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23 Nov 2015

Roadskills: The QUEEN Extravaganza

image art queen-ii-photo-session-in-late-1973

The Queen Extravaganza, billed as the official Queen tribute show, is the mastermind of Roger Taylor and Brian May, two of Queen’s original band mates and songwriters. Taylor personally took on the role of producer with long time Queen keyboardist Spike Edney as global music director.

The show, a celebration of the music of Queen, includes musicians selected by Taylor in a unique online talent search. It’s an electrifying road show designed by a heavyweight production team headed by the late stage designer Mark Fisher, (known for memorable productions including “The Wall” for Pink Floyd and every Rolling Stones show since 1989) and Rob Sinclair (Kylie, Florence and The Machine, Adele, Peter Gabriel, Pet Shop Boys and Queen themselves!).

At the helm of the lighting console was ex-pat Matt Arthur, a Melbournian who has lived in the UK for the past fifteen years. During that time Matt has worked closely with the show’s lighting designer Rob Sinclair running several of his shows including Bryan Ferry’s recent tour.

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Lighting Engineer – Matt Arthur

Design credits for Matt himself include Supergrass, Mark Ronson, Jamiroquai and some one-offs for Kim Wilde. In Australia back in the day he designed tours for Paul Kelly, Boom Crash Opera, Kate Ceberano and Canadian band The Tea Party.

“Sadly, I don’t get to do so much of my own stuff anymore but with Rob I get the design and run with it as he’s very trusting in that way,” said Matt. “With this show he checks in now and again but trusts me with the design and any changes that have to be made. I’m happy to have the freedom that I have to program and operate shows. Sometimes the stress of design and client meetings is difficult and I know that I’m not the best at client meetings, especially as artists can be tricky people. I’m good at making it look good out front whereas Rob is very clever and witty and can gain people’s confidence very quickly.”

The lighting for the show is how you would expect it to be for a Queen show; quite isolated at points but big, bold and in your face at other times. It’s a modern adaptation of a Queen light show executed with moving lights and strobes, in fact the show file Matt uses was an original Queen show file which he has tailored towards using house rigs and tweaked a lot over the last year and a half since taking on the lighting director’s role.

The basic lighting design concept for the show includes seven Martin MAC Auras along the back on vertical poles, all supported on a floor based truss system, along with eight side Auras. Each pole was approx. 4.5m high and had what was essentially a single red blinder on the top, an Aura just underneath which were the workhorses of the rig, a 42” Plasma on in the middle and an LED strobe towards the bottom to blast through the band. The Australian shows were switched to a flown truss, with video screens underneath, and some Clay Paky Sharpys added on the floor to provide more dynamic lighting from that area. This version of the design was implemented in Iceland recently and it worked well, so Matt decided to do the same for Australia where he toured the back truss and floor lights and added in the house flown rig.

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“There were no floor lights at the back of the other system as it was all air and from the side plus whatever we get from the house,” explained Matt. “With the ground support system we had blinders on the floor but no moving lights apart from the Auras on the side. With this redesign, initially Rob decided to place the seven Auras on the floor and fly Sharpys in the air but rather than create so much more work, I suggested we do it the other way round and we went with that. The Auras are a great little light; small, nippy, bright, nice colours and reliable.”

In Sydney the seven flown Auras were interspersed by four-light strips and underneath the three 3m x 3.6m video screens were seven 5ft pipes with a Martin Atomic strobe on each. On the floor between each of the strobes are the Sharpys and behind that, blasting through the lot, are some four-light blinders. Added to that are four Auras per side that pretty much only do two looks; straight across the band or into the audience.

In the air house lighting consisted of a random selection of lights or as Matt describes ‘six flavours of lights’, of which he chose three – six Martin MAC Vipers on the stage, four Viper Performances out front to colour the front of the stage and eight Vari-lite VLX3’s spread over two trusses. Matt bought in some extra Atomic Strobes to put in the roof as well as four Clay Paky Alpha Spot at the back of the stage.

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“There are a lot more crosses in the focus tonight than I’d normally have,” commented Matt. “Normally with the straight trusses and everything evenly spread, there are a lot of straight beams which is typical of a Rob design.”

For control Matt used his own Jands Vista, the platform preferred by Rob. His set up included a Mac Book Pro running the Vista v2.3 software with an S1 and two M1 control surfaces attached to it via USB. An external monitor was used for showing cue lists during the show.

“I was in the market for a new console round about 2007 when I was crewing for Rob on the Keane tour,” said Matt. “I watched him front of house and thought the Vista looked really good. At that stage he had just got the gig with Peter Gabriel and he asked me to take over running Keane. I got to know it pretty good after that. The system I have is a carbon copy of one of his and I really like it. It’s so easy to see what’s going on, at any point in time you can look at the window and clearly see what’s happening. The time line and editing window is also very easy.”

Straight after the Australian tour production rehearsals start for a 17 date tour of the UK to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Queen’s iconic album, A Night At The Opera – long viewed as one of the greatest rock albums of all time – which produced such classic tracks as, You’re My Best Friend, Love of My Life, Taylor’s own I’m In Love With My Car, as well as the band’s legendary Bohemian Rhapsody.

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The first act will be very seventies with Rob’s lighting reflecting that in a static, par can look replicated by Martin MAC Auras on drop frames. There will undoubtedly be lots of flash button operating! In total there will be fifty-five Auras including a truss of fifteen, four drop frames – two with six Auras and two with eight Auras – and then four units per side. Added to that will be two custom towers with a further two Auras on each plus some par cans. Six Solaris Flares at the back on the floor will add both big colour blasts but also strobe effects through the band. The video screens will be replaced by FOH projection for The Night At The Opera section.

FOH engineer Oz Bagnall ‘inherited’ the show from Matthew Manasse early last year, taking over his desk file and running with it.

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FOH Engineer – Oz Bagnall

“At our next proper run that we did with full production rehearsals, I started from scratch with the same console but building the show file how I wanted it to be,” he explained. “We mainly use in-house PA systems but always specify a DiGiCo console and here in Sydney we have a SD10. Sometimes we supplement a house rig but I’m not precious about the brand of PA we are given.”

Oz described the d&b J-Series PA at Sydney’s Star Event Centre as phenomenal and really well set up. Not only did he find the system to be incredibly good, he noted how well the room had been acoustically treated.

“Normally in a room like this we would have problems underneath the balcony with reflections but we’re not finding any, it’s an excellent design,” stated Oz.

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Oz uses several of the DiGiCo’s onboard effects including a Snare Plate for reverb on snare, warm Hall reverb on toms, and a vocal reverb whilst tweaking factory presets to suit. There are a few delay effects on the vocals in a few songs for momentary effects, plus a chorus subtlety fills out the backing vocals.

“Obviously Queen were known for layering their vocal tracks in the studio, this just thickens out the backing vocals in the mix,” added Oz. “I have a vocal thickener on the lead vocals just to make it fatter and a more prominent vocal in the mix. There’s also a guitar delay effect for Stone Cold Crazy, which normally would be done onstage with the original band. However I have to replicate it out front of house and send it back to stage where they put it the guitarist’s in-ears so he can hear it.”

With clever and intense programming done during production rehearsal, Oz is able to concentrate on the more important elements in the mix such as the main vocal and the solo parts, basically the prominent things you would recognize from the original Queen tracks.

“The balances of the backing vocals, the different levels of instruments and where they sit in different songs relative to each other, has all been pre-programmed which takes some of the mixing duties away,” he remarked.

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The band travel with some of the microphones including Heil PR 35 vocal microphones except for one guitarist who uses a Shure Beta 58. The main vocal is a Heil RC 35 microphone on a Shure wireless radio system.

Monitor engineer Jack Bowcher ran an Avid Venue SC48 which he said has everything he needs built into a compact package and has the quickest snapshot editing functions.

“I currently use all the onboard EQ and dynamics plus I use Revibe, a reverb plug, in for the lead vocal,” he remarked. “All the band are on in ear monitors using ultimate ears UE7. I tend to use a Sennheiser 2000 IEM system but I’m also perfectly happy with a Shure G3 system. In terms of challenges the band are all great musicians, great to work with and know exactly what they want to hear. This makes my life easier however keeping on top of the changes in each snapshot is a critical part of the show.”

First published in CX Magazine (November, 2015)

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