You’re writin’ a book dude? Whatcha gonna say? “We load in, we do the show, we load back out, we get wrecked, The Fuckin’ End?”
—Anon. Roadie X&Y US tour, Summer 2006
Matt McGinn has been a roadie for Coldplay since the band was a scruffy, relatively unknown bunch of newly-signed lads who were looking to live the rock ‘n’ roll life and dreaming of world domination. More than a decade later, he’s still with the band that is now a slightly less scruffy, immensely well-known bunch of consummate professionals living the dream life and, well, achieving world domination.
Roadie: My Life on the Road with Coldplay is exactly what it sounds like: McGinn’s account of his time working for and touring with one of the biggest bands on the planet. He shares an intimate, engaging and, more often than not, hilarious, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like on the road for an outfit as big as Coldplay.
Coldplay has come a long way from those small, early gigs for few fans and rattling around Europe in a van. The group has sold more than 40 million records to date, and regularly plays stadiums on sold-out world tours, but McGinn’s job hasn’t changed all that much. He’s specifically in charge of guitarist Jonny Buckland’s gear these days and, along with the rest of the road crew, responsible for making sure all of Coldplay’s equipment is working properly before the band hits the stage, as well as keeping things running as smoothly as possible during the shows. This seems like it could quickly get old, doing essentially the same thing day in and day out, but as many of McGinn’s anecdotes demonstrate, the devil is in the details.
The day-to-day work of being a roadie (this is still McGinn’s favored term, though many of his counterparts prefer “technician”), and the camaraderie between the crews and bands are far more interesting than any particular personal insights he might let slip about his employers. However, there are a few of those tidbits here and there for the fans, as well.
Knowing that it’s best to give the people what they came for, McGinn spends very little time on his own background, save a few salient points such as that he used to be in bands himself (of course!) and that he sort of fell into his position with Coldplay by several strokes of outstanding luck. He spends one early chapter briefly explaining a bit about the storied job description, it’s appropriately titled, “What’s A Roadie, Anyway?” Then he gets right to the rise of the band and the weirdness and wonder of being along for the ride.
There’s Glastonbury 2002, which few members of the band or crew can seem to recall all that clearly, but that everyone agrees was the point when they knew Coldplay had made it. There’s also the revelation that it’s often been McGinn playing guitar from off-stage while Chris Martin’s climbing all over the place during “Yellow”. Can you imagine? It’s nerve-wracking just to read!
The chapter called “Gig Day” is a lengthy but thoroughly engrossing itinerary that explains, for the previously uninformed civilian, each and every step the Coldplay road crew takes from 7AM, when the five crew buses pull into the venue parking lot, until well after midnight when the crew climbs back aboard the bus for a Beck’s. There’s also a lovely bit in this section where McGinn itemizes Buckland’s live set-up in enough detail to make a gear-obsessed, guitar-geek—or even a regular geek, like this writer—drool with delight The cheap Guyatone chorus on the pedal-board? That’s the one that makes Jonny’s guitar go all “Doctor Who-ey”! It’s the attention given to that kind of information that you want to find in a book about life on the road with rock stars.
Happily, this book has plenty more of that. However, what really makes Roadie a great read is McGinn himself. His self-deprecating wit and winning personality jump right off the page, clap you on the shoulder and offer you a post-show pint. Reviewers always say things like, “It’s as if you’re there. You’re a part of it…” but in this case it’s actually true. Reading Roadie: My Life on the Road with Coldplay really does give the feeling that you’re experiencing some of what it must be like for McGinn and his fellow roadies. Except, you know, less heavy lifting.
Feel free to pop open an ice-cold Beck’s on the last page, though. It’s all about the Beck’s!
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