FOR most of us, heading out on the road with a successful band is the stuff of dreams.

Going on tour is just an endless succession of glamorous locations, free drinks, wild parties, fans, groupies, debauchery and throwing televisions out of windows...

Only it isn’t. Or, at least, not all the time.

Ask any touring musician and they’ll regale you with tales of gruelling schedules, delayed flights, junk food, grotty dressing rooms, numbingly-long rides on cramped tour buses and homesickness.

If anyone knows about life on the road it’s drummer Mike Monaghan.

The charismatic Carterton lad has drummed for scores of bands and artists including local heroes Gaz Coombes, Willie J Healey,The Young Knives, Little Fish and Candy Says, and for Emiliana Torrini, Ralfe Band, Fionn Regan, Luke Haines, Co-Pilgrim and Danny & The Champions of the World.

But it has been his time on tour with indie-electronic band Saint Etienne which has inspired his latest project.

Acquiring a 40 year-old 35mm Pentax camera, Mike documented the band’s 2017 world tour.

His gritty black and white pictures paint a realistic picture of a life in motion – a swirl of planes, buses, packed venues, bursts of energetic excitement and quiet exhaustion – with pictures snapped throughout a hectic period of touring which took them from California to Finland.

A selection of Mike’s prints have gone on show, appropriately, in Oxford’s independent record shop Truck Store, in Cowley Road.

Called Forward Motion, the exhibition and accompanying book offer a percussionist's view of the reality of living in transit.

“As a drummer I deal in time – propelling a song, maintaining the tempo, ensuring that the band get to a certain place at a certain time,” says Mike.

“Beats per minute are our bread and butter; time is our currency; it’s what we know and what we condition ourselves to understand.

“It was this heightened sensitivity and awareness that had built up from playing the drums for so long – plus a hint of looming middle-age – that propelled me to start recording, at first with a pen, and soon after with a camera.”

His View from the Drum Stool blogs are beautifully written, hilariously witty and very honest – giving a straightforward, often unglamorous, view of life as a jobbing musician – somewhere between Almost Famous and Spinal Tap. They are illustrated with snapshots of foreign skylines, hip venues, chocolate bars with amusing names, and drumkits – lots of drumkits.

“I’ve long been enamoured by travel, the journey, and especially the story of musicians on tour,” says Mike. “More than anything else it’s been my time on the road with the bands that I play with that I’ve documented most comprehensively.

“There are few experiences comparable to going on tour. Under what other circumstances might one spend 10 nights in 10 different cities?

“The pace is unrelenting – often for economic reasons – and there’s always another place to go, a plane to catch, a lobby call or a soundcheck.”

His pictures capture that rush; a whirl of motion. His choice of film camera lends honesty to the project. A modestly priced digital camera or even his phone would have delivered sharper, perfectly exposed images with hundreds of frames to chose from, but they would also have looked like everybody’s Instagram or twitter feed; filtered holiday snaps.

By eschewing technology his compositions have the integrity of vintage photo-journalism; dispatches from the musical frontline.

“Fleeting glimpses from vans, on aeroplanes, and inside hotel rooms are captured on 35mm film as they were experienced,” says Mike.

“The pictures not only provide a unique insight into the band but highlight the sense of momentum that is encountered during such intensive periods of travel and performing.

“From the moment of departure there is an unending momentum, an energy and forward motion; it’s a strange thing when it ends. It’s exciting to visit so many different places although as never more than a fleeting observer, passing through, catching glimpses of other people’s lives and their ways of living.”

And at the heart of it all is the band.

Formed in 1990 by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, and borrowing their name from a French football club, Saint Etienne pioneered a sophisticated brand of dance-pop, recruiting singer Sarah Cracknell – who lives just outside Oxford – after her contribution to the dreamy Nothing Can Stop Us Now.

Taking their cue from 60s pop and soul, 70s rock and 80s dance music, they went on to release dance-pop classic Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and hits You’re in a Bad Way, Join Our Club, He’s on the Phone (based on French singer Etienne Daho’s Week-end à Rome), I Was Born On Christmas Day (alongside The Charlatan’s Tim Burgess), and 7 Ways to Love (released under the moniker Cola Boy).

After a series of high-profile collaborations, they moved more heavily into intelligent electronica and film, culminating in 2012’s critically acclaimed synth-pop masterpiece Words and Music by Saint Etienne.

Mike joined the band to tour their ninth album Home Counties. He was joined by fellow Oxonians, brothers Robin and Joe Bennett, of the band The Dreaming Spires – founders of the county’s Truck and Wood festivals.

“I was thrilled to be asked to play drums for Saint Etienne having long been a fan,” says Mike.

“We started touring in late spring with a loop of the UK, followed by American and European tours, not to mention festivals [including Oxford’s Common People] and other various promotional engagements before a final few dates before Christmas.

“I kept my Pentax by my side the whole time. Touring with a camera is a great counter, a satisfying way to keep the chakra grounded. When I’m playing drums I’m listening intensely but when I’m taking photos I’m looking intensely and the activities coexist well together.

"Indeed intensive periods on the road have long been the most prolific picture-taking periods for me.

“The photos were all taken with a 50mm lens, said to bear the closest resemblance to the way the human eye sees, and every image is something I saw; a screenshot from my retina.

"On the beach at Asbury Park, driving through Boston, walking in Barcelona – the photos are all products of opportunity. No shot was scheduled or pose planned; they were just fleeting glimpses of fleeting moments, scenes recorded the way they fell on my eye.”

“No medium is more effective at recording such experiences than photographic film. There is much written about analogue photography versus modern methods but I simply felt that I could capture something in 35mm that I couldn’t on my phone or with a digital device. The limitations are what provide the reward: every shot must be composed and considered and every snap of the shutter worthy of the cost.

"The cocktail of chemicals and additives, timings, agitations, strict intervals and trays of chemicals required to develop the film and create darkroom prints makes for a complex undertaking but the thrill of first glimpsing a developed roll or witnessing an image emerge under hazy darkroom red-light make the extra effort worthwhile.

"These pictures are a record, a way that I found to capture those fleeting experiences on the road.

"Because a photo is a way of foiling time; a way to prolong and savour those experiences and encounters, a way to take them with you.

“Each image is a sentence in a story, an act in a rapidly paced play about people and places, about a journey and a time, and about myself too.”

  • See Mike Monaghan’s Forward Motion at Truck Store, Cowley Road, Oxford, until March 16. The shop also stocks limited edition copies of Mike's book.