If you're in the habit of reading the credits on the album sleeves, the name Dougie Cowan should be
familiar. His name appears on Once Upon A Time onwards;
with credits ranging from "Studio Crew", "Computer Work" to "Technical Master".
His association with the band far predates Once Upon A Time; he was working with them in the
Johnny And The Self Abusers days.
Shaun Tranter and Paul Halfacre tracked him down at Lyon, the
last gig of the 1998 festival tour.
ST: Full name?
DC: Dougie Cowan
ST: Job description?
DC: Well, on this one I'm the guitar technician, or whatever they call it these days. It looks better
on the bank loan application form.
ST: Do you put Simple Minds by the side of it?
DC: Yeah! You have to. If the bank manager hasn't heard of them, his dad has!
ST: How long have you been Charlie's roadie?
DC: I don't normally do Charlie's guitar. I've worked with the band off and on since about
1979, since they first started. I usually look after their studio and things. But they've just sold that a little while
ago. So obviously since then there's no need for anybody to look after their studio! So I came out and did this instead.
This and the Proms concerts was the first time I looked after his guitar.
ST: So what does your job actually involve?
DC: Today? It's essentially just looking after the guitars and making sure there's some electricity for the
rest of the band to plug into. I'm here if anything goes wrong as well. So I fix most things.
ST: So, yesterday was Toulon and obviously everything had to be shipped from Toulon up to
here. Did you work all through the night?
DC: Not all night. We're last on the stage and usually first off it. So it normally takes us an hour or so after the band
to finish. And then we're packed up. The gear travels by truck and we travel in the bus. The bus has a lot of bunks on it,
so we sleep on the way here so you wake up when you get here.
ST: Do you usually sleep on the bus or do they put you up in hotels?
DC: If we have a day off inbetween then we would stay in a hotel. But normally it would be pretty pointless to stay
in a hotel. In a hotel in Toulon, we'd have to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning.
ST: Will you be watching the show today, or will you be catching up on your sleep?
DC: No. When they're playing I'll be at the side of the stage tuning up Charlie's guitar.
PH: How many guitars does he have?
DC: Two that he plays, one that's a spare. One of them has different tuning on it and it's got a tremelo
bar and what-not on it. He uses different ones for different songs.
ST: What's the good and bad points of the job?
DC: [Laughs] Sitting here in the sun is probably one of the better points. Back home the weather's not
too hot at the moment.
ST: What would you say is the highlight? Getting around to see the world?
DC: On a tour like this, you get to see a little bit of the countryside because we did have a few
days of here and there. Largely because there are such large distances to travel between some of the venues that
there was no alternative than to have a day off somewhere. The people who drive the buses and trucks can only drive
for so many hours a day, so they have to stop as well.
DC: So, definintely, at this time of year and in this part of the country, the swanning about in the sun
is one of the highlights. The boring bits are the same thing. Sitting on the bus for twelve hours for a stretch as you
get a thousand miles from Hamburg to Milan or something like that.
ST: Does everybody help out, or do you have your own jobs?
DC: During the show, we pretty much only do our own job, although obviously if something goes wrong
with anyone else's, there's usually somebody who's done your job before so they would know how to do something, if
something calamitous happened and we all had to move around - but it wouldn't be the end of the world. But then at the end
of the night, it's a case of pack up your own gear and pack up anything else that's lying around and get it in the truck as soon
ST: So it's one big team effort?
DC: Yeah, it has to be. We don't have a terribly big crew for this. There's only four back line people,
and a couple of sound men, the light man. If everyone did just their job, there would be quite a few bits left
over at the end of the day.
ST: When the band's not touring, what do you do with yourself, now the studio's gone?
DC: That question's never arisen before because the studio's always been there. At the moment we have
a lot of excess equipment which is left over from the studio. Nobody really realised we had so much equipment until it
came to taking it all out of the studio. So we're trying to get rid of some of that and house it sensibly - if we can't
actually get rid of it. So we'll be doing that for a bit and then see what happens when they start writing the next
album. Or whatever they're going to do next.
ST: So are you with them from when they start recording the album, or does Charlie
do his own...
DC: Most of the time. Because previously either they'd start writing some of it at home or in hotels
somewhere. Nice and warm! We'd take some equipment - they use Macintosh computers and things to record the album. They
were right in from the word go. But there was always several levels of complication there that has to be attended
to. I usually follow them around the world putting plugs on things.
DC: ... I've been in more-or-less constant contact with them over the last ten years. Looking after stuff
in the studio, looking after the studio, doing everything except writing the songs. Making sure all the technical side
of it is reasonably up and functioning so they can get on with their creative bit. Looking after the computers they
ST: Is everything going more towards being computerised?
DC: Yeah. Everything you get now has a computer in it. It's much easier to control it on a computer
screen than it is to fiddle about with two little buttons and a knob or something, which used to be the old way of doing
it. And if you come across something that sounds good, you can save it, rather than gaffer all the knobs up on some piece
ST: What was your main job in the early days?
DC: When I started working with them I did the stage monitors. And then I went on to just looking after
things technically. I've done that up to really this last [tour] - well the Proms was the beginning of just looking after
ST: For the Proms, did they rehease with the orchestra before they played or was it a case of
'these are the songs, these are the arrangements'?
DC: The arrangements were semi-agreed on beforehand. Tapes and things were sent to the conductor and
the chap who was doing the orchestration, and they came up with bits and pieces. The orchestra had rehearsed what they
had to play separately and then together - quite a lot before we ever got there. Then the band did do a few rehearsals
but it was very much in running order. Rehearsals would be zipped through quite quickly so it wasn't terribly extensive.
Which an orchestra doesn't really need because they've got all the dots in front of them.
DC: Once Charlie and Jim has 'relearned' their songs the way the
conductor was going to play them, that was it.
ST: So it was the conductor saying 'we're going to do it this way'?
DC: More or less. Some bits of it, what he had come up with, weren't acceptable so they were 'redone' if
you like. By and large it was all done to suit the orchestral setting. You have to assume that the conductor and the
arranger know a wee bit more about it than anyone else. So you have to take their word for it that it's going to be
marvellous on the night.
DC: It was epsecially effective on Belfast Child because it took quite well to an orchestral
PH: I was in Dunkirk last week and the start of Belfast Child has a little
orchestral start now - does that come from there?
DC: There always used to be some kind of instrumental beginning. It's varied over the years from violins,
when we had the violin player, to Charlie playing acoustic guitar. When that wasn't loud enough for
him he would play electric guitar. But there was always some kind of solo thing on the beginning of it.
ST: From playing an open venue like this, to the [closed environment of the] Cybertheatre,
do you have to approach it any different way? Or do the guys on the desk have to approach it different?
DC: Not really. The main difference, obviously, is that the stage here is about twice the size of the entire
Cybertheatre. So we're not quite so cramped as to where to put everything. The PA system is bigger obviously, the layout
of the venue is a bit different, so the sound-man has to make allowances for the different acoustics. Apart from that, it's
pretty much the same.
ST: At the Cybertheatre, was it the case of bare essentials on the stage with everything
else on the truck?
DC: At the Cybertheatre there was no room for everything so things had to go back in the truck parked
around the corner, because they dug the road up! But here we have enough sapce to put everything where we want it,
everything's set up. All we've got to do now is wait for it not to rain.
ST: Do you class yourself as a fan of the band?
DC: Yeah, of their earlier stuff, year, definitely. The music that got everybody interested.
ST: So, do you have a favourite single, album track, live track?
DC: I don't have any favourites. It would definitely be some of their old stuff. Something like
New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84).
PH: Is there a favourite gig of this tour?
DC: Yeah, this one!
ST: Because it's the last one?
DC: It's actually one of the best stadiums we've been in in terms of size of the stage, having the wings,
having enough room for two bands and a couple of musicians. There's enough room for everybody to be there without someone
having to take it all to bits again. That's fairly important because we come in the morning and check it; that it's all set up,
and then take it all down and then do it again. You're just as likely to break something the second time around.
ST: So, once it's all set up, do the band soundcheck at every venue?
DC: No, the band have only done a couple of soundchecks on this tour. We get to know what they want to hear
and how they want everything set up. So we just do that, so they don't have to come here. This one's not so bad,
but some of the venues are open to the public all day long. So when the band's coming on and doing their soundcheck,
it's a bit embarrassing probably.
ST: So once tonight's finished, once you've packed away, what are you going to do then?
DC: I'll be staying in Lyon tonight and flying home tomorrow morning. I should be home for lunch tomorrow.
Then I have to wait for the truck to come back, which takes a bit longer. It has various stop-offs to do, to drop
off everybody's equipment.
ST: Does everybody look after their own equipment?
DC: Kind off. Some of the guys are going on to other things, so their equipment gets dropped off at other
ST: Rangers or Celtic supporter?
DC: Neither. If I was a football supporter, I probably wouldn't support either. Both Rangers and Celtic
are from Glasgow and I'm from just south of Edinburgh.
ST: If you could have a normal nine-to-five job, what would it be? Would you want a normal nine-to-five job?
DC: When you see the people with all the money, they're either plumbers or accountants or lawyers or
something like that. I'd have to be one of them I think.
ST: If anybody wanted to get into this type of work, what advice would you give them?
DC: The two usual routes are to have worked for a band since they worked at the high school or whatever.
Generally it means you're not very musical so you get the job of fixing things rather than being the singer. It's either that
or your next door neighbour suddenly becomes famous overnight and asks you to look after his towel or something on stage.
Most of these people have been working with bands since they were at school.
PH: When was the first time you met Jim and Charlie and got involved?
DC: I actually did some gigs with Johnny And The Self Abusers. I was working with PA
companies in Scotland when they played - thye did a few shows in Edinburgh, some in Glasgow, some in Dunfirmline - places like
that. Whether anyone would remember that, I don't know.
DC: We did some gigs with them before they got their record deals, and had all their own PA equipment and
things like that - we did some gigs with Simple Minds.
ST: They got in touch with you to hire their equipment?
DC: Yeah, they would rent equipment or the promoter would organise renting equipment and you would turn up
and find that it's Simple Minds playing.
ST: We read in books that they had quite a cult following - is that true?
DC: Yeah, there's always been an underground element to it. There are people on tis tour who know where
the band are playing two months before the band know where they're playing. There's obviously people with crystal balls out
there who know everything about them. So in the early days, with a complete lack of publicity by anybody else, that's
the only way they would have known when they were playing. It would have been a bit of a cult following. They weren't on
Top Of The Pops very often in 1979!
Who's Doing The Dreaming Now?
Issue #8, 1999