Why Laura McClure of Sheffield band Reverend and the Makers has opened up about life as a ‘mum on tour’
One freezing January night nearly five years ago, Laura McClure found herself back onstage with her husband Jon and their band Reverend and The Makers just two months after giving birth to the couple's first son.
"I probably shouldn't have done that," says the Sheffield group's keyboard player, remembering the gig on the other side of the Pennines in 2015.
"I breastfed so I found it awful being away from him. I was absolutely terrified of getting stuck in Manchester. They soundchecked without me, and then I just went down later on and came back straight after. I was probably only gone for three hours but it felt like forever."
The experience, Laura thinks, highlights the predicament faced by mothers who aren't entitled to statutory time off.
"When you don't have a normal job as a mum - whether that's because you're self-employed or whatever - there's no set maternity leave," she says. "You don't know what's right and what's not, you just have to go with what you feel."
Laura and Jon have since made things work, finding a way to balance running a touring band with being parents to two boys now aged four and two. It's a lifestyle she is documenting in a new blog called Mum On Tour that has been very well received on social media.
"I'm really chuffed," she says. "I hoped it would resonate with women but I'm really surprised men have responded to it too. Even though I have a relatively unusual job I think there's a lot of things people can relate to."
Laura, 35, has been married for 10 years to Jon, whose nickname ‘Reverend’ inspired their band's name. As well as the keyboards she plays the trumpet, sings and also acts as tour manager by arranging transport and liaising with venues.
Childcare, she writes on her blog, is a 'minefield', only made easier by the fact both sets of the boys' grandparents are willing and able to step in. Reverend and The Makers are currently touring to promote a Best Of album - beforehand she wrote out a full sketch of a two-month itinerary, and discussed it with the family to make sure the arrangements would work.
There is a mixed history of musician couples juggling parenthood and gigging in the world of pop and rock. Paul and Linda McCartney successfully travelled with their children while on tour, but the difficulty of maintaining such a tricky balancing act was a factor in the end of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's group Everything But The Girl.
Laura laughs at the thought when asked if she ever considered taking the boys out on the road.
"You're getting into the world of having to take a nanny along, because there's going to be at least an hour and a half in the day when we're both unavailable on stage," she says. "What do you do with the children then? If the gig starts at 9pm, they should have been in bed for two-and-a-half hours by that time. We'd have to organise parents to come along with us, extra hotel rooms... it would be a nightmare."
Her duties require her to work throughout the day, she points out. "Because I tour manage it as well, I'm not just turning up for the gig. It's just not fair on them. People think it's really glamorous and fun, the behind-the-scenes stuff with music, and it's really not. It's boring – waiting around in cold, dark venues. It's not the place to be bringing your kids. They really need the stability of being at home."
She adds: "Our drummer Ryan's wife, Charlotte, is bass player in The Subways, so they have to be super on it with their calendars. Subways do a lot of gigs in Europe so they obviously have that added time of having to get to a gig – the majority of ours are in the UK."
Laura gets anxious before leaving her sons, for fear they will see themselves as being 'shipped off while mummy and daddy work', but at the same time she admits enjoying spending her days purely as a musician from time to time, and wrestles with feelings of guilt.
"It's a really hard juxtaposition for all parents – I don't think this is job-specific," says Laura, who has previously worked for Yorkshire Water and a young people's charity in Wakefield.
"Every single parent has wrestled with that thing of 'Am I doing everything for my kids and leaving nothing for myself?' It's becoming less taboo now. I would lay down my life for my children, but in the same way, it's really nice having five minutes off and being able to just think about myself rather than constantly thinking about where somebody else is, have they eaten enough or been to the loo.
“It's quite nice when you can hand over the reins for a day. Although saying that, when we're on tour I have to think of seven other people, so it's kind of like giving up one parenting job for another. It's swings and roundabouts with every job. I'm incredibly lucky that I get huge blocks of time when I don't need to be working and I can just be there for the boys."
Jon and Laura have been constant members of Reverend and The Makers alongside guitarist Ed Cosens. The plan was always to return to touring after having children, but they have had to think carefully about the size of their family.
"I think we always knew after we had our second that we couldn't really have any more," says Laura. "I think if it ever got to the stage where it was three, I think that would be tricky because we can just about hold it together."
In recent years there has been an avalanche of memoirs written by female musicians, from Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde to Viv Albertine from The Slits and Blondie's Debbie Harry. Laura says this demonstrates women are 'finding their voice'.
"The #MeToo movement has really helped, but in general it's about making sure women feel their opinions are valid and people want to hear them. I have a feeling I'm from that generation of 'put up and shut up' - you just get on with things. Actually it's really helpful to talk about how you make things work and not suffer in silence. As soon as you know you're not on your own you feel better. Even if you are going through a really tough time with parenting or post-natal depression or just generally having a rubbish time, if you know other people experience it too you realise you're not mad."
Friends have suggested Laura should launch a podcast or start writing a book but that wasn't the initial plan.
"I didn't start it up thinking 'Right, here's the beginning of my empire'. I just wanted to share my experiences. I don't have too many expectations - also I just don't have the time, there's so much going on. Part of me thought 'What am I doing, adding another thing to do', but actually it writes itself. I'm open to whatever it might bring."
See www.mumontour.co.uk to read Laura's blog.