Ro Campbell is an accomplished professional stand-up comedian from Australia, and over the last decade he has performed in more than 40 countries.
A former rock and roll roadie who has worked with some very big names – like Kylie, Kiss and The Rolling Stones. Living a self-confessed crazy life; he’s in possession of a bunch of incredible stories to prove it.
In the second of his exclusive monthly columns for Music Republic Magazine, Ro tells the outrageous tale of his previous life behind the scenes of huge arena gigs with the biggest bands and artists on the planet. This story involves a best kept secret about a bra, a g-string, a hard hat, a pair of work boots and a weasel. Brace yourselves…
I’ve been a professional stand-up comedian for the last decade, but before that I worked behind the scenes in the live music industry. Primarily as part of what is known in the business as “local crew” – the often derided but essential arm of touring entertainment around the world.
It takes a lot people to build a big rock show. A typical arena-size show has between five and 10 articulated lorries full of gear, (going up to 50 trucks for the biggest stadium shows). A band’s touring crew generally need quite a few extra bodies to help them get the job done. A 10-truck gig would typically use between 20 and 30 local crew (give or take), who are there to aid and assist the touring crew in their varied jobs.
Though many touring crew would argue the locals are actually there to hinder their work and piss them off! With locals being allocated to loading and unloading trucks, rigging, lighting, sound, video, staging and backline departments.
Sometimes even on wardrobe and dressing room duties. For instance, I once had to run a red carpet all the way to the base of Elton John’s private toilet; with explicit directions that the carpet must be touching the ceramic, or his royal highness would be most unpleased.
In the late 90’s and early noughties, I worked for a well-regarded local crew company in Melbourne, a city with an excellent reputation for live music. It was an incredible time and I got to work on everything from small pub gigs to stadium rock concerts; with artists as varied as Barbara Streisand and Ricky Martin, to The Rolling Stones, AC/DC , Oasis, Eminem, Pearl Jam, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Kylie Minogue and many more.
In the midst of all that running up and down ramps with flight cases, lugging long bits of aluminium tri-truss, running hundreds of feet of heavy mains cables and generally just being frantic with the task of getting things done on time, there was also a lot of nonsense engaged in, just for a laugh. Sometimes that nonsense stretched the boundaries of professionalism and even common decency.
We were like a mini rock’n’roll army unit of complete fuck-ups and our leader on the battlefield (or Crew Boss) was a barrel chested, ex-drummer called Weasel. He had a mean looking face enhanced by an impressive outlaw style moustache, which hung about five inches below his chin, lending him a warrior-like appearance. Weasel had a keen interest in all things war-related and conducted himself in a military like manner, even to the extent that he wore camouflage trousers and a metallic army helmet at gigs.
Casting himself as the hard nose commanding officer, strutting around barking orders and enforcing discipline when needed. He was a good crew boss and a reasonably fair man, but most of us feared him and you definitely didn’t want to piss him off. If you fucked up badly and Weasel found out, you were toast or you’d be polishing cables back at the warehouse for eternity!
Probably the most memorable character and undisputed king of nonsense in our Melbourne crew was a bloke called Trusty, who got his nickname from his party trick of eating dog food and sometimes went by the moniker “The One Man Gang Bang” in his role as lead singer of the seminal metal outfit Brothel.
Trusty is a crazy fucker that has made an art form out of doing completely weird shit just for the fuck of it. For instance, a couple of years ago he noticed that on the google map of India there was a place called Cuntol (as in c*nt hole), which amused him so much he actually went there, hoping that he could get a photo of himself in front of a sign saying “Welcome To Cuntol”.
He hired a guide and ended up trekking for two days in the deepest provinces of rural India to find this tiny village in the hills, whose inhabitants turned out to be entirely unaware that their village was called Cuntol on English maps. When he asked them what they called their village, they responded “we just call it the village”.
In 2010, Trusty was crowned the “Stinging Nettle Eating Champion of the World” after a TV show he was working on in a technical capacity, paid for him to fly from Australia to the UK to fulfill his dream of competing in the bizarre annual competition in rural England.
He actually showed up to the advertised venue, a pub in Dorset, only to discover it completely boarded up with a notice declaring the Stinging Nettle Eating World Championship cancelled.
Concerned as to how his financial backers from Australian TV’s The Footy Show would take this, he promptly scoured the fringes of the pub’s car park for stinging nettles and upon finding some, he promptly shoved them in his gob, masticating wildly through the pain; before declaring himself the 2010 World Champion of Stinging Nettle Eating. A result the TV executives seemed to tolerate upon his return – they broadcast the story on an episode of the show.
It was entirely because of Trusty that I acquired a taste for doing ridiculous things in the line of rock’n’roll duty and in 2001, inspired by him, I did something silly on a big show that propelled me for a short time, into the annals of Local Crew legend – a dubious honour you might say.
Me and Trusty were doing what’s known in the business as “show-call” on a big arena size KISS show at Rod Laver Arena, which is the venue for The Australian Open Tennis, but the rest of the year plays host to dozens of concerts.
“Show call” is the most highly esteemed gig in the spectrum of local crewing and is reserved for the most competent and trusted members of the crew, and means that rather than just helping with the load-in and load-out, you also have duties to perform during the show (for as many nights as the band are in town, which can be a night or a week).
It means you might find yourself on the stage, under the stage, above the stage, doing the various little jobs that are needed doing and often involved a lot of scurrying around in the shadows – in between tasks, having the odd toke on a spliff if the chance arose (which it often did).
It also means you enjoy benefits such as the laminated Access All Areas pass, and with the right attitude you could also score a few free tickets which kept you popular with your mates. But most importantly, it gives you access to the catering, which is usually a buffet of top notch nosh and an absolute pleasure to pig out on.
KISS were in town for a few days so we had spent several nights working on the show, doing small but important jobs needed during the show, such as catching and folding up the kabuki (the cloth that hangs in front of stage before the band comes on, which is dropped and released upon the first chord being struck), and firing confetti cannons from the front of stage into the crowd, which was always fun.
Though on one of the nights, I had fucked up my cue and fired mine during the wrong part of the song, leading to a fair amount of abuse from the stage manager over the headphones. An over-enthusiastic audience member had somehow managed to be right in the path of the misfired confetti and it had blasted him in the face, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so happy to be almost blinded, as he cried little tears of pink paper whilst singing “GOD GAVE ROCK’N’ROLL TO YOU!” So instead of four gas fired cannons spewing confetti, it was just mine, ejaculating tiny bits of paper prematurely for about three seconds; like an over excited bloke at a sex party.
At the end of each KISS show we would be required to clean all the detritus that had accrued on the stage during the show: water bottles, confetti, pyrotechnical dust and quite often women’s underwear.
That’s quite common in the world of rock’n’roll and I worked on some Tom Jones’ concerts once, where every night I filled a black bag just with the dozens of moist panties that had been thrown onto the stage in moments of crowd hysteria.
My little post-gig joke was to have a few beers and then ring the phone numbers that had been written by the horny fans, and pretend to be the Welsh crooner himself, while my mates pissed themselves laughing in the background.
KISS didn’t attract quite as much lobbed undies as Tom Jones, which isn’t surprising if you’ve ever seen them without their make-up on. There was always a few bits and pieces though and on the second of their three Melbourne shows, I found a particularly fetching fluorescent orange g-string and a purple bra.
Somewhat jokingly, I held them up to show my mate Trusty and said, “Hey, I might wear these for the load-out tomorrow”. He immediately thought that was a brilliant idea and said “if you do that mate, I will respect you forever”, and so I resolved to do it for no other reason than my mate would really appreciate it.
Of course, one thing I hadn’t considered was what our benevolent leader Weasel would have to say on the matter, and if I had considered that, I definitely wouldn’t have done it, but I’d made up mind.
The following night after we’d completed our mid-show duties, we had about 20 spare minutes before the load out started. The load out always starts the second the band leaves the stage and those first few minutes are always a real buzz, as you run onto the stage with the screams and applause of the punters still hanging in the air; along with the smoke and smell of the last pyrotechnic explosion as the final pieces of confetti flutter to the floor.
“The wardrobe girl used some make-up pencils to write KISS on my arse…”
Weasel addressed the crew of about 40 in the undercover truck loading area that lay behind the stage, preparing them in booming tones for the night’s battle, and emphasising safety, speed and competence.
Meanwhile myself, Trusty and our female friend who was working in the wardrobe department, assisted me in stripping down behind a lorry and changing into the ridiculous outfit that I had questionably decided to wear. Once the g-string was on, the wardrobe girl used some make-up pencils to write KISS on my skinny arse, under the careful direction of Trusty, who wanted the lettering to look authentic. I’m sure Gene Simmons would have approved.
Because Trusty and I had been doing the showcall, we had been given the most prestigious load out job, which was assisting the touring crew with the backline (the band equipment), and when the war cry went up for us to take our positions, Trusty helped ensure that I wasn’t seen by our Crew Boss, as I made my way to the left of stage area we were to attack from.
The American roadies at side of stage immediately pissed themselves when they saw the sight of me mincing towards them practically naked, in my scavenged underwear, with a hard hat and steel toe boots adding a surreal juxtaposition to the skimpy ensemble, because dumb jokes aside, health and safety always comes first.
I should point out that we had been working with the Americans for three nights doing the show-calls, so we had built up a rapport with them and one of them immediately shook my hand and said, “Dude, that’s fuckin’ funny man”.
Then he looked at the two colleagues next to him and said, “We gotta send him out to work with Randy”, and they howled their approval at the idea of me assisting the Southern redneck who was Eric Singer’s drum technician.
The band hit their last note, Paul Stanley shrieked one last time, the final clash of the cymbals were met with a huge pyro explosion and with that, KISS left the stage to the thunderous applause of the crowd.
The second they were gone, I ran up the steps and onto the stage straight for the guy who was already stripping the drum kit. My heart was pounding with adrenaline, because I knew how utterly stupid I looked and how approximately 10,000 people were currently watching, wondering why the fuck there was a roadie onstage wearing nothing but a hard hat, a g-string and a bra
To say that Randy the drum tech didn’t appreciate my little joke would be something of an understatement, and I guess that’s why the touring guys had told me to help him. He completely flipped out when he saw me running over offering my assistance.
Evidently he wasn’t the most open minded of blokes and literally screamed: “WHAT THE FUCK MAN!!?? GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME YOU FAGGOTT!!!”, which wasn’t really the response I’d been expecting. I looked in panic back to side of stage where Randy’s American crew mates were doubled over laughing and giving me the thumbs up.
I turned to face the audience and could see numerous people pointing and laughing at me (this was before camera phones remember), and decided the joke was over and it was time to get back into my normal gear ASAP, before Weasel found out and killed me.
Unfortunately, as I made my exit, the senior American stage manager practically snapped his neck in disbelief, as he saw me leaving from stage right in my outfit, and the next thing I knew, I was being grabbed from my bra strap by Weasel who was absolutely incandescent with rage. His face was so red with anger, if he’d stood on the road the traffic would have stopped.
“YOU ABSOLUTE FUCKING C*NT!!!!” he screamed in my face, as I trembled with the realisation that I may have gone too far with this stunt. “PUT CLOTHES ON RIGHT NOW!! AND WHEN WE’RE FINISHED, YOU’RE FUCKING DEAD!!”
And with that ominous statement, he marched off with steam coming from his ear. Leaving me to suffer the pitying looks of my fellow crew members, who fairly unanimously agreed I was finished in the business.
Trusty approached me feeling somewhat responsible saying, “shit I didn’t think Weasel would get that angry”, and shortly after, one of the Americans who had encouraged me, came up and very kindly said that he’d heard I was going to be fired and that he was going to do everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen, which was very decent of him.
That load out was the longest four hours of my local crew life. No one would look me in the eye. I was a dead man walking.
At the end of the load-out when the doors of the last truck were bolted shut, we all made our way to the crew room in the side of the arena, where we handed in our safety gear and where we would usually be given some kind of end of gig address. Usually a thank you, but this time Weasel simply boomed at the top of his voice: “I WANT EVERYONE OUT OF THE CREW ROOM RIGHT NOW! BUT RO CAMPBELL, YOU’RE STAYING HERE”.
There was a collective sigh from everyone, as they gave me discreet looks of sympathy on their way out. Alone now in the crew room with only our furious leader, I was rattled. Weasel was sitting at a desk and he ordered me to sit opposite him. He’d fire me the traditional way, face to face at a desk. Fair enough. I sat down.
He looked me in the eye, his face still contorted with disgust and in a low tone enunciating his words, he said: “What you did tonight was totally unacceptable”. I nodded slowly, holding my hands up in deference as he continued.
“But you’re very fucking lucky, because the Yanks have told me they put you up to it and they’ve begged me not to fire you”. I decided not to point out that they hadn’t really “put me up to it”, as he paused for a dramatic moment, letting me hang in fear.
He sternly went on: “If you ever pull another stunt like that, I will make sure you never ever work in this industry ever again, do you understand?” I held his gaze and nodded whilst trying to contain myself. I wasn’t toast! I was going to work in this town again!
At this point, Weasel pulled open the large filing drawer on his desk, producing a six pack of Victoria Bitter and as he did so he said, “Right, well now that’s all cleared up, I’d just like to say one more thing.”
He stopped to twist the top off his beer before changing from a scowl into a broad smile. “That was one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen in my life”, and with that he clinked his bottle against mine and laughed uproariously, as a wave of relief flooded my body.
As I took the most appreciated swig of beer ever, he looked me in the eye one last time and said: “If you ever do that again, I’ll kill you”. And I never ran onto the stage at a concert in a g-string ever again..
Words: Ro Campbell
Pix of Ro x 2: Both photographs copyright: Simon Redley