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Behind the Scene: Geoff Trump

by Bradley Tucker on February 08, 2016

Geoff Trump is sitting in his London hotel room. He has just come off a 21-date international tour with Dave Matthews Band that took them to Abu Dhabi for their first ever Asian performance as well as 13 other countries. Dave Matthews Band officially formed in 1991 and Trump has been with them in different roles since 1995. These days, he serves as tour director, overseeing production, tour management and accounting or, as he ultimately explains, “the business of the tour,” and remains a direct connection from one of America’s biggest bands to the heyday of 1960s British rock.

What was the live music scene like where you grew up?

I grew up in two locations, really. I went to what you call “high school” in America in South England from 1963-1968, but it was a boarding school. So I went through the whole Rolling Stones, Yardbirds period while I was in school. Then 1966 came along, and it became even more exciting with the burgeoning of “flower power” and the “Summer of Love” and all that. There were quite a few phases from psychedelic to rock in a very short period of time. I was a musician, studying classical piano, but at the same time, I was so interested in pop music that I had a transistor radio to my ear every night listening to Radio Luxembourg. That was the prime source of pop music for young people then, as well as Radio London, Radio Caroline and the pirate radio stations, which fed us the alternative at that time.

After that, I moved to Birmingham in my late teens. I went to rock concerts, and found that it was very easy to get into a show if you went to the stage door at the Town Hall building early in the morning when there was a show on. You could volunteer to help load in and set up gear—the lights, the backline and everything—so I became a volunteer stagehand at the Birmingham Town Hall. They seemed to like me and what I did, and so I got into concerts for free by going early to help set up the gear.

How did you transition from that job to working with what became one of America’s biggest bands?

In the late 1970s, I came back from a long period of traveling, and one of my colleagues in Birmingham called me up and said, “Hey, Geoff, you want to be a backline roadie for a band?” And I said, “I’ve done lights and everything, but I’ve never been a backline roadie. What do I need to do?” He said, “Well, can you tune a guitar?” And I said, “Not really, I don’t even know how to play a guitar.” He asked if I could tune drums and I said, “Well, I never really had much to do with tuning drums, but I’ve set up drum kits before.”

I got the job and I became a backline roadie for a band called The Beats, known in America as The English Beat. They became probably more successful in the United States than they were in England, and we toured extensively, opening on U.S. soil for bands like The Clash, The Pretenders, The Police, Talking Heads and various others between 1980- 83. And during that period of time, I went from backline roadie to tour manager around the middle of 1981.

I’d gotten close to Chip Hooper, a booking agent, during my time with Cowboy Junkies. In 1995, he called me up one day and said, “I got this band that’s out of Charlottesville, Va., kind of hitting the big time now. They’re going from clubs to amphitheaters very fast, and they need somebody who’s got a sense of experience— especially on the financial and logistical side—to come in and help them out.” My focus at that point was more on accounting and tour management, so I said, “Yeah, I’ll come in as tour accountant and do the finances for them.”

It was funny because, when I first met them, they were young, generally inexperienced, and I remember getting on the bus and seeing just piles and bags of cash in the bunks. And I said, “You can’t do that. You’ve got to put it all in bundles and get it to the bank and put it away.” [Laughs.] So once I started with that, I formalized the way in which settlements happened and controlled their expenses and cash flow. I started handling things a little more professionally.

Who was an early influence in your career? What was an early lesson that you learned?

There are a couple of people in the business who gave me good lessons, including a gentleman called Doug McNeill, who had a company called Phoenix Management. At the time, he was kind of business management for The Police. I used to see him a lot and came out to a show in Del Mar, Calif. It was probably the first big show down at the racetrack with a stadium setup—you needed to build a stage, hire security people, provide catering and all this other stuff that we had never really had at shows before.

Doug took me around and said, “Fencing comes in eight-foot sections, and each eight-foot section costs money, so if you have a hundred eight-foot sections, you have 800 feet of fencing. You’ve got to know how much 800 feet of fencing is likely to cost so you can call up National Construction Rentals and say, ‘Hey, I’m trying to locate 800 feet of fencing for an event. How much do you think that’ll be?’ And you need to get an idea first, so if the promoter comes and says that 800 feet of fencing costs $4 a foot, and you already know that it really costs $2 a foot, then you can argue and try to find out why the promoter is trying to tell you its $4 a foot.”

It was the same thing with their security. Let’s say they were supposed to hire a 200-person security team. We’d say, “Well, where is this 200-person security staff?” and Doug would walk me around the campus to count security guards. And we’d go, “Hey, it looks more like you hired 40 security guards. Where are the rest of the 200 you’re talking about?” [He taught me] little things like that, where you go into the bones of the event and figure out if what the promoter is telling you is true or whether you need to create a case for arguing an expense. Most promoters are very honest these days, but, at that time, promoters would take advantage of you a little more, and you had to keep your eyes on them. I learned a lot of simple but important things from these guys.

As tour manager and tour accountant for Dave Matthews Band, do you have any day of show routines or rituals?

Officially, my title is tour director. It’s a made-up title; the reason why we called it tour director1 was because I am actually doing more than just what a tour accountant would do. We also have another person who is the tour manager, but the tour manager’s responsibility lies in traveling with the band—arranging everything to do with the band’s day from beginning to end. My role is more in the business end of the tour.

So from morning till evening, I am not production managing and I’m not tour managing. I am managing the business of the tour on the road rather than off the road, which is a year-round job because it involves everything starting with what we are working on this fall. Right now, we are putting together the bones of the 2016 tour, working toward 2017 and even through the next four or five years in the big scheme of things. We are working on the nuts and bolts, planning the basic weekends of the 2016 DMB summer tour and working with the agency and the promoters to fill in what happens Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Once we do that, I work with my production team on any new venues that we are planning on going into so that they can start laying out those venues and figuring out their technical details. We want to be ahead of production issues and we want to set up the ticketing side of the tour. Ticketing is very important with the Dave Matthews Band because we operate the ticketing program for our club members, and we basically take inventory from the venues and distribute that inventory through either first-come, firstserve or a lottery-style process. We print, ship, stock and design those tickets ourselves. Right now, we are processing those designs.

Everything that I’m doing has to do with setting up the side of things that lasts until you are on the road—planning the travel, buses, trucks, lights, sound, video. All of that—as well as their business and production sides—is somewhat underneath my jurisdiction. Everyone is involved. We are very democratic. On the road, I travel with the crew most of the time—the reason being that I prefer it. I don’t really like flying at night, and the band does that after shows quite a lot. They often stay in different cities. My preference is to travel on the bus, get a good night’s sleep, get up in the morning at the venue and put in a full day of work every show day.

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