Interview with Dil Davies - Oysterband/Porter and Davies
Interview with Dil Davies - Oysterband/Porter and Davies
Dil Davies is one half of Porter & Davies, inventors of the BC2 and BC Gigster, which has been appearing at drum shows and in the music press an awful lot recently. However, Dil himself is a busy touring drummer with ‘Oysterband’, who have just recently won four BBC Folk Awards, which included Best Group and Best album, for their collaborative album with June Tabor.
Dil showed me around the company’s premises near Brighton and talked about his own playing and how it led him to starting his own business as an inventor.
Tell me how your company started
It started with me as a drummer. I’ve been playing for about 30 years now and I’m 46 so I started when I was in my late teens. I remember at the start when I was in a punk band in Birmingham, I used to struggle with bass drum power and volume, which is really the root of the whole business.
I had lessons with a very fine teacher, a chap called Freddie Wells, who said, ‘You’re playing fine. The technique is there so get a microphone’ to which I thought, ‘Well that’s silly’ being a stroppy teenager. This problem has remained because the bass drum is where everything is based for me. To get round it I went to two bass drums, quite often in unison, just to make noise in a pub without a microphone. Then it progressed to bigger drums, and as a Bonham fan I had a 26” bass drum which I tuned like he did. I’ve still got the drum but most sound men and studios would just freak out because they couldn''t cope with an unported head and such a huge sound.
As the years progressed and I earned a bit more money from being a pro player I started investing in equipment. First I got a 15” wedge and that was OK but it progressed to getting a full sub with a 400 watt 15“ driver in it. Then I had to get outboards to EQ it and microphones, so for my little local gigs I would have this massive cabinet. It was good but I couldn’t take it on tours, especially abroad.
I’ve been in Oysterband for five years but I’ve been a pro drummer since my mid 20’s and have played all sorts of venues and festivals. As all drummers know, no two sound rigs are the same, no two monitor guys are the same. The main thing I get frustrated about, and it’s not self indulgent, is wanting to hear myself and have a solid feeling. If I can’t hear the bass drum I overplay in terms of impact and my timing can get a bit pinched.
Cut forward to 2009 and I was on tour with Oysterband. I was really fed up with this; we had a couple of terrible gigs, monitor wise. I talked to Tim Porter, who is our front of house guy and our tech. Tim goes back to the 70’s when he was a sound man for Thin Lizzy and the early Jam stuff and he knows about PA’s and electronics. Tim said, ‘Let’s have a look at this’. So we did loads of research on the road in our spare time and he said he thought he could build me something. We had four weeks off, I got a phone call from Tim and he said, ‘Come and try this’. He’d built the bloody thing! I could not believe it. That was the very first prototype.
The running joke was ‘Here’s your bumchum!’. All our mates loved it so that’s how the name initially stuck. I played this gadget to my pro mates and within seconds of sitting on it they said, ‘I’ve got to have one! Can you make one for me?’. We said we could but they were expensive as they’re hand made. It developed from there.
A guitarist friend of mine, Gordon Russell, who’s Dr Feelgood’s ex guitarist, said I should speak to Kevin Morris, Dr Feelgood’s drummer. He fell in love with it and said we should make a business out of it, which we did in the summer of 2010 and he became company director.
Porter & Davies is us as the inventors and testers, but there is Kevin Morris and our Managing Director Paul Barretta who understand the stuff that Tim and I know nothing about - how to sell something; we''re not businessmen.
What happened next with selling the product?
We made less than 20 units for the London Drum Show in 2010. Next thing I know I’m getting emails from people; John JR Robinson, Gavin Harrison etc.
Now we’d got some premises because I was building most of the stools in Brighton in my garden or in my basement where I couldn’t stand up. I’ve still got cuts on my head from that. Tim built the electronics in his workshop in Herefordshire but we couldn’t sustain it any more.
The original unit started out at £1,199 when it came out; we have to emphasise that these parts are all bespoke, it’s all hand made and believe me, we’re not making much profit on this. The more you buy in bulk the cheaper it is so we built more and we have now managed to knock the price down to £799 for the BC2.
We get emails every day from drummers saying they love the product but they can’t afford it; we understand that but we’re not a charity and we can’t give stuff away so we’ve developed the Gigster. It’s got all the guts of the BC2 that do the real work; the amplifier, the processing, but it’s in a more simple unit without the bells and whistles of the BC2. This streamlining has knocked £200 off the price and it’s also 6 kilos lighter so instead of being 9.5 kilos it’s 3.4.
I’m a working drummer and it has changed my life. I use it in everything now, not just the big 10,000 festivals. I use it in rehearsals, recordings and I’m a better player as a result. If you talk to any of our top guys they all say the same and having Gavin Harrison say, ‘It’s improving my accuracy’ is something! He’s been so supportive and he makes lots of suggestions that we always listen to; he asked if we’d tried it with a snare yet. It’s unbelievable!
Craig Blundell puts his overheads through it so he gets the full kit picture. I hadn’t thought of doing that. Steve White is also a fantastic help. All our artists are really hands on, which is great. We help them set stuff up and tune it right to their kits and I test every one thoroughly. Tim Porter and I check them when we make them but I double check them when we send them off.
What would you like to see happen in the next five years?
The ego and the world domination side of me would like us to become the industry standard. We would love for every drummer out there to have one of these. It’s not just because of the money; it really makes a difference to your playing. It makes the stage quieter, it makes us more popular with singers because we haven’t got slamming big monitors polluting the stage.
We’ve got some very nice products planned but some of them I can’t reveal yet. One I can tell you about is a rack mountable version. A lot of our pros use racks on the side of the stage for all their electronics and samplers, so we’ve managed to fit the BC2 engine into a 2U rack mount, which is now an advanced prototype. With all our prototypes I use them on stage and kick the sh*t out of them. I go on tour, I knock them over, I kick them, I pull the leads out sideways. I want to see where they''re going to break and I haven’t broken one yet. This rackmount BC2rm has just survived 6 weeks of abusive touring with Oysterband.
Have you had ideas for inventing for other products?
Categorically yes. We''ve got three things at a prototype stage, which I won''t talk about just yet. We want to make sure that they''re right before we say what they are. And not just for music; there are many fascinating applications for deaf people, for example. The reason is the thumpers go back to 1950s technology in cinema seats. Ours isn''t a thumper or a kicker or a shaker or whatever; it''s not a big piston that rams up under the seat. It''s called a tactile transducer, which transmits sounds physically but silently into your spine and torso to your inner ear so you don''t just feel a thump; you hear it with precision and dynamics and absolutely no timing lag. A lot of people with hearing impairments can hear internally but not externally so we''ve been doing tests with these people.
Evelyn Glennie comes to mind as she plays without shoes so she can feel vibrations when she plays. Who else is involved in making the products?
We have loads of sub contractors, including a brilliant company in South Wales who do our embroidery. A company in Herefordshire cut all our wood, other companies supply the metal, other materials, nuts and bolts, do the upholstery etc. Hardcase are going to be making some cases for us so we have lots of different bits and pieces coming from companies. I do build the stools from scratch with all those parts though.
Tells us about your playing with Oysterband and further back in your career
I started playing in 1982 and have been making a living as a drummer since the late 80''s. After school I went to university in Brighton, which was an excuse to play, and straight away I started doing lots of albums. I have been in countless bands, done countless recordings, dozens of albums, and played in many countries, played on cruise ships, done live radio and TV, soundtracks, adverts, international tours etc.
I''ve done lots of teaching including BIMM, Access To Music, Roedean School and I run my own studio in Brighton. Oysterband is now my main gig. I''ve been a full member since 2007 and have played on the last two albums. The current one "Ragged Kingdom" with June Tabor going in to the national album charts at 27. With Oysterband I do a lot of touring so that''s a real honour. Prior to this, some of the people I have either recorded or played live with are Seth Lakeman, Billy Bragg, Dogs D’Amour, Gordon Russell (Dr Feelgood), Kevin Coyne, Pete Brown (Cream songwriter) and many others.
If it continues to grow how will you cope with stocking items?
Our production facility at Lewes in Sussex has room for expansion, and we have now become very efficient at producing our BC2s and Gigsters. We also have our own online shop on the website which is another way we can keep the prices down.
What''s exciting now is it''s not just drummers who are hearing about us but it''s all the techs as well. Monitor men and sound men like it as they don''t have to have a sub on stage and ours is so portable, and the permanently moaning drummers are now happy and finally in control of their own bass drum monitoring.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
At Porter & Davies we’re all working drummers and techs and we’ve been very lucky to come across something we can make and love. We genuinely are trying to keep the price as low as possible; we’re working musicians and we just want to have the respect of the drumming community and make a difference to peoples’ playing. We’ve got loads of ideas and we’re having fun now trying new things.
Dil endorses TRX cymbals. To see more about the Porter & Davies products and view their impressive artist roster visit www.porteranddavies.co.uk
Interview by Gemma Hill
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