From Prince to The Script to Avicii: Ciara Davey on tour managing at the top end of music
How Music Works: tour manager and production co-ordinator Ciara Davey talks to Niall Byrne about getting the stars on the road and keeping them there
At Pukklepop with Kings of Leon in 2011
Ushuaïa, Creamfields, Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra Music Festival, Tomorrowland, Encore Beach Club – Ciara Davey’s gigging history is an EDM fan’s fantasy.
For nearly three years from 2012 to 2015, the Irishwoman operated as dance music superstar Avicii’s tour manager. The Swede was one of the most in demand DJs in the world, which meant 200-plus shows a year.
Like many people in the How Music Works series, the job came about by accident, rather than design, and a whole lot of experience built up over the years.
Davey grew up “surrounded by roadies”, (her dad was an accountant who was often hired by them, and her mother worked for Aiken) so she was always interested in the touring lifestyle.
After college courses studying sports management, public relations and event management, Davey was taken on for two summers by event manager Sophie Ridley with promoters MCD as a production assistant. It lead to a full-time role with MCD, where she got to know the ins and outs of the live music business, which she says is a great place to learn.
“I learned to take responsibility for my work, use my initiative, be proactive, assertive, manage people’s expectations and most importantly, that assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”
While covering maternity leave as boss Denis Desmond’s booking assistant, he warned her against life on the road, but the call was too great. Desmond rescinded and helped her get her first job on the road as a production co-ordinator.
“That was with The Script, and it’s still the best tour I’ve ever done,” says Davey.
The Purple One calls
Amidst some work on a Childline concerts, Arthur’s Day, Manic Street Preachers and Kings Of Leon, there is one job credit that stands out – Prince.
When Prince came to Dublin to play Malahide Castle in 2011, he had just fired his crew after a poor show in Europe, meaning that when he arrived in Dublin, he needed some locals to help out.
“It was the night before and I got a call from a friend, Suzie Shorten, who had got a call from someone else, who had got a call from the promoter looking for a tour & production co-ordinator. That’s usually how we get work, by word of mouth.”
She worked on the tour for a month around Europe and enjoyed the tetris-aspect of packing the trucks between shows.
“Prince loved doing aftershows – you couldn’t get him off stage. Our stage manager would usually do the aftershow and I’d look after the load-out from the main gig. I took a lot of satisfaction from seeing the truck doors closing and driving off.”
And was there any notorious behaviour from the Purple One?
“He asked me to play hide and seek with him and his band at a festival in Gothenburg. We were in the middle of a load-out so it wasn’t an option, but I still have a little giggle to myself when I think about that.”
EDM takes over
In 2012, while working as assistant tour manager on X-Factor, a friend recommended her for a TM role for an upcoming DJ Tim Bergling aka Avicii.
“I’d never heard of him, I wasn’t really into EDM. I was told that he was going to be the next big thing. So I said yeah, it was my first US tour and I wanted the experience. When I made it out there, I found myself with a lot more responsibility on my plate then I expected, so I ran with it and his management noticed. By the end of the summer, I got a call to go out and tour manage Tim at Austin City Limits.”
So began three years of busy scheduling, huge dance show spectacles and non-stop travelling. A typical day started started with a check-in to a hotel between 5am and 8am for some sleep, before emailing promoters on upcoming dates, working out schedules, leasing with crew on soundcheck and production, check-ins with the artist, arranging meetings with industry, booking dinners, doing security checks, safety points, and a walkthrough of the venue, dinner, show, aftershow, airport to fly out to the next city.
“The production office is the control centre for any tour,” says Davey. You’re first in with the stage manager and riggers and last out. Anything can happen while on the road, you need to be adaptable and thick-skinned, especially when manning the office that everyone goes to for all of the answers.”
There was a small team around Avicii, so Davey acted as tour manager, production manager for the club shows along with looking after tour and production co-ordination. She also dealt with budgets, travel plans, logistics, visas, work permits and itineraries.
It’s a role Davey lovingly calls “tour mom”, which was evident in her go-to snack for the crew – the banana. “It got so bad that the guys bought me a special banana holder,” Davey recalls.
As for staying sane and healthy on the road, there’s more than just potassium-heavy fruit. “I get to the gym whenever I can while on the road. I love getting out and going for long walks or runs exploring wherever I am. I also love finding a good restaurant.”
Davey grew to love the Avicii spectacle, everything from the lights to the pyrotechnics to the lasers and the show itself.
“I loved the excitement of the crowds and how he could make thousands of people instanta-neously happy. I’m so proud to have been a part of that.”
It’s not all fun
Of course, touring isn’t without its downsides. You’re away from friends and family, missing weddings and funerals. The lifestyle became too much for Bergling, who announced his retirement from live performance, at age 26, last March. “I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist,” he wrote, bowing out.
“When you take on a tour, it’s all or nothing,” Davey says, but it doesn’t seem like she’s ready to stop any time soon.
“When I came off the road after Avicii, I thought that was it for my touring career and that I would get a 9-5 job at home in Dublin with a better work/life balance. It turns out that I missed it and Ciaran, my fiancé, has been super supportive and encouraging with my return to the road.”
Most recently, Davey has been tour managing The Cranberries and working as tour and production coordinator for David Guetta. Her work has included a TV show for Enya for Japanese TV, something she’d like to do more of. Whatever Davey does, it seems it will include life on the road and she offers this advice from her experience this far.
“Just be yourself, respect everyone and speak your mind. You’d be surprised what you can get away with if you do it with a smile.”