There are loads of amateur musicians out there intent on making a career out of their music sooner or later, but whether you are a solo performer or part of a band, full or part time – all musicians eventually have to get over the problem of transport – ie. getting you and your stuff to your gigs.
Some bands use a number of vehicles to get their equipment to venues, pulling favours from friends, family and anyone else willing to help, but most somewhere along the line employ the use of a van.
I’m a solo musician, but due to my ‘go one better’ reasoning of having to buy way more equipment than I really need to play pint sized backstreet pubs, I have a shed load of equipment to get to my gigs and with all the crap I’ve got there’s no way a normal car would suffice, unless I made at least two trips – which I used to have to before I got myself a decent set of wheels.
I can remember years ago when I’d just got going and started playing a few gigs round town, it was just too much hassle getting your mates to stand around making sure your stuff didn’t get nicked while you went back for the second load.
After a few gigs I got fed up with slogging my guts out back and forth, knackering myself out even before I’d even started and one day I just thought ‘sod this ! I need to get a van’.
I was immediately faced with two problems. 1. How much cash am I going to need and 2. What sort of van am I going to go for.
A trip to the bank of Dad with promises of high earnings, fame whilst touring around England and embedding the idea in his head that ‘with a van I could clear the crap out of the loft in one fell swoop’ got me a few hundred pounds to play with and without doing too much searching around I ended up with a blue LDV from the local ‘guy who sells vans but isn’t really a van dealer’ bloke.
It wasn’t a big thing and had been sprayed blue and looked in pretty good nick, and for a bloke who’s been used to driving cars around most of his life, it was a pretty big deal to now have this huge (even though it was actually quite small) vehicle now belonging to me and being totally responsible for it.
It was great to start with and getting my shit to gigs and back in one trip was worth a million Peugeots. After spending a few Summer days carpeting the floors, walls and ceilings, getting covers for the windows, adding lights, a stereo, and a big trunk racked down with chains to hold the stuff you didn’t want nicked, it was just like driving around with a hotel room in the back.
You could go anywhere you like and chill out in the back, crash out, hold dodgy parties in it and get fifteen people home from the barbecue.
Because a £600 van is basically a piece of crap that is never going to look great on the outside whatever you do to it, it never really mattered what happened to it – so you could flog it to death, lend it out, hire it to someone or get your (sober) mates to drive it back from the club without a care in the world (on their insurance, of course) while the rest of you sit back and enjoy the party.
Add a mattress and some cooking equipment and away you go with busking trips round the coast. Heading down to Newquay to rake in the earnings from the bank holiday crowds. There’s no better stage practice than having to deal with hoards of stag and hen do’s that mob you every 5 minutes when you are trying to play ‘Karma Police’ in a war zone.
It was cool cause you’d finish your session with a case full of cash, head back to the van, ditch the guitar and head off to the clubs for the rest of the night. Waking up in a state wondering how you got back to the vehicle and wondering what happened to that bird you met at the foam party that you were obviously too pissed to pull.
It was also a great asset when I met my ‘wife to be’ and could take her out clubbing anywhere we liked without worrying how we were getting home or where we were going to crash. Oh look, there just happens to be a bed in here also…what luck !
It couldn’t last long though, within a couple of years the thing slowly fell to pieces and bit by bit became the biggest piece of crap on the road. It was never a fast machine and would practically melt doing 60mph down the motorway.
By the time I’d finished with it, the only person who could drive it was me. The gears were so knackered it had to be driven in a certain way, the ignition was a screwdriver sel-o-taped to the bare steering column (still passed it’s M.O.T with a screwdriver starter mind) and it even got nicked twice.
The last time, I found it parked 200 yards down the road from where I left it, it had been abandoned by the thieves cause it was in such a state they couldn’t drive it. It was hilarious, it was such a piece of crap, no one could even nick it.
Sad to say, it’s last days were a sorry sight and like all my vehicles it never made it passed my ownership and ended up at the scrappies. Sniff.
So fast forward a few years – after taking a break from the music to have a kid, screw my back up and do a few other things, I get a brucie bonus from a long lost relative kind enough to leave me some cash. You can’t get luckier than that. I’ll tell you what, that saved my arse big time and I’m still unbelievably grateful now.
I’d got back into the music and had been building my repertoire whilst injured. I had a shed load of new tracks to gig with and suddenly – out of the blue – I’ve got three grand to get my self a decent van. Unbelievable.
I wasn’t going to get a turkey and waste 3 grand on something that was going to fall apart the moment I bought it, so the next few weeks was spent trawling the internet, sucking all the information I could get from van sites and van forums, reading magazines, grilling mechanics and local garages, visiting auctions, hassling passing van drivers and van hire companies, staring at vehicles like a weirdo obsessed with rusting metal.
I can honestly say that by the time I was ready to part with my cash, I knew just about everything there was to know about buying a van, where to go, what to look for, what to avoid, what to grill the owners on, how much to pay etc. etc. and I’d also sussed out what type of van I wanted and had learned to gain the patience to find it.
Turned out my ideal van was going to be a long wheel based, semi high top, turbo diesel Ford Transit. Wicked.
So I went on the hunt up and down the country for the next couple of months, viewing clapped out vehicles in London, Essex, Dorset and Hampshire, grilling the owners like a CIA agent, kicking tyres, checking paperwork, under the vehicle, in the bonnet, photographing everything, even coming across a battered armoured police transit being sold by one of the guys out of the famous 70’s band ‘Mud’. It was the drummer I think.
It was a riot van and had been converted to a tour bus with seats and a back compartment for equipment, armoured windows the lot. It was a real cool van and just what I wanted, but I’ll tell you what – it was in a right state.
The one thing I learned about buying a transit was ‘watch the turbo’, cause if it goes wrong – you’ve had it.
So we took it for a spin to test it out, and with the dashboard lights flashing and the drummer from Mud telling me ‘it’s o.k. it’s just the turbo playing up a bit’, then seeing it held together with tape as he fiddled with it under the bonnet, I thought ‘cool van mate, but for two and a half grand, I’ll give it a miss thanks’. He must’ve been having a laugh, £400 maybe…at a push.
A few weeks later, I ended up with a van I’d bought in the suburbs of London for £2000, in great nick with one previous owner, that being the Ford company itself. Tidy van, good seats, clean engine, boarded out, minimal rust, turbo’s alright, original stereo, built in heavy duty rear step bumper thingy etc….with a little dent down the side (you can’t win them all !)
Took it to the garage to get the cam belt changed – as you do with a new van – cause if that goes you are screwed, and the mechanic tells me I’ve got a great deal. Perfect. There was one in my home town, exactly the same mileage, condition and everything, going for £3995 + vat, so I knew I was on a winner.
I couldn’t have been happier, this thing was twice the size of my last van and with a little work could have been like the Hilton in the back. I reckon I could have got Pink Floyd’s entire set up from ‘Pulse’ in there and still had room for a party.
Compared to my last LDV which would start to melt at 55, this thing was wicked, not a hot rod or anything, but with enough guts to hit it’s restricted top speed of 86mph without a problem and climb hills at 70 fully loaded, and comfortable too.
I loved that van, and still do. In fact, the size of it meant I could use it to make extra cash by doing removals and odd jobs, lugging stuff around for people. It took off pretty well and there was such a demand for it that I started a Man With Van business on top of my import business and it’s still going today.
The problem is, for a bloke with serious back problems, being a one man removal company is really not a good thing for me. In fact, it’s bloody stupid. It’s messing me up big time and is one of the reasons I’m constantly munching painkillers, have screwed up my strumming arm this year and on occasion, hobble about with a bad knee.
2 years Later. Bit rusty round the wheel arches, still in good nick.
So I’ve still got my long wheel base semi hightop transit and although it now resembles more of a friesian cow than a road vehicle, covered in red oxide paint to stop the ever growing onslaught of rust that affects all Fords (the one thing they are renown for). It still goes like hell and is a strong work horse, slogging it up and down the country full to the brim with people’s stuff, getting them from A to B at half the price of anyone else.
In fact, I even picked a client up from Buckingham Palace a few months ago. That was hilarious.
I’m surprised they even let me through the gates considering the state it was in, looks more like a terrorist bomb than a removal van. To be honest, if anyone knew the state of the van that is going to turn up when they book me, they probably have a laugh, but it has never let me down yet and touch wood, I don’t think it ever will.
4 Years Later – What a State ! Still Goes Like Hell.
The good thing about having a van that looks like a piece of crap but goes like shit off a shovel, is it doesn’t matter if anyone scratches it, or you hit a lamp post or someone kicks the wing mirror off – it just adds to the character, bit like an old muso’s guitar that’s been kicked around the stage for twenty years. It just gets better and better. I’m going to paint it soon, a pot of gloss and it’ll look good as new.
I’m gutted I never got to kit it out and tour the country though, but I’ve got a wife and kid now so that’s me screwed for a few years and by the time I get my chance to tour the world and can take my family with me, I bet it will be still going strong.
Transits are bloody marvelous, the only thing that will eventually kill it is the rust. Man, do transits rust. I recently spent a fortune on getting it welded and the only way to beat it is to get a welder and do it yourself, so that’s going to be the next thing on my books…should be fun.
The fact is you can’t beat a big van, and the bigger van you get the more you can do with it. If I had the choice, I’d probably get a truck next time.
Some people opt for estates or people carriers which are a damn site more comfy and will probably take a good deal of gear too, but for me, the only way to get your shit to the gig is in a transit.
… a mark 5, long wheel based, semi high top, turbo diesel, 12 year old, Ford Transit.
5 Years and a couple of cans of white Hammerite later.
So what do you use ? Let us know and tell us what you think of your van.
Is it a clapped out piece of trash like mine, or a spanking new tour bus with a built in bar ?