Back from the Tour
After a whirlwind four-week North American tour featuring sold-out shows and rave reviews, Gang of Four drummer and Assistant Professor of Experiential Learning Hugo Burnham is back at Endicott. We caught up with Burnham to hear how he’s settling back in and what’s next for the seminal band.
It’s been a while since you were on the road for this long. How are you feeling now that it’s all over?
The last time was in 2006 when we did an on and off reunion tour for about 18 months. It was quite intense at the time, not least getting used to working together again after so many years. The college I taught at back then granted me a sabbatical, which made the main tour much easier to be part of. But that was over 15 years ago, and there was no pandemic. Overall, we were very fortunate for this tour. A lot of bands currently on the road have had shows or even tours canceled because somebody came down with COVID. Fortunately, none of us got it, despite there being seven and then ten of us traveling together on the bus to a different place every night. Close quarters! But all the venues required either a negative test from the past 24 hours or proof of vaccination. We also had an air purifier on the bus and made sure no one outside of the touring party was allowed on. There were a lot of other things to contend with though, including the tour bus catching fire in Buffalo, which meant we couldn’t get into Toronto for a sold-out show. That was seriously disappointing, let alone a blow to our finances. And at the end, the bus driver just disappeared (with the bus!) two days before the end of the tour. But you know, we’re pirates. We made it work and carried on. After the last show in Portland, Ore., I spent my birthday in an airport hotel room, waiting for a late evening flight home. The glamour of touring life! It took me a couple of days to get my land legs back and get used to sleeping on a bed that wasn’t moving at night, but it is good to be home and back on campus.
What were some of your favorite cities or venues to play?
We were talking about that the other day. For me, the hometown crowd in Boston was great. The room was absolutely packed to capacity, and it was the first night that my daughter Ts (Tess) was singing backing vocals with us, so that was a really notable show. Another was the next day in New York at this venue called Brooklyn Made. Los Angeles was fun because people there can be so cynical and jaded, but a lot of those jaded cynics were jumping up and down, screaming the songs back at us that night. Overall, the crowds were great everywhere. We sold out around 75–80% of the shows and the remainder were at over 80% capacity.
We loved seeing people of all ages come out as well. In Houston, at the front, there was a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 14 and she had this sort of excitement about her, leaping up and down, and just knew the songs. When the show was over, I went into the audience and I saw her and her dad leaving. So, I caught up with them to say hello and I just said, ‘You made the show wonderful, because Sarah [Lee, bassist] and I both clicked eyes with you, and we’re watching you and we loved to see you so excited and dancing.’ Sara had given her one of her bass guitar picks, and she had bought a record, so I signed it for her. Her dad was just beaming. A great moment among so many others.
What was it like working with Endicott students while on the road?
In the spring semester, some internship faculty teach a class or two, but the bulk of our work is advising. When I’m here on campus, I encourage them to come in to meet, but for the tour I let everybody know that we could meet remotely or that I’d respond to emails within 24 hours. My colleagues in the other schools also offered them support, which was lovely, given how busy we all are. A lot of advising is already done on Zoom, so it was seamless. I was able to do class grading and send out my annoying weekly Canvas announcements quite easily from the bus. It is markedly a lot busier now that Spring Break is over, and students suddenly realize they have only a few weeks to find and secure summer internships. I refrain from saying, ‘Told you so!’
Any plans for more shows or music?
Summer is predominantly for festivals all over the US and Europe. Those are great fun and quite rewarding. You don’t have all the stress of being the headlining act, doing sound checks, and all that. You turn up, the equipment is there, you play, you leave. But of course, there’s a lot of COVID backlog this summer so there’s no room for us. Next summer, we’ll be doing more festivals and short runs. Before then, there’s a possibility of some shows in the UK. Hopefully, Japan and Australia in the future, too. All of it working around our main lives and jobs.
We’ve been very fortunate with all the social media attention and reviews, and this lineup is on fire, so we’re working together on doing some other old songs a little differently and adding them to the canon. And we’re starting to write some new music. Maybe the world isn’t breathlessly waiting for new Gang of Four songs, but we’ll do it for ourselves, because if creatives aren’t creating, they’re static. It’s a solid part of the message that faculty emphasize with our students. Keep working, keep exploring, keep making your art.
Any advice for students who want to pursue the arts?
Last Friday I went to the Beverly High School career fair where I met with a group of students who were all interested in communications, art, music, etc. They all said they wanted to get into entertainment, but I said they shouldn’t go into it to make a living right away. Don’t be afraid to make art because you’re not making money out of the gate. Do anything you don’t hate to earn money to live, so that you can make art on your own terms. You must be stimulated by what you do creatively and emotionally, because the potential for making money is there if people discover and love your art—but there are no guarantees. Study, work, create, understand the business of making and selling art, and prepare.
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