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Adlib’s Andy Dockerty: Doing it my way – part 1

Andy Dockerty started the Adlib hire business 30 years ago – and solid principles means the company is thriving today, as Dave Robinson discovers.

Andy Dockerty started Liverpool’s Adlib 30 years ago. Based in Speke on the outskirts of Liverpool, the operation has grown from the archetypal ‘one-man-and-a-van’ PA hire company to a major force in sound, lighting, touring and installation. Adlib is an authorised distributor for L-Acoustics and Coda ViRAY, and earlier this year officially launched its Adlib Speakers business (20 years after the company started building them…).

Recent work for Adlib has included tours with Ellie Goulding, Del Amitri, Lana Del Rey, Placebo, and Nine Inch Nails. Adlib has toured with CBeebies at one end of the spectrum, and Nine Inch Nails at the other. Comedy features too, in the shape of live shows for Mrs Brown’s Boys and Jack Whitehall’s Gets Around Arena tour.

The man behind Adlib is Andy Dockerty, but with typical humility he says the company is “not just about owning the kit, but really it’s the infrastructure and the people and the personalities that surround you. They make Adlib. I just happen to be the person who popped them together.”

PSNEurope asked him to reflect on various aspects of his 30 years at the helm…

On getting started…
When I was at school, my mates played in a band and I liked everything about it, but I was musically talentless. So I just helped out, shifting bits and pieces around for them. I finished my lower sixth – and failed miserably because I’d been working with the band in the evenings.

I applied for two jobs; one was as an administrative assistant at the council, the other was as an electrician. I was lucky enough to get both of them, but I chose electrician because I knew I was working with the bands, and going into bizarre places, and going into bizarre places with dodgy mains… I just thought it would help me out. I now had a full-time job, and was working with bands in the evenings and weekends.

Once I started earning the ‘royal’ 28 quid a week or so, I started buying little bits of gear here and there…
I finished the job – I was 23 – and went on to one of those government Enterprise Allowance Schemes for 40 quid a week. I already had a van from doing the gigs, and bits and pieces of kit, so I just started it from that. I had a little PA system, and I just sort of formalised it into a little business from ’84. That’s pretty much how it started.

I don’t mix so much anymore, but when I do [for Scottish pop/blues outfit Texas], I get really excited about it. It’s still the reason why we wind up going into this industry.

On the name ‘Adlib’…
When I started the business in ’84, I noticed that most companies were usually the owner’s initials, or some form of initials. I wanted something different, but I didn’t have a clue what. My accountant at the time said, “We’re going to have to register with something just to get you started.” I said, “I don’t know, I’ll be at a gig and someone will ad lib and we’ll use that, whatever.” He said “Adlib – there you go!” It was an innocent conversation, but that’s how the name actually came about. The ‘Ad’ from Andy Dockerty was purely coincidental, I suppose. We remained Adlib PA hire until 1997 when we rolled it into a limited company, Adlib Audio Ltd. We trade just as Adlib now, because of all the bits and pieces attached to it.

On becoming a lighting hire company…
In ’97-’98, when we had two separate companies, Adlib Audio Limited and Adlite Limited. So that’s when the lighting department started. But the Adlite thing wasn’t really working out, and we rolled it back into the Adlib name.

And then, it was about 2003, we started the video side of things, a corporate side, which by 2007 I was ready to give up on. We found the right people for that, but when it came to delivery, it was always somebody else’s fault…

Now, Rich Rowley is a close friend of mine going back to his BSS days. I use Rich as my inspiration, because he went from SSE Audio to become the MD of a company called Show Support, taking on the complete video role in the space of 12 months. Using this as inspiration Triss’s Bryant, an Adlib engineer of old who we all really liked and admired and had the right outlook, had arrived back in Liverpool and was looking to come off the road. So we asked Triss if he would be interested in developing our video business, he could start it and grow it at his own pace. He did that phenomenally well for five years. But then he left…

We’ve been through the mill with it a little bit over the last 18 months or so, but now, with a new team of people, we want to kick it to another level. That’s our intention for the next 12 months. There’s a lot of effort going into that.

On growing Adlib as a ‘full service company’, and working at a local level…
I think there’s a journey to go still before you will be able to put your hand on your heart and say that we’re ready for that complete thing. PA and lighting, we can do what you want, when you want. Video, I want to grow it with a little more infrastructure so that there is confidence across the whole company; not just within a department.

Video bringing the local corporate market back, because we haven’t been doing anything local really for a long, long time; that’s something I’m not very pleased about because that’s grass roots stuff, and that’s what we were originally all about.

We’ve still got a few bits and pieces going around locally. For three or four years I moaned about not doing it, not getting close enough to the locality, that we needed to keep our hands in. But everytime we tried to do it, for what people are doing it for these days – man-and-a-van gigs – we can’t get close on price.

But six months ago I tied up with a small local company. We kind of nurture them now. It keeps us with a finger on the pulse of what’s actually going on. And they grow by working with us. We’ll throw work at them, they’ll throw work at us. We’ve backed them on a couple of installations, that they couldn’t have done, but we couldn’t have afforded to quote for, and that has made it work for both of us. I’d rather have that than losing what’s going on at a local level.

On the Adlib Speakers division…
We can’t build a cheap box but where we can be cost effective is, all you need with ours is a decent amplifier, you don’t need processing. The passive crossovers are well put together, and the boxes themselves are designed by Dave Fletcher to be flat and acoustically correct, without processing. We feel we can provide really good value for money solution by using them in the right places.

Our wedges are doing well in festival world. There’s loads of our boxes out there but we never tried to market it properly before. For instance, all the O2 Academy sites up and down the country, the peripheral boxes are unbranded Adlib boxes.