From one van to Europe’s largest fleet of splitter vans in just 14 years

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Vans for Bands has a unusual heritage and an owner that is also the bass player for Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Richard Sharman looks at how it expanded and the extensive options it offers the music industry

Vans for Bands
The splitter vans carry discreet VFB branding. VFB

Based in a small village on the outskirts of Oxford is the head office of what has become Europe’s leading supplier of splitter vans to the music industry, Vans for Bands (VFB).

VFB also offers a small fleet of high specification sleeper coaches. These are in a red and silver livery and are probably the most visible members of the fleet seen by other operators on the motorway, but the mainstay of the fleet are the discreet Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and Volkswagen Crafters which are left in white and only carry a small red VFB logo behind the rear wheel-arch and on the rear doors.
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The owner of VFB is Tarrant Anderson, a well-educated 41-year-old whose career path was intended to be in politics. “I studied for an M.Phil in Politics at Oxford but throughout university, I was constantly broke so worked as a sound engineer in local Oxford music venues and also on tour around the UK and Europe,” said Tarrant. “At the time the only splitter van hire companies were London or Sheffield-based so I would have to travel a fair distance to pick one up at the start of every tour and then go through the same rigmarole at the end. In addition, the quality of the vehicles I was able to hire wasn’t always great.

So I thought I would solve the problem for myself by getting a graduate loan and buying my own splitter van.

Founder and owner Tarrant Anderson. VFB
Founder and owner Tarrant Anderson. VFB

“That’s what they are for right? And in the process of solving it for myself, I found out pretty quickly that it was a problem many other people in the touring community also had.

I was fed up of having no money and was about to go off and do a bridging degree to become a lawyer at the time, but I had so many tour managers approaching me to rent my splitter van that I decided to shelve the idea for a year or so and give running a vehicle rental company a go. That was 14 years ago and I’ve still not trained as a lawyer, but between you and me I think I would be pretty good at it.”

Running VFB and being a music artist

Tarrant has a huge passion for the music industry and also plays bass in bands such as Dive Dive and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Dive Dive was formed in 2001 and was championed by Radio 1’s John Peel prior to recording a number of sessions at the Maida Vale studios.

The high-specification interior of a VIP splitter van. VFB
The high-specification interior of a VIP splitter van. VFB

The 2010 music video for single ‘Liar’ cleverly included a VFB Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, whilst the band’s website clearly states that it is a ‘proud user of Vans for Bands transport.’
Tarrant’s involvement with Frank Turner is in the backing band, the Sleeping Souls, which is present at studio recordings and live performances. Frank Turner has had three top 10 albums in the UK.

Talking about how he manages to tour the globe and run VFB, Tarrant said: “I’ve always played in bands and I’ve played with Frank since 2006. We have a really great management team including other directors at our main office in Oxford so the vast majority of the day-to-day running of the business doesn’t rely on me anymore. To be honest the guys’ understandings of their departments have long since overtaken my own. There comes a point with every business when its size and complexity means that you have to let go and delegate. I still work a fairly full day from my laptop while I’m on tour, but it tends to be dealing with general legal or policy issues or resolving problems. There are always problems to be resolved!”

Talking about how having a full understanding of the music industry, and being in it, can make a huge difference when you are dealing with up and coming bands who are hiring vehicles, Tarrant explained: “I do think that this has been an ace up my sleeve, to be honest. There aren’t really any other transport companies out there that have the in-depth insight you get from spending 20-plus years on the road touring as an artist and before that as a tour manager and touring engineer. At least I’m not aware of them if there are. I spent the first decade on the road from around 1996 in splitter vans and most of the time since around 2007 in sleeper coaches, often up to 10 months of each year, so you really get to know your product in detail.
“In recent years we have provided vehicles for Blossoms, Bastille, Ben Howard, Elbow, Fit Bit, Foals, James Bay, Liam Gallagher, Peter Kay, Ricky Gervais, Skunk Anansie, Tim Vine and Wolf Alice. Oh, and of course Frank Turner. I wouldn’t want to miss him.”

Europe’s largest splitter van fleet

A splitter van allows artists to tour the UK and Europe in comfort whilst still being able to carry all the equipment needed to put on a show. The conversion work involves converting a base Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter van into two sections; the area by the rear doors acts as a large storage area for the band’s guitars, audio power amplifiers, keyboards, drum kits and so on, while the middle section is for them to sit in comfort or luxury, depending on their budget.

Vans for Bands

“We used to do all the van conversions in-house,” said Tarrant. “We’ve always had at least one full-time coachbuilder and then contracted in part-timers as we needed them. As the fleet grew we found it was more efficient and cost-effective to outsource the coach building. We now have one full-time coachbuilder and a couple of part-timers just to keep on top of the internal vehicle maintenance on an on-going basis. Our conversions are now done by Harp Automotive from near Swansea and Cobra Trim in Southampton.

“Our pricing starts at £70 plus VAT per day for the basic vehicles and goes up to £130 plus VAT for the VIP vehicles. The most popular is our Luxury range of splitters which are in between the Basic range and the VIP range and cost £100 plus VAT per day. A lot of the cost obviously goes towards covering the internal coach builds which are higher spec and more expensive than your average minibus, but it also goes towards covering the specialist insurance we need. Our annual insurance bill is around a quarter of a million pounds.”

In VIP specification, a band is able to hire a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter that features:
• Nine seats (including the driver);
• Conference-style layout around a table ;
• Automatic or manual transmission;
• Air-conditioning;
• Separate passenger climatic control heating;
• Reclining leather captain chairs;
• Portable satellite navigation available upon request;
• Tinted windows;
• Three different lighting settings;
• Single passenger bulk;
• Entertainment system 2 x 19” flat screens, DVD, multimedia hard drive with preloaded films;
• 240v power sockets;
• Factory alarm system;
• Tow hitch available upon request;
• VW/Mercedes 24-hour roadside assistance included for Europe; and
• 3,500kgs Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW).

Base vehicle choices and maintaining the fleet

With Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen chosen as the base vehicles for splitter vans, Tarrant explains the differences he has noticed whilst operating the fleet: “I have to say that as a vehicle I don’t have a preference,” he said. “They are both fantastic products. The real difference comes with the roadside assistance back up you get with Mercedes-Benz. Because it has its own roadside assistance service that runs out of its dealer network it’s able to require dealers to give priority to vehicles that come in on breakdowns. They are usually dealt with there and then and are often back out on the road the same day. VW use the AA and so is not able to require third-party agents, or even VW dealers it seems, to give priority to vehicles that come in on a breakdown. As a result, you can sometimes have a vehicle sat in a garage for days for a simple fault that could have been diagnosed and fixed within hours.

Vans for Bands
The Heathrow site is located on Southern Perimeter Road and allows customers located in London an easy collection and drop off facility. VFB

“We spend a huge amount of time and money on maintenance to try to avoid issues occurring on the road. We have our own workshop and a fantastic maintenance staff (a full-time fleet engineer and a couple of extra engineers on contract) who keep on top of it. Of course, things do still go wrong (for example we had a miss-fueling last week) and when they do our number one priority is to keep the band moving: really to do whatever it takes, within reason, to make sure they can keep to their tour schedule. This can cost an arm and a leg, but the upside is that the client remembers that level of service and it pays dividends in the long run. “We replace vehicles based on mileage and for most of the splitter vans this means they are with us for around five years.”

Sleeper coaches
Whilst the largest contingent of the VFB fleet by far is the splitter vans, it also has a small number of sleeper coaches that have proved popular for bands that grow out of splitter vans or are touring Europe for long periods and require the comfort that they can provide whilst on tour.

Coaches include Scania-powered Irizar Centurys, a Caetano Enigma-bodied Volvo B12M, a Neoplan Starliner, Neoplan Skyliners and Setra S431DTs. They also operated one of the rarest double-decker coaches in the UK, a MAN 24.400-powered Noge Catalan 400. It’s the first, and possibly last Noge double-decker coach purpose-built as a sleeper coach for the UK. This vehicle was sold on a couple of years ago.

Vans for Bands
One of the full-size members of the fleet is Scania K480EB Irizar Century FJ10VVY, which carries the full distinctive livery. It is seen near the Oxford depot on the A44. RICHARD SHARMAN

Tarrant said: “When Flixbus bought out Megabus’ European operation it returned a number of one-year-old Van Hool Astromega TDX27 coaches to the factory for onward sale. So, you know, we had to buy three of them. We had these converted by Cobra Trim in Southampton which did an excellent job and we’re very pleased with the coaches.

“Unlike with the splitter vans where we are the largest supplier in Europe, I don’t have an ambition to keep growing and growing the sleeper coach operation. I think the focus here is really on having a smaller high-quality fleet we can feed into from the splitter vans. Coaches are a whole different level of asset to splitter vans, requiring huge investment if you want to keep an up-to-date fleet. It would be easy to grow the coach fleet too quickly and lose focus on the quality of the product and that’s not really what we are about.”

Geographical expansion

Oxford is very much the spiritual home of VFB as it is where it all began, but expansion in recent years has seen additional sites added in Heathrow and Bristol due to demand from splitter van customers. “More often than not these vehicles are collected from the client from one of our sites,” said Tarrant. “Like me 14 years ago, people are fundamentally lazy, or at least they don’t want to travel further than they have to in order to collect a vehicle, which is actually understandable.” //

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The owner of VFB is Tarrant Anderson, a well-educated 41-year-old whose career path was intended to be in politics. “I studied for an M.Phil in Politics at Oxford but throughout university, I was constantly broke so worked as a sound engineer in local Oxford music venues and also on tour around the UK and Europe,” said Tarrant. “At the time the only splitter van hire companies were London or Sheffield-based so I would have to travel a fair distance to pick one up at the start of every tour and then go through the same rigmarole at the end. In addition, the quality of the vehicles I was able to hire wasn’t always great.

So I thought I would solve the problem for myself by getting a graduate loan and buying my own splitter van.

Vans for Bands
Founder and owner Tarrant Anderson. VFB

“That’s what they are for right? And in the process of solving it for myself, I found out pretty quickly that it was a problem many other people in the touring community also had.

I was fed up of having no money and was about to go off and do a bridging degree to become a lawyer at the time, but I had so many tour managers approaching me to rent my splitter van that I decided to shelve the idea for a year or so and give running a vehicle rental company a go. That was 14 years ago and I’ve still not trained as a lawyer, but between you and me I think I would be pretty good at it.”

Running VFB and being a music artist

Tarrant has a huge passion for the music industry and also plays bass in bands such as Dive Dive and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Dive Dive was formed in 2001 and was championed by Radio 1’s John Peel prior to recording a number of sessions at the Maida Vale studios.

Vans for Bands
The high-specification interior of a VIP splitter van. VFB

The 2010 music video for single ‘Liar’ cleverly included a VFB Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, whilst the band’s website clearly states that it is a ‘proud user of Vans for Bands transport.’
Tarrant’s involvement with Frank Turner is in the backing band, the Sleeping Souls, which is present at studio recordings and live performances. Frank Turner has had three top 10 albums in the UK.

Talking about how he manages to tour the globe and run VFB, Tarrant said: “I’ve always played in bands and I’ve played with Frank since 2006. We have a really great management team including other directors at our main office in Oxford so the vast majority of the day-to-day running of the business doesn’t rely on me anymore. To be honest the guys’ understandings of their departments have long since overtaken my own. There comes a point with every business when its size and complexity means that you have to let go and delegate. I still work a fairly full day from my laptop while I’m on tour, but it tends to be dealing with general legal or policy issues or resolving problems. There are always problems to be resolved!”

Talking about how having a full understanding of the music industry, and being in it, can make a huge difference when you are dealing with up and coming bands who are hiring vehicles, Tarrant explained: “I do think that this has been an ace up my sleeve, to be honest. There aren’t really any other transport companies out there that have the in-depth insight you get from spending 20-plus years on the road touring as an artist and before that as a tour manager and touring engineer. At least I’m not aware of them if there are. I spent the first decade on the road from around 1996 in splitter vans and most of the time since around 2007 in sleeper coaches, often up to 10 months of each year, so you really get to know your product in detail.
“In recent years we have provided vehicles for Blossoms, Bastille, Ben Howard, Elbow, Fit Bit, Foals, James Bay, Liam Gallagher, Peter Kay, Ricky Gervais, Skunk Anansie, Tim Vine and Wolf Alice. Oh, and of course Frank Turner. I wouldn’t want to miss him.”

Europe’s largest splitter van fleet

A splitter van allows artists to tour the UK and Europe in comfort whilst still being able to carry all the equipment needed to put on a show. The conversion work involves converting a base Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter van into two sections; the area by the rear doors acts as a large storage area for the band’s guitars, audio power amplifiers, keyboards, drum kits and so on, while the middle section is for them to sit in comfort or luxury, depending on their budget.

Vans for Bands

“We used to do all the van conversions in-house,” said Tarrant. “We’ve always had at least one full-time coachbuilder and then contracted in part-timers as we needed them. As the fleet grew we found it was more efficient and cost-effective to outsource the coach building. We now have one full-time coachbuilder and a couple of part-timers just to keep on top of the internal vehicle maintenance on an on-going basis. Our conversions are now done by Harp Automotive from near Swansea and Cobra Trim in Southampton.

“Our pricing starts at £70 plus VAT per day for the basic vehicles and goes up to £130 plus VAT for the VIP vehicles. The most popular is our Luxury range of splitters which are in between the Basic range and the VIP range and cost £100 plus VAT per day. A lot of the cost obviously goes towards covering the internal coach builds which are higher spec and more expensive than your average minibus, but it also goes towards covering the specialist insurance we need. Our annual insurance bill is around a quarter of a million pounds.”

In VIP specification, a band is able to hire a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter that features:
• Nine seats (including the driver);
• Conference-style layout around a table ;
• Automatic or manual transmission;
• Air-conditioning;
• Separate passenger climatic control heating;
• Reclining leather captain chairs;
• Portable satellite navigation available upon request;
• Tinted windows;
• Three different lighting settings;
• Single passenger bulk;
• Entertainment system 2 x 19” flat screens, DVD, multimedia hard drive with preloaded films;
• 240v power sockets;
• Factory alarm system;
• Tow hitch available upon request;
• VW/Mercedes 24-hour roadside assistance included for Europe; and
• 3,500kgs Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW).

Base vehicle choices and maintaining the fleet

With Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen chosen as the base vehicles for splitter vans, Tarrant explains the differences he has noticed whilst operating the fleet: “I have to say that as a vehicle I don’t have a preference,” he said. “They are both fantastic products. The real difference comes with the roadside assistance back up you get with Mercedes-Benz. Because it has its own roadside assistance service that runs out of its dealer network it’s able to require dealers to give priority to vehicles that come in on breakdowns. They are usually dealt with there and then and are often back out on the road the same day. VW use the AA and so is not able to require third-party agents, or even VW dealers it seems, to give priority to vehicles that come in on a breakdown. As a result, you can sometimes have a vehicle sat in a garage for days for a simple fault that could have been diagnosed and fixed within hours.

Vans for Bands
The Heathrow site is located on Southern Perimeter Road and allows customers located in London an easy collection and drop off facility. VFB

“We spend a huge amount of time and money on maintenance to try to avoid issues occurring on the road. We have our own workshop and a fantastic maintenance staff (a full-time fleet engineer and a couple of extra engineers on contract) who keep on top of it. Of course, things do still go wrong (for example we had a miss-fueling last week) and when they do our number one priority is to keep the band moving: really to do whatever it takes, within reason, to make sure they can keep to their tour schedule. This can cost an arm and a leg, but the upside is that the client remembers that level of service and it pays dividends in the long run. “We replace vehicles based on mileage and for most of the splitter vans this means they are with us for around five years.”

Sleeper coaches
Whilst the largest contingent of the VFB fleet by far is the splitter vans, it also has a small number of sleeper coaches that have proved popular for bands that grow out of splitter vans or are touring Europe for long periods and require the comfort that they can provide whilst on tour.

Coaches include Scania-powered Irizar Centurys, a Caetano Enigma-bodied Volvo B12M, a Neoplan Starliner, Neoplan Skyliners and Setra S431DTs. They also operated one of the rarest double-decker coaches in the UK, a MAN 24.400-powered Noge Catalan 400. It’s the first, and possibly last Noge double-decker coach purpose-built as a sleeper coach for the UK. This vehicle was sold on a couple of years ago.

Vans for Bands
One of the full-size members of the fleet is Scania K480EB Irizar Century FJ10VVY, which carries the full distinctive livery. It is seen near the Oxford depot on the A44. RICHARD SHARMAN

Tarrant said: “When Flixbus bought out Megabus’ European operation it returned a number of one-year-old Van Hool Astromega TDX27 coaches to the factory for onward sale. So, you know, we had to buy three of them. We had these converted by Cobra Trim in Southampton which did an excellent job and we’re very pleased with the coaches.

“Unlike with the splitter vans where we are the largest supplier in Europe, I don’t have an ambition to keep growing and growing the sleeper coach operation. I think the focus here is really on having a smaller high-quality fleet we can feed into from the splitter vans. Coaches are a whole different level of asset to splitter vans, requiring huge investment if you want to keep an up-to-date fleet. It would be easy to grow the coach fleet too quickly and lose focus on the quality of the product and that’s not really what we are about.”

Geographical expansion

Oxford is very much the spiritual home of VFB as it is where it all began, but expansion in recent years has seen additional sites added in Heathrow and Bristol due to demand from splitter van customers. “More often than not these vehicles are collected from the client from one of our sites,” said Tarrant. “Like me 14 years ago, people are fundamentally lazy, or at least they don’t want to travel further than they have to in order to collect a vehicle, which is actually understandable.” //
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