John Garrison, bassist with James Blunt, talks us through his first week supporting Ed Sheeran in the US.
Welcome to my tour diary, a collection of personal stories and impressions that I’m going to be sharing with you about the music, atmosphere and overall experience of the current Ed Sheeran tour in the US. Touring is always full of highs and lows, but we’re supporting a brilliant and much-loved artist in Ed, and I’m looking forward to taking it all in. Being the support band on a big tour you need to know your place, or else you run the risk of being fired on day one. But it’s been an excellent start so far and James and the rest of the band are in fine form. Here’s how I got on in week one.
Day 1, June 25th: Glastonbury Festival
It’s 8am and I’m onsite at the Glastonbury Festival. The slightly guilty conscience of waking up in a mobile home, having a bed, a lovely clean toilet with a stock of toilet paper and a nice cup of tea soon disappears as I venture into the main site and mingle with the casualties of the night before (and probably the night before that). I’ve been there, but once you’ve experienced the backstage and VIP areas of a festival it’s very hard to go back. The fact that I got here on a helicopter makes this an even more surreal experience and one that doesn’t quite sit right for someone playing the BBC Introducing Stage – my Glastonbury has been more rock ‘n’ roll than some of the acts playing the main stages! But, as is becoming commonplace here, this experience is all courtesy of the corporate world. I’m here as a guest of a mate who owns a very successful packaging business. Helicopters and Winnebago’s (and clean toilets for that matter) would otherwise be out of reach for us mere musicians. But I loved it.
The gig was with an artist called Lulu James. It was frantic and stressful as is often the case with no sound check, a shared backline and stewards who seemed to have left their humanity outside at the gates. However, It was a great gig and Lulu nailed it. We found out the whole set was being broadcast live on the BBC just as we were going on, which brought out the star in Lulu that she will inevitably become. A taxi from Glastonbury to London’s Heathrow Airport awaits followed by a flight to NYC for a 5am morning TV stint with James Blunt.
Day 2, June 26th: Good Morning America!
After just three hours sleep and a 4am lobby call, today’s a live performance on Good Morning America of “OK”, Blunt’s new single here in the States. It’s a track that’s quite personal for me as my remix is being released as the main version. You need to have many strings to your bow if you want to make a living in music these days. We’re all in a daze as we check our hire gear. God knows what time our crew arrived, but everything is setup and ready to go. I’m writing this a few days later, so I can’t remember much about the performance itself, but the label and management all seemed happy.
Jet lag and the general buzz of being in New York means an attempted snooze doesn’t happen. So our keyboard player, Chris Pemberton (Pembers), our drummer Kristoff and I go for a power walk around Central Park. You’ve got to take any opportunity to stay in shape while you’re out on the road. Central Park is such a wonderful place and it never fails to impress. On days like this I feel very privileged to be doing what I do. We then head off to another TV studio to perform on the Seth Myers Show. The studio is freezing! It’s always the way with US TV shows. A planned big night out in NYC is thwarted by jetlag that eventually kicks in too hard to ignore. It’s an early night for us.
Day 3, June 27th: NYC
I woke up at 5am, but not for any reason other than jetlag, but that’s ok in NYC. I still love this city. I lived here for 2 years back in 2006/7 and it still feels like home. There is energy and a focus here that brings out the creative side in anyone who has one. We’re performing on the Live With Kelly and Ryan talk show today and it’s another freezing studio. A trailer filled with farmyard animals is parked right outside our dressing room, which breaks the tediousness of TV world, but the boredom was abruptly shattered when we’re told we have to lose 30 seconds from the track. We’ve already sound checked, so it’s a strategic edit that’s arranged in a board meeting-style, sat around the table with no way of checking that the changes work. It’s times like this that we are thankful to be a live band with no backing tracks. We visually cue the changes live on air while being broadcast to millions and it works. We nail it in 3 minutes. Everyone is happy and we’re done for the day.
We head downtown to my favourite Italian restaurant called Emilio’s Ballato. It’s an old mafia-style Italian that I was introduced to when I lived here. Emilio is a terrifying, yet lovable character that sits at the door and he has done for decades. You only have to imagine a mafia-style Italian restaurant owner with a gravelly voice who has to occasionally pop out to “take care of business” to know what he looks like. The first time I came here, Sting was sat at the first table with Jay Z and Rhianna. It’s that kind of place. Emilio Jnr takes us to a table and explains the menu in his “baddabing” way. It’s so cliché that one or 2 of our party suspect it’s all a show, but I know for a fact it’s not. The family back in Sicily send over ingredients twice a week and all three of Emilio’s sons work at the place. It’s the real deal. Tonight we are all on the guest list for an Imelda May gig at Webster Hall. Pembers, our keyboard player, plays for Imelda too. He depped out the last two Imelda gigs as they clashed with the Blunt tour, but coincidence means we are all here in NYC. The band is amazing and Imelda’s voice soars. We hang out at an Irish bar around the corner after the show.
Day 4, June 28th: Hello Kansas!
We fly to Kansas today and arrive to find that instead of the mini bus we asked for, all twelve of us have to squeeze into three cars with all our gear. It’s not all glamour!
Day 5, June 29th: Sprint Arena
It’s the first day of our Ed Sheeran support tour. Still jetlagged, I’m up and wide-awake at 5am. Eventually, the tour bus pulls up outside our hotel, which is always an exciting moment. There’s something about American tour buses that’s probably linked to my childhood dream of touring the States, but also just how cool they look. This is home for the next two months. We get to the Sprint Arena, which has a capacity of 16,000 and is sold out. We meet Ed and all the crew who are all friendly, which is a welcome relief. The support act can occasionally be treated as a lesser entity, but not here. James and Ed are friends, which helps – Ed co-wrote some of the tracks on James’ new album and we even recorded one of them at Ed’s house earlier in the year. We sound check the whole set, which feels a bit weird. Ed does his thing with just an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal. He rarely sound checks, so seeing our gear onstage feels a little intrusive on his minimal set, but again, Ed’s crew are all super helpful. We iron out a few issues from rehearsals and drop a song as we creep over our allocated 40 minutes.
Ed pops in to wish us luck as we all do our vocal warm up before we go on. It’s a younger crowd than we are used to and a few of them have no idea who James is. I guess it’s 12 years since his debut album was no.1 here in the States. James strikes up the opening chords to “You’re Beautiful” and you can see the penny drop in the audience. The crowd slowly get to their feet as they realise ‘it’s that guy’. It’s an amazing moment and from that point on it’s an amazing show.
We all come off stage and have a post gig huddle. It’s been a success. There’s always a slight element of doubt before a support gig, but those doubts have been put to bed tonight. Ed pops in before his set and pours us all a mandatory Tequila. He hits the stage to an ear splitting shrill of 16,000 teenagers. It’s an amazing spectacle to witness him with just a guitar and a loop pedal. From the hardcore fans at the front to the reluctant parents at the back, Ed has them all in the palm of his hand. He is a master of his craft.
Day 5, June 30th: Des Moines
I get woken by the bus stopping, which is often the case when the gentle rock and sway of the journey ends. It’s 5:30am and we’re playing in the city of Des Moines today. I’ve toured America many times and have still never heard of this place. I’ve no idea how it’s pronounced either. Is it spoken with a French accent? Or, as it looks, more like a football commentator’s name? Either way, I am the only person around at this time in the morning. Google maps suggests going to a place called East Village, so I head there and find a coffee shop. As well as coffee, they sell vinyl records and second-hand sci-fi books that the locals are all reading. The guy working there spots my accent and we get chatting.
Ed is trying out some new guitars today, so he has a sound check, which means that we don’t, but that’s cool. Our crew know exactly how we like our sound. The gig follows the same pattern as yesterday: polite applause after each song until the realisation that follows ‘You’re Beautiful’ and the subsequent unlocking of the crowd. It’s another great gig and afterwards we all head back to the tour bus, which is surrounded by Ed’s fans. It’s actually quite a refreshing change for James who is relaxed and talking to them all, posing for photos and signing autographs. We get some spicy chicken wings delivered to the bus courtesy of Ed’s caterers and they blow our heads off! Ed has told them that James loves chicken wings, and the spicier the better. We are all in tears on the bus. Benny, our guitarist, has three and starts hallucinating. We can’t finish them, so we dish them out to fans outside and then scurry back before the bus departs.
Day 7, June 1st: Minneapolis
We wake up in St Paul, which is on the outskirts of Minneapolis. We’re playing in the basement of a huge arena tonight and it’s roasting hot. Pembers and I decide to go for a wander.
We walk down to the Mississippi River, which runs through the city and dip our toes in just to say that we have, but it’s too hot and we head back. Next is a short acoustic set over at a Minneapolis radio station for a competition winner there. Pembers and I are both huge Prince fans and bow our heads in the direction of Paisley Park as we pass. It looks like a factory to me! The performance is great. Blunty is on top form with his banter and has both the radio host and the audience in stitches. He really is a funny man, as his Twitter followers already know. Next up is a bike ride with Nick, Ed’s photographer. Ed always tours with bikes on the trucks and has kindly leant them to us today. We zoom down the Mississippi for a wonderful 10 miles or so. It’s great to get out. Tonight’s gig is a slightly odd one. We can’t put our fingers on why, but as is sometimes the case, it just falls a little flat. There’s no point trying to analyse it. They can’t all be great and it maybe it’s just be me.
We’ve five days off now. My girlfriend and son have flown out to New York and are waiting for me at a wonderful house in upstate New York that James’ family are also sharing. The initial plan was to go overnight on the bus to Chicago and fly to NYC from there, but a very generous Ed Sheeran is also going to NYC and has booked a private jet with spare seats. So a quick repack of my carry on bag and we are whisked away straight from Ed’s performance. There’s even pizza and a beer on the plane as we head to NYC. Living the dream!