12 Jul 2015

Road Skills: Spandau Ballet

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One of the most successful and influential British bands of the 1980s, Spandau Ballet, brought their ‘Soul Boys of the Western World Live’ Tour to Australia in May.

Spandau Ballet’s ongoing revival as a live touring band continues with this elegant arena production designed by Woodroffe Bassett Design. A series of stacked rectangular lighting grids play over the stage, with the centre one flying in for a ten minute musical set celebrating the band’s early performances at the Blitz Club in the 80’s. Custom Elidy lighting frames from PRG surround the three video screens and also form the front of the stage-wide band riser.

Programming and lighting direction is by long-time WBD associate Roland Greil who tours a few versions of the show. In Australia we got the B-version which is not quite as fancy as the A-version but way better than the D-version!


“The basic idea was to create a clean and classy look resulting in the rectangular truss design,” commented Roland. “We have three screens upstage; a centre screen and left and right portrait size screens which are all used for IMAG footage as well as content designed for the tour. We wanted the screens to look unique so in the A-design we have frames around them made out of Elidy tiles however there were not any available in Australia so we substituted them with Jarags. In front of the upstage screen there is a classy heavy drape on a tab track which adds to the sophisticated look.”

When it came to fixture choice it was decided to make it as simple as possible and so there are only two main fixtures. Thirty-six Vari-lite VL3500 Washes for the main wash light and thirty-six Clay Paky Mythos for a versatile beam as well as spot effect light. Again, having only two fixtures in the main roof adds to the sleek look as there are no colour temperature variations or housings.
“The Mythos is an interesting product and is very versatile as it has all the advantages of a Sharpy as a beam light but you can also use it as a spotlight for back lighting or aerial effects,” added Roland. “I think it’s the direction all manufacturers will be heading creating small powerful lights that are versatile and can do multiple jobs. It works perfectly here and they’re a great combination with the VL3500’s.”

Also in the rig were GLP X4S, 4-Lite DWE linear molefay, MR16 Birdie, ColorBlast TRX, Martin Atomic Strobe and a large mirrorball that drops in on a Kinesys system.
Control was by a MA Lighting MA2 which Roland says suits his style of programming an efficient manner, handy as this show was programmed in two days.
At FOH behind the helm of an Avid Venue console was Robbie McGrath, a veteran of the music industry who has worked with AC/DC, Simply Red, The Rolling Stones, The Stone Roses and many other well-known musical acts.


“This is my first tour ever with Spandau Ballet, “I’m really a qualified brain surgeon,” remarked the ever-jovial Robbie. “However, the Virgin Mary appeared to me in a dream and told me to give up the surgery & go out with Spandau Ballet as there sound guy. She gave me their manager’s phone number so here I am!”

Robbie commented that he views Spandau Ballet as a funk/disco/R&B/rock band rather than an eighties sounding new romantic band although their music in the eighties was produced to sound that way.

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“However the musical frame work that it sits around is real good shit,” he added. “I like them a lot so it’s been great to tour with them and help them put a 21st century spin on their performance. They’re playing it that way anyway so all the big reverbs and new romantic drum sounds are kept to a minimum. Their music has defiantly stood the test of time incredibly well. It’s great to be able to mix it now years later and not have to put all that eighties over produced bubblegum snot on it.”

Of course Robbie does use some effects in particular for the acoustic guitars a Roland Dimension D Chorus, an effect he dragged out of the history books of analog, plugged into digital and says it’s working well I’m still impressed!

“Sometimes you look back into the analog world of yesteryear and think that it all sounded great but when you plug-in certain things they just let you down as the past can be viewed through rose-tinted glasses,” he said. “I use Lexicons for vocals and drums as well as Yamaha SPX990’s for toms. I like the SPX because it’s a very dirty reverb and drums have to have attitude. The Lexicons are smooth and posh so are used for vocals, keys and guitar but when you get down to the engine room where your kit lives you need a bit of grunt. It’s nice to have a bit of nastiness and the SPX990 definitely delivers that.”

Robbie has always been a huge fan of Midas and Klark Teknik gear but recently felt it was time to move on and so he switched to using the Avid Venue.

“I love all of the Waves Gold plug-ins and the sound that they bring to the console,” he remarked. “Most digital consoles have a sound that is very cold and correct. With the plug-ins on the Venue I find I can get things to sound how I want, a little bit warmer around the edges, and you can put a nice personal analog feel to your vocals and guitars.

“I put all the drums into a sub group then into a VCA. From the Waves package I insert across the groups the Ultra Maximiser which gives me an amazing powerful rounded hard hitting sound, that then goes into the Waves C4 multi band compressor introducing an incredible dynamic control across the softer late night FM radio sounding numbers to the more R&B hard hitting rock tracks such as Chart No1.

“I’m not pushing the sub mixes around all night as the processing looks after a lot of that movement for me. I then round it all off with an onboard graphic. I use a V-EQ4 analogue EQ on most things, they are amazing I can’t recommend them highly enough. As soon as I heard them I was back in the studios in Dublin in the late seventies EQ-ing drums that were all tightly squeezed into little drum booths, it was like meeting an old friend for a pint!

“For the lead vocal I also use the onboard EQ on a heavy cut around 1K and by shifting the cut either up towards 3k or down towards 800hz enables me to soften or harden the vocal depending on the song or even from chorus to verse, it’s an old trick I managed to keep while falling head long into digital. For vocal reverbs I either use Halls or Rooms with a few different delays just tucked in for colour.”

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Robbie describes the band as very slick on stage because ‘they come from the days where if you didn’t know how to play well, you didn’t get the fucking gig’!

“Nowadays you can go onstage with the backup of Pro Tools and half the time you could be miming,” he added. “I don’t think you should complicate live sound too much as it’s coming at you fast and you only hear it once. In a studio, you can listen to it repeatedly and in doing so, can hear and understand a lot of tracking but I believe a large show should be powerful, should have good attack and be in the moment. If you bring too much to the table, you lose all of that and it becomes a bit karaoke.” 
The PA was an L’Acoustics K1 system which Robbie loves stating that it doesn’t deliver just one type of sound, you can get whatever energy you want out of it.

“A lot of the rigs are processed so they’ll only give you one sound and it’s very hard to bend it,” he said. “The K1 is a very unforgiving rig but beautiful to work with.”

Microphone wise Robbie used a Sennheiser 5000 Series SKM5235 Handheld for Tony Hadley’s lead vocal, not his first choice but the monitor guy really likes it. On the drums there were a pair of AKG 414s for overheads, Sennheiser 604s on toms 1&2 and 609s on 3&4, with Sennheiser 421 on both floor toms. For both kicks there was an E901, snare Beta SM56A and Neumann KSM 104’s on ride and hi hat. For percussion there were AKG 414s and Shure Beta SM56’s. The bass guitar was DI’d and for guitar cabinets the Sennheiser E906’s and DI’s for all the acoustics. For saxophones, there was a Shure Beta 98H and for backing vocals Shure SM58s.

“It’s all live, there’s no tracking only a few sequences and definitely no Pro Tools play back,” Robbie commented. “That makes it great because little mistakes here and there seem to subconsciously keep the audience dynamically interested. If it’s all coming at you 110% correct you start looking at the person’s jacket or hairstyle that’s in-front of you. When it’s truly live, there’s a certain amount of hypnotic energy involved.”

Some of the band use in-ear monitors, although Tony Hadley is half in / half out as he doesn’t like to feel isolated from the audience.

“The drummer doesn’t want to know because he’s a fucking amazing powerful drummer and he doesn’t want any of this wimpy in-ear nonsense!” said Robbie. “We have side fills and wedges so there’s still a good old racket going on up there.”

Nick Lythard is Robbie’s system tech on the tour and he reported that the mains and subs were quick to align in the Qantas Credit Union Arena, a room that he says presents itself well.

“Being an L’Acoustics system all of the amplifiers are networked via Network Manager and that’s where I do most of the system adjustment such as time aligning and delaying, he revealed. “I don’t tend to do much system EQ-ing as Robbie takes care of that from the console. I present Robbie with a coherent system and Robbie takes over the EQs from the console.

“I’m driving the system with Lake Processors which I do very little with other than basic system management and distribution, distributing the digital signals to the amplifiers. I tune the system with Smaart and an old program called WinMLS, an impulse response software from Morset Sound Development that hasn’t been updated since 2004 but is still very powerful. Between the Smaart and WinMLS I time align and phase align the system.

“I tend to start with the main hangs and the subs and I phase align the subs to the main hangs using Smaart. I then switch between Smaart and WinMLS for everything else.”



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