Coupe, into 41 chapters of anecdotes from a hand-picked list of legendary figures in the profession. The book of course is called, Roadies – the secret history of Australian rock’n’roll

Stuart has sourced some notable figures to capture the essence of the profession and the lifestyle. The tales span a period from the late 1950s to the current era. You’ll discover lots of insights; name dropping; drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll; in addition to stories of doing what it takes to make the show happen in order to meet the artists’ and punters’ expectations. It’s a wonderful collection of a captivating part of Australia’s music history that remained fairly much just oral history bandied around by those in the industry, until now. Stuart has brought these stories together in a format that can be remembered and passed on more easily, and also be appreciated by a wider audience. It’s a great read for anyone who has spent time watching live music, but more importantly it has been embraced and endorsed by those practising the profession of being a roadie. Stuart should be very pleased with such an achievement.

After reading Roadies, I wanted to know more. Below are Stuart’s responses to a few questions I had about his book.

Roadies Q & A With Stuart Coupe

1. What was your motivation behind writing the book?

I was looking around for a great Australian music story that hadn’t been told. Then when I was informed that anecdotally Australian roadies have 4/5 times the national suicide rate – a statistic that is not mirrored globally – I became really fascinated with finding out who these people are, what they do and of course who so many of them find themselves in such desperate circumstances - so that was the beginning of a two year journey involving about 60 interviews and a real lot of research. It's an important story and given that only one Australian roadie had written a book, I figured why not?

2. Whose story did you enjoy researching the most?

It's the first book I've done where I really didn't want it to end. I loved talking to Howard Freeman, the godfather of Australian roadies, and also unearthing the full story of Tana Douglas - not only the world's first female roadie, but AC/DC's sound person when she was aged - wait for it - 16 and 17. Kerry Cunniningham's story about stealing Bon Scott's motorbike still makes me laugh. I pretty much enjoyed every bit of it. All up I spent about 250 hours recording conversations with roadies and they were all such amazing characters.

3. How long did it take for you to complete the book – eg from the very early beginnings to the final product? Did you come to any halts during the process and if so what were they and what did you do to keep up the momentum?

It was about a two year process - all my books work out about that from start to publication. I didn't come to a halt - it just took me forever to work out how to write it. I didn't want to put 'load in' in one section, 'travel' in another, 'drugs' in another - but for months and months I told my friends that it would not be chronological. And guess what - it's chronological - sorta! Eventually I realised that what linked all these roadies was that they are great characters so I decided to focus on their individual stories - and in each chapter there's bits of load ins, travel, drugs, etc etc.

4. What were the methods of research you employed to gather and/or authenticate the stories?

I just talked and talked and talked to roadies. I then did as much fact checking as I possibly could - but I also had to accept that these are the recollections - some of them 40 and 50 years old - from people who, more often than not, worked under, shall we say, impaired circumstances and as with any great stories the re-telling over decades is almost certainly embellished. I'm good with that. What do they say, ‘never let the facts stand in the way of a good story!’,  but clearly, whenever there was something that needed to be and could be checked, I did that to the best of my abilities.

5. What’s your own personal memory of a time where roadies featured prominently that you enjoy re-telling?

Personally, I really loved the late 1960s and 1970s periods. They were the real rough'n'ready, make it up as you go years that spawned a whole bunch of really take-no-prisoners roadies who are still talked about in revered tones. One young roadie said that a few years ago he ran into the famous roadie '$crooge' Madigan but that he was so in awe he couldn't go up and talk to him. That's the aura surrounding a lot of these pioneering guys.

6. Are you currently working on another book that yet again delves into the history of the Australian music scene? If so, what is it all about and when do you expect that to be available?

Yes - I've started work on a big book about the life'n'times of Paul Kelly - who was the very first interview I did back in June 1978 and also an artist I managed during the 1980s. He's given his blessing to me doing it and I'm just edging into it. Expect to see it towards the end of 2020.

Roadies by Stuart Coupe is published by Hachette Australia and available as paperback ($32.99) or eBook ($14.99)