HERE’S something you probably didn’t know: It takes six hours to set up the Trent FM Arena for a concert. From ice hockey stadium to concert hall.
And that’s even before the trucks carrying the artist’s stage set, equipment, etc. have even turned up.
Logic dictates that it takes the same amount of time to take it all down again. So, after a show, while you’ve caught last orders, gone home to bed and are well in to your night’s sleep, there are people still clearing away.
Not that Sunday’s Access All Areas tour of the venue is just an excuse for the staff to have a moan about grafting in to the night for our benefit.
“It’s to give people a flavour of what goes on behind the scenes,” says press officer Louise Stewart.
“We decided to do it as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations but we had no idea how popular it would be. We had an ice skating open day where we invited every down for a family day and thought we should do something to celebrate it from an arena perspective. And the 300 spaces on the tours booked up really quickly.”
There will be 12 free tours every half hour from 10am.
“We expect to do more in the future for anyone who missed out.”
Rather than looking around an empty building, visitors will be able to see a tour as it is loaded in, albeit on a small scale, with crew setting up for Trent FM’s local band event The Future Sound of Nottingham.
“New College Nottingham’s hair and beauty students will be in the dressing rooms making people up as Lady Gaga, Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson, just to give a flavour of the activity that goes on backstage,” says Louise.
Junior Wood, senior event manager since the venue opened ten years ago, will be doing the talking on Sunday.
He runs the team which transforms the arena from ice hockey stadium to concert hall and back again.
It takes 11 crew and two fork-lift drivers six hours to get it ready. The ice is covered, barriers removed, seating placed, stage built, drapes hung, dressing rooms prepared...
“The ice covering is really good and it has halved the time it takes to lay,” says Junior, who originally from Manchester.
“In the past we’ve used wooden panels which didn’t really insulate very well and the cold came through, they slid around a bit and there was condensation. And it could take up to a couple of days to lay them, as well as everything else.”
Once the floor and stage is ready, the dressing rooms have to be prepared.
There are 12 in all but it’s rare all will be occupied. That’ll usually be when the TV shows, like Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing On Ice, X Factor Live and tonight’s Britain’s Got Talent, turn up.
Each is fairly plain. Eight are furnished with en suite but the rest are set up as offices for promoters.
For most, that will do nicely, such as the seventies stars, The Osmonds, Bay City Rollers, David Essex and Leo Sayer, who were due on Tuesday for that evening’s Once In A Lifetime Tour.
Others need special attention from companies such as Inner Sanctum, who specialise in dressing a room with drapes and pictures, extra furniture, flowers... to personalise it for an artist.
“I can understand why,” says Junior.
“It’s like a home from home. They can be on the road for eight months out of the year and all they will see is a dressing room, the tour bus and hotel room. A familiar environment can keep them sane.”
The rider, an artist’s food and drink demands for backstage, can indicate how diva-ish they are but the legend of requesting M&Ms with the brown one’s taken out are for good reason, says Junior.
“It’s to make sure the rider is being read. It’s to test them. I can’t remember which gig it was here, maybe Metallica, but on the security’s list of restricted items was Verne Troyer,” he laughs.
“You know, the little guy from Austin Powers. Spotting that shows you’ve been paying attention. And they did.”
He adds: “A lot of the time our staff don’t see to the artist’s rider anyway - that’s the job of the tour promoter.
“Our job is to deal with the production rider although we have been asked to sort out a masseuse or flowers.”
Once the floor, stage and dressing rooms are prepared, the venue is ready for the arrival of the artist’s trucks and buses carrying the equipment, instruments, artist and crew.
They pull in to the back of the arena down the small road to the left of AMF Bowling.
On Tuesday there were 20 or so fans awaiting the arrival of the seventies stars.
“That’s usual for most gigs,” says Junior.
“The whole street was chocka when Justin Timberlake was here. Sometimes they’ll sign autographs. It’s chaos out there when the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent are here.”
There is room for 13 trucks to park up, which is the average for Arena gigs.
“But Lady Gaga had more than 30,” he says.
“Most of them had to park down at the City Ground. That was a mad event, a lot of work involved and a logistical nightmare. The Justin Timberlake and Metallica shows were similar.”
Most of the time the production makes use of the arena’s own stage but Gaga, JT and Metallica brought their own.
Artists arrive around 3pm, settle in to their dressing rooms and soundcheck between 4pm and 5pm.
“Sometimes there is a specific request for closed soundchecks, depending on how diva-ish they are but generally we can watch,” says Junior.
“Although we do have work to do.”
The rest of the artist’s free time is usually spent backstage. One would assume they’d hang out in the hotel.
“I’d say only half stay in a hotel. The rest sleep on the bus. They’re as good as a hotel room anyway. I stayed on one at the V Festival and it was fantastic: Leather suites, entertainment systems and comfy beds.”
To kill the boredom of hanging around, artists will kick a football around the floor or fly toy helicopters.
“Stereophonics did that and Mick Hucknall always gets a football out. Westlife practiced their golf. Justin Hawkins from The Darkness had a motorised scooter and he asked me if it’d be OK to ride it around the place. I thought, well you’re the main event at a sell-out show, you can do what you like. And off he went riding around the arena floor.”
Legend has it that Liam Gallagher went missing, the reason Oasis were late on stage.
Says Louise: “And he was down the road at a chip shop.”
The temptation for staff to ask for a photo with a star or an autograph is easily resisted, says Junior.
“It’s a sackable offence. It’s not the done thing.”
And he’s never been star struck. Well, maybe once.
“Rihanna came in to my office one day. I knew her security guy quite well and I’d said how gorgeous I thought she was. Which she is. And the day she appeared here he said he was going to bring her in to my office. I was like ‘yeah, mate, OK’. Throughout the day he kept saying it. Then in she walked and stood by my desk, ‘hello, how are you?’ It was the first time I’ve been stuck for words which the rest of the lads found amusing.”
The event management office is by the dressing rooms so the team often pass the stars in the corridor.
“Sometimes they’ll talk to you, sometimes they’ll ignore you. Generally they are really good. Rick Parfitt of Status Quo walked about like some average Joe, talking to everyone. He’s a really bubbly geezer.”
He adds: “Not many are diva-ish. I have experienced acts who we’ve been told not to make eye contact with. Not so much here but when I was working at the arena in Manchester.
“And there was one where the staff had to literally turn their backs!”