Q and A With Tom Oliver. Tour Manager and Cider Master

4SpeccyGits2Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect outlet for following the Cider Industry and one  that really stands out in the social media, besides Virtue, of course,  is Oliver’s Cider.  Back in April I caught wind that Tom Oliver from Oliver’s Cider was making a guest appearance at Bushwhackers in Portland, Oregon.  To say I was a bit disappointed I couldn’t make it is an understatement.  Bushwhaker is located about 2800 miles from my home.  Well I obviously missed it but what I didn’t realize until later is Tom was also touring with the Scottish folk rock band The Proclaimers.

As if making great cider is not enough, he tours with great rock bands too. I mean as a tour manager, not a groupie. I later learned he has been with The Proclaimers for 25 years.

If you follow me on the Web, you may think I am one track minded with my beer and cider posts but music excites as well. I wanted to learn a bit more about Tom Oliver’s on the road history with The Proclaimers so I conducted a Q&A with Tom.

Me: Were you familiar with the Proclaimers when you first joined?  How did that come about?

Tom: I was not familiar with them. I had heard about their appearance on TV on The Tube and had heard Letter from America on the radio.
Back in 1988 when The Proclaimers started to tour with a band. That step up from a duo to a band needs some coordination and experience in the tour management area so they put out feelers via their agent, Vince Ward. At the same time I had just finished a tour with Van Morrison and I was in London waiting to start my next tour. It was cancelled at 11am, at 1pm I was asked if I would be interested in working with The Proclaimers and at 2pm I met their manager Kenny MacDonald. So far so good and a day or two later I met with Craig and Charlie in Manchester and I started there and then!

Me: In 25 years you must have worn many hats. What other roles have you  contributed to the band?

Tom: I also started mixing their Front of House sound in 1994 as well as continuing to tour manage. I also drive the band around when we are not using a tour bus.

Me:  Can you share a memorable, perhaps funny story of being on the road?

Tom: Arriving in Singapore and I start keying in with the Hard Rock promoter at the airport about the gig and time was tight to get there for soundcheck and she was very relaxed about the schedule and I was getting more uptight. It became clear that I was the only one in the tour party who thought the gig was that night! Everyone else knew it was the next night. This is still a favourite with the band. Call yourself a tour manager?

Me: I am quite a Dr. Who Fan. The Dr. Who cast and crew did a little song and dance number to 500 Miles back when David Tennant was on. Were you involved in any way?

Tom: No, I was not there. David Tenant is a massive fan though and usually manages to catch at least one gig on most tours.

Me: In the cider industry, young cider makers look to you for inspiration and advice. Do you find yourself giving similar advice and mentorship to newbies in the music industry?

Tom: Over the years you do get lots of people asking you to take their kids, brothers, sisters on the road or how do they get into the music business? Ultimately, there is no quick and easy answer, you have to have determination, ability in your chosen area and above all you must have good social skills because it is all about getting on with people and getting the best out of people.

Me: Who was your mentor when you started out as a sound engineer and tour manager?

Tom: Stan Tippins. Now a great friend but back in the day, he sang with the band that eventually became Mott the Hoople. Stan was known in Italy as the “Sinatra of Beat”. When Ian Hunter took over as lead singer Stan became their tour manager. Mott were Herefordshire’s finest in my eyes and Stan always took the time to answer letters, send photos and get you in to meet the band. From then he has looked after some great bands including The Pretenders, Sade and Simple Minds. Now he is more interested in training his dogs and tending his superb vegetables.
2013 sees Mott the Hoople play a few shows in the UK  with Stan guesting on backing vocals, he can still belt out the high notes.  The three people who actually connected me with most of the clients I have had are Mark Thompson (Buzz Music), Hein Hoven (Stray Cats, It Bites) and John Telfer (Everything But The Girl, Television and Jellyfish).

Me: Did you have professional training?

Tom: No training and my technical knowledge is sadly lacking really but I still know what a “good mix is” and how to get it (usually!). Training for both sound and tour management is now widely available and I am sure would be useful but probably no substitute for getting out there and working with anyone and everyone for little or no money but to pay your dues. Someone will spot your talent and from then it is up to you.

Me:  With the cider industry growing so rapidly, do you foresee yourself continuing in the music industry?  Or will you spend more time with Oliver’s Cider?

Tom:  The big question and one which I have no answer to. I have two of the most stimulating and challenging occupations I can imagine. I enjoy both and want to do both as long as I can. Occasionally things get a bit fraught and yes I get a bit more knackered but I should be able to manage my time and attend to both, especially as you have observed cider is undergoing a renaissance, especially in the USA.

Me:  You recently toured the U.S.  and stopped in  at  Bushwackers as a special guest. Did you make any other cider appearances here?

Tom:  It was a lot of fun but also really very interesting and stimulating. In New York, Jimmy Carbone did a special Beer Sessions radio show on cider and then a tasting at Jimmy’s No.43 which was well attended and noisy. Jimmy seemed very enthusiastic and supportive. Ben and Jennifer from The Queens Kickshaw came with all their staff which was fantastic.  Jeff and Mrs S made me very welcome at Bushwhacker and they have the best chilled display of ciders that I have ever seen. David White and a whole host of cider heads came out Heather, Alex, Philippe….
Then I went to Salem with my good buddy Chris Horn to visit with Kevin and Mark at EZ Orchards and James and Nick from Wandering Aengus. So much talent and enthusiasm in a very fertile part of the world, it made for a great visit.

Then onto Chicago and 3 days with Greg, Stephen, Ryan, Michelle and the rest of the team at Virtue Cider. They really excite me with quality, provenance, marketing and passion amidst limitless ideas but primarily because they make great cider. Redstreak is a tasty, refreshing cider and is being followed by The Mitten, Lapinette and more. We did an initial collaboration cider “Gold Rush” made at my ciderhouse and we blended the second collaboration “The Ledbury” while I was in Michigan. Both bittersweet ciders with tannin and depth.

Virtue hosted a superb “cider themed” dinner at Owen and Engine where the head chef Kevin has twinned a selection of ciders with various courses. The charcuterie board and the Redstreak was knock out.

I was planning to finish this post with a proper cider review but I will save that for next week’s post.


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