Life as a tour courier

Aug 07, 2017


Having recently accompanied a music ensemble to Germany’s beautiful Rhineland region, we seized the opportunity to find out from long-standing tour guide, Roy Varney, about the role of concert tour courier. 

For several years I have acted as a tour courier, accompanying music groups on coach and occasionally flight tours, mainly to destinations in Germany and Austria, but also to Belgium and The Netherlands. Most of my tours are with school groups or county music ensembles, with youngsters who are keen to take part and perform well, and who show a lively interest in the trips and excursions which, together with the actual concerts themselves, make up a concert tour. I was once told that ‘kids who are committed to music are good kids’, and it has been my happy experience to see the truth of that time and again.

Much is in the pre-tour planning

So what is my role as a tour courier, and what goes into it? You could sum it up as assisting the group leader in ensuring the smooth running of the tour. To achieve that, much is in the pre-tour planning.

For me, a tour begins when I receive a draft itinerary from Rayburn Tours, usually some months in advance. If the group is new to me, I always like to have a look at the school or group website, to get an impression of their musical activities, their experience, musical standard, and an idea of their repertoire.

I also take a look at the routes and timings, the hotel website, and the events lists on local tourist websites to see if the concerts are there. Similarly with excursions, it’s useful to have some background information about what is on offer, especially where the proposed excursions may be optional.

Just before the tour, a meeting at Rayburn Tours helps to finalise everything, and clear up any loose ends. In effect, before the tour, I need to know where I’m taking the group, how to get them there, and what we’re doing when we arrive; there is nothing more apt for a tour courier, than the scout motto ‘be prepared’; it is an essential prerequisite for that ‘smooth-running tour’.

The tour itself

So to the tour itself; a coach tour often starts around midnight, with the practicalities of loading the coach and checking passenger numbers. I try not to be too intrusive at this point, the party leader already has plenty on their mind! If anything, my main task is reassurance – yes, it is OK for your lead clarinettist to pop back home and get their actual clarinet, yes we will have a comfort break before Dover, yes I really can speak German, and yes, I do know where we’re going!

Waiting for the ferry at Dover is usually the first chance for my introduction to the group, and for a ‘getting to know you’ chat with the group leader and other staff, and the coach drivers.

A typical tour day

During the tour itself, it’s usually all go from morning to night. A typical tour day might start with me talking to the hotelier, such as on behalf of the girl who had worriedly told me that ‘she’d lost her pyjama bottoms in the night and now couldn’t find them’, and the boy who said, ‘the hand basin has come off the wall in our room – all I did was sit on it’.

Then we’ll be heading off for the day’s events. There may be a morning excursion such as a Rhine cruise, and I’ll pick up the tickets at the landing stage, and make sure everyone knows at which of the several stops we’re due to leave the ship. During the cruise I’ll call ahead to the concert venue, to confirm our time of arrival for our afternoon concert.

At the venue itself we arrange the changing rooms, the stage set up, the power supply – oh, you’ve lost the continental adaptor? I have one in my bag – your flautist has left his flute on the coach and his black shoes at the hotel? A quick call to our obliging coach driver, who brings the flute, but your flautist will have to play in his black socks, less obvious than his white trainers. What? The second trombone can’t find her black trousers? I notice that our obliging coach driver is wearing black trousers. He tucks himself away at the back of the coach in his underpants, she wears the trousers. Do you have an encore prepared? German audiences expect one. Some groups ask me to announce the items in German, so that needs some quick thinking.

With the concert successfully over, it’s back to the hotel for our evening meal, perhaps followed by an evening activity such as bowling. Finally, at the end of the day, a quick run through the programme for tomorrow with the group leader and coach drivers.

Highlights and delights

The highlight of a tour is of course the concerts themselves, and many of them have been a true delight. I have learnt a lot about repertoire, such as sacred choral works, that I’m not familiar with; I have been touched by the enthusiasm young performers show; I have been moved by a vocal ensemble’s soaring voices in the cathedral-like Menin Gate, along with up to 2000 spectators, listening in reverential silence; I’ve been invited to play along at impromptu concerts on hotel terraces.

In other activities, I’ve been down salt-mines and summer toboggan runs, up cable cars and round German castles, not to mention numerous theme parks. Perhaps scariest of all was having to judge the end of tour talent show and announce the winners – not something for the faint-hearted!

All this has made working as a concert tour courier a very busy, but rewarding experience, one that I hope to continue with for years to come.

– Roy Varney, Concert Tour Courier for Rayburn Tours