It’s funny how one phone conversation can go on to change your life forever. That happened in 2010 when Simon Peter Green took a call from a man with a New York accent. The former firefighter turned production manager and event producer was speaking to Divine, manager of the Wu-Tang Clan. He was looking for a strong tour manager who could ‘hold this band down on the road’. Simon without question agrees and went on to travel the world with the group.
After 8 years Simon stepped back to focus on following his dream of becoming a photographer. But after heading to London in May 2019 to see the Wu-Tang Clan embark on their 36 Chambers 25th Anniversary tour at Wembley another chat with Divine led to Simon being asked to come on another tour, this time taking photos and traveling across Europe with unprecedented access to the biggest group in the history of hip hop.
The images that emerged out of his time with the group give a rare backstage view of life on the road with the Wu-Tang boys. With an exhibition currently drawing in the crowds in Coventry, we caught up with Simon to talk about his experiences on tour, what it’s like being a part of the Wu-Tang family and the lessons he’s learned from these Gods of Rap.
TM: Tell us about how you came to be the tour manager for the Wu-Tang Clan?
SPG: In about 2010 I had a call from their manager Divine. At the time I was quite a successful production manager doing things like Glastonbury and events in Trafalgar Square. I was mates with Ty, he’s a legendary British rapper, we had a chat where he told me he was taking a band out to do some shows in Europe and asked if I wanted to come and be the tour manager. He said there wasn’t any money, but I’d have paid to see the band he was taking out anyway, so I said let’s do it and off I went.
I did what I could, having never properly done the job before, the main difference being that you’re with the artists. So we came back and Ty told me I was the best tour manager he’d worked with, which I thought was nice as I was still working things out. Sure enough a month later he called me back and told me he had six shows in Switzerland so off we went again. And that’s how I drifted into tour management.
When I got the Wu-Tang job it was a great thing, because everyone said if you can hold the Wu-Tang down you can do anything. That’s the perception in the industry. So the promoters were loving me, as suddenly they had someone they could rely on. I got the band in every time, whatever happens, they go on stage. Word went round. And that’s how they got onto Gods of Rap in a way.
TM: Did you ever find them difficult to work with?
SPG: No, not at all. My position is, I’m working for Divine, he’s my boss, and I’m working for the band. The individual things that happen are down to the band and the manager. I think some tour managers mess up because they try and be too friendly with the band and sometimes think of themselves as an artist. I always kept clear professional boundaries about what my role was.
And the Wu-Tang loved me as they knew I was just trying to do my job. They know I’m trying to get them on stage as best I can, so they’d better back me, cause that way we get the fee. I’m out there to get the money and so are the artists. It’s the thing we all share in common. And if there’s a problem no one is going to get paid.
TM: Were you traveling with them day-to-day?
SPG: Yes, I started on the Wu-Tang Clan tour of Europe first off, that was about 12 shows. Then I went on to become their tour manager for the world stuff. Part of the family you know. The same happened with Pusha T. He asked me to tour manage him. That started with six shows off the back of being Wu-Tang’s tour manager.
Pusha’s a massive Wu-Tang fan and he knows the guys, and he’s like. “If he can hold this shit down, he’s going to be a dream for us”. So I did six shows for him and he said I was the best tour manager he’s ever had as well. So he asked me to do Europe and Asia. Then after that, I went onto the world tour.
TM: You must have some funny tour stories from hanging out with the Wu-Tang?
SPG: Well I have (laughs). Look, when I first started it took a lot of time to win the trust of the guys. Part of the reason I’m still in these environments is I can be trusted. That’s a massive thing. So at the beginning with Wu-Tang people would give me tests around my trust. I didn’t know at the time.
Like GZA, he was the last one to trust me. One day he admitted it on the tour bus, he said, “Simon, I’ve decided you’re a good guy and it’s great to have you in the team. The trouble is when you leave you’re going to write a book. They all do that.” I was like, “GZA, don’t worry, I’m never going to write a book about you”. So I’m trying to say in a diplomatic way, I’ve got stories, but I’d rather not tell them, just know that Wu-Tang are professional on the road.
They taught me so much hanging around with them. It was like going to university.
TM: Are they party guys? They all seem like intelligent blokes, like RZA, who’s super smart…
SPG: RZA’s context within the band… he’s the kind of spiritual leader. He’s the one with the plan, the one with the vision and he’s the one that really understands the industry. Look at where Wu-Tang come from, they had no understanding of the music industry. And what they’ve achieved is just amazing. Especially when you remember they’re independent artists. They formed their team when they were teenagers and they’re comfortable with the roles they were given to make full advantage of the team.
It was like, what are individuals strong at? This is what you’ll do because we need this, this is your department. It’s almost like Wu-Tang are organised like a corporate business. People stay in their lane for the betterment of the team. So RZA’s position as leader is untouchable, cause he did actually come up with a plan that got everything started. He’s very important to the band and its part of his vision, a team vision, but without that leader, the vision can’t come into fruition.
I believe in the team, but I also think you need leaders and strategists that take things to the next level. RZA is both that musically, philosophically and intellectually. He’s an amazing example, out of the people I’ve worked with, other than Kanye West, RZA is the most productive artist as an individual by a mile. He’s the one making beats on the plane when everyone else is asleep. RZA is studying scripts before he goes on stage because he understands that productivity is key. He doesn’t just philosophise, he does it.
Seeing someone so strategic with his time is an incredible lesson. But Wu-Tang is like a soup, you need the tomatoes, you need the onions and the black pepper and the peas because without all that it ain’t soup. That’s what Wu-Tang is and I’ve always treated them all equally.
Back in 2015 for the 2oth anniversary, we were popping. We started at Coachella and he had all the drama of trying to keep the band together who weren’t quite together at that point. We endeavoured to do a Wu-Tang Clan tour that was probably punching above our weight, but hey we were going to do it and we just fought our way around.
We started at Coachella and to be fair we stole it. No one wanted to steal it, especially because the Red Hot Chili Peppers were headlining, but it happened. At that went out into the industry, it was like, Wu-Tang are bad, they are bad. I had promoters ringing me thanking me for letting them book them later in the year. And what a great year we had.
The reason I’m saying this is I was proud. At that time Cappadonna hadn’t been to Europe for about 9 years. When that came up it was like. I’m taking Cappadonna out because it’s not a full band without him. So we had to fight to get his passport, permissions and Visa, all these things. Other promoters were like, “don’t waste your time, it doesn’t matter”. I said, “no, it matters, Wu-Tang going on as a whole band absolutely matters”.
TM: I guess it’s the same with Young Dirty Bastard coming in to essentially replace his dad…
SPG: Well, yeah. You have to know, the new breed, the sons and daughters of the bandmembers and associates are doing well. Some of them are coming to an age where they can start to hold the reins. There’s no energy for any takeover, but lets put it like this, Young Dirty Bastard has been threatening to come on tour for a long time, but he never came. There were reasons for that, he wasn’t ready. And he’s a great talent, so no disrespect to him.
It was like, we’re in no rush and when the time is right he’s going to walk on stage, and that time came this year. He’s attracting the eyes of the younger audience right now who see that energy. I saw it at Wembley with 18,000 hip hop fans packed in, I don’t remember a show like it. There were loads of young fans and I noticed it in Paris and Berlin and other places, and of course, they’re engaging with YDB. It’s someone on stage they can relate to.
The response to him has been great, he’s fitting in so well. And he’s an important part of the act and it’s not easy for him, he’s treading a line of representing his father, but being himself, and trust me, he’s doing that so well. It’s not just an impersonation show, you can see it’s ODB’s son, but he brings something different.
TM: Did they mind you taking all these photos backstage and in private?
SPG: Well, as their tour manager, part of my job is to keep photographers away. It was one of my first worries, when Divine asked me to do it I said, “you know the band don’t want this, they don’t want a photographer backstage”. But I agreed to do it because he’s the boss. But I said he’d have to help me with it because some of the band members weren’t going to be happy.
Divine said, “don’t worry, I’m going to brief the band that this is a proper Wu-Tang project with official management support and they’d best get used to it because Simon’s coming on the tour and he’s going to have his camera”.
So he went and did that and of course, half of the boys aren’t cooperating, so I had to win their trust. Raekwon was like, “No photos Simon”. GZA was the same. I know the guys so I understand. GZA, for example, didn’t want any photos coming out of him eating. It’s just a small thing. But as a photographer, you know not to take pictures of people eating.
I just wanted to show the hard work side. You see the glamour on stage, but the backstage stuff no one has got because it was always my job to keep that shit away. I don’t want to sound smug, but I know these photos are rare because I was one of the gatekeepers. It was a real privilege.
So I eventually started to break down these barriers. At the start of the tour, Raekwon was saying no photos, but three-quarters of the way through he was like, “Simon I love you, feel free, you know the sort of photos I don’t want”. DJ Mathematics was cool. He’d say, “Simon, candid is always best, we don’t want posed cheesy shit”. He was lecturing me, I was already doing this!
It’s a shame Method Man couldn’t have been on that part of the tour. Meth’s always loved me from day one, mainly because I’m from London. They all think because I’m from London I’m hard (laughs). Meth would say, “all you London guys are tough, we love that”.
He’d want to learn my Cockney accent as he calls it, for his film career. He’d ask me what he sounds like and I’d have to tell him he sounded like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He even tried to get me on records, but I respectfully declined.
TM: It must be cool to be in the Wu-Tang fold like you are?
SPG: It is, and you can’t just get in. You have to be invited in and once you’re in you have to be checked out, decisions are made on whether you’re worthy or not and if you are your family With this level of trust you have to be family. They tell me I’m family till I die. I feel protected.
There used to be a meme with about 12 lions walking down the middle of this road. That’s how it feels walking through an airport with the Wu-Tang Clan. Everyone’s got my back, I’ve got their backs. No one gets left behind. We roll tight. It’s a great feeling. I was a firefighter for 20 years, so I’m all about teamwork. That’s the essence of team, it’s a very strong energy.
TM: Which picture are you most proud of?
SPG: I love all of them. The curation process for the exhibition was traumatic because I had to leave so many photos out. The one I really like that seems to be an audience favourite in a way is a throwaway one really. It’s GZA, RZA & Ghost on an airport shuttle bus. If you look at Ghost’s face he’s like I don’t want no one to see me on this bus. GZA is kind of snarling at me in a way, like what are you doing, this is a shuttle bus? RZA is kind of looking away. But I love the photo because it shows the work.
We’d just flown in from Croatia on a private plane. And as often happens we can’t get all the cars to the plane so we end up with this old shuttle bus, same as everyone else. We do that all the time, no one is precious and looking for the Rolls Royce, everyone just gets on. Their good boys. And we still have to get through passport control and travel to the hotel. I love it because it doesn’t get more contextual. This is what we do all the time.
I also love the one of my boss Divine. We’ve got on the bus first because the boys are a bit late down from the hotel and Divine gets his laptop out because he’s responsible for the tour account. He’s going through the hotel receipts and turns to me, “Hey Simon, if only you f**king knew”. He’s the one who does the accounts, nobody else really sees the full picture. He says, “you want to see this shit, I don’t know how we’re doing this. How the hell are we going to pay for this!”
He’s super stressed, you can see his furrowed brow. This is the biggest tour they’ve ever done, so he’s used to seeing accounts that look a lot different. Divine is a legend. He’s been the one that has held this band down. Working in the office with him in L.A. he’s got calls coming in all day long. Even after 25 years, his heart is still in the business. I don’t know how he’s done it?
We were talking earlier about youngsters coming through. There’s now essentially a mini Wu-Tang band made up of their sons. Divine’s son is a great guy. He’s being mentored by Divine to take over at some point. He’s been around the business since he was knee high and now he’s an older teenager. So, the youth are being mentored and prepared. Like I said you’ve got YDB on stage, Divine’s son came on this big arena tour.
TM: It’s serious legacy stuff. You could technically have the manager’s kid looking after a Wu-Tang made up of the sons of the original band…
SPG: We don’t talk in that kind of way, but that is kind of what’s happening. In a way, it has to happen. And it’s not just the boys, it’s the girls as well, like Divine’s daughter. If they’re good enough they’re old enough. They’re doing it, you ain’t going to see them in training.
Like I said with YDB, four years ago they were saying get him on stage, fans want to see him. But Divine knew he wasn’t quite ready. And now he is ready you can’t really challenge it. And it’s not about privilege, it’s about a hunger to be part of the family. And I think the sons and daughters think like that, they wear a heavy legacy. They have to stand up for themselves and defend themselves.
There’s been talk in the media about Wu-Tang breaking up, but they’re made of concrete. It’s like family’s rowing at Christmas, afterwards, we still love each other, in most cases at least.
TM: What the main thing you’ve learned from the time you’ve spent with the Wu-Tang?
SPG: I think it’s the idea of being strong as an artist. They’re not pulled around by industry pressure. For those artists out there feeling pulled around by their label and their manager, you keep going, because the stronger you are, the stronger the industry is and the stronger your career will be. The thing is knowing when you get on the mic you’ve got something to give that’s going to engage with an audience, that’s the essence of being an artist.
Going back to Wu-Tang, they were young independent artists from Staten Island that decided they wanted a career in the music industry and stuck with their plan. Look at them now. This proves it. People disrespect Kanye West, one of the privileged moments of my career was sharing dinner with Kanye.
We were alone for seven hours and he was yarning. And it was this kind of ‘I’m the artist, people either like it or they don’t like it, I’m not budging’. It’s the whole Marmite thing and he doesn’t care who loves him or hates him. He has the confidence within himself to know this is what his fans want, those that love him want him to be a strong artist because it takes them to another place. It’s about self-belief and trust in your team and your process and it just grows like a flower. You can’t stop it.
Simon’s exhibition of images from the Wu-Tang Clan tour runs till 9th December at Coventry Market.
To buy a print of one of Simon’s images of the band visit: https://shop.printmf.com/collections/prints
And check out Wu-Tang’s official Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/wutangclan
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