Article for "Making Music" magazine 28th August 1986
In recent years manufacturers have gone to a lot of trouble to make musical products more portable and convenient to use: the Sessionette, the Portastudio, the DX7... items you could put on the back seat of a car or set up in your bedroom at home. As soon as you try & get a case for them though, ergonomics & common sense go out of the window.
Wherever you go, whoever you ask, the hapless musician always gets offered the brutal, ugly FLIGHT CASE - crippling to buy and worthless secondhand. Oh, and the combo you used to carry under one arm now weighs a ton and won't even fit in your car.
Don't get me wrong, the flight case is fine and dandy at the job it's designed for: airfreighting vast, bulky equipment (The Genesis backline, say) across North America - or trucking it around the football stadiums of Europe. Your standard Bulldog or Packhorse number will withstand anything from Heathrow baggage handlers to a Soviet tank.
The question is how often does your gear require that level of protection ? Or: how often is your Flight Case a totally unneccessary pain in the arse ? The monolithic bastards that dominate every musician's hallway and bedroom - the long weeks of rehearsal you spend trying to use the bloody things as tables, chairs and ashtrays because no other furniture will fit in the room...
I don't know who invented the flight case, but I'd bet my last SIMM chip it was a roadie. Think about it. They're square, with handles and wheels, easy to roll up ramps and pack in lorries. They can be hurled, slung and thrown around without the slightest risk of damage. Flightcases make a roadie's life easy - and if they double the hassle for a musician who actually owns the damn things, well that's just too bad.
It's annoying enough to spend hundreds of quid on something completely non-musical instead of the new sequencer or delay pedal you promised yourself. But worse, the sheer effort of carrying & unpacking your gear soon discourages you from bringing it home at all on days off - the time when your most creative ideas usually occur.
In the end you keep old bits of duff gear for "mucking about" with in your bedroom, and leave your best equipment in some warehouse or garage with the rest of the group's instruments. You then require a large van, two roadies and half a day's notice to make it reappear again for rehearsals, gigs or the odd recording session. We all go along with this because it's hard to suggest an alternative, and anyway - that's what all the famous bands do isn't it ?
The first thing a young group buys after getting a record deal is a set of flightcases: proof they've arrived in the Big League. The more succesful they become, the more flightcases they acquire. Roadies aren't daft: the more gear you have, the more crew you need to move it around. Later on of course the band splits up and the ex-members are lumbered with cases too big to lift and too expensive to throw away. The roadies meanwhile go and work for some new bunch of mugs with more money.
But hold on. TV crews, surveyors, photographers - even classical & jazz musicians - all have to schlep heavy, fragile instruments from place to place. None of them would dream of buying a case too heavy to carry or too big to fit in a car.
Most of them use lightweight cases in fibreglass or aluminium - or simply padded zipbags, replaced from time to time as they wear out. No jazz player I know would buy a flightcase for their trumpet or double bass: possibly because jazzers seldom employ roadies - a point not lost on your own crew.
Any moves in this direction on your part will be firmly dealt with. Tell a roadie that your nice old Fender belongs in its nice old Fender case and he'll shake his head. "Wouldn't last two days on the road that wouldn't, squire". Insist, and it'll return a couple of days later with a few warning dents. If you're stubborn, the case will come home at the end of the tour as matchwood with some lame excuse about "the humpers at Loughborough."
With gear in flight cases you'll always need roadies - and with roadies you'll always need flightcases to protect your gear. I don't deny the need for an experienced road crew - nobody else in their right mind actually enjoys lugging bass bins in and out of lorries. Nor would I deny that musical equipment needs protective housing - I simply want my instruments left light enough to carry myself.
Tom Robinson (b.1950) is a UK songwriter & broadcaster first known in the 70s as an anti-racist and LGBT campaigner. He
released 19 albums between 1975-2001 with various bands and has co-written songs with Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. He's an award-winning presenter at BBC Radio 6 Music, and released Only The Now (his first album in 19 years) in October 2015....more