Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Interview with drummer Andy Robertson and gluten-free life on the road

Recently, I had the chance to speak with British drummer Andy Roberston and talk about how he manages touring and the rock ‘n roll lifestyle being gluten-free. Andy has been in the music business for 20 years and has performed with such acts as Roachford, Jocelyn Brown, Hamish Stewart, Jim Mullen, Siobhan Donaghy, Alexander O'Neil, Morcheeba and Jackdaw4, who is releasing their new album, The Eternal Struggle for Justice, next week.

When were you first diagnosed with celiac and what was your reaction to the news?

About 10 years ago. I have not been formally diagnosed as celiac but through a process of elimination discovered that I was definitely allergic to gluten. I did research into what gluten allergies were and what I could and couldn't eat as a result.

Drumming is a very physical job; did you notice a difference in your performance before and after you were diagnosed?
I noticed an instant improvement in energy and stamina after cutting out gluten from my diet. Before, I would eat a big bowl of pasta and go off to a gig and nearly be asleep by the time I got to the end of the road, pasta as energy food had the opposite effect for me.

Have you turned your home and kitchen into a gluten free zone? If so, how does your family cope with it?
The kitchen is pretty much a gluten-free zone, my wife sometimes has normal bread when I'm away, but she's been really cool about eating gluten-free bread and our diet being gluten-free so not having to cook two different meals everyday. My parents are really cool with it and my mom gets gluten-free bread when we go to visit and does gluten-free meals for me. My mom has always been very switched on when it came to food and diet so she helped me, I was allergic to dairy as a kid so had to have goat’s milk.

How do you manage your diet when touring in foreign countries, what countries have you had the most success eating gluten-free?
Touring can be a hassle especially when you're in the middle of America at a truck stop and the only option I can eat is fries, the salads are not worth bothering with, and the coleslaw is usually pretty bad and probably has flour in it. If I'm capital/major cities I'm ok, it's more provincial places where I struggle.
The band I play with are really cool with my diet, the tour manager always lets catering know I can't eat wheat and every country we've been to has had some sort of alternative. I was in Italy last month and you'd think they would be the worst but they had a great selection and even cooked stuff just for me.
Spain is great for gluten-free food, Hungary is also good and Japan and China, anywhere really that has lots of rice dishes.
If we eat out the band always makes sure we go somewhere I can get a good feed. If we take ourselves out for food we always have a good wander around first so that everyone is happy.
The tour manager always makes sure the rider contains plenty of extra fruit, rarely is there nothing for me to eat.

Do you feel that the caterers on tour are well aware of a gluten-free diet, and how to avoid cross-contamination?
I don’t think caterers are aware of cross contamination, as we do have to explain, a lot, what we mean by gluten-free food. They are getting much better. I still do sometimes get the feeling that caterers think I’m being a showbiz diet ponce.

What are some go-to snacks that you carry with you when on tour?
I travel with loads of natural bars and peanuts, the biggest problem for me is flying. The options for gluten-free can be terrible, and if the agent hasn't informed the airline it's back to the snacks, but then sometimes I'm really not missing much!!

Have you toured or worked with other gluten-free people in the music business?
I've just started playing with a bass player who is gluten free, and his wife, the singer, is dairy-free, I worked with Dannii Minogue for a while, she is gluten-free but not celiac. I do get a lot of people say they think they're allergic but don't do anything about it.

What is the most interesting reaction you get when you tell people you can't eat gluten?
The most common funny reaction is, can I eat rice and potato, when I say yes they sometimes say ‘are you sure?’

Andy is currently touring through Europe with Morcheeba, before they come to the US for a few shows at the end of July.

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