Katie Melua and Bryony October discuss motherhood and touring

Singer-songwriter Katie Melua and FOH Engineer Bryony October discuss how they balance life and motherhood on the road, and share reasons why bringing a child on tour is a realistic option more productions could look into.

“I can’t justify encouraging young women to consider a career in the live music industry without addressing the fact that having a child could effectively end your career,” began Bryony October, FOH Engineer for Ward Thomas and Katie Melua. The latter artist was currently sitting next to October nodding along profusely in the grand setting of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – hours before doors opened to punters keen to hear some of the singer-songwriter’s latest material, along with hits from Nine Million Bicycles and The Closest Thing to Crazy. At a cursory glance, as the crew set about putting the final pieces in place, this tour seemed much like most others. However, a closer look at the bus passenger lists reveals this tour is travelling with two people under the age of three.

For Melua’s latest outing, the singer-songwriter had opted to bring her seven-month old son, Sandro, out on the road with her, taking inspiration from her long-serving FOH Engineer whose young son, Jesse, was also joining the crew on the tour – a decision the two mothers agreed sent a strong message to the wider touring industry.

Long-time readers may remember that October and her partner, Jake Vernum, spoke to TPi almost a year ago about the struggles of being new parents while both still working in the live events industry [see TPi #268]. During that time, October explained how she had brought her son out on the road with her, sometimes with Vernum coming along to handle parental duties and also recruiting her mother to take on childcare duties.

Both during that interview and again when TPi spoke to October in Birmingham, she explained how she felt that having a child was career suicide, as an extended break from the road would mean that clients new and old would simply stop calling.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback since that article last year. People seemed delighted and surprised that this was happening as it was a concept that was seemingly impossible for the crew at least. I feel I’ve given women a bit of hope that having a child doesn’t have to be a career ender,” reported October.

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

“Bryony has been a huge inspiration for me to take the leap into motherhood,” explained Melua. “Admittedly, many of my close friends are either full-time mothers or successful businesswomen who have nannies helping them raise their children. I didn’t know any mothers who toured, so when I saw what Bryony was doing it, it made me feel like I could as well. There really hasn’t been any major differences in terms of logistics on this tour – it just required good communication with the entire team and a choice of which bus to go on.”

The tour featured a family and a crew bus with the crew split between the two. “If any of the band or crew want some peace, they had a choice to go on the other bus, although we have found the family bus is actually a lot quieter,” laughed Melua. “Last summer when Jesse was out with us, we only had one bus, which we kept segregated with Jesse and his carer using the family lounge at the back.”

Short of some logistical bus conversation, October and Melua spoke of various occasions where members of the crew have expressed how pleasant it has been having children on tour. “Duncan on monitors exclaimed to me after a few days how positive it felt to see such smiling faces every day,” stated October.

More importantly, October and Melua described the impact it had on the female crew. “Tamazene who was our support for this run along with Ruby who is doing all our VIP duties and Belinda Best who was covering lighting duties have all said that having Bryony and I bring our children out with us was so inspiring and something they hadn’t thought would have been possible for them,” enthused Melua.

However, despite the positive impact their presence had on the camp, Melua did divulge that she’s had some backlash online.

“The other day someone messaged me on Instagram saying that ‘not having a routine is bad for children and they should always be with their mother’.” October added: “I think it’s amazing that our children will grow up getting to see their mothers work and do what they’re most passionate about.

“For me to keep my 25-plus-year career going rather than just being sat at home with him means everything to me – especially my mental health. Neither Katie nor I would be comfortable leaving our children at home for a six-week tour; it’s far too long to leave them and we are both breastfeeding.”

Melua disclosed how having her son on tour had been such a grounding experience for her as a performer. “I think being a mother on the road has meant that I bring a better version of myself to my work,” she stated. “For example, if I was a bit nervous before a show, I would feed my son and it would just ground me – the gig was not as important as this human life and it put everything in perspective.”

It was interesting to witness first-hand how a touring family could so easily welcome two youngsters on the road. It’s not unusual for a large stadium or arena band to sometimes have family rooms for visiting children of artists, but to have a two-bus theatre tour with infants on board which didn’t negatively affect and often enhanced the day-to-day atmosphere of the tour was quite remarkable.

It begs the question of why this has not happened much before. However, as October pointed out before we parted ways: “If this industry really wants to be more diverse, then some tough questions must be answered – namely, how a woman’s touring career does not come to an abrupt end if she decides to have a child.”

This article originally appeared in issue #276 of TPi, which you can read here.

Words: Stew Hume

Photos: TPi and Ruby Gaunt