The life of a female roadie

With very obvious delight, BBC World Service presenter Kim Chakanetsa interviewed two distinguished female roadies.

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With very obvious delight, BBC World Service presenter Kim Chakanetsa interviewed two distinguished female roadies: the Australian Tana Douglas, and Brit Becky Pell (5 August, 11:30am). So imperturbable, so phlegmatic were these guests that there were moments when all Kim could do was squeak and marvel, her mind clearly expanding and contracting with curiosity.

How do you shift all the heavy equipment? she boggled. Tana suggested first engaging the brain. “Don’t be an idiot,” she insouciantly shrugged, “about lifting stuff.” A roadie for AC/DC from the age of 16, Tana met the (then unknown) band at a party, where her mother cooked them a chicken. “Sound engineer and yogi” Becky described the toilets on a tour bus as “an interesting experience”, and explained that when running the mixing desk at Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, her job was more “psychology then technology”. Especially when dealing with singers who have just had a fight with a lover or (came the implication) were very possibly recovering from one round of drugs and starting off on another.

Briefly, Kim was burdened with the modish concern for correct titles. The term “roadie”, she wondered, given its lubberly connotations, do they find it at all objectionable? Certainly not: both look on the term “with fondness”. What kind of stuff, do they, you know, wear? Never anything that could be “perceived as sexy” because it gives the “wrong impression”. Kim twitched in her chair. On the one hand there was her journalistic duty to establish that today, many might insist there was no such thing as “wrong impressions”. On the other, if a woman routinely and with uncanny ease shifts a 350lb bass container up on to a stage for the Who (Tana: “Just rock it back, flip it and push”), why get stuck on the details about clobber?

Soon, came the killer question. “Have you ever” – and you could almost hear Kim’s narrowing, tantalised eyes – “encountered sexism?” A pause. They replied in the affirmative, but with tact, and infinite vagueness. I realised how little they had given away throughout. Laid-back aloofness incarnate. Not a single axe to grind. Friendly, but never cloaked in false jocularity. In short: cool. 

The Conversation: Female Roadies
BBC World Service

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 02 August 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special