Profile: Rebecca Kemp makes it all happen behind the scenes
Kevin Welch describes her as a goddess; Sam Baker dragged her into a kissing competition; most artists thank her from the stage during their shows, but she’s rarely seen – though she has sung backing vocals from time to time. She’s at the airport to meet nervous artists arriving for their first UK tour, she’s got phones for them and full details of every step of the tour, she’s booked their hotels, and she’s behind the wheel taking them from one gig to the next.
Rebecca Kemp is the behind-the-scenes guru for many of the American and Canadian roots artists travelling in the UK, sorting out all the problems of travelling in a foreign country, making sure they get to all their shows in good time and that they’re fed, lodged and paid along the way. And she does it all with a smile on her face.
“I just found that I loved doing it,” Kemp says. “It’s so amazing and satisfying just to help people. Just the fact that I can get to help the musicians with the details so that when they get up on stage, they can give their all.”
After working on music logistics for a while as a sideline, earlier this year Kemp, 32, gave up her job as a youth worker for her church to take it up full-time. She estimates she spends about 60 percent of her time on the road and the rest in front of a computer at her home in Norwich.
“It’s fairly busy but I enjoy everything I do so it often doesn’t feel like a negative,” she says.
Kemp first became involved as a favour to a Canadian friend whose sister-in-law – Alana Levandoski – was touring the UK and needed some help finding hotels. That put Kemp in contact with Bob Paterson, British agent for a large number of the roots artists touring here. She offered her help with arranging tours and Paterson dubbed her “queen of logistics”.
At first she was working from home, organising the details of tours but not travelling with the artists. Then, Paterson asked Kemp if she was interested in going on the road with Kimmie Rhodes, initially to sell her CDs.
“I somehow ended up tour managing for Kimmie, not having a clue what I was doing but being very willing and open to learning, which I did very quickly,” says Kemp.
Kemp has found that she loves the music, too.
“There was just something within this genre of music that really resonated within me. Whether it’s Annabelle Chvostek playing the mandolin and me thinking ‘oh wow’, or others, I just found that I loved this genre of music.
When she’s not on the road, Kemp is a sculptor. She has an MA from the Norwich School of Art and has built a workshop at the end of her garden. Though she sometimes regrets that she doesn’t have as much time as she would like to work on art projects, Kemp has managed to strike a balance.
“I suppose I’ve never had an aspiration to make a living from art. It’s just always been something that I’ve needed to do to express myself, even if I’m the only person that sees it. Since quitting my other main job working with kids in March, I’ve found that there’s two distinct caches of my time, with musicians and on the art side of things. From a financial point of view it’s been heavily focused on music.”
On the road, Kemp’s day is longer than the artists’. When she gets up in the morning, she’s reading emails, working not only on the current tour but on details of forthcoming tours for other artists. Then she’s in the car and driving, crisscrossing the country as tours rarely follow a sensible geographical route. When they stop for a break, Kemp’s making phone calls if needed.
Once they make it to the venue, she’s sorting out the musicians’ instruments, talking with the promoter and setting up the merchandise. She may have to drive the artists to a radio studio or make sure there’s a room available for a press interview. She organises food according to the artists’ preferences – “Some people like to eat three hours before the show, some two hours before, some don’t like to eat before at all.”
Kemp is also hanging around during the show, in case the artist needs a drink or has a technical problem, and as a keen photographer she’s often got her camera out too. She sells the CDs and sorts out the payment with the promoters. She’s also there if an artists is having trouble with an overenthusiastic fan.
Finally, she drives the artists to the hotel, and she’s catching up with emails and going through the finances of the tour, which she does every day. “Eventually I get to sleep and wake up and it all starts again.”
Still, Kemp says she’s much happier on the road than she is working at home.
“I enjoy driving so that doesn’t feel like a hardship. But now and again it can get super stressful. Something’s gone wrong. And then you get an e-mail about a tour that’s next week, a message needing an instant reply, and you were just looking forward to 10 minutes on your own...”
Kemp’s touring is now taking her out of the UK as well – this week she’s in Germany with Canadian duo Madison Violet. She says she gets on well with virtually all the artists.
“I think I’ve only had one musician that I’ve done logistics for who I would think twice about working with again. Other than that, every single person I’ve worked with has been a real delight to work with. I’ve been really fortunate with the people I’ve worked with. There’s not one that I’d not want to go on the road with again. Just chatting to them and hearing their stories. It really makes you grateful for every single day.”
Part of being a tour manager, presumably, is discretion, and Kemp’s got plenty of that. Asked to tell some stories about things that have happened, she stands firm.
“There are lot of stories that I could tell. But they say what goes on the road stays on the road, and I’m a firm believer of that.”
Rebecca Kemp's website