Interview: Abi Ward, Stage Manager of the Year 2019 | LOUD MagazinePosted on: 12 May 2020
This article was first published in the second edition of LOUD Magazine, 365Bristol's dedicated music publication.
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Making waves behind the scenes: Abi Ward was crowned 2019’s Stage Manager of the Year by Women in Live Music. LOUD Magazine meets with the young Bristolian freelancer to discuss her impressive career so far
Women in Live Music (WILM) is a European platform and online community for women working in live music. Through online discussion, meet-ups and workshops, the organisation aims to connect, educate and inspire women working across the industry; from tour managers to wardrobe assistants. And while WILM nurtures links across Europe (Germany, Finland and Serbia, to name a few), their 2019 Stage Manager of the Year is from Filton, North Bristol. In December, Abi Ward was nominated for three categories in the annual WILM Awards, and secured the 'Stage Manager of the Year' title, as voted for by the general public. When we meet in Hamilton House, Abi tells me she couldn’t quite believe it when she heard of her nominations following a late-night stage management shift: “I emailed asking: 'are you sure you got the right Abi Ward?'"
Well, I can certainly believe it. Abi may only be 25 years old, but she’s been working in the live music industry since she left school, and has been involved with voluntary projects since the age of thirteen. Born and raised in Bristol, Abi attended music sessions at Colston Hall “religiously” throughout her teens, where she learned to play bass. Later on, she began volunteering with the Hall’s youth scheme, New Generation Takeover. A young events group and progression route into the industry, the programme allowed Abi to get hands-on experience of event promotion and management. Finally, at age 18, Abi secured a role with Colston Hall’s Education team.
Image: Dominika Scheibinger
Having spent much of her teens attending gigs, learning from tutors also involved in the Bristol music scene, and later, programming gigs at Colston Hall herself, Abi had started to build a strong understanding of life behind the stage early on. And so, when Abi’s funding started to dry up (initially, she was funded as a BBC Performing Arts Fellow to work with the Bristol Music Trust based at Colston Hall), she took matters into her own hands. Noticing that the concert venue lacked an Artist Liaison, Abi propositioned herself as the perfect candidate: “so, I kind of made a job for myself, and I’m still kind of doing it now,” she chuckles.
Nowadays, when she’s not hanging out at the Mother’s Ruin, DJing with tunes she describes as “guilty pleasures” or dabbling in chef duties, Abi works as a freelance Artist Liaison and Stage Manager. She’s worked on some huge gigs (in January, she acted as the Promoters’ Representative for Bombay Bicycle Club’s sold-out show at SWX), and is a regular staff member at big-name festivals. Glastonbury, Shambala and Green Man - Abi seems to love what she does, and she talks about it with passion. But what does it really involve? What does an Artist Liaison actually do? “I call it a glorified babysitting job,” Abi smiles, “because you’re making sure things run on time; you’re making sure everyone’s happy and content.”
Day to day, Abi’s role involves organising schedules for upcoming gigs, communicating with bands and management, and preparing artist riders. “A few of them ask for drugs in a funny way,” Abi laughs, as we chat about the most ridiculous requests, “the funniest one recently was a band asking for weed - they called it 'jazz cabbage'.” Nice try.
Back to work last night, first gig of the year with the incredible @BombayBicycle for @RoughTrade Bristol at @swxbristol— Abi Ward (@abiwardbristol) January 14, 2020
Bristol audiences are the best and what a cracking first gig of the year. Looking forward to the album on Friday ???????? pic.twitter.com/sgUG3CVJIP
On the whole, Abi’s job sounds incredibly fun, but she explains how her career, like any, has its challenges. “It’s not as rock and roll as people think it is - you have to be professional,” Abi says, as we discuss the job’s unsociable hours and winter work droughts. Taking photos with artists is also “absolutely off the cards.” But lighter gripes aside, Abi admits she also has experienced misogyny on the job. “It has been hard for me as a young woman because when I was first around, tour managers that had been in the game for forty-odd years would take one look at me and say: ‘where’s your manager?’ I’m like: 'dude, I’m here to help you!'”
In better news, Abi says incidents of this kind have been small in number, and thinks things have gotten "a lot better” in the last five years. And day to day, Abi notes communication and interpersonal skills as key when dealing with artists and their management: “It’s about being a people person. And if they’re not really people people, step back.”
“You get to meet people from all walks of life, and I think that’s a really good life lesson. There are so many different people in the world, and you don’t know what problems a person’s having, so it’s just knowing the right kind of way to approach someone.”
Before we part ways (the hour we’ve spent together has flown by), I ask Abi whether she has any advice for aspiring members of the live music industry. As well as being open to having people shadow her on the job, Abi says it’s all about getting “stuck in.” “Go to your local venue and just put the word out there,” she advises. “The worst they could say is no, and if they do, go somewhere else. There’s plenty of venues in Bristol.”
Featured image: Chris Cooper
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