One particular species of starving artist, now much rarer than they once were, is the Australian touring pub band, particularly prolific in the nineteen seventies. These guys used to play one night stands in the public bars and drinking houses that were once the only live music venues in many Australian towns. Far from being beneficent patrons of the arts, pubs hired live bands because it was good for sales of beer. In some circumstances, for every pint of beer bought for consumption, another was thrown at the band. Double the sales. Genius.
A touring pub band might play in one town on one night and have to be in another town, perhaps hundreds or thousands of miles away, ready to play, the next night. It was a gruelling regime. I used to wonder how those guys stayed so skinny. Today, a friend of mine, once a member of such a touring pub band, revealed the secret seventies rock star diet: one Chiko roll and a multivitamin capsule a day, for six weeks.
For those that aren’t aware of the peculiarly Australian delicacy that is the Chiko roll, it is (according to Wikipedia) “an Australian savoury snack, inspired by the Chinese egg roll and spring rolls. It was designed to be easily eaten on the move without a plate or cutlery. The Chiko roll consists of beef, celery, cabbage, barley, carrot, corn, onion, green beans, and spices in a tube of egg, flour and dough which is then deep-fried.” The meat content, generally of uncertain origin, was usually heartily outweighed by the vegetable content, but it was hard to tell, in my experience.
Wikipedia goes on to elaborate, “The wrap was designed to be unusually thick so it would survive handling at football matches. It was originally nicknamed a “Chinco roll” referring to a racial slur, as it was modelled on an Asian competitor’s Chop Suey Roll, but later renamed to a more politically correct “Chiko Roll”. At the peak of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, forty million Chiko Rolls were sold annually in Australia, and the product has been described as an Australian cultural icon. The Chiko Roll was developed by Frank McEncroe, a boilermaker from Bendigo who turned to catering at football matches and other outdoor events. In 1950, McEncroe saw a competitor selling Chinese chop suey rolls outside Richmond Cricket Ground and decided to add a similar product to his own line. McEncroe felt that the Chinese rolls were too flimsy to be easily handled in an informal outdoor setting, and hit upon the idea of a much larger and more robust roll that would provide a quick meal that was both reasonably substantial and easily handled. The result was the Chiko Roll, which debuted at the Wagga Wagga Agriculture Show in 1951.” Such was the stuff of rock star sustenance.
These poor boys were hungry and broke. When they looked lustily after the adoring girls in their audience, I’m sure it wasn’t thoughts of procreation that were first and foremost in the minds of these otherwise upstanding citizens, it was the possibility that these girls might have had a spare sandwich secreted about their person, or perhaps could rustle up a square meal for them, if asked nicely.
The girls, for their part, always thought that throwing their underwear at the band was the way to grab their idol’s attention. Not so. They would have done better throwing one of those boxed sandwiches that are ubiquitous in service stations in every country, provided it was still edible (assuming they ever are).
If it came to it, throwing knickers might have been appreciated, but only under certain special circumstances. Laundry facilities for touring bands were almost nonexistent, for the most part. Consequently, rock stars had to make do with wearing the same pair of sweaty socks and underpants for several days, if not weeks, running. There was no choice. Even if they found a Laundromat, the time required to wash and dry their smalls was more than they could take out from their busy schedule. Bands had to drive long distances between gigs, in Australia. It was not for the slow. So, if any girl in the audience had had the wit to throw a nice, clean, fresh, new, unopened packet of appropriately sized undies or socks at the band, they would have been showered in post gig attention and gratitude, I’m certain of it.
The stereotype of the average rock star is that their lives are all about “sex and drugs and rock and roll”. In truth, that was only for the want of sandwiches and clean undies and rock and roll. How these poor martyrs suffered for their art!
These days, musicians are a little savvier and consider on-the-road catering, along with all their other touring needs. The catering manager is often even credited in the programme booklet many bands sell to fans on the night. So, the offer of a hot meal is not quite as persuasive as it might have once been. As for the laundry, I don’t know. I guess somebody takes care of it. All I know is that the degradation and decadence of a former era has, regrettably, passed into history. Maybe that’s why touring bands aren’t as thin as they used to be, in the seventies.
No wonder sales of the Chiko roll have fallen away. I wonder how multivitamin sales are doing.