Rock ‘n’ roll is littered with stories from those fortunate to be in and around the scene over the years, whether that be from the bands or artists themselves, or those who work tirelessly in the background away from the public eye. Kim Hawes’ story is one which is as extraordinary as any that has been written down the years. A girl brought up in the quiet village of Hesketh Bank on the outskirts of Lancashire, she managed to forge her way into the position of tour manager for one of the world’s most notorious rock bands, amongst many others. Her new book, ‘Confessions of a Female Tour Manager’, out in September, is a self-confessed tongue in cheek look at the true story of her life in the industry.
Her journey is unique in that she was one of the first women to attain the title of ‘tour manager’, and what she achieved within that role, in very different times to today, doesn’t just serve as an inspiration to women, but also to men too. Her incredible contribution to the industry has recently been recognised by UCLAN where she received an award for significant contribution to the music industry and tour management.
I had the humbling honour of catching up with Kim and interview her about her fascinating new book. The time we had together was not long enough – this was an incredibly interesting person with more than one tale to tell.
Tell us how you got started in the industry?
I worked my way up and didn’t do any courses like there are today, which I think was a good thing because I got to see every job that was going on tour. I was nineteen, all they did was give me a pile of three hundred posters and elastic bands, and my first job at a gig was rolling these posters knelt on a cold concrete floor. I worked my own way up and saw everything. By the time I was twenty-three I had my own merchandising team working on different tours. From that I then started to work with Motorhead who were notorious for touring nine months of the year, playing everywhere and every venue going.
Once, we did a tour in Europe that was fourteen days long with no days off in thirteen different countries and thirteen different currencies. This was before the euro. The tour manager had all these receipts from different currencies and hadn’t a clue how to sort them, so he asked me to because I wasn’t doing much during the day, so I became a tour accountant and it all just kind of fell into place from there.
How did you end up becoming tour manager for Motorhead?
I was still tour accountant with Motorhead and we were in Paris coming up to Christmas. We had two days before coming home on Christmas Eve on the Sunday, and the gig was on the Saturday. The guys wanted some money to buy some Christmas presents and some English money for the duty-free when we returned home. We couldn’t find the tour manager and we were getting a bit concerned as no one had seen him for two days, thinking he might have passed out in his room or something. We got a key and went into his room and we found out he’d done a runner. He’d had enough basically. The band were hard work, they were the epitome of absolute rock ‘n’ roll and whatever mischief they could get up to they got up to. It wasn’t nasty, it was just good fun and they didn’t do anything that couldn’t be sorted out. Anyway, the tour manager left but didn’t take the money because I had the money. No other tour manager could come out for this last gig because it was Christmas, but the (band) manager said to me, “you know what to do, you’ve seen it,” which was a lie because unless you’ve ever done a tour manager settlement you’ve never seen it done, because in those days you’re dealing with cash sat in a room and counting out the money, and you didn’t let people in the room to see that. But I did the whole settlement and that was my first tour manager job.
From then I did a couple of bands like Hawkwind and Girlschool in the UK, but it was a guy from the agency, Paul Bolton, who gave me my real break. America only had four female tour managers at the time. One was Prince’s, who only worked for him and nobody else, the others were wives of managers so we couldn’t use them. I’d worked with Motorhead for nine years by then and there wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen happen that wasn’t resolved. I did a quick course in American contracts for a couple of days and went off to America and that was my big break. So, it was a genuine progression after seeing every single job going on.
In the days of working my way up, I’d go and help the bus driver clean out the bus or go into the catering room and help with bits and pieces in there because you’re like a family on tour, and I knew what everybody’s day consisted of because I’d seen it all.
Eventually it went one step further to Crisis Management or ‘Troubleshooting’ as we called it back then. I remember I got the call from Chumbawumba at the night of the Brits when they threw the ice bucket over John Prescott. The band were an anarchist band and wouldn’t apologise, but their single-ended up going back into the charts off the back of that and how we managed it.
I’ve read you weren’t a heavy metal fan. Did that make a difference with the bands you managed?
No, it was good. Imagine doing a job like that and being into their music, you’d be in awe of the band. Doug Smith put you with people you didn’t like. He was managing The Damned at the same time, who I liked, and he gave me Motorhead and another girl The Damned. But yeah how could you do the job if you were a fan? You’d be inside watching the show.
Who else were you into apart from The Damned?
Punk rock stuff, and Funkadelic, so completely on the other scale. Nothing like heavy metal but saying that, a tingle goes down my spine when I hear the riff from ‘Overkill’ by Motorhead.
I think by saying “I’m into this,” you’re closing your mind off to different things you can listen to. One thing I detest though is ballads, and when they take an amazing song and change it for John Lewis and make it dreary.
What were the biggest challenges as a tour manager back then?
The fact I was a woman. I was lucky because my name’s Kim, which is a guy’s name in America. I would walk into a building and find the main office of the venue and introduce myself and they would still ask me when Kim was turning up? They were all in suits and ties, looking like they were in the mafia and I’d be there in trackie bottoms and trainers, so for one, I didn’t quite look like them. Secondly, I was a woman and didn’t have all these assistants running around doing stuff for me, so it was difficult to get people to take you seriously.
I hid behind the fact I was Kim, “the guy”. In Motorhead I got tagged with being Lemmy’s girlfriend, I got so sick of that, but it was just like, whatever. Same with other bands though in America, people just assumed I was the girlfriend of whoever. It was just easier to go along sometimes, but these days people would go nuts about that. But I got to find out so much more by being incognito. I got to find out all the tricks promoters would try and pull because you’re “just someone’s girlfriend” sat there on a flight case, but I was listening to everything that was going on. First time I realised that was over a bottle of tequila, something so tiny. Concrete Blonde drank this specific bottle of tequila that was $100 a bottle and the promoter only had a little bit left, and I saw them fill it up with another brand. I waited till an hour before the show and took it back and said, “I think we’ll change that.”
You must’ve had to have been bolshy to survive?
You had to be, but I can be so abrupt with people and I don’t mean to be, but I just had to be for so long. I never flowered things over, so I’d be like, ‘I want a coffee!’ (I nearly got her one when hearing this from her change in tone). You had to be to the point and not waffle. But it changed things being tour manager, even with your crew, who you loved to bits and were like a family together, but when I was in charge of that family it changed. The guys would go for a pint at night and I wouldn’t get asked, so now I was on my own in the hotel and was like, I don’t like this, no one’s asked me to go out to play. But then again you couldn’t because you had to show authority and never make a mistake and be one step ahead. If a mistake was made it had to be rectified quickly. As a man in those days you could get away with stuff, but as a woman you’d have your job taken away because someone would have gone, “oh she messed up and I can do it far better,” which meant I’d get about four hours sleep a night.
What were the sacrifices you made back then?
I’ve been married twice. My first husband was the love of my life. We were too young, and it was either him or keep touring and I chose to keep touring. Ask me again now in hindsight and I wouldn’t have done it. That’s love for you though. But everything happens for a reason.
I’ve read that you’ve renounced alcohol. Is that something you did from the start or something that happened mid-tour?
It was the tour management that did that. Going back to what I was saying about having to be in control and not making a mistake, I wanted my head to be so on it that no one could use alcohol against me as an excuse.
I remember once in 1994 I had my last drink the night before a tour started in LA when the earthquake hit, and I was so drunk because I couldn’t stand the aftershocks, but then went on tour two days later and my next drink was on the plane home.
What were the best years?
The beginning. Nineteen years of age, flaunting a backstage pass to all of your mates. I was young without a care in the world. It was just pure good fun, and no one could say they were doing what I was doing from my village, Hesketh Bank. Hardly anyone lived there. Everyone was either a farmer or market gardener and I was on tour with a rock band. Once the responsibility started taking over, they were still good times but not as much fun.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
One of the games Motorhead played that involves a table and toilet roll, but you can read about that in the book. Loads of things were nuts and stuff you couldn’t do today. Autobahns were closed due to the snow, but we had to get to Hamburg and we still used them. Another one was when East and West Germany were separated. Lemmy and I were in the car, he was sat in the front with the seat reclined and the window cracked slightly filling the car with smoke, he was smoking that much. He’s reading a book on the SS (Schutzstaffel) with the light on, driving through East Germany with a helmet on. We got pulled over so many times. I actually thought we were going to get shot. It was well-known that you paid a fine back then, and it ended up costing us £3K in total.
So many stories though and not just with Motorhead, Things that were outrageous, but nothing was ever meant to hurt anybody, and if we did it was never done on purpose. With Motorhead they thought they were invincible, and most of the time they were, and they got away with so much that you couldn’t do now. Driving into Scotland playing bagpipes out of the car windows with huge speakers strapped to the top of the car. We sunk a boat and to make up for it Wurzel decided to mow their lawn at midnight. Because of that the bus driver got bitten on his ankles by mosquitos and couldn’t drive properly, so he had to use a brush to hammer on the clutch to change gears.
You wake up exhausted and in the real world you think in eight hours’ time I’ll be back home, but on tour you thought, for God’s sake what’s going to happen today, because you knew something would happen. But because of that introduction to it through Motorhead there was nothing anyone could do to me after that, so that was my training. Lemmy and I used to have conversations and he used to say, “Well kiddo this is what you’re meant to be doing. It’s in your blood because you would’ve given up a long time ago.” When I went to Motorhead’s offices for the first time, the receptionist, ‘Motorcycle Irene’, tied me up in a straitjacket, so imagine what a twenty-year-old felt like being stuck in their office with a straitjacket on. So, my induction was the best one.
There’s a couple of stories in the book about how people got to meet rock stars. Americans go to outrageous lengths to meet an idol. There’s one about a Porsche smashing into a limo just to meet somebody in that limo. They purposely hired a Porsche just to drive straight into the limo.
What’s the biggest gig you’ve been part of?
Michael Jackson at Leeds and Aintree but that’s a sad, bad one. That was one when women got ripped off and his merchandising company ripped me off and put me through hell, but because of that, I met David Bowie in Geneva because I had to change flights to meet back up with Motorhead, so every cloud has a silver lining. That story’s in the book though.
Why did you end up leaving the industry?
I’d had enough! Half of it was the fact the industry was changing so much, and it was all about money all the time. How could you do a job that wasn’t as respected as it once was? And my Mum became ill so that made the decision for me.
Would you say it’s harder to be a tour manager now or back then?
Back then because now you don’t have the responsibility to make the decisions because of communications. Back then I had ¾ million dollars in cash in a hotel room in Vegas all over the floor. You wouldn’t have that now. As a woman back then it was harder too.
Would you be a tour manager now?
No! You don’t have the same power you used to have. You’re an employee now. The whole point back then was you take over the manager’s job and everything is under your watch and you make the decision. Communication is so good now that you can’t do that now. There’s no excuse for not contacting anyone. I remember the first time we used a mobile phone in Reading and it cost £2.5K for 2 minutes.
Do you follow the music scene today and are you still involved?
Yes! Since my Mum passed, I wrote the book and I help at UCLAN and Spirit Studios in Manchester where they run tour management courses. I want to help people. There are so many people doing courses on how to be a rock star basically. I’ve even read you can do a course in America in Beyoncé. It’s a joke and sad. All these youngsters paying all this money to University and coming away playing the guitar, writing a song, thinking Simon Cowell is going to sign them up and they’re going to be a multi-millionaire by Christmas. It just doesn’t happen. That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t so many other jobs for you to do on tour that you can love and have exactly the same lifestyle. I wanted to be a singer, but can’t sing or play a musical instrument, but I still had the life of a rock star but from a different way, and I want to show people that they can do that. There’s so much more you can do out there.
‘Confessions of Female Tour Manager’ will be available on amazon in September.