With The Beatyard Festival on the horizon, Bodytonic’s big summer jam which turns Dún Laoghaire Harbour into a flurry of music, food and sunshine, July 30th-31st. From Bloc Party and MIA to Bodytonic, event sponsors Beck’s have a longstanding involvement in artistic movements around the world, and have just launched a new Irish campaign called BeKreativ, which is showcasing creative talent from all around Ireland for the next few years. We sat down for a slice with the creator of the Big Blue Bus, Oliver Allison, to find out the story of their fantastic pizzas.
How did you get your start in the food business?
I don’t know exactly, I always loved food but I never had a passion for cooking or anything like that. I actually qualified as a horticulturist having studied botany for five years. So I set up a sustainable farming business called Permaculture. Essentially designing gardens for the future, instead of planting a lawn, we’d hope that people would plant something that would bear fruit. That was going well, myself and a friend set up a company and ended up doing a couple of TV shows and all kinds of stuff. After a while I decided to travel to South America and take a break for 6 months. When I was over there I just decided that I wasn’t going back to horticulture, it just wasn’t me.
When I came back a couple of friends were already restoring a bus, they had no money left and I had a little bit of money put aside. At the time the only thing I was good at cooking was pizza so that’s what we decided to do. I never had any training or anything like that, we just went for it. The closest thing I had to experience in food was doing silver service at a big corporate event in the RDS when I was 16. I got sacked after one night for messing… I’ve always been a messer! [Laughs]
Where did the actual Big Blue Bus come from?
My friend who I set the bus up with originally, his dad used to work on films. I think the bus originally came from England and then it went to the film industry in Ireland, they’d use it for tea and sandwiches. You’d see that a lot on sets, they’d just pull up a double decker and it’d be a place to have your food out of the rain when you’re filming. They were scrapping it so it was in ribbons when we first got it, a complete disaster. We put a lot of work into it to get it road legal and kitted it out.
As soon as you got the bus did you know what you wanted to do with it?
No, not at all [Laughs]. My friend got it and his plan was to turn it into a party bus, we were just going to use it to go down to all the festivals with our mates. As we started to do it up, it started to cost more and more money. One night somebody said, “We should do something, we should sell something at the gigs,” and that was the lightbulb over the head moment when I was like “I could do pizza!” and that’s how the idea was born.
How did Bodytonic get involved?
When we went to our first few festivals we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, we were mostly interested in impressing girls, I think! Everything happened very naturally and it just sort of grew. After a few years doing festivals we got better at it and met John Mahon who was with Bodytonic. John just fell in love with the bus. We were doing this little area in Electric Picnic at the time and we just couldn’t get rid of him for the whole weekend. After that he asked us to come in here to the Bernard Shaw.
You guys still work at a lot of festivals. Looking forward to Beatyard?
Yeah, we still love doing festivals. It’s great when you’re down at them and you can see somebody on the phone, and they say; “I’ll meet you by the Big Blue Bus.” It’s a landmark, you know? We always try to make it kind of a zone of its own, we blast the reggae out, set up a few seats out front, that kind of thing. I think a big part of the Beatyard this year is that they’re going to be pushing the food a lot. The Bodytonic guys have been doing great work with food lately, both with the chicken they do in the Square Ball and the spudboxes in MVP. I’m really excited to see Lee Scratch Perry as well; I’m a big reggae fan. I took all the staff from both our locations to see him at our staff party not too long ago.
You’re well known for your offer where you give free pizza to people with a particular name. How did that get started?
We’ve been doing it for seven years now in fact! When I first started, my brother Alex was down in a food market in Galway. There was a guy down there selling vegetables but he was also doing bowls of porridge and he was doing the same promotion with the names. It just so happened that name that day was Alex. So, my brother immediately calls me up and says, “I’ve got it! You have to do this!” I thought it would put us out of business, but we gave it a try anyway and then it became this religious thing.
How do you pick the names?
We choose them totally at random. It’s always a girl’s and a boy’s name, back in the day, when I was single, whatever girl I was chasing I’d choose her name… more often than not it failed miserably [Laughs]. Sometimes we do common names for the craic, one week we did Seán or Brendan or something like that and we had a queue of 20 people looking for the free pizza. It’s fun to give something back too, people are always really appreciative.
The Beatyard Festival takes place in Dún Laoghaire from July 30th – 31st.
Find out more about #BeKreativ on bekreativ.ie