profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 69 in a continuing series
Lee Charteris, the ebullient figurehead of StageAccess.com, the entertainment industry information resource site, recalls the defining moment when he decided to call time on a 20-year rock'n'roll touring career and head for the dizzying heights of dotcommery. "It was 1987," he begins. "I had just finished a punishing world tour with Depeche Mode and I made a conscious decision never to get on a tour bus again. But for the past five years I'd had this idea spinning around in my head about setting up an industry internet resource."
His tour bus years had begun when he took a flight to New York back in 1979, then epicentre of much that was cool in rock'n'roll. Having survived the punk years as a backline roadie, Lee worked his way through a number of UK synth bands in the mid 1980s, learning the ropes at the sharp end.
In 1983, disillusioned after the end of a Duran Duran tour, he took a six-month breather to set up a ceramics business in west London - which he owned for 10 years and is still doing good business to this day - eventually moving into tour production management in the late 1980s with international acts including Lennie Kravitz, INXS, The Cure and Peter Gabriel.
"In my time in the touring industry it's gone from chucking boxes in the back of a van to the beancounter business that it is now," he reflects. "Some changes have been for the good but others definitely have not, I would say."
Having finally hung up his touring boots he set to work on concrete ideas for the website he had long dreamed of, and after a chance meeting with longtime friends Tim Clarke and David Enthoven, founders of IE Music, Robbie Williams' management company, the concept - and backing - for StageAccess.com became a reality. The new company set up camp at IE Music's Tardis-like offices behind the anonymous façade of a small garage in Shepherd's Bush, west London, and Lee's vast experience on the road was soon at work assisting with touring logistics for IE's roster of artists and projects.
"I'd travelled the world," continues Lee, "using a flightcase full of print directories and pulling off dodgy faxes in the middle of nowhere, because like everyone else on the road I'd just worked with the communications that were commonly available to us back then. But with the advent of the internet I believed there was a better way of sharing the kind of information you need to run a successful tour. Plus I was a compulsive hoarder of venues specs, to which I'd dedicated a whole room of my house in Shepherd's Bush, and people would call me up on the off-chance that I'd have some 10-year-old fax from a remote venue in Japan on file - and I usually did!
"So this convinced me that it would be a good idea to get all this information on line. I know it amounts to a completely new way of storing, retrieving and sharing a huge body of information, but I'm totally determined to provide this resource. I also realise that, by the same token, there is a massive educational process involved in convincing people that this is the way forward, but the response so far has been fantastic and I think most people see it for the valuable idea that it is."
With a large network of friends and former touring colleagues scattered around the world, the word has spread fast, and this summer Lee and cohort Helen Baker hit the festival circuit with backstage appeances at events from Party In The Park to V2003.
As the site's community of members grows and the team's outreach around the world expands, growth in American membership in particular has accelerated. "Well, it's truly a worldwide thing," says Lee. "We've got people from 75 countries on there already. The ideal is that it'll be the one place where you can go and find mandolin strings in the middle of the night."
Nor is the site limited to rock'n'roll, despite the fact that live music gave birth to StageAccess.com. "Our primary focus was the live entertainment industry because that's what we all know and love, but in truth the site, simply because of the enormous variety of people and companies who have registered on it, covers all aspects of entertainment including theatre and TV."
The latest addition to the site, as premiered on Robbie's barnstorming European summer tour, is the new TeamsTool facility, a means of using StageAccess.com to broadcast email or SMS messages to pre-defined groups of people on a tour (truck drivers, say, or the lighting crew). "It's all about making life on the road simpler, less hassle and more efficient," grins Lee. "Believe me, I know myself how much difference that could make to people's lives out there."
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