Interview: Tim Edwards - Punk Rock Road Trips

In today’s sanitised world where Punk Rock has ‘mainstream appeal’ and you can see all your favourite (read: hyped) bands on touring circuses like Warped, it’s easy to over-look the guys promoting on a strictly DIY basis for the simple love of Punk Rock. People like Tim Edwards – the man behind New Zealand’s very own Punk Rock Road Trips. Not content with organising tours for New Zealand bands, Tim specialises in bringing bands from the UK, USA and Canada to this far-flung South Pacific corner – usually at a loss to his own pocket. Having just put on some shows featuring Steve Ignorant’s Crass Songs tour, I thought it high time to give the man a little bit of respect back. This is what Tim had to say....

..For starters, Tim, can you tell us how you got into Punk Rock? Was it the fabled 'Year Zero' moment? What were you listening too - if anything - prior to Punk?
Punk Rock was pretty much an awakening for me. I was a shy 12 year old kid living in Ranui, West Auckland (middle of nowhere) when my sister found a cassette tape on the side of the road. Turns out the tape had The STOOGES and PRETENDERS first LPs on it, as well as some Gary Numan. So that tape got me interested in those bands of the late 70s, early 80s. Not long after that my Uncle came home from his OE with a bag full of cassettes from bands like THE ADVERTS, UK SUBS, DAMNED, SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH etc. Those tapes really pulled me into the scene, as I loved the look, the attitude and energy of Punk. Listening to that music was the soundtrack to my misspent teenage years.

..Were you actively involved in the NZ Punk scene prior to Punk Rock Road Trips? Ever been in a band, done a zine or any other active involvement?
Apart from being a drunken punter at gigs from the mid 1980s onwards (I was lucky enough to see bands like FLESH D-VICE, NO TAG, NO IDEA, FIVE YEAR MISSION to name a few) I also had my own band LAST ORDERS. We played a few gigs here and there, broke up and reformed a few times but never really amounted to much, but we were a small part of that era as well as doing a few gigs in the mid 2000s. Also I did a short stint playing bass with THE BLUDGERS in 2010.

..So, tell us the early history of Punk Rock Road Trips. When, where and why did you start it? Initially, was it just to bring one specific band to New Zealand, or did you have a long-term plan to make it an on-going project to bring a number of bands over?
I never set out to be a promoter, it just sort of happened by accident. It all started at the first UK SUBS New Zealand gig of 2007; my friend Bryce got Charlie Harper's email so he could import some LPs off Charlie. Some time later Charlie told Bryce he'd love to come back to NZ and do a tour. Since I'd organised a few shows for LAST ORDERS, Bryce thought I could handle it, and being the massive SUBS fan that I am, I said "Hell Yea!"

..As stated, the first band you brought over was UK SUBS back in 2008. Given that was your first tour, what were the biggest obstacles you faced? And given the benefit of hindsight, were there any massive errors from which you have since learned?
The biggest obstacle I faced was just my own ignorance really. I'd never done shows in most of the towns that we went too, but I just asked people like Pudd (Souls 'n' Bones Records) and a few others who'd done tours before, and made some decisions based on their experiances. I don't think I made any MASSIVE mistakes on that tour, as it was mostly very successful. But one memorable mistake was when Nicky Garratt's amp blew up 30 seconds into the first song of the tour and we didn't have a spare. People were screaming for the band while we tried to borrow another amp off the support bands; I thought they were gonna tear the place apart and lynch me. Eventually we got it sorted but it taught me a valuable lesson about using good equipment and making sure a spare was nearby. But overall I got a lot of confidence out of that tour, as it was the same time as THE ADICTS were supposed to come out, but they got cancelled and we had a great tour - so I felt like I done a good job.

..The second band you brought over was THE VARUKERS - for which you also co-ordinated a series of Australian dates. Again, what were the biggest obstacles here?
..Tim) Actually THE VARUKERS was my third tour (the SHAM 69 and THE BUSINESS tour was before that), but yes it was the first I'd taken to Australia. It was pretty scary taking a band over there for the first time, but again I did have help from Pudd (who was living there at the time). And I made it my business to talk to as many people in the scene over there as possible for advice. Although I must say that my first foray into Australia was a wee bit of a disappointment - they have the same problems as us when it comes to getting people off the couch and out to a show. But overall it was a good tour and we had some awesome shows, although myself and THE VARUKERS made no money whatsoever. For me it was quite a disappointment to send them home without any money, although they got a free holiday, free booze and a bit of merch money.

..STRIKE ANYWHERE was the first American band you promoted here in New Zealand. What was the most noticeable difference between dealing with them when compared with the UK acts? Being a relatively new band also, did SA have any differing ideals or requests when compared with the decidedly UK82 style acts you had dealt with previously?
STRIKE ANYWHERE was offered to me from another promoter. I liked a few songs although I wasn't too familiar with them overall. Since I already had SNFU from Canada booked at the same time, I thought a double bill with SA would be bloody awesome. Also I thought SA would bring a different (and bigger) audience than my usual shows. Basically I thought it would be a good earner for me. Unfortunately SUFU cancelled due to visa issues, and SA had only a modest turnout, so I lost money again. I really only talked to Thomas but found he was an interesting and very passionate person. The band were really tired after playing about 12 days straight in Australia, so NZ got very watered down shows in my opinion. But it was also my first chance to work with the Chicks That Scream promoters, which was cool. There was no difference of the demands of SA compared to any other band and I was actually surprised to learn they used the same kind of amps as most of the old UK bands.

..And keeping that theme going, what about D.O.A.? With them coming from a more USHC (via Canada!) perspective, did they differ from any of your other promotions - or do you think that Punk bands on this level are all pretty much the same in terms of outlook, demands and expectations?
D.O.A. as a band was very easy to deal with and had no specific requirements apart from back line etc. Also they stayed at my house (as did UK SUBS) as they we very mindful of keeping costs to a minimum etc. To be honest they expected better of the venues as meals and a decent rider are usually supplied by the venues overseas. In NZ / Australia this is always by negotiation (but some venues are better than others). As a promoter I'm always embarrassed to have to tell the band that the food and booze is coming off their tour expenses! I know venues are doing it hard right now but I think they really need to look after the bands more as it's the band that are bringing the punters in. But yea, as people and as a band they were as cool to work with as any of the UK bands; I guess all bands that have been around for that long have an understanding of what it takes to go on the road.

..ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER must have provided a new dimension - what with him being just a man with a guitar! Did finding suitable venues prove to be a challenge when the likes of Auckland's Kings Arms and Wellington's Bodega prove unsuitable?
Yes, one guy and his Mandola was so easy it was a dream come true in terms of sorting everything out. The Thirsty Dog in Auckland was a no brainer as I'd done shows there before and it's the perfect size/vibe for this sort of thing, and I'm happy to say that Attila rated this show as the best of all the Australasian dates combined! A promoter from Hamilton had already put his hand up to do a show there before I came on board. And since Attila intended to visit family in the lower North Island, legendary promoter Brian Wafer sorted out a New Plymouth show for us too. So I really only did the Auckland show and co-ordinated the rest, definitely the easiest tour I've done to date!

..Your most recent tour was STEVE IGNORANT who brought his Crass Songs tour to NZ. There was a lot of expectation about the show - do you think it lived up to it? With Steve - who obviously comes for a distinct DIY and Anarcho background - was there any clear differences between this tour and, say, that of a more 'Street Punk' band like G.B.H.?
I had no idea what to expect from Steve Ignorant to be honest, but it was absolutely brilliant and I enjoyed those two nights immensely. They were definitely a world-class band and I feel like it was a very special tour to be involved in. For logistical reasons G.B.H. was the most difficult tour I had put together. First up I spent a year and a half of my life convincing their agent that I was trustworthy and that they would get everything we agreed on. Then we had big problems with the flights so it was a huge personal victory for me to finally get them out here and do the tour. Both bands liked to party a bit after the shows and they weren't difficult people to work with at all, so from that point of view there wasn't much between them. Also Steve Ignorant wasn't as political as I thought he might be, and him and his wife were great to hang with.

..Reading through the bands you have brought to New Zealand, with the exception of STRIKE ANYWHERE and Australia's RUST, it's apparent they are of a certain vintage: the 80s. Given how many bands are willing to travel to play shows now, why do you concentrate on bands of this era? Personal preference, or what you think New Zealanders want to see?
..Tim) RUST are into a lot of the old school bands I like too so I guess they kinda fit the program there! But basically it's just my hobby to tour the bands I grew up listening too. If there is a mutual interest for them to tour here, if we can reach an agreement on money, and if I feel that the people of NZ/Aus will actually come and see the band, then I'll give it a go. But yeah, it has to be a band that I'm actually interested in, and if I don't like a band's music then I won't get involved. And also the bands need to realise that they should just come out for the experience rather than a big payday.

..I presume you approach bands to come over yeah? Now that the Punk Rock Road Trips name is more established, are you getting more offers from "Tour Agents" wanting to get their bands over here?
It's a mixture of all sorts really; mostly I approach bands directly, but sometimes I get offers from other promoters, agents get in touch, or fans contact me saying they want to get a certain band out here. The criteria is I must like the band and I feel we've got a hope of covering costs etc, also they must have a good reputation to work with too (I ask around to see what they are like) then, usually I'll take a punt on them and hope for the best - but I'm not a millionaire giving away free holidays for old Punk rockers so I have to say no sometimes!­

..Have you ever point-blank refused to work with a band? I assume dodgy politics would be an instant negative, but what else would make you refuse to work with a band who wished to tour in NZ?
There's been one or two bands that I've said no to because I felt they wouldn't work over here (politics aside). I always just think about the potential audience numbers etc and go from there. If I don't think the band will pull the numbers to cover costs (and that's just my opinion) then I say no. And sometimes if I just don't have the time I will have to pass, even two-to-three tours a year is a lot of work for me. But yeah, I would never tour a band that had a bad reputation, or were Nazis or whatever, that's definitely something I would say no to.

..What do you provide the bands with? Is there a set guarantee with additional bonuses if the tour is a success - or does it vary from band to band? You mentioned the lack of food/drink/booze riders provided by venues - does that mean you take care of that too? Any ridiculous rider requests yet?
I have a lot of my own gear such as drums, amps, guitars, bass etc and most of the time I loan it to them to save on hire costs etc. Usually we load everything into a van and hit the road on a Punk Rock Road Trip. Money is always by negotiation. In the past I've agreed to set guarantees but I've always lost big dollars when I've done that, so I generally try not to do guarantees anymore. I prefer to do profit split arrangements now, as it's less risky for me. As for the rider occasionally someone might ask for excessive amounts of booze and food, as that's what they might get overseas. But usually they are happy to negotiate that down to a kebab and a few beers etc. I've seen some riders asking for cigarettes, chewing gum, hotdogs and ketchup, (even tennis balls!) but not from any bands I've personally toured.

..Maybe we should run a competition to see if anyone can guess what band requested tennis balls!! Haha!! I was surprised to see how few people were at the Auckland show for Steve Ignorant - about 200 was it? Is that usually enough to cover your overheads?
For Steve Ignorant I had about 160 payers (+ guests) each night - I needed 220 to cover costs so I lost money on that. So it was a little disappointing from a financial point of view. Typically I will aim to have a tour budget that needs about 100 payers per night to break even, as usually I can expect about 100 - 150 payers for my shows. But for special bands I will take it on knowing I need a much higher door rake and just hope for the best. More often than not I don't cover the overheads, but I think that's the best we can expect with Punk Rock of that era these days. I've had a couple of shows where I've had about 250 people, but that doesn't happen very often. Doing this stuff 20 years ago would have been much more lucrative!

..In the three-to-four years you have been doing Punk Rock Road Trips, what changes have you seen in the New Zealand Punk scene? And on a broader level, what changes have you seen in the Punk Scene in NZ since the mid-80s on?
As far as my touring goes I haven't seen things change that much - crowds seems to be similar over the last few years, but I do see a lot of 'regulars' at my shows now, both in NZ and in Aus which is great. If I go back to the days when I first started seeing live bands in the 80s then I can say the numbers have dropped off hugely. But the best thing is the violence that was around in the 80s has dropped off too so that's great to see, people just want to come out for a good night now and not get into a fight.

..I assume you travel with the bands - do you take them sight seeing if time permits? I believe you have a healthy rapport with Charlie Harper via his fishing obsession - that correct? Any other tales to tell about some of the other bands and musicians you have brought over?
Yes mostly I travel with the bands - that's kind of my reward!! Usually we have at least one day off to see some tourist type things like the museum or fish and chips at Mission Bay etc, although some bands don't care and just want to hit the pub all the time! Charlie and his wife Yuko are very keen fishermen. They bring telescopic rods in their luggage and every time we drive past a lake or something they insist we stop for a quick fish. So they really get the most out of the road trip and they'd come back every year if they could. Also most bands rate the NZ pies as pretty good so there's always plenty of pie stops on the way.

..Having now done Punk Rock Road Trips with, if not financial then certainly a credible success, has your experience of attending gigs changed? Do you now go to gigs with a critical eye, looking for either tips to improve your operation or having a quiet chuckle to yourself over rudimentary mistakes?
Yeah, I do find myself taking note of the production details - or lack of production and comparing it to how I would do things myself haha. And I definitely prefer to be behind the scenes if at all possible nowadays, but a great band and a few beers will usually get my mind off all that so I can just chill out and have a good night.

..What are the best and worst aspects of organising Punk Rock Road Trips?
Best thing is the satisfaction when the show finally comes together. I stand at the back of the room with a beer, look at everything going on and think, "I made this happen." Also I like meeting people who have the same love of the bands as I do, when people say hi or buy me a beer it's a great feeling. And meeting the bands you've been listening to for years of course!
The thing I hate the most is having to play God and say no to bands who want to play the support slots. I don't enjoy that but unfortuantly there's not enough supports for all the bands who want them. Ash clouds or earthquakes can cause a few sleepless nights worrying about if the band is actually going to make it or not. But definitely the worst experiences were a couple of situations where people decided try and make me a punching bag for all their frustrations, which was disappointing beyond words. But mostly the good outweighs the bad.

..Coming off music and touring, what do you consider to be the best and worst aspects of life in New Zealand? If you could change one thing about NZ culture, what would it be?
I just wish people would stop hurting kids. I hate violence but when it's against children it makes me especially sick, child abusers should be locked up for life in my opinion. But overall I think the quality of life here is pretty good.

..A fun question: You can organise a Punk Festival featuring any 10 bands no matter genre, accessibility or whether they are even still together. Name the bands and tell us why.
I'd do a few bands that we're never going to see again like THE CLASH, THE RAMONES, and DEAD KENNEDYS (with Jello). I've always wanted to see FEAR so they'd be in there. UK SUBS always do it for me, as well as SUBHUMANS (both Canada and UK). SOMMERSET, FLESH D-VICE and NO IDEA for the NZ bands, as I'd like to re-live those shows again.

..What's next for Punk Rock Road Trips? Any bands on the horizon you are bringing over?
I don't want to say in case they don't work out!!

..Haha!! Cautious man!! What about bands you'd like to bring over?
..Tim) But my wish list would have to be the SUBHUMANS (UK) as I'm a huge fan, although there is nothing on the table with them. Also UK SUBS want to come back for a final tour before Charlie "down sizes" from international touring, so there are a few things on the horizon to keep me busy.

..Anything you want to add?
Just thanks, and cheers.

Punk Rock Road Trips on Facebook