three decades on the road with tour manager Paddy McPoland


Paddy McPoland has spent much of 30 years keeping the show on the road, on time, on budget and as easy as possible for the band he’s in charge of. McPoland has worked as a tour manager for Sinéad O’Connor, Imelda May, David Gray, James Vincent McMorrow and Clannad, among others. McPoland knows what a band needs, what to know and how to organize a tour. He enjoys his work out of the spotlight.

“There’s no one outside of a touring member or a musician who understands what it’s like to experience it,” McPoland says. “People might think they do. I enjoy the travel aspect of it. This is a difficult work. The glamor for me is shining my torch on stage left every night and putting my band on stage knowing full well that they’re going to deliver the goods. Watching the audience during the first songs, watching them radiate from ear to ear, it’s a great feeling.

Having started as an Ents officer at Carlow RTC in the mid-1980s, while studying civil engineering and construction, McPoland gave A House, Aslan, Something Happens their first gigs outside of Dublin.

“I didn’t know how a sound system or a light fixture worked, but I quickly identified that there was a need for someone to be in charge of everything,” McPoland recalls. I like to think I’m good at it.

Tour management assignments
McPoland’s reputation means he hasn’t had to look for a job in 20 years. His current client, The High Kings, retains his services exclusively and they are a busy touring band with 26 dates in Ireland, the US and Europe coming up for the rest of the year.

His job includes managing the day-to-day business of the tour, including scheduling, hotels, flights, show set-up, crew management and dressing room maintenance.

McPoland uses an app called Master Tour which has replaced the old tour books. The app allows each tour member to see their schedule, be notified of any changes, or get directions to the venue.

“You’re the travel agent, you’re the venue booking manager, the production manager, you’re the information gatekeeper — and information is king,” McPoland says.

Visas and prospects
Before the tour begins, there may be immigration to arrange, depending on the destination, which McPoland says should be done well in advance, preferably six months.

“It has to be there,” he said. “There’s no gray area when dealing with Uncle Sam. There are really high shipping costs now if you arrive too late, if a staff member changes or something like that. It can be the difference between your tour making a profit or a loss, before you actually set foot on the ground.

McPoland handles social media for The High Kings, which isn’t usually something tour managers deal with.

“Our guys are all busy,” he says. “I’m happy to do it because it was a skill I didn’t have until a few years ago. I’m 52 now and the business has turned heads since I started.

McPoland says there is no excuse for the clichéd 1960s and 1970s rock ‘n’ roll behavior that was glamorized in autobiographies and rock magazines.

“The huge groups weren’t doing any good all the time. The volume of records they sold supported them. They surrounded themselves with people who allowed them to do so. These days, the window of opportunity for an artist to succeed and get to a point where career longevity is possible is much smaller.

The new music business model
As McPoland suggests, an artist is less likely to sell millions of records in the 21st century. Touring remains a stable but hard-to-graft form of income, but not all bands are cut out for the lifestyle.

“They might have been bandmates for a while, but they would have been doing one or two shows a week,” he says. “If a group gets a lucky break – bang. Everyone lives on top of each other for weeks and weeks. Break USA now, the only way is to work hard and play and play. There is no alternative.

McPoland has worked with artists over the past 10 years who were learning the ropes and he advises taking care of yourself, avoiding partying excesses and preparing for the lifestyle as key.

As an example of the adjustment, McPoland says some band members have been known to even check into a hotel for a few days after the tour to make the recalibration to normal life less abrupt. McPoland at home, occasionally working as a production manager on concerts.

Offstage is where the work is
When the band is on stage, McPoland is the most productive. He can usually be found in the production office during the show to get things going.

“It’s probably the most fruitful part of my day,” he says. Days off, however, are rare for the tour manager.

“Day off laundry is legend on tour,” laughs McPoland. “And a good steakhouse nearby too. To be honest, these days off are an opportunity to start away from everyone, to contact family and friends.

After the show, McPoland says selling merchandise is essential.

“I remember working at the start of the White Ladder tour with David Gray; he was very, very nervous,” he says. “When it went from not going out to meet punters to meeting them after the show, product sales skyrocketed. That’s the only thing I insist on, a band shouldn’t refuse that. If an artist is there, that impulse purchase is reinforced for the viewer.

What can make this Belfast-born man’s job easier is the ethics and reputation of the many Irish people working in the upper echelons of the live music industry. The Irish have personality and a way of getting the best out of people, suggests McPoland.

“They know how to ask for a favor in a pleasant way instead of yelling, yelling or roaring. It’s counterproductive on the road. It doesn’t work for me. I would bypass them. From the 1970s, from Thin Lizzy’s crew to U2 and right up to the present day, there has been a steady stream of gifted individuals who are the best in their chosen field, whether that be sound engineers, lighting directors, tour directors, production managers. If you say one of their names wherever you go, they’ll know you’re serious about what you do.

McPoland is one of those globally respected guys despite, he admits, his lack of skill when it comes to playing or tuning an instrument.

“I can’t tune a guitar, but I can ship a guitar and a band 20 times around the world without losing a plectrum. »


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