Keyboardist Dave Oliver, is better known to his Mamas Gun band mates as "Dave Eighties" and to confuse you further is nicknamed by his Lisa Stansfield band mates as "80's Dave".
Originally from Hertfordshire in the UK, his musical influences have embraced everything from barbershop singing to French horn and now includes jazz, soul and Cuban playing to add to his uniqueness.
Dave played his first live shows for Lisa Stansfield back in late autumn 2012 which included dates in London, Manchester, Zurich and Kitzbuhel. He continued to tour with Lisa throughout 2013, as well as spending time up in Rochdale last summer where he recorded several tracks on Lisa's most recent album "Seven" at her Gracieland studio.
Over the past year or so, I was fortunate enough to meet Dave at a few gigs and on each occasion I found him to be extremely friendly, courteous and comes across as an easy going kind of guy. So seeing that we got on like a house-on-fire, I suggested we try to arrange an interview and perhaps with the rest of the band as well. Eventually, after a little persuasion and organising, we all agree to meet up in Zurich, Switzerland which is about a 3 hour drive away from where I am now based. Furthermore, it just so happened to be the very first day of Lisa's European "Seven" tour, which was a perfect excuse of meeting up again.
I approached the tour-bus (which was easy to spot as it stood out from the rest) being pistachio green, double-decker with tinted black windows and the give-away clue was that it was parked-up directly outside the venue. I tapped on window and to my surprise the side-door automatically slides open. Down steps John Thirkell (Trumpet). We exchange pleasantries and he greets me with a typical Swiss, three cheek kiss.
Knowing that the band had travelled 16 hours overnight from London, I had the impression that they would all feel a little tired and a tad anxious before their first show. However, to my surprise they all seemed relatively cheerful and raring to go.
As I made my way onto the bus to say my hello's to a few other members of the band, "80's Dave" made his way down the stairs from the upper deck tucking his head in as low as possible as not to knock it on what would seem relatively low ceiling for his extremely tall frame. He greeted me with a big smile and a friendly hug. We stand there for a moment assessing where would be the best place to conduct our interview and settle for some fresh air and head off across the road towards the sunny plaza opposite the venue.
I start off by asking Dave about the journey over to Switzerland and what it was like to be on the road again with Lisa and the rest of the band?
Dave: Well we just arrived here (Zurich) on the bus about 8 o'clock this morning actually. Personally I find it difficult sleeping on a bus which is moving. So as soon as it got here, I was like, "Oh I can sleep now". So we literally parked up outside the venue and got access like around 10 o'clock, had breakfast and now just chilling.
Bev: So how many of you are travelling on the tour-bus?
Dave: There’s 10 of us in the band but Lisa and Ian don’t always travel with us, neither does Suzy (Lisa's tour assistant). So there will be 8 of us plus Walt, Mead and Cuzzy, so 11.
Bev: These are the guys who work behind the scenes right? It must be hard for everyone travelling around, with not much rest or time to yourself, then straight into work-mode?
Dave: They work incredibly hard, it’s just non-stop for them. But they’re all lovely guys, easy to get on with which is so important you know.
Bev: So on the tour-bus you’re all sharing a very small space…
Dave: Yes, so we have to get on!
Bev: It must be quite stifling, as it’s not just a few days, it's like a month on the road!
Dave: Yeahh, if we have this conversation after the tour and with the band we’ll see, it could be a whole new story. We've been on tour for a couple of weeks with this lot as well and it was fine. It’s like one big happy family.
Bev: Well I know it’s just the first night, but who’s the untidiest person on the bus?
Dave: Oh…hahahaha I dunno really! Again ask me that in three weeks…hahahaha
Bev: Tell us how did you get started with Lisa’s band?
Dave: Well everyone knows Snowboy, who’s been playing with Lisa or about 25 years. Basically I play with Snowboy in his own Latin outfit he has in London and he basically recommended me back in 2012 for the MD spot and I agreed when I got the call, so yeah, the rest is history.
Bev: I understand you've got your own band "Mamas Gun" so how do you manage juggling playing in different bands?
Dave: Well, yeah, it’s all pretty busy and trying to balance everything. It is busy, especially as I've got children and a family as well. I mean with Lisa it’s not a full time thing being a MD and everything, as there will be months when she’s not doing anything and then there will be times when we go on tour, like this one. There's a bit of preparation to do like rehearsals and get everyone together, sort out set-lists. So there’s a lot going on in my mind for about a month before the first rehearsal. I start thinking, “Ooh I better get myself together and sort out what we’re gonna play this time around.”
Bev: Switching back to Mamas Gun. You've had a couple of albums out, "Routes to Riches" in 2009 and in 2011, " The Life And Soul" . So I understand you'll also be releasing a new album soon, that must be exciting!
Dave: Yeah it is! That’ll be coming out in September, fingers crossed.
Bev: Do you have an album title yet?
Dave: Yeah we've got a title called “Cheap Hotel” hopefully we will stick to that title! (plug, plug)!!!
Bev: You also recently played a gig a couple of weeks ago and previewed some new stuff at Under The Bridge in London. How did that go?
Dave:Yeah, Under The Bridge, yeah that was good. Great turnout for that. Played a whole lot of new tunes which was a bit scary.
Bev: I heard it was a great gig. Did Lisa and Ian go?
Dave: Yeah it was a full house…. ! No, well I asked them to, but they’re so busy, so no they couldn't make it. But one day! But now there are two of us in the band (Terry) from Mamas Gun so it could be good next time.
Bev: Talking of Terry, how did you draw him into the live set up with you and Lisa's band?
Dave: Well, we needed a guitarist and I thought, well there’s loads of guitarists I know, but Terry’s such a talented guitarist anyway and he’s so easy to get on with, you know he’s just one of those guys who can just fit in anywhere. He’s kinda got the whole package for the tour and plus he’s a great mate of mine as well. It makes my life nice and easy.
Bev: Getting back to Lisa, everyone says she's a really down to earth person. How do you find working with her?
Dave: Really easy actually. Because at the beginning of this tour, before the first rehearsals I was thinking, “What am I gonna play, what am I gonna play?” and actually she’s been busy so it’s not been easy for her to think about that kinda thing. So she kind of leaves it up to me. I came with some ideas of some new stuff for this tour and I was thinking, "Oh, I hope she’s gonna like it when she turns up to rehearsals" and she was great, like with all the new bits we put in and that.
Bev: So how do you manage and prep' for a setlist?
Dave: I use a program called Logic and I play my ideas in . Then I send it around the band and see if I get any feedback from them. They might go, ”Oh Dave this is rubbish, what are you thinking of ?” Or they might got, "this sounds good, let's try it out.” Saying that, the tunes from Lisa’s new album are great. But there's some tunes where you think, crikey the horn arrangements are ridiculous. As there’s only two horns playing, so with Johnny and Mick they were thinking “Dave, you’re insane, you can’t possibly think this will work.” But as soon as we got into the rehearsals practising them, they were actually, “It sounds cool, we can get away with this.”
Bev: Are we talking about "The Rain" here?
Dave: Well, we could be talking about that one...hahaha, yeah it’s gonna be good.
Bev: Well I can't wait to hear that one live, the orchestration on that particular track is just outstanding!
Dave: Well actually, we hadn't needed to change the arrangements on that one, it’s just how we play it, you know. There’s no Hammond on that tune on the record, but there is going to be tonight…hahahahaha there’s a little hint for you!
Bev: What sort of things could go wrong during the night, on stage etc....?
Dave: There’s a lot of electrical stuff on stage, anything can go wrong with electrical stuff. You know like keyboards can suddenly pack in. Hopefully that won’t happen. But generally there's are few glitches on every gig. With Ian, he uses his MainStage for all his sounds, which is a computer software application and he gets his sounds from that. So if that crashes, everyone's waiting around for that to be rebooted, so we would have to go acoustic. We have some back-up plans, as we have two keyboard players. So if Ian’s goes, I can do his part, that’s not a problem.
Bev: You've got your set list together, which I've heard has changed several times, even up until the final rehearsals a few days ago.
Dave: Yeah well that was funny, set lists are the hardest things. Even with Mamas Gun we spend hours trying to get the right tunes ”what speeds that…oh that’s the same speed as that, the same key" trying to find loads of songs in the same key” you know.
Bev: How familiar were you with Lisa’s back-catalogue before you had worked together?
Dave: I wasn't a fan actually! (shock horror). When I was younger I was more into Kim Wilde and Belinda Carlise. I never really thought of Lisa Stansfield. I knew she was around, but I think with Kim Wilde I probably fancied her more…(wild laughter hahaha). But like with Lisa, it hadn't really crossed my mind. But then I got this call from Snowboy asking “Do you wanna be MD on the Lisa Stansfield tour”? Then I thought, "My God, LISA STANSFIELD!!!! Crikey, yeah, why not, let's do this"!
Bev: I guess it must be a huge thrill for any musician getting an opportunity to tour with someone like Lisa, but especially as she doesn't come across as this big diva-ish OTT artist.
Dave: Yeah, that’s right and because of that, you know the band are nice and relaxed and happy and just enjoying what they do and what they’re good at, rather than clamming up. Because the front person is this person who keeps looking around and saying “if you keep making that mistake I’m gonna charge you £5.00 or whatever you know… she’s just like, “Yeah, whatever!” and because of her great attitude we’re all like… “We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna make it great”.
Bev: So coming back to the shows, will there be any surprises in store for us fans then?
Dave: You mean, am I doing a costume change or anything like that…? Hahaha, If I had my way, we would all be in bright sparkly suits…(cracks into more laughter).
Bev: Now wouldn't that be great, it would be like an Elton John gig! Hahaha
Let's talk about you for a moment Dave. You've got a wife and kids, so it must be quite tough for you being away from home for such a long time. How do you cope with stuff like that?
Dave: I know, give it a week and I’ll be going, “Oh I wanna go home now”. See I'm a real family man. I love spending time at home with my family and playing with my children.
Bev: How old are your kids?
Dave: They’re 4, 8 and 11
Bev: So they must really miss you…and vice versa.
Dave: Yeah my middle ones a boy, Samuel, he’s very clingy to me. He just looks up to me the whole time at the moment and never wants me to leave and doesn't want me to go to work. So when I dropped the bombshell that I was coming out here for a month he wasn't happy. But he’ll be good!
Bev: How do you prepare yourself to go on tour for a month? Like who sorts out what you’re taking and who packs your suitcase ?
Dave: Oh that's easy, It’s like 30 pairs of pants, 30 pairs of socks and about 50 shirts
Bev: So who does all the washing?
Dave: What here or at home? Hahahaha… You know what, I don’t know what's gonna happen when I run out of clothes to wear. I assume there will be a runner who will go and take it all to the laundry or dry cleaners. It does go around your head, coz eventually you’re gonna run out of clean clothes to wear.
Bev: I saw one of Suzy's Tweets the other day, something like "oh my, I just realised I’ve gotta pack for a whole month" and added, "I think I’ll take a Febreze freshener spray and a couple of T-shirts" that really made me smile.
Dave: That’s it… yeah I get that, we can only take so much away when we go on tour. Otherwise we’ll be taking three suitcases away with months worth of clothes.
Bev: When do you start working again with your own band, Mamas Gun?
Dave: Well hopefully as soon as we get back. We've got some stuff coming up in June. But the main focus is September I think, when we start getting out there touring ourselves. We’ll be rehearsing in June and July.
Bev: So you’re gonna be touring again with Lisa in September and then you’re going to also be doing you’re own tour as well?
Dave: The main focus for us is September… we will be on the road with Lisa. But we’ll be, (Mamas Gun) rehearsing in June/July to keep it fresh. Lisa’s tour of the UK is not as extensive as the European dates, so we should be OK.
Bev: Lisa mentioned recently that she’s looking to start recording the new album after the autumn tour and towards finishing the promotion of this current album. I can only assume she’s gonna bring you guys back in on the next one too!
Dave: Yeah I've heard about that… but that’s all I know about it at the moment!
Bev: Do you hope to be involved in that one as well?
Dave: I hope so, I’ld like to be involved with that one. I really enjoyed being involved with "Seven" and going up to Rochdale. That was a real experience, seeing the Rochdale locals. Going into the Baum (Rochdale's finest pub), yeah, we had a few nights down there. Also the recording atmosphere was so relaxed.
Bev: Well you can tell that and the album reflects that mood. Do you think that had anything to do with Lisa and Ian being based back in Rochdale surrounded with family and friends?
Dave: Well yeah, Lisa obviously hasn't had an album out for a number of years now and I think she just wanted to get back out there and sing again. Whether she wants to make money or not that’s her business. But I just get the feeling she just wants to get out there and perform. She’s obviously got a massive back-catalogue of songs that she hasn't recorded yet and she really wants to get them recorded.
Bev: I imagine for every album made there's going to be a lot of songs that never make it onto the final cut. I would love to get into that vault and hear what's there. It all sounds so positive right now.
Dave: Yeah yeah, all very positive, lets see what happens. But I certainly hope that she asks me again to be on it.
Bev: Well I hope so too, because I've really enjoyed seeing you on the road with the Lisa, Ian and the band .You also seem to be a pretty cool and laid back person to be around and no doubt, someone who they really appreciate to work with.
Dave: I think it's important and being the MD it's quite a loose empathy. I don’t tell everyone what to do or say stuff like, “this is what’s happening”. I let everyone have a say and say what they think. Then we find a common ground and work it out and come to a compromise on the ground and then we go with that you know. Like even with the set list and everything, I was struggling on my own and needed some help. Davidé was suggesting stuff, so it’s great.
Bev: Is it true that you changed the initial set-list on the very last day of rehearsals just a couple of hours before you were winding up?
Dave: Well yeah, it’s a long story but we played the intro that I wrote and it didn't kinda work with the first song that we thought about having. Well it did, but Ian wasn't too keen. You know, of course Ian has a say, in a way, he has the LAST say. So we kinda moved things around a bit, so it would fit the intro that I wrote. You’ll recognise the intro of the tune. I'm sure!
Bev: Can’t wait, I’m really looking forward to the show later.
Dave: Yeah it’s gonna be great.
Bev: Well, it’s been lovely catching up. Good luck for tonight's show and the rest of the tour.
Dave: Thanks Bev, Yeah I better get off, I’m probably needed around about now….
So with the sun beating down, that's where we wrapped it up and the ever so happy go lucky "80's Dave" wandered back over to the venue to check out where he was needed as I wandered back to the tour bus to gather up my next interviewee victim!