Guest Column - The real school of rock: Muse's tour manager on launching a 'roadies academy'

Guest Column - The real school of rock: Muse's tour manager on launching a 'roadies academy'

museLast month tour production and tour management company Cato Music - who work with the likes of Rihanna, Biffy Clyro, Haim, Bryan Ferry, Kylie, The Who and more - launched the Cato Academy, a school for new roadies. The boss, Glen Rowe, a veteran of touring with the likes of Muse and Manic Street Preachers, explains why he's created a real school of rock...

Maybe as a child I spent too much time spinning on my head trying to learn some of the more deadly moves as a budding breakdancer... I’ve always loved a challenge! 30 years later I find myself looking at a challenge that I could have only dreamed of 20 years ago. Opening my first Academy school for young roadies and touring personnel and my first office in the USA is a dream come true! I’ll rewind a bit to give you a better picture of how this came to happen.

I started falling in love with drums as a young boy after seeing The Who video (on Betamax of course) The Kids Are Alright and watching Keith Moon beating the crap out of his drums, looking like he was having the greatest time ever (it’s only now I realise how pumped up on horse tranquillisers he was, ha!). This was the mid-80s and I couldn’t connect with a lot of the music that was on the TV and radio. I felt out of place, but The Who kept me going. I remember taking my Quadrophenia record into “Show & Tell” and when playing the track The Real Me, all my school classmates covered their ears saying it was too loud and scary!

Playing in school bands in my parent’s garage in the small town of Sunbury-On-Thames, I found the thing that made me feel on top of the world. Getting into LA glam rock (The Sea Hags, Motley Crue, Faster Pussycat) and discordant punk bands (Fugazi) and growing my hair, I knew where I was heading and I couldn’t wait to get there. Touring in a crappy old ex-post office red van around the country in the early 90s, the bands I was in were always nearly getting there. The bands that opened for us went onto some great things (Placebo, Bush, Kula Shaker), while frustratingly we never got the breaks and it’s obvious now that were simply not good enough to go to the next level.

It was on a tour supporting Swervedriver that it all felt like it was slipping away but this moment was the turning point for me. I had run out of money and had taken to stealing food and drinks from petrol stations to stay alive. The routine was always the same; tour manager to park around the corner, having filled up the red van (Rosie) with fuel, while I doubled back grabbing as many Mars Bars, crisps and cans of Coke as I could and would walk out as if I had left my wallet in the van. This would have blown up in my face had I ever been challenged as I didn’t have a penny to give them!

It was at this moment I realised that our tour manager had the best job around. He got paid to go on tour, travel around the world while hanging out with us, making us laugh and keeping moral high in the darker times. He also got his fair share of the ladies in each town! I asked him to put me forward to do anything while we were not touring and very soon I got hooked.

Selling t-shirts for Manic Street Preachers, I moved onto setting up their drums in studios and live. Being around the band as they took off after the recording of Everything Must Go was a bloody thrill. I felt like I was part of it. That’s what I think is so special about being part of a tight-knit team. The gang mentality is incredible - even more so than being in a band.

The job offers came tumbling in and soon I found myself in far flung countries. Of all the young hot bands at the turn of the century was an act I found called Muse (pictured). Having signed Dom Howard to the Zildjian endorsement program, we built up a great relationship and I joined them as a drum tech/stage manager and then assented to Tour Management when they fired the guy in place at the time.

Muse are more than a job for me. They are the reason I met my wife, the reason I managed to start my company Cato Music and make me feel a very privileged man indeed. It was a conversation with Matt Bellamy that still rings in my ears and that I find myself telling people all the time: “Make the touring brilliant, exciting and fun and I’ll tour forever… that way you will make more money and the band will be happy”.

After 20 years of being on the road, I am proud to open up the first school for future tour managers, backline techs, sound engineers and production managers. The Cato Academy opened up in June and I am excited to pass the baton onto the new wave of young people ready to have as little sleep as I’ve had. While the “new me” is being built by brilliant roadies come-teachers at the Academy, the real me will be spending more time in Los Angeles, opening up our first Cato music office in America and feeling I’ve come full-circle with the love I shared for Motley Crue etc. Let’s just hope I discover the new Guns ‘n’ Roses or Nirvana whilst I’m out there. Wish me luck! Glen Rowe

For more info on the academy course email gaby@catomusic.co.uk or head to Catomusic.com.