- 28 Sep 05
As Mikam Sound celebrates its 30th year at the top of the Irish sound-hire and production business, Jackie Hayden talks to its driving forces, Paul Aungier and Mick O’Gorman, about their early days, the changing face of the music industry here and abroad and the phenomenal success of their Mosco Sound Design off-shoot.
Mikam originally came into being in London as a partnership between Mick O’Gorman and Keith Alexander Murrell. In 1975 they handled their first major booking, Don Mclean’s UK tour, to be followed by a tour of the UK with The Chieftains. Nor was it all folk and trad. One early series of rock gigs handled by Mikam was by The Damned in London.
Towards the end of the decade, the original partnership having faded, O’Gorman moved the set-up to Ireland to take care of tours by Bagatelle and other bands of similar stature. During a Bagatelle tour O’Gorman’s new business partner Andy died in a truck crash, so it was in the early '80s that Paul Aungier and O’Gorman came together for a partnership that still endures.
As Aungier remembers, “In a sense, Mikam came about by accident. I’d always been into music and electronics, so looking after the sound for live music shows was the ideal combination for me.”
In fact, Aungier had been in bands prior to that, including one called The Fast Skirts, which featured later Pogues manager Joey Cashman, and who did support slots around the north side of Dublin, in places like Sutton and Howth, for bands like Feedback and The Hype, early incarnations of U2. Despite that on-stage experience, he never feels he wants to be up there instead of down the back behind the mixing desk.
“You mean, do I feel like a failed musician?” he replies with a laugh, before adding, “No, I’m quite happy to be at the other end of the room.”
Through Mick O’Gorman’s work with The Chieftains and other acts in Ireland and contacts with promoters like Oliver Barry, Mikam grew steadily, not least in terms of its reputation for going the extra yard to get things right.
“We were busy with a lot of folk and trad gigs especially. These were also very exciting and very simple, almost primitive days, when you might have a rope to show where the audience should be and the money was collected on the door in cardboard boxes and we didn’t have the sophisticated technology we have today. Things were much more haphazard back then, whereas today there’s so much competition, and both the bands and the public expect the highest standard, so things are a lot sharper now.”
Those decades behind the sound desk have given the Mikam team a pocketful of memories, and Aungier muses on some of them for Hot Press. “It’s hard and a bit unfair to pick out one, but a recent one we did was Paul Simon’s outdoor gig in Kilkenny. Now I wasn’t really a Paul Simon fan before that, but I was so knocked out by him, the band, the songs, the sound, the whole lot just came together like magic. It was fabulous to work on it. It’s very hard to put it into words. Working with Brian Masterson on the opening night of the Special Olympics was another very memorable occasion for me. Everything came right and created a spectacular show. I also remember working on several Eurovision shows. That’s how we came to be involved with Riverdance and over a decade later Mick is still working on Riverdance, but we’d worked with Bill Whelan a lot before then.”
He has no outright preference for stadium gigs or intimate venues. “It’s all down to the music. Bands like U2 really work in a stadium because they have the skills to push the sound out there, whereas others work best in a small room. Both can be a challenge for us, but they can also be a challenge for the artist. The technology can only do so much, and some acts assume everything’s going to be fine because we can throw the technology at it. In the end, I believe that the personality has to come across more than anything else, and the technology can’t do that on its own.”
Somehow one suspects that he gets a buzz from the challenge of the job and, as his reputation suggests, he invariably rises to the challenge.
“Yeah, I suppose I do like the challenge bit of it. The business tends be cyclical with up times and down times, but even when things get quiet, something always turns up to keep you on your toes. I can remember when Ireland were in the World Cup and we got a call from Jim Aiken to say there might be a need to get a sound system together for a gig in the Phoenix Park. The problem was, we didn’t know how long our lads were going to be in it, so we had to wait and then sort out the gear fast. But we did it!”
Looking back through the decades he can’t recall any real disasters.
“As the old show-business saying says, the show must go on. You have to carry on and sort out problems anyway, so giving up is not an option, although there were a few close shaves! I can only remember being totally helpless once, and that was an In Tua Nua gig in a hotel. The hotel’s power generator went down and the amps went on fire. There wasn’t much you could actually do about that!”, he maintains with a wry laugh.
As a fan of many types of music, including folk and guitar bands, he’s positive about the current state of the Irish music scene, though he does wonder if we promote Irish music well enough to make it as popular at home as it is abroad.
“You have bands like Altan who have to play far smaller venues at home compared to the big venues they can fill when they travel overseas. But I’m positive about the Irish scene. I like the fact that guitar bands are making a bit of a come-back and things are really getting exciting on that front again.”
Like a chef who goes out to a restaurant and can’t avoid wondering what’s in this sauce or that stew, Aungier confesses he can’t really get away from music and doesn’t really want to anyway. And while he has very varied tastes that includes superior seventies power-poppers Magazine, an increasing interest in Dylan and a deep fondness for new bands like Franz Ferdinand, he has a slight suspicion that affluence has a dulling effect on the current level of creativity in today’s scene.
“When you don’t have the resources you have to be more inventive to make things happen, and that was certainly the case in the early days. Having said that, the prosperity in the country means that the live scene is really active, with all kinds of music doing well. Look at the number of festivals we had in Ireland this summer, and they all did well.”
With an impressive range of customers that includes both Peter and Jim Aiken events, Aungier is also very upbeat about the Irish music industry. “We’ve now got a truly professional industry here that’s as good as you’ll get anywhere else. Attitudes are totally different now, and for the better. Sometimes the work has been demanding and very challenging, but then along comes an event that really lifts you and revitalises you in a way I don’t think I’d get in any other line of work We’ve all come a long way from very basic beginnings, so I can only be optimistic about the future for both the industry and for Mikam’s role in it.” b