Tom Larkin is accustomed to wearing many hats.
As founder and manager at Tiny Triumphs Management, he helps steer the careers of artists such as Eliza and the Delusionals and The Vanns. Since 2019 he’s also been the Conference Programmer at Brisbane-based music conference BIGSOUND, while running Homesurgery Recordings, an artist development agency and recording studio.
For legions of music lovers worldwide, however, Larkin is best known as the drummer of New Zealand rock band Shihad. Formed in Wellington in 1988, the four-piece hold the record for most chart hits in their home country (44), collecting nine Platinum certifications along the way.
Here, Larkin discusses the band’s most memorable festival appearances, the first show he ever attended, and the biggest lesson he’s learned from 35 years of touring…
What is your favorite festival appearance of Shihad’s?
The Big Day Out. So many defining moments, and the richness of the people involved with it. There wasn't a specific show, but The General Electric [tour], that would have been in the year ’99, 2000, where [the album] was really rushing and breaking in Australia, that was really powerful. Then there were odd shows along the way – at Auckland Big Day Out we would often get a later slot, more that kind of 6 o'clock slot.
What was the best festival you ever attended as a punter?
There are a couple of Big Day Outs that were astonishing. Some of those ones in the mid-to-late ’90s. Insane. Roskilde was amazing. You play a show, and then wander around and watch Van Halen, and watch Oasis's first show in Denmark. I think it's been interesting to watch festivals kind of become more siloed, like your Soundwaves and Downloads and things like that. They’re so much fun.
What was the first gig you ever saw?
David Bowie, Serious Moonlight tour, 1983, Athletic Park, Wellington, New Zealand. Probably a crowd of about 30,000 people. Him arriving in town was like a super event. And he was magnificent. He looked amazing – he had the bleached blond kind of quiff and the oversized suits and the horn section, and he had Tony Thompson on drums and Earl Slick on guitar, Carlos Alomar as well, who's such a pivotal figure in Bowie’s story. And I went with my mom, and we parked our car near the arena and came back to the car and it had been vandalized and we had to drive home without a windscreen.
Is there a gig that changed your life?
There’s a few. There was a young drummer called Kere Buchanan in the New Zealand Jazz Orchestra. I’d started playing drums, I was super enthusiastic about it. This guy came up, played jazz, and by the end of his set – he had just been playing solo, so hard and passionate – he walked offstage just dripping in sweat with a red face. He would have been 18, I would have been 14, maybe 13, and when I saw that I went, that's what I'm going to do with my life.
I remember seeing Faith No More for the first time, watching [drummer] Mike Bordin. We actually opened for them when [FNM album] The Real Thing was breaking, and Bordin played with such ferocity and he had his huge sticks, and he was generating so much power. There was an esky over the other side of the amps, and I remember going to that after the show and seeing wood splinters in it from parts of the sticks that had been flying over the stage because he was hitting so hard.
"I remember seeing Faith No More for the first time... I changed my playing after that show."
That changed my approach. I was more kind of a racing driver style drummer before then, about speed. But when I saw him play I went, I want to actually impact like that. And so I changed my playing after that show, I changed my sticks, and I went much more for power.
What's the greatest piece of touring advice you ever received?
This is a piece of tour advice if you're building a career, and not necessarily one I've always perfectly followed, but one that I regard as a foundational truth. You've got to be respectful with everyone at every show; you've got to be respectful of the crew and staff. You've got to be polite, warm, helpful. You've got to stay out of people's way when they're doing jobs. It's not a place to go party. It's a place of work. And you have to respect that and you have to be respectful and look to make the event or the show or the festival work as well as it can by supporting the people trying to deliver it on every level.
Follow Tom on LinkedIn, and visit Tiny Triumphs Management and Homesurgery Recordings.