I am writing this in the Tuatara backpackers near Invercargill in the middle of an 1800km South Island tour with the Lizard Kings.

 An eight man touring party travelling in one Transit van surrounded by a black and aluminium jig-saw of road cases stacked to the roof. Plus trailer.  A couple of days ago somewhere south of Timaru  as we searched for the turn off for the Moeraki Boulders in the never ending quest for good coffee the phrase ‘paying your dues’ started looping in my head.

In 30 years of touring the ground hog day script hasn’t changed: pack in, sound check, wolfed meal,  show time followed by the hazed bump out of the venue and onto the pavement at 2 in the morning. Manhandling equipment up and down stairs. To add some spice we have been blindsided by a late spring weather bomb and the closer to the South Pole we have travelled the colder the wind has become.


The upcoming New Zealand music awards have thrown up a very fresh looking list of finalists who have done the hard yards. This year’s cohort has amongst it Kimbra who must be a contender for Leader of the Pack. After all the touring she has done this is her year. Surely. The list also includes Home Brew. The Auckland  hip hop crew came out fighting in 2012 with their self titled double album -a street savvy manifesto full of slugged out grooves laced with irony and expletives. Apparently they are wicked live.

The most effective promo a band can do is put a live clip up on You tube showing their performance and the audience reaction. Word of mouth has become word of mouse; don’t tell me, show me. Regardless of awards or how many You Tube hits they accumulate the new reality is that now, more than ever, musicians need to play live shows. That means hitting the road.

 The real music industry is a world away from the fantasy peddled by television shows like the X Factor and New Zealand’s Got Talent.  Kimbra has spent the last year compiling airpoints flitting between Europe, America and Australasia. At first blush it sounds like she is living the dream. The reality for her and most touring Kiwi bands is that touring is not glamorous. It is the hardest work you will ever do as a musician.

Bands throw their credit cards on the table, call in favours and then stuff gets real. They are travelling on tight schedules sleeping on floors in friends’ houses, taking risks on tenuous networks they have established for themselves on facebook. Road testing repertoire, production and management systems is the only way of showing promoters and fans that you have the mettle to succeed.

Despite the polar blast the Lizard Kings tour was epic. Packed houses, rocking shows, new friends and some Dead Presidents stashed in the bank. It’s not a lifestyle for the faint hearted but it’s character building. Phatness and fitness and Lizard Kings madness.

Fear and loathing in Southland. Yes, it is indeed a long way to the top if you want to rock’n’roll.