Idlewild's Rod Jones on Whole Lotta Roadies

With the live industry remaining shuttered due to COVID-19, Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones has launched an ambitious project to support roadies – by lending them the spotlight

Feature by Joe Goggins | 10 Dec 2020
  • Rod Jones

“I realised that the people who make the gigs happen don’t have a fanbase to fall back upon.”

2020 has not gone the way that Rod Jones had expected. There should have been an air of triumph about it; Idlewild, the band he’s served as lead guitarist for since 1995, were due to celebrate their 25th anniversary, with a huge homecoming show at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall pencilled in for last month. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic turned his life and career upside down, with his group's plans postponed by a year and his studio, Post Electric, closed for several months during lockdown.

“We’ve been very lucky to get some money from Creative Scotland to help us recover,” says Jones of his studio, “but not everybody has been so fortunate.” He recalls scrolling through Facebook and realising the devastating toll that the virus was taking upon the Scottish events industry.

“I saw people I’d known as roadies taking jobs as delivery drivers and janitors – and those were just the ones who were able to get any work at all. There was a disconnect between that and seeing musicians raising funds through things like live streams and Bandcamp Friday. People working as crew members don’t have that revenue stream, and yet they’re all talented musicians – certainly in the case of our crew, they could run rings round us on any given instrument.”

Jones struck upon an idea – a covers album bringing together road crew from across Scotland, recording their own takes on songs from the bands they work with, and splitting the money generated between them. “Contrary to public belief, musicians don’t all live in mansions,” he laughs. “It’s not the 80s any more. The pandemic has affected us all professionally; I had to shut the studio, Roddy (Woomble, Idlewild frontman) can’t tour solo like he would when he’s not playing with us, that kind of thing. So it’s not as if we could just say to the crew, 'here’s a couple of grand from my big pile of money over here.' We had to think of something else.”

The result is Whole Lotta Roadies, a 13-track compilation featuring Scottish royalty ranging from Belle & Sebastian to KT Tunstall, and Mogwai to Kathryn Joseph. The all-new recordings are collaborative efforts between the artists and their crew – targeting, says Jones, collectors and completists, but standing up to scrutiny in their own right, breathing new life into classic tracks that were voted for by fans on social media. “I almost gnawed Rod’s hand off to be a part of it,” says Joseph, who contributes a new version of The Bird alongside her crew. “It’s a rare way of supporting the great ones in the industry – the ones we know need it the most right now.”

What began as a concept that Jones came up with sitting on his sofa one evening – that he hadn’t workshopped beyond floating it to his cats – quickly snowballed into a record that brings together bands from across the Scottish musical spectrum. It is, as Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite points out, a testament to the sense of togetherness in the country’s alternative scene. “The Scottish music community is very close, and a lot of the bands and artists share crew,” explains the guitarist. "Literally everyone has been affected, to one degree or another. What the response has shown is what a tight-knit family we have here.”

With over £12,000 raised for the Whole Lotta Roadies fund just from the initial pre-sales, Jones’ labour of love looks set to succeed in helping Scotland’s live crew through what looks likely to be a bleak, testing winter. The process of putting it together, though, was as much a fillip for those involved as the proceeds will be. “I think it’s a really good record,” says Jones, “but to be honest, it was just nice to be doing something productive with my time that wasn’t cancelling hotel rooms or telling the van hire company we wouldn’t be needing them.

"Not playing live, you miss out on a lot of the camaraderie that comes with touring, so it felt good just to give people a reason to gather together again in small groups and sit around slagging each other off! It was a real pleasure to watch such gifted people at work – to be honest, the roadies were a lot better prepared than a lot of groups who come through the studio. There might be certain band members looking over their shoulders now – their jobs might be on the line. That’s all I’m saying!”

Whole Lotta Roadies is released via Bandcamp on 18 Dec