Here we are: 2022. We’re excited for this year and we hope you are too. This entry takes the form of a short interview with our amazing touring drummer and immensely talented studio engineer, Oliver Middleton. Oli has spent the best part of his career to date in residence at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Wiltshire, where he has worked with acts from the obscure to the iconic. We first met Oli at a show in Bristol, and a year later found ourselves recording a live session with him, along with the great Oli Jacobs, at Real World for WOMAD festival (which you can watch HERE).
How did you first get involved with the music world?
I just wanted to play drums when I was a kid. There was a really cool guy at my school who taught the drums, and I just said, “I want that.” That led to playing drums in bands; which led to wanting to record music; which led to learning how to do that and then realising that’s really fun as well. And then you want to play more instruments so you can do the recording at home… then it just snowballs, doesn’t it? And before you know it, somehow you’re doing it as a career.
You did the Tonmeister course at Surrey, which is kind of the Oxford of music production courses. What was that like?
It was really great. When I was at secondary school there was a teacher who told me about the course, and it helped that I enjoyed the maths and physics-y side of things alongside music— which is good because I had to do them for A-level. I didn’t think I’d get in but my dad convinced me to apply, and I somehow got on the course. The people there are great: it encourages people to find their own niche. It’s not like everyone’s doing exactly the same thing. I went to uni with so many people, who were doing different things, like, audio programming or performance, or acoustics. There’s a broad range of what people go on to do.
That led you to Real World.
Yes, I’d done a placement at Real World. It was actually the first placement they’d done at the actual studio. They’d been running a placement for a decade or more which was more on Peter [Gabriel]’s side of things: archiving, admin-y things with his catalogue and things like that. Mine was straight up assisting. After graduating, they needed another engineer there and I already had the benefit of a year’s training under my belt. So I went back after graduating and worked there for another three years.
What were some of your most memorable sessions there?
It was so varied… At the beginning I was assisting a lost of sessions with the bigger clients, some iconic names, like Tom Jones and Robert Plant. That was really fascinating to me as a fly on the wall. The best behind-the-scenes experience ever! And you get to work on it! It’s really educational. My first proper assisting credit was on ‘Carry Fire’, the Robert Plant record. Seeing how these household names make their music. Someone like Tom Jones, his career stretches across a whole era of modern music. Hearing him talk about the people he’s encountered over his career is just unbelievable. Plus, he’s really friendly.
The best thing about Real World, though, is that you get all kinds of people through the door— not just massive names. You work on local stuff, you work on stuff from around the world that’s brought in through the record label… For me it was about getting a piece of everything, the whole spectrum. It was just great. Now I’ve now moved to London to continue recording and engineering, but also to do things like play with you guys! It’s a change of scene, and it allows me to say yes to things I wouldn’t have been able to previously.
Tell the people how you got involved with Voka Gentle.
Well, you were working with Sam [Petts-Davies], who was finishing mixing Start Clanging Cymbals while also working at Real World on a Roger Waters record; which I was working on with him. He just said “check this out”, and we were blasting your pre-masters over the monitors. Then Oli Jacobs and I went to see you guys play in Bristol, along with Amanda and Paula from WOMAD. We had a great time. I bought a T-shirt! Then the next day you guys came down for a visit and a tour of the studio, then you got booked for WOMAD… Which was cancelled because of the pandemic. But if that hadn’t been cancelled, we might never have worked together on the WOMAD At Home stuff. And you might never have known I played drums. Because, while you were rehearsing onsite for that I came and saw the marimba in the room and asked if I could have a go! Then, the day I was doing my last ever session at Real World, you called and asked if I’d like to play drums for you.
…And now we’ve just come off our first tour together. Yay!
Yeah that was great. Just being a part of it, seeing audience members properly engage with music. Also the thrill of learning new music and playing drums again— it’s just what I needed having been so heavily involved with music for the last five years but not doing any real drumming! And also increasing my quality of drumming… with you three I’m a duck on water. Calm on top. Working really hard under the surface.