‘I was worried I’d never be able to do my job again’ – pregnancy and parenthood on tour

Bryony October and Jake Vernum share their account of becoming tour parents, the fear of losing freelance work, as well as the unique steps they’ve taken in order to make it work.

Having toured the world for the best part of 25 years as a freelance FOH Engineer and Tour Manager, earning her stripes on the merchandise stand for The Levellers in the ‘90s, Bryony October and her partner, Jake Vernum – also a well-known face to TPi Magazine readers – welcomed their first child, Jesse, into the world last year. The baby was due on October’s 40th birthday. “I left it late because I knew it would be a huge compromise to my work and even considered it to be career suicide, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she began, speaking to TPi’s Jacob Waite 16 months on, having recently wrapped up production rehearsals with Katie Melua and a successful six-week touring campaign with modern country-pop duo, Ward Thomas.

“I was eight weeks pregnant when the world shut down, which afforded us the luxury of time spent at home with the baby. I had never taken time off, touring from the age of 15 without coming up for air my whole life,” October explained, having been booked to work until 27 September, with her baby due weeks later. “If I hadn’t had the downtime, I wouldn’t have been mentally, physically, emotionally prepared. Uniquely, the lockdown set us up in the most amazing way for a baby.”

Vernum, who splits his time production managing for the likes of Fatboy Slim and George Ezra alongside project management gigs at family-run Pearce Hire, was able to spend the first six months of Jesse’s life at home before travelling to Japan to help deliver the power distribution at Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. “The demand in our roles in the sector to meet deadlines is high,” he noted. “We’ve had a very different and fortunate experience as touring parents to be able to spend so much time at home.”

Following the easing of restrictions, October embarked on a handful of production rehearsals and summer shows with Katie Melua and Ward Thomas, respectively. “My 68-year-old mum, who has lived through the ‘golden age’ of Glastonbury, jokingly always said how she would love to come on tour with me, so it seemed natural to ask her along to look after Jesse, at first just for a few festivals both in the UK and Europe and subsequently on a full six week tour, on a tour bus with Ward Thomas headlining and then opening for Tom Jones. On the big tour Jake and my mum took it in turns looking after Jesse,” she recalled. 

“I went from production manager to daddy daycare overnight,” Vernum laughed. “I was on the road with Fatboy Slim, got off the tour bus in London, made it over to Ward Thomas bus, toured with them for five days, hopped off at Aberdeen the night before I had to load into The OVO Hydro, Glasgow with Fatboy Slim. Luckily the stars aligned on that occasion. However, unfortunately for Bryony, there have been times she has had to turn down considerable amounts of work because it won’t work.”

 Although it proved to be an unlikely solution to a problem which plagues most parents in the sector, both October and Vernum believe, touring with your child is wholly reliant on artist’s discretion. 

“We come as a package with mum and baby at the minute, and although it isn’t forever, it’s for the immediate, at no added cost with shared facilities, but because it’s the artist’s environment, it is up to them. Thankfully, Ward Thomas and Katy Melua have been so understanding. It’s important to them, also, as touring women – they want to make sure it’s a welcoming environment.”


“I haven’t put anything on social media about having a child because I was genuinely worried people would stop making the call, and I wanted to be able to get the call to explain how I’m touring at the moment,” October admitted, coyly. “I understand it’s not feasible for most acts, however, sharing this news will be the first big ‘coming out’ to the wider industry.” According to October, if the sector is going to encourage young women to operate in the live events sphere, there needs to be a pathway or vision of being able to have children and return to work.

“Let’s be honest, you’re never going to work full-time again. However, but it’s nice to be able to work for acts that have been loyal for the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a huge financial burden, but I waited until I’m old enough to pick and choose what I wanted to do, which I appreciate is an unusual and healthy situation to be in.”

A wider issue here, October highlighted, is that child care is “so much on the women and lacking in our society, but for women who do nine to five, it is also a nightmare, so what hope do we have?”

It is this frustration that inspired Women In Live Music (WILM) to release Pregnancy and Motherhood in the Live Music Industry, a survey of 317 women aged between 18 and 35+ years old from Europe, the US and Australia, in 2020, which highlights the challenges and unfavourable conditions women in the live events industry face. 

According to the WILM paper, the concept of ‘sacrifice’ has scared many women away from having children, with 21% of survey respondents who do not wish to have children basing their decision on the potential negative implications it may have on their career.

Going forward, October and Vernum have conceded that huge, 18-month-long global pop touring campaigns are out of the question for now. Instead, they now want to work on their own terms. 

“I spent an unhealthy amount of my 20s and 30s saying ‘yes’ to everything and not looking after myself or my needs – to be able to have a monopoly over that decision now is really empowering,” October explained. 

“It’s really difficult for most women in the industry. Roughly, you tour around 200 days a year to make a living as a freelancer so that’s a long time to be away from home, so it’s going to be an ongoing battle for the next 20 years if you decide to have a child. I believe it’s the fundamental issue for women working in the sector and often is a barrier unless you wait later on or have a child early in your career.”

So far, Vernum added, the live entertainment industry has been wholly receptive to the prospect of touring with children. “People certainly need to have an open mind to it, we’ve done it and shown it can work,” Vernum said, adding that crews in general need to be much more “welcoming, inclusive, open minded and friendly” post-pandemic. “We hope there will be more touring parents with similar stories to share five years from now. There must be at least 50 to 60 tours in Europe at any one point, surely, there are more scenarios with other touring parents and role models,” he supposed. 

For October, simply being back at FOH, was a ‘huge mental battle’ she had to overcome post-pregnancy. “I was worried I’d never be able to do my job again, as far as I was concerned, the moment I had a baby, I was potentially giving everything I worked so hard for over the past 25 years,” October conceded. 

“It was a huge mental barrier for me to overcome, so to be able to get back on the road and touring with a baby post-lockdown, mix a show, with my baby with me along for the journey, albeit in a tour bus with his grandma or his dad, was an incredible feeling.”

This article originally appeared in issue #268 of TPi, which you can read here.

Pregnancy and Motherhood in the Live Music Industry is a survey conducted by Women In Live Music (WILM) at the start of 2020.