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Phil Watts Interview

Posted in Flying Music, News on 06 Dec, 2012

We speak to Phil Watts, Tour Manager for American Idiot about his career and experience working on the hottest new rock musical around!

You’ve worked with Flying Music for some time now; do you recall the very first tour you worked on?

PW: Yes! Glitz Blitz and 70s Hits in 1999, featuring Suzi Quatro, Alvin Stardust and the Rubettes. I remember that Derek’s brief was ‘look after Suzi, it’s taken ages to get her on board’ so I did so and Suzi and I have been firm friends ever since!

You come from a Rock N’ Roll background don’t you? Where did your music career start?

PW: I played the drums from being a small kid…as a teenager I was going to be Keith Moon to Andy Sharrocks’ Keith Richard (younger readers should do a google search) but fate led me to play with the Bay City Rollers, a great experience which was also my first foray into the world of tour management. From 1994 I have also run a production company concentrating on corporate events. Also, after touring with Petula Clark for FM in 2002, I ended up as her tour manager around the world for the next six years…what a fantastic artist!

You made the move from Rock N’ Roll tour manager, working on shows such as SS60  to theatrical productions like the Rat Pack, Dancing in the streets and Thriller Live, how do they differ?

PW: Essentially the job remains the same, but on making the transition in around 2007 it took me a while to get used to the different disciplines required on theatrical productions, for example dealing with the Creative team, the heads of department system etc. Also the concept of understudies which is alien to rock n roll…

The shows you work on can vary greatly in style, The Rat Pack evokes 1950s glamour whereas Thriller live as a young, street dance dynamic. Does this change the way you work? In what way?

PW: The big difference is that the various productions require very different types of performers, for instance the principals in Rat Pack tend to be a little more mature in years, whereas the cast of Thriller are mainly much younger in years and also touring experience. I’ve learnt to adapt my working methods to suit each group (mostly successfully I hope!)

I would imagine that the job requires discretion, without giving anything away, how true is the saying ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’?

PW: These days it’s more ‘what goes on tour goes on facebook’ but yes, there have been a few eyebrow raising moments over the years…often from the most unlikely source. That’s all you’re getting!

You have travelled with world with various productions, do you get a chance to play the tourists or are you just on intimate terms with airports around the globe?

PW: Airports and hotels are my friends indeed! I do try to make the most of any new experiences, quite honestly there’s not much to do in Oberhausen for the third time in two years but it’s hard not to amazed in places like Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada etc…I often think ‘not bad for a Salford lad!’ Probably the most surreal experience with FM was a corporate Rat Pack in Singapore; we were there one day and due to the time difference arrived home before the show was finished. I soon learnt what real jet lag feels like!

American Idiot is a departure for the show you usually work on for Flying Music, how have you found that transition? Are the audiences different to those that you are used to? Does that make a difference to your job?

PW: Yes, it’s very different. As it is a self contained American company with their own company manager I am far less hands on than I would be used to and my job is more concerned with the logistics of transport, accommodation etc and liaising with the venues on behalf of FM. The audience mix is very different as well although that hasn’t made much difference to me.

You have been with the cast and crew of American Idiot for two months now and are coming to the end of the tour. The company is a full US company whereas our other productions are largely staffed by Brits or UK residents. Other than obvious culture differences, how do they compare?

PW: Two nations divided by a common language! There is a huge difference in working practices (especially on the production side) which we’ve tried to bridge over the weeks

Have there been any funny ‘lost in translation’ moments?

PW: I think they’ve learned that ‘I’m gonna need’ doesn’t translate too well with the Glasgow stage crew! The cast have adapted pretty well but still get blank looks at breakfast when asking for ‘over easy’ eggs.

From a marketing and press perspective, a huge difference we have found is an optimism that runs through whereas a UK cast is a little more cynical. Have you found this to be true and why do you think that is?

PW: I think you’re right and that it’s because the cast are very committed to the show and to Green Day. It’s the first job for many of them and they seem to be determined to make the most of the experience.

Has this experience changed you in any way?

PW: As I was working on this show throughout the year from the FM office, I’ve gained a lot of insight as to the preparation needed in all areas for a tour of this size. The on the road experience has been pretty well business as usual

What is next for you?

PW: Christmas in Vienna with my partner Stefanie and our soon to be first born! The baby is due on March 8th so that’s going to turn life upside down in the best possible way. Other than that, hopefully more working with my wonderful FM colleagues through the year.

 

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