25 push-ups in a budget motel: a brief ramble on the benefits of touring solo

Words by Sean McMahon

Once I was told a story about a band my friend was playing in.

They were up in Brisbane playing in a bar, approaching the end of a long set. The singer just kept on calling out song after song until the drummer and bass player decided that’s it – they were out. The guitarist leaned over to the singer and said “what the hell’s going on?”

“Well, as long as we keep playing, I don’t have to deal with the fact no one has anywhere to stay tonight.”

sean mcmahon spring touring solo

Apart from avoiding the logistical tapestry of working with a budget that’s never enough, there are other benefits to playing and touring solo.

Freeing yourself up from the trappings of a well-planned tour itinerary is definitely a lifestyle choice, and one that’s probably not as appealing to the other musicians around you. But where some see that uncertainty as fuel for raging anxiety, others see simply freedom and opportunity.

Right now I’m writing from a lovely little seaside holiday unit that will set me back a bottle of shiraz and a CD that was arranged a few days ago when the bass player from the band I was supporting overheard the conversation I was having with the bartender at soundcheck – about where to stay between Sydney and Newcastle.

I got lucky! I arrived here at 5am yesterday morning after three hours of sobering sleep in the back of the car, semi-rejuvenated from an afternoon of bar hopping with new and old friends and seeing Bob Dylan at the Enmore Theatre. I made a last minute decision to put the feelers out for tickets as I had the night off… I got lucky again.

Apart from avoiding the logistical tapestry that is booking flights, hotels, gear loaning and hiring, while working with a budget of never enough, there are other benefits too, to touring and playing solo.

Let’s start with setup time… in some cases this can be narrowed down to five minutes. That’s not going to work for everyone, that just works for me because I have this beautiful old guitar that’s just right for what I do, I know it well and know how to make it work, and I go minimal. If I seem to be coming across as lazy, don’t worry, I’ve done my homework.

Then of course pack down… well you can imagine. If there’s another band playing after you they love this, and so do sound engineers. You make friends easily.

This kind of efficiency frees up precious time for extracurricular activities like bushwalking, birdwatching, an hour at the rifle range, whatever you’re into.

Next, set lists. Who needs them? I have my favourites to kick off with, to get comfortable with, but from then on it’s all about what feels right at the time. I generally rely on some kind of verbal segue, or the topic of the song to tie into the next. I think it helps me engage with the audience and keeps me present and on my toes. And it’s not just song selection, you can play them however you want on any given night. Tonight I could be strumming it out with a galloping right hand, tomorrow night it could be a waltz, depending on the, dare I say it, ‘vibe’.

Having said that, I’m finding my favourite ways to play these tunes and to get them across. That’s the most important thing to me. I just want to get out and play these songs and hopefully make you feel something. There’s something in being there alone with just the song, the guitar, the harmonica and your voice that’s so immediate. There’s no filter. You just put your all into that moment to express the songs the way they want to be.

As you could imagine I could go on, but let’s keep it short and sweet. I think you’re getting the gist. Now I wouldn’t go recommending this kind of thing to someone who can’t stand their own company, there’s inevitably going to be a little loneliness… put it in a song.


Sean McMahon’s new single Spring is out now. Be sure to catch him on his east coast solo tour – dates below:

Wed 22 August – Coal and Cedar, Newcastle
Thurs 23 August – The Junkyard, Maitland
Fri 24 August – Flow Bar, Old Bar
Sun 26 August – Lennox Sessions, Lennox Head
Wed 29 August – The Rails, Byron Bay
Thurs 30 August – The Green Owl, Brisbane
Fri 31 August – Nimbin Bush Theatre, Nimbin
Sun 2 September – The Bellingen Brewery & Co, Bellingen

Grab all the details here.