When British rockers Kaiser Chiefs recently embarked on their latest UK tour, the Yorkshire gents return to the road was enabled by a top quality selection of creative and technical crew. The result is a show-stopping rock ‘n’ roll production. TPi’s Kelly Murray goes backstage in Liverpool...
Backstage at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, Kaiser Chiefs’ Production Manager James Hennin is at the helm of the band’s impending tour. It’s the first show day on a UK run which will see the band celebrate with a hometown show in Leeds, where an extra helping of special effects will end the night. Like many of the crew in camp Kaiser Chiefs, Hennin has been part of the ‘family’ for some time, and has gradually earned his place as PM.
He said: “I was one of the band’s backline techs for five years, I worked directly for the band as both a tech and also as their stage manager. When their original production manager moved on, they wanted to get someone internally, someone who knew them and wasn’t going to come in at the top from outside. They asked me to step up to the job, and I did!”
That was two years ago, during which time Hennin has grown into the role, learning about every aspect of touring life as opposed to just his first love - sound. “I obviously came from an audio background so getting my head around lighting for example was a learning curve! It’s one of those things where you have to learn as you go along but because I already knew everyone and I work very closely with all of the different departments, they are instantly able to fill in any gaps on the technical knowledge that I might not have in their specified area.”
As with the first date of any tour, the pressure is on and Liverpool is no exception. However, the crew could not be more helpful, inviting, and altogether welcoming of the magazine - an atmosphere perhaps encouraged by Hennin who very kindly allowed us to be part of the team on such a busy day. “The crew are great, you’re right” he agreed. “We have a lot of the same suppliers and crew that we’ve always had. For example, [audio supplier] Adlib have been with us longer than I have been with the band! Lite Alternative also came on board when I was the Stage Manager and PRG Nocturne are new this time. All of the vendors - BPM for special effects, Phoenix for bussing and Fly By Nite for trucking are all very capable companies and I’m really happy with the service they deliver. That service makes this a very personable tour.”
An interesting element of Hennin’s vendors is the catering choice, Lyons. He continued: “The great thing about our caterer Royston [Lyons, owner] is that he doesn’t often do tours these days, so we don’t get any run of the mill dishes with him, he’s very creative in that sense.”
PRODUCTION AND LIGHTING DESIGN
Although this tour was originally designed with an arena style venue in mind, the differing buildings - some are more like large theatres than arenas - the production design involved the need for a very adaptable show, that could sometimes downscale to a smaller B show without losing any of the exciting design work. For instance, Lite Alternative supplied a moving Kinesys motion control system for the lighting rig in the roof - looked after by Head Rigger Paul Burke but the system was used in arena venues only, meaning the lighting for smaller venues had to be just as visual. The system comprised 21 500kg Liftkets and 21 Elevation+ controlled by Vector, all supplied by Lite ALternative.
The clever production design is the result of some teamwork which delivers great results. Beamed Hennin: “The design of the lighting rig is a real credit to the tour - it looks spectacular!” With this show-stopping (or not as the case may be) tactic in mind, the tour boasts a show design by LDs Rob Sinclair and Ali Pike. This is their second tour collaborating with the band. Said Sinclair: “We were brought on board through Liam Rippon, their Tour Manager in 2012. This tour is loosely based around the war themes associated with the record entitled Education, Education, Education & War. “We wanted to build something that looked bigger than it actually is, something that could grow and become quite spectacular as the show went on. A real highlight of the show for me is Kris Lundburg, our Lighting Crew Chief’s creation. He made us some colour changing LED bulkhead lights. They’re actually my favourite bit of the entire show! He made them in his shed at home and they’re all over the stage. They’re beautifully handmade and if other people want them after this tour, I’m sure he’ll make some more!
“The tour has been a great experience, the band are great live too which makes them very entertaining from a design point of view. Ricky is the best front man I’ve ever worked with!”
Opening the collaborative design, Ali Pike had met Sinclair many years ago on a Keane tour. “I was lighting the support band, Polytechnic at the time, and we didn’t actually keep in touch, but a chance encounter at a Peter Gabriel show five years ago luckily put us back in contact,” she explained. “There are underlying concepts with this design, such as War, as per the album title, which lead onto a Dazzle camouflage theme, reflected in the staging, video content, and black and white confetti. The tour has been pretty full on and very programming intensive due to the variation in venue sizes, but we have the most amazing bunch of people on it, which makes everything ok. And they make a cracking cup of tea!”
The lighting rig from Lite Alternative comprises Martin Professional MAC Auras, ETC Source Four’s, TMB Solaris Flares, SGM X5 Strobes, Martin MAC Viper Air FX and Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes. The company also provided its own molepars. Additionally, special effects vendor BPM also supplied Robe Cyclone moving head LED fixtures for effects use. Said Ali: “The Martin Auras have become a great staple for me, I love the neat beams you can get from them, the saturated rich colours to their variations of white. They are also light and small, making them ideal for our Kinesys truss. The Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FX is really good for brightness, and the Solaris Flares are a favourite of mine too, it’s like having two fixtures in one unit and they comfortably cut through anything else going on.
As Rob said about the custom-made bulk heads, they really add something different to the design - dotted amongst the band and set, they look great.”
She also feels a strong affiliation with the Kaiser Chiefs’ lighting supplier. “I love working with Lite Alternative. I love the ‘family feel’ you get when you go to their warehouse; their kit is in great condition and they are very proactive in finding ways to make a design work. Their crew are also exceptional.”
For operation, the LD is using a ChamSys MagicQ MQ100 desk. “I’ve used ChamSys desks since I trained on them a few years ago - which I did after hearing much praise from my peers. Whilst I think there are more physically solid consoles out there, I do love how intuitive the ChamSys software feels. I can work at speed to edit and update quickly, whilst at the same time being able to go into detailed timing and effects editing for more complex cue stacks. I have two MagicQ MQ 100’s, a primary and a spare and two playback wings. The wing is mostly for key lighting, haze and blinders.”
Ali is also utilising a Catalyst media server. She continued: “I find the ChamSys / Catalyst combo to be easy to use as it’s so familiar to me. It enables for the relatively quick programming of content. I am triggering all of content for the show on the LED screens, plus a layer that can overlay Blue’s [Leach, Video Director] output on the IMAG side screens.”
Leach - nominated for a TPi Award this year - is manning the IMAG screens. His role in the tour came via LD Sinclair. “I’m very excited to be working with them for the first time,” he told TPi. “We’re using PRG Nocturne’s V18 LED screens and there are two 18-ft IMAG screens, with rear projection and camera packages. I’m using a Panasonic 400 18-input desk to mix and as this show has a lot of very high energy content, I programme through a Catalyst media server. I like to be in the action, so I mix the video from FOH, which is the most logical place to me. I think it’s good to break away from tradition of having video world in the back, I don’t know why you’d want to mix from anywhere but FOH.”
Leach is also using LD Pike’s ChamSys mini wing. This means he has all the facilities of the normal size ChamSys desk, but in a small, neat layout, with only the faders that he needs to create his effects.
Leach also secured an RF camera to frontman Ricky’s stick microphone - as seen on the cover - which enabled him to run through the audience on his way to his podium at the FOH position. Once there, he sang into the camera microphone which gave the audience a unique look at the performance. Additionally, a piñata camera on a motor chain is lowered by down for the anthems Team Mate, Modern World and OMG.
There are four songs with live cameras as well as the content on The LED screen are for content. Content Creator Neil Holloway worked closely with the band, and a lot of what the audience sees is their influence. Said Leach: “That’s what the screens are there for really, the beautifully made, analogue content. I really enjoy watching it.”
Pike added: “Special thanks to Neil for all his work on the video content, and for going out on his bike everyday to film local footage, come rain or shine!”
Not only was this tour the first time Leach had worked with the band but it was also his first time working with time working with PRG as a vendor in the UK. He concluded: “I had worked with Nocturne in the US as far back as 1993, but never over here. PRG Nocturne’s Project Manager, Mark O’Herlihy, has been really excellent; they’re a great company with great crew and great kit!”
Liverpool-based Adlib has been providing audio equipment to the Kaiser Chiefs since the early days of their musical careers. FOH Engineer, Chris Leckie was recommended for the job by Adlib MD Andy Dockerty, who himself mixed FOH for the band during festival season until Leckie could join the tour. “I’ve been with the band for almost eight years now, and it’s been great fun. I’m using a Midas Heritage 3000 analogue console, which I’ll use every time if possible. We have three digital desks on any given rider and as long as one of them turns up, I’d be happy but analogue desks are very intuitive, and when you get back to using them, you remember why they were made like they are.”
“The Kaisers’ mix is a very old school rock ‘n’ roll in that sense too. It’s a very dynamic show; it’s light, dark, loud, quiet, fast and slow, it’s constantly moving and changing. Ricky is also very unpredictable and will run all over the stage! He has a choice of four microphones to use, and he’ll pick whatever he feels like up at any given time. It’s actually very challenging; it keeps me on my toes, and I like that.” The microphones are all Sennheiser e935’s, with all of the band using Sennhesier 2000 Series in-ears.
Continued Leckie: “It sounds like a cliché, but this tour is like a family because a lot of the people working with them tend to stay around for a long time. We keep things ticking along happily!”
In monitor world, the feeling is mutual, as Monitor Tech James Petch - who is supporting Monitor Engineer, Ilias Andriantos - is back with the band that took his roadie virginity. “My first proper tour I did was with the Kaisers in 2007… I was so green back then!” Obviously an enjoyable experience, Petch has been with Adlib ever since, and is very happy to be back with the crew. “It’s so nice to see the same people again,” he enthused. On the choice of desk and monitor mix set up he added: “We have a Soundcraft Vi6 digital desk running Adlib’s own MP4 wedges through Lab.gruppen PLM 10,000Q power amplifiers, and the Sennhieser in-ears. The great thing about this set up is that you can have an output pretty much anywhere on the stage so it’s really easy to patch quickly. We’ve utilised what the kit can do with the Soundcraft stage box too.” Adlib also supplied a Soundcraft Vi1 console for the support band’s FOH mix.
George Puttock, System Tech, is working with an L- Acoustics K1 PA system, something he is a big fan of. “It’s a great sounding system, specified to K1 standard, as it should be. We’re also using V-DOSC boxes for side hangs. It’s quite an old box now, but it’s still very pertinent because they got the design right. It’s still on a lot of riders all these years later.”
At the Liverpool show, the PA comprised a main hang of 14 K1 per side, eight v-dosc per side for side hangs and three dV-dosc per side used as down fill. Subs comprise eight SB28’s per side and four Kara for front fill duty. The system is driven by L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers. Continued Puttock: “The K1 system is very consistent and that’s the main reason we have it on tour; we know we can use it for day-to-day reliability. As Alan Partridge would say, it’s all ‘splendid and tremendous’...”
Special effects supplier BPM SFX has worked with the Kaiser Chiefs on a few one off shows, but this is the company’s first tour with them. Heading up the effects on tour - although not travelling with is - is Liam Haswell, BPM’s Technical Director: “We’ve provided four Swirl Fans for a curtain confetti effect on the song Coming Home. A hand held streamer cannon for OMG, two custom-made handheld pyrotechnic shooters with smokeless red flares for the song I Predict A Riot, and four Robe Cyclones. We had been looking at smoke machines for the band with movable fans that are DMX controlled and Robe had the solution for us with their Cyclone lighting fixture. We use this for the show opener.”
Throughout the UK run, there are two shows which will also require pyrotechnics; the larger London date and the Leeds gig - a hometown finale for the band. Haswell continued: “We are supplying a co2 jet system for those shows, as well as additional X-Treme Shots to enhance the streamer effect in OMG. Ricky loves to be involved and hands-on with the special effects when it’s safe for him to do so. We spent a number of hours discussing him firing some of the effects.”
As Hennin had mentioned, unlike other catering firms in the industry, Kaiser Chiefs’ own choice of vendor is not a typical road restaurant. Royston Lyons, owner and Head Chef of Lyons Catering explained: “I’ll do tours occasionally, maybe once or twice a year. I like being personally asked, that way I know we’re really wanted and it’s going to be a good environment for my staff and me. Other than tours, I do private events. I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, so a lot of work comes from reputation.” In his time, Lyons has cooked for some massive stars including Whitney Huston, Toni Braxton, The Rolling Stones and Eminem. Kaiser Chiefs have worked with Lyons before, and as with many of the people of this tour, developed an on-going relationship. “The band asked me to come back, so I did. I’ve done a lot of touring in my time and so there are times when you have to think on your feet being a chef on the road. But we have a motto: adapt and overcome. A couple of the band require diary free and gluten free diets and a couple of the crew are vegetarians, so there’s always something interesting to cook.” In Liverpool on the very first day of the tour, the menu included butternut squash and quinoa, seabass with steamed vegetables and homemade brownies.
Phoenix Bussing has supplied three tour buses to the tour manned by a bubbly bunch of drivers - Dave Randall, Mike Birch, and Lloyd Moscrop-Brown. The top of the range buses are very new too, one of which is out on its very first tour. Randall told TPi: “These buses have everything you’d ever need in them. Obvioulsy there’s the living room areas and kitchens, and they’re all 16 birth but the technology they’re kitted out with is amazing. We have PS4s both up and downstairs, twin TVs, surround sound and fully wireless entertainment system. You can log on to your iPhone or iPad and watch a movie from anywhere on your bus, that down time is important.” Birch added: “Phoenix have been building buses for 30 years, and they’re really top of the range now. There’s nowhere else to go apart form more technology.”
Yet it’s not simply the state-of-the-art design that keeps the troops happy, it’s the reputation of the company itself. Moscrop-Brown explained: “The service from Phoenix is second to none. I had a bus over heat on me once, and within an hour they’d sent another. And that was in Italy on a Sunday morning! A lot of people think we’re the best as far as service is concerned, but I’ve been driving since 1984 and I’ve never worked with such a great calibre of driver. It’s a pleasure working with them. I think a lot of drivers out there have the intention of ending up at Phoenix. I know that was my goal.”
Randall concluded: “Because our buses are built for us, we know the systems, everything on this bus has the same certification as your house does.”
For production logistics, trucking giant Fly By Nite has provided four arctic trucks and a single rigid truck with a team led by John Burgess. The company became involved with the band some years ago, since their first NME tour at the start of their career, and have been using FBN ever since. The driving crew is completed by Andy Johnson - nicknamed ‘Willis’ - Graham Trull, Paul Robinson and Ian Pugh. Said Burgess: “It might sound daft but it’s true, it absolutely is like one big family here!”
A TOURING SUCCESS
The band’s Tour Manager, Liam Rippon, is hands-on with not just the band, but the production too. Having worked with Jarvis Cocker previously, the band themselves sought out Rippon’s touring knowledge. “These days you have to give fans a reason to come back to a gig. The fans expect to see a quality production; they’re buying the tickets so we have to give them value for money. A core group of fans isn’t enough when you want to sell out arenas but if touring is very important and when it’s done properly, is a very good investment.
“As their TM, I have to compare their shows to everything from football matches to high-end restaurants, because the public have only got so much money to spend on entertainment, and we want them to come and see us! Whatever we spend money on has to go back into making the show better, and it does. The customers - or fans in our case - are king so for that reason, I put the show above everything, even the band!”
After the first night of the tour, it was clear that the production efforts had paid off, and PM Hennin was a proud man! He concluded: “Seeing the show actually come to life in Liverpool was the highlight of my tour, I was so pleased with how it all looked. I was really happy with it, and on top of that, all of the suppliers have done a sterling job.”