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An interview with Tour Supply’s Al Mouat

In the live music world, anyone will tell you that it’s the small things that really make the difference – from cables to gaffer tape, from drum sticks to torches. Providing the easily-overlooked stuff is Tour Supply’s business, and ‘Big Al’ (he’s 6’7”/two metres tall) Mouat manages it.

How did you get into the business?

When I left school, I was an apprentice printer. One day, though, I had an epiphany. I decided I didn’t want to be a printer any more – so I downed tools and walked out. Next door to where I was working was Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, and Prince was playing a gig there. Two hours later, I was helping unload the equipment – and that’s pretty much where it all started. In fact, one of the first things I had to do was go back to the printers I’d just left and ask them to move their cars so the trucks could get in.

That was back in 1992, I think, and I started to work for a local crew company in Edinburgh, working with the tours that came through the city. I have a philosophy that you should never stop learning – so I wouldn’t just unload the equipment, I’d find out what it did. I started doing bits and pieces for some PA and lighting companies, and that helped expand my knowledge even further. After that, I found myself working at the Playhouse in Edinburgh, and that gave me an understanding of the theatrical world – and after that, I found myself touring with various bands.

From there, I joined CPL – they’re not called that any more, but they were one of Scotland’s biggest promoters – as a rep, and my job was to meet and greet all the acts who were playing in town.

Any good stories from your touring days?

I’ve had many memorable experiences – but most of them, unfortunately, I can’t talk about. One that does come to mind, though, is when I was touring with a German metal band – Helloween – who were very big in the 1980s. We were due to play in Colombia – and the promoter had convinced us that we didn’t need visas. Sixteen of us got off the plane and presented ourselves at immigration. Before we knew where we were, we were surrounded by six armed guards who took our passports off us and locked us up. We stayed locked up for fourteen hours until the promoter – who had to get on a plane to Ecuador to go to the Colombian embassy to sort the visas out – finally got us released.

I remember another gig in Indonesia. It was a festival stage, the sound equipment was atrocious – and the roof was full of holes. I complained bitterly, but was told that the promoter had been to the witch doctor and paid him to pray that it wouldn’t rain. The inevitable happened – it absolutely poured down. I hope the promoter got his money back.

What is your favourite project that you’ve ever been involved in?

I still go back to Edinburgh every New Year to work on the big Hogmanay Street Party. 250,000 people out on the streets, having a great time. The atmosphere is unbelievable – you can’t beat it!

In the summer, we take the Tour Supply Cabin to most of the big festivals. It’s a big project for us every year, but worth the hard work. We started this year with Radio 1 Big Weekend, then we move on to Download, all the Hyde park gigs, Sonisphere, High Voltage, Lovebox, Bloodstock and V-Fest. It’s a smaller version of our office, dropped right on site for everyone to come and pick up what they need. It’s great being out there, meeting all our customers face to face – and, of course, to hand out some t-shirts..

Is there are a particular product that you’ve come to look on as ‘an old favourite’?

Van Damme Cable. We get a lot of American acts coming over, and they invariably ask for cable from either Mogami or Canare, which are recognised as premium brands in the USA. They’re not readily available in the UK, though, so we’ll show them the specs of the VDC cable. No-one has yet said that it’s not good enough, and we’ve always found it absolutely reliable. There’s a perception that VDC cable is expensive but it really isn’t – especially considering what you get. Our business is all about providing the service and backup that these acts need – so that kind of reliability is absolutely essential to our reputation. I’ve spent long enough on the road to know that you absolutely need equipment and supplies that are guaranteed not to give you any problems.

Is there a recent product that’s caught your eye that you think will be very useful in your business?

A new product that’s caught my eye is the torch range from Lenser. It outputs 220 lumens. That’s fantastic for a torch that uses just four AAA batteries – and we’re told that the batteries should have a life of 120 hours. That’s incredible. For around £60, they’re a real bargain.

Another recent product – it’s not really new, as it’s been around for about 18 months now – that I’ve developed a lot of admiration for is the Sennheiser G3 wireless system. It’s pretty much become an industry standard since it was introduced. I’ve never heard a single complaint about it – which is rare for wireless audio.