A Party to Remember
It’s a mark of the reverence with which the British honour their heroes that whatever the dramas and disappointments of the preceding day, the general election could not diminish the three days of events that marked the VE Day 70th anniversary. Staged between the 8th and 10th May, it proved a resounding success.
With acts of remembrance on the Friday at The Cenotaph, and thanksgiving on the Sunday at Westminster Abbey, the pivot event on the Saturday staged on Horse Guards Parade was for celebration. ‘VE Day 70: A Party to Remember’ was just that, featuring a host of stars on stage in a contemporary evocation of all that was musical, entertaining, dramatic and fun in the 1940s.
In partnership with The Royal British Legion this was a cooperative presentation between Live Nation and the BBC led by event organiser Graham Pullen. The show was production managed by Chromatic Productions, Steve Nolan bringing together all the requisite technologies and their crews to ensure a performance to make the nation proud.
“In the planning stage it quickly emerged that the focus of the show would be around a single band,” explained Nolan. “A swing band in the style of Glen Miller. As guest artists of the stature of Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins were added to the bill, it became obvious a major responsibility would rest with audio. Add in the musical diversity represented by Blue, Pixie Lott, Jamelia and Status Quo, plus the fact that the show was to be broadcast on BBC1 and Radio 2 and I knew I would need a supplier with a successful track record on this level of responsibility.”
Britannia Row Productions provided all the audio infrastructure demanded of such a prestige event; project leader Tom Brown explained the set-up. “It was a typical outdoor stage though wider than most at 41 metres, with main L/R system of L-Acoustic K1 and out-fills of K2. In that sense the live sound was quite easy, the main demand being to keep sound energy off the surrounding buildings. A single Big Band with various guest artists appearing in front also simplified changeovers between the different segments. Colin Pink has much experience of these types of shows and provided the live mix from a Digico SD5 to the audience in Horse Guards Parade; the BBC taking digital feed from our stage boxes. Chris Coxhead managed all the comperes, announcements, historical readings, and VT clips on a Midas Pro2, while Dee Miller was our crew chief, for once relinquishing monitor world to Rod Clarkson who used an SD7. We provided all IEM and wedge systems for the various performers.”
Colin Pink, despite his lengthy experience of such star studded events, found this show quite different. “Musically it was not too loud at all, but to keep the dynamic, the mix was big and full. Britrow’s system tech’ Sergey Zhytnikov did a wonderful job controlling the bounce off the surroundings, so it was lovely from a mix point of view. It’s so rare you get a thirteen piece brass section with full orchestra and rhythm section, and you never get to put a big band through a K1 system so this was a unique treat. The K1 is so good at throwing the HF that it’s almost like the audience having ‘near field monitors’. This allowed me to keep the levels low, but still sounding full - nothing gave me more pleasure than seeing Status Quo perform at 85dBA for example - but I was still able to retain the dynamic punch of the brass. Great fun.”
Naturally due to the location immediately behind Downing Street, security was of a high order. “Accreditation is of course required,” said Brown, “but we’re no stranger to this process. Britrow is well used to dealing with this level of security which means we can get individuals processed much more quickly and efficiently than many.” Nolan agreed, “That’s an asset of using Britrow, they do so many security sensitive events, so if we had needed to add personnel at the last minute that contingency was easily catered from a security perspective. 10 Downing St notwithstanding, there was also the event at Westminster Abbey on the Sunday which included a parade on Horseguards featuring three marching bands in the presence of HRH Prince Charles. As you might imagine the presence of so much military symbolism more than doubled the security issues.”
The event had added piquancy for Brown, “20 years ago doing something like this was at the top of my list. At 18 I joined the fire-service and the next couple of years that level of duty, service, and responsibility for the safety and lives of others made me grow up very quickly, much faster than my contemporaries. Part of that mind-set has stood me in good stead as I’ve realised my ambition within Britrow and now manage such significant events. While you couldn’t liken Britrow to the fire service, you can certainly make comparisons about their level of commitment and duty. This was a job well done.”
Nolan agreed. “This was an event properly tailored to the subject matter. Sticking to the one type of music, even re-scoring the Snow Patrol song for Alfie Boe was entirely in the 1940’s idiom. I remember walking out front and seeing Chris Coxhead and Colin Pink just beaming from their consoles. That’s when you know everything is going really well. We all take our jobs very seriously, but there are times when the pleasure of being part of something bigger than us all is truly uplifting.”
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