David Taraskevics, tour manager for Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and many others, and technical director for the WOMAD Festival, talks to Georgette McCready about organising festivals of all sizes, as he picks his favourite tracks
For more than 30 years Dave T – full name but rarely used David Taraskevics – has been the go-to guy for musicians wanting their tours to run smoothly. Dave T has been tour manager for Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel, worked with George Michael in Wham!’s early days and got the call from Kate Bush when she famously decided to return to live gigs after three decades away from the spotlight.
Dave not only manages major tours for artists but he’s also a director for the popular WOMAD Festival (which runs from Thursday 27 – Sunday 30 July in Malmesbury) and his company Judgeday also organises festivals including Cornbury and events for the Soho House group. He’s recently been involved in working on the Soho House’s launch of the former bank turned uber cool hotel, the Ned, which included collaborating with Gary Barlow and Paloma Faith, among others.
But, exciting as that may be, Dave is happy to be back in the family farmhouse near Box, with idyllic views over the gardens and the Bybrook Valley, where he and his wife Caro run a stylish B&B. Guests enjoy cooking their own breakfasts in their private rural retreats, tucking into farm reared bacon and free range eggs and fresh bread made by Dave.
At all levels Dave is a great host and he has expanded these talents to run Festival in a Box, with a team of people who create private, pop-up festivals for birthdays, special occasions and corporate celebrations.
Festival in a Box was inspired by Dave’s own growing dislike of formal black tie dinners. He said: “We’d been invited to yet another black tie do and I thought, ‘I’m really getting fed up with this, I wonder if everyone else is too?’ Then I came up with this idea that you’d get a truck and roll up and out would come this complete festival, with everything you’d need.”
And because his experience covers thinking of all the details, on everything from where people can park, to putting up tipis, hiring bands and finding tasty festival food and drink, the reputation for good times with Festival in a Box spread by word of mouth.
He said of the business’s snowballing success: “We’ve done 50th birthdays, we’ve done family parties. We’ve done every size from 100 to 1,000 people and yes, a lot of it’s by word of mouth.
“We did a big summer party for Mind Candy, the company that created Moshi Monsters. We took over Stowe School, with tipis and yurts in the grounds and people sleeping in dorms. There were bands, roaming minstrels, bars and food stalls.”
And, like all the best festival experiences, there were unexpected surprises. Late at night a door was quietly unlocked which led revellers into a secret garden equipped with more music, ice bars and fire pits.
Dave says there’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing people having a good time. So how did he find himself so thoroughly at home in the entertainment world?
“I grew up in the south west, on a stud farm,” he says. “I baled out of school and ended up in the world of racehorse breeding.”
But a couple of incidents showed Dave the darker sides of the horseracing industry and he said he felt morally compromised, so left his job – which meant losing his tied cottage.
Fast forward and a chance chat with a friend found the young Dave heading to London to Pink Floyd’s studio team Britannia Row, where they agreed to give him an apprenticeship in lighting and sound.
It was a case of in at the deep end: “The apprenticeship didn’t last long and I found myself out on tour in the first week with Mike Oldfield. One of my jobs was climbing out of a window 50 feet up to secure a light. There were no safety harnesses back then and I don’t mind admitting I was absolutely bricking it.”
It was this early entrance into the world where Dave has successfully carved his reputation, that has motivated his company Judgeday to take on interns to give them the break they need to launch their careers. In the early 90s Dave was managing Peter Gabrield’s Real World studios in a converted mill in Box. These were the embryonic days of WOMAD – which stands for A World of Music and Dance – bringing world music to a wider audience. One of its collaborations saw Royal Victoria Park in Bath become a mini festival hosting A World in the Park and featuring some big names, including Boy George, the Pogues and Bath’s adopted son Peter Gabriel.
But, sadly for the local audience, this venture proved too costly to sustain and so WOMAD began as a festival in Cornwall, later moving to Reading before finding its existing happy home in Malmesbury.
Given that Dave knows so many musicians, it was always going to be a tough choice for him to narrow it down to his top ten favourite tracks, but he managed it:
DAVE T’s TOP TEN SONGS
Supertramp – Breakfast in America
I liked this band and was about 17 or 18 when this came out. It just gave me the idea of eating breakfast in America, something I then only dreamt of doing.
Wham! – Club Tropicana
Wham! were one of our first clients and we went on one of their first tours. I recall an ice rink in Scarborough, with the guys there as very young men with their families.
The Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
The first time I saw them was in Bristol, when there were about 15 of them on stage making this amazing sound, to about five people in the audience. Then some time later they transformed into a trio and I ended up working with them and going on tour to the States. They played Radio City in New York and the Hollywood Bowl, so I got to have my first breakfast in America, which made me very happy.
Paul Simon – Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
I was working for Peter Gabriel at the mill in Box and we were just about to go on tour with So. At the time Paul Simon had produced this album Graceland. It was very controversial at the time as he used musicians in South Africa. It’s a fantastic fusion of African music and rock and it’s still a fabulous album. This is a great song from a great album.
Peter Gabriel (featuring Kate Bush) – Don’t Give Up
Peter Gabriel was touring and playing a few nights at Earls Court. I think he’d always sung both parts in this song. Of course there’d always been rumours about Kate Bush playing live again – as she hadn’t been live on stage since 1979. Then suddenly, I was behind the drummer at the time, mixing the drum sound, when I heard this unmistakable voice on stage. It was Kate Bush singing this with Peter and it was one of those magical moments when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The Blues Brothers – Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
I’d just come back from a massive Amnesty International tour with Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and Tracey Chapman among others. We were doing this big tour to promote human rights. And then when I got back to Wiltshire there was this beautiful lady called Caro working at the mill studios in Box. We went on date and soon discovered we had the same music in our cars, we were both listening to the Blues Brothers soundtrack and this song, which is quite romantic.
Fleetwood Mac – Tango in the Night
In this time my life changed, I went from being single man touring all over the place to family man. I was living with Caro in Bath and she had these two little girls, Sarah and Cathleen. We used to listen to this a lot together and I can remember singing this with them in the car on the way to school. I’d seen Fleetwood Mac play years ago and it was lovely last year to be able to get tickets so Caro and our two younger children could all go and see them together.
Van Morrison – Moondance
He was another musician who used to be based in Bath and would regularly come out to the studios in Box. We got on really well, I found him great company and we used to have a glass of wine and a chat. I ended up touring with him over a period of Friday and Saturday nights.
Kad Achouri – Piano Piano
I was introduced to this wonderful young French musician by a dear friend. This is from his album Liberté and it turned out that he was from San Ponsin in the Pyrenees, where we used to holiday as a family. So a happy link there.
Robert Plant and The Strange Sensation – Mighty Rearranger
This track takes me back to 2005 when Robert approached me and we went on tour. I spent several years touring with Robert and the band, but sadly commitments in the festival world just made it too much for me to carry on with all the touring. I miss it a lot but fortunately we all keep in touch.
Festival pictures courtesy of: lydiaboothphotography.com.