The Brit Awards 2015
The Brit Awards 2015 in association with Mastercard were held for the fifth year running at the O2, London. With a set design by Es Devlin built by Steel Monkey. A host of other top suppliers including Light Initiative, Britannia Row, PRG, Outback Rigging, Stageco, and Strictly FX enabled this challenging show to happen. Presented by TV favourites And & Dec, the awards featured live performances from nin global superstars culminating in a grand finale from Madonna, her first appearance at the Brit Awards for 20 years. Simon Duff reports on a night of ambition and courage.
The trophy for 2015 BRIT Awards was designed by British artist Tracey Emin who is famed for her innovative conceptual art. A bold and triumphant design, it set the tone for this year’s main event, which included a 36-metre wide video screen. A total of 14 large neon writing signs - inspired by Emin’s work - were brought into the room by Es Devlin’s bold design, hung over the stage and auditorium. They were operated by Outback Rigging on a Kinesys motion control system. From sound to set design, lighting, video and special effects the event reflected all those values. Production Manager Tony Wheeler, from Nine Yards Productions worked with Kate Wright and Lisa Shenton of Papilo Productions, to manage the production of the event, contracted on behalf of the BPI. Other key suppliers included Steel Monkey, Eat Your Hearts Out, Show & Event Security, Showstars, Stage Miracles, Oglehog and Lovely Things.
LED powerhouse, Light Initiative, worked in collaboration with scenery builders Steel Monkey and award winning Scenic Designer for the BRITs, Es Devlin to build the dramatic, large-scale illuminated hand-writing, which repeated the words that artist Tracy Emin had on her design for the official 2015 BRIT Awards statuette.
The large scale hanging pieces, which read: ‘congratulations on your talent, on your life - on everything you give to others - thank you’, were almost invisibly arrayed above the stage and audience. Bryn Williams, Managing Director for Light Initiative: “There were a number of practical issues we had to confront when delivering this project,” he explained. “Our biggest challenges were time constraints and the scale of the project itself. Nothing on the market could cope with the dynamics of following the sharp twists and turns of handwriting, to pull this project off we needed to create a new ultra flexible LED Neon Strip. Working closely with our suppliers and within the constraints of a tight schedule we were able to provide exactly the right product for the job.”
“All of these large scale projects rely upon everyone’s interaction and having a good team; PRG, Steel Monkey and Outback made the job go just how it should” Simon Cox, Light Initiative’s Technical Project Manager.
Stageco’s Project Manager on site, Luc Dardenne worked under the auspices of BRIT Awards Productions, alongside Account Manager Dirk De Decker, and Crew Chief Stefaan Vandenbosch and regular crew partner Showstars, to provide the staging, as well as numerous platforms and risers for spotlights, cameras and show control. “Stageco effectively supplies the foundation of the show for others, like set company Steel Monkey, to build upon,” said Dardenne. “Our stage is 30-metres wide by 25-metres deep, but directly behind that is another stage area (18-metres by 20-metres) on which the performing artists’ changeovers and set pieces are prepared. At the rear of the O2 Arena, Stageco provided a two metre high platform to accommodate the lighting and sound control. Steel Monkey fabricated nearly a thousand lengths of steel and over 800 sheets of CNC prepared timber.”
With the sad passing of long term BRIT Awards Sound Designer, Derrick Zieba last year, the baton has now been passed to the highly capable and trusted hands of Colin Pink. Like Zieba, Pink’s background is rooted in theatre. In fact the first musical he mixed at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where Pink was trained, was a Derrick Zieba design for ‘On The Town’. On graduating from the Guildhall, Pink worked with Zieba on shows for Theatre Projects and in regional productions. He then worked at The National Theatre for 10 years, both as a Mixing engineer and Sound Designer. Pink commented: “What was fantastic about The National Theatre was that you started as a technician, then operated small shows then worked your way up to do the large scale productions. Trevor Nunn was one of the directors when I was there and I did a lot of work with him on large scale musicals.”
Pink went freelance in 2005, and notable West End theatre successes include The History Boys and Derren Brown. Recent recent high profile event work includes heading up the live operating team for the London 2012 Olympics, The Great North West Run opening ceremony, and mix duties on The Classic BRIT Awards, as well as Hans Zimmer’s 2014 Eventim Apollo show, the latter two both Britannia Row productions.“For big events such as The BRITs, a theatre background is necessary because you are effectively dealing with many different scenes,” Pink explained prior to the show. “Each band is a different scene. The art is to keep that flow seamless.”
Pink was confirmed as Sound Designer for the show in October 2014. “The work flow from then is defined around set design for PA, and knowing what bands, what songs and what the line up is. That defines what is going to happen and that can change all the time. We do start with certain equipment that is going to be a given. In this case, for the FOH audience mix it is a DiGiCo SD7 console. All acts were happy to work with that. Although Royal Blood are using a Midas PRO6 from Britannia Row. The reason for that is that the band are currently on tour and using that desk, so it makes sense.”
Pink explained what what he likes about the SD7: “The great thing about the console is flexibility. It has massive functionality, a great number of channels, ins and outs and a great interface. Nowadays, most engineers are already familiar with them or they are quite quick to learn. Josh Loyd, who is mixing the music acts at FOH, lays out each performance, starting with the first act, which is Taylor Swift in this case, using about 30 channels. Josh will then lay up the next act at Channel 31 so that he never has to double up channels.”
The split for this year’s 2015 audio feeds from stage was four way; one to FOH, one to broadcast then two for monitors. There were two SD7s working on monitors - managed by Pete McGlynn and Steve Donovan, who performed flip flopping duties - to ensure smooth change overs and final line check guarantee.
One of Pink’s main challenges at The BRITs was to ensure dynamic auditorium PA coverage for the live show, without introducing too much colouration to the live broadcast sound. He explained the PA set up. “I am a big fan of L-Acoustics systems and have specified a K1 / K2 line array.” The main L-R hangs comprised L-Acoustics K1 and K2 elements, with K1 subs flown behind the K1 hangs. The L-R side hangs were also made up of K1 and K2 enclosures and Kara elements covered rear L-R. Ground subs were SB28s, ARCs were used for outer fills, as well as further KARA cabinets for front fill and more K2 boxes were utilised for delays.
Pink is keen to stress that L-Acoustics K2 is an ideal tool for addressing large arena spaces like the O2 and Britannia Row, which now have over 100 K2 boxes in their inventory. “K2 offers the K1 industry benchmark performance in a rescaled package, making it one of the most versatile systems on the market.”
Beside its sheer power, K2’s inter element angles can be set from 0.25°, ideal for the long throw high balcony coverage required at the O2, up to 10° for excellent coverage in the near field. The K2 also features the Panflex technology, a unique solution for adjusting the horizontal coverage pattern to any audience or room geometry. “Combining this with the K1 allows you to hit every one of the 17,000 people in the O2 with the same sound quality, minimal interference, and with fewer boxes,” Pink continued.
All amplification came from L-Acoustics LA8’s with Lake LM 26 processors. A Dante returns system was employed throughout, with two separate fibre returns for stage end and delays.
Britannia Row’s Audio Crew Chief was Dee Miller, while Stefan Krista, a veteran of many major events, ran the stage with Paul Gardener and Luke Chadwick. Sergiy Zytnikov was the Chief System Tech, ably assisted by Richard Trow. Another long-term Britannia Row and BRIT Engineer Chris Coxhead handled presentation, VT and playback mix duties, using a Midas PRO2, whilst Josh Lloyd managed the band consoles.
Outboard audio comprised a standard package of valve compressors and Bricasti reverbs supplied as standard, plus extras added at the request of specific artists such as a FOH Waves SoundGrid server package. “Preparation, preparation and more preparation is the key to all of the audio,” emphasised Pink.
All presenters’ microphones including hosts Ant & Dec were from the Sennheiser Digital 9000 Series. Taylor Swift used a 9000 Series with SK 9000 bodypack and Ed Sheeran utilising a SKM 2000 with e9235. While Sam Smith performed with a SKM 2000 and e965, Kanye West used a SKM 5200 with e5235, Madonna took the stage with a SKM 5200 with MD 5005, and Take That made use of the SKM 5200 with e5235. Sam Smith, Madonna and Take That all used 2000 Sennheiser IEMs and in-house IEMs from Sennheiser.
Britannia Row has successfully worked with Sennheiser as the RF partner on The BRITs for over a decade. “Their logistical and engineering help has been invaluable,” Pink said. “There are now so many hand helds, instrument packs and IEMs that supplying all of the show’s needs would be impossible without Sennheiser’s assistance. Unlike other award shows I always try to give the artists their own RF mic preference, be it Sennheiser, Shure, Audio Technica or another and to let artists bring in their own RF if they wish. This gives even more of a headache to my excellent RF Supervisor, Sapna Patel, who has to coordinate frequencies and licensing between Britannia Row kit, Sennheiser kit, the band’s own kit, instrument kit from UK backline companies and RF products brought in from the US. This is where Sennheiser’s assistance comes into its own from Andrew Lillywhite and Mark Saunders. We often end up with a spreadsheet showing over 150 coordinated pieces of RF kit just for the live performance part of The BRITs, excluding any TV or comms use. The challenge of achieving that on a live-to-air show without a whisper of interference is huge, and I take my hat off to Sapna and to Mark and Andrew who make that happen every year.”
After a break last year to work on the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Emmy-nominated, Al Gurdon resumed his long-time role as Lighting Director, in partnership with lighting provider, PRG. Gurdon once again worked with PRG Project Manager Rich Gorrod, another BRIT Awards veteran.
Gurdon’s design for The BRIT Awards was the first use of the new PRG Best Boy HP Spot, the brighter version of the PRG Best Boy Spot luminaire. He had six of the HP versions and 30 regular Best Boy Spots. With a 1,500W lamp, the Best Boy HP Spot produces an outstanding 35,000 lumen output.
“As a part of the design, we used the Best Boy HP Spot, the new brighter 1,500W spot, which has a very intense brightness and is ideal for keying,” said Gorrod. “It has a good, flat field and the CTO is excellent for colour correction. I also really like the high power shutter. There’s nothing else on the market right now that compares.”
Gorrod explained that PRG’s proprietary Bad Boy Spot was Gurdon’s workhorse fixture on the show with 24 of them deployed in the rig. “Also, five Bad Boys were used as back truss spots; that’s been happening quite frequently because they’re small, bright, and compact,” he said. “They make great followspots when paired with the Bad Boy followspot controller with its handy zoom, iris, and intensity controls. Everything can be also be controlled from the console, but the followspot operator also retains control so it’s a win/win situation.” For general followspots, PRG fielded four long-throw Lycian M2s and a 4kW Robert Juliat Lancelot.
The High End Systems Hog 4 consoles connected to four DP8000 processors to send Art-Net to the PRG Series 400 data distribution system. “I can’t rate the Series 400 system highly enough,” raved Gorrod. “On this show, we only used the PRG Super Node’s Art-Net processor on the fibre network and it’s rock solid. We use it all the time for this kind of production and we were up to 60 universes for The BRITs. We provided power and data transmission for Tracey Emin’s LED neon signage, which was manufactured by Light Initiative after I recommended them to production. A couple of my regular crew worked on the installation.”
PRG also handled all the control for all the lighting motors on its Kinesys motor control system, which Gorrod described as: “A truly fantastic product - load lights per motor and when running a group of motors and one motor stops, they all stop. It’s a must on a 110 motor system. Everything comes back to two dimmer areas so that if we need to move something during rehearsals, it’s not a question of finding a motor controller and plugging it up. All the motor cables run back with the lighting cables, so everything is live and ready to go.”
The PRG crew included Gordon Torrington, Luke Jackson, Alex Peters, Peter MacDonald, John Hetherton, Simon Lynch and Gareth Morgan, Artist Extras Techs Simon Anderson, Chris Henry and Peter MacDonald, and Hog 4 console operators, Theo Cox and Russ Williams. Meanwhile, three students from The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology assisted with preparations for the show - an annual arrangement whereby individuals are selected via an interview process.
Along with a significant quantity of truss, the remainder of PRG’s equipment included 66 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes, 48 Clay Paky Mythos hybrid beam / spots, 169 Clay Paky Sharpy moving beam lights, 42 Solaris LED Flare Jr. strobes, 12 GLP impression X4 and 52 impression 120 RZ automated LED units, 34 Clay Paky A.leda B-Eye K10 LED washes and 50 Philips Color Kinetics iColor Cove LED fixtures.
One of the most unique performances on the night came from British newcomers Royal Blood. Their performance was handled by their Creative Director, Paul Normandale of Lite Alternative Design. He commented: “I liked the idea of an intimate close performance space, to highlight the relationship of the two players in a restrained space.”
To help define that limited space, Normandale turned to his long time effects providers, Strictly FX of Chicago, USA and their new laser, Vortex. “The Vortex can make a perfect cone; you can’t do that with any other laser system, and you can’t really do that with a light either,” noted Laser Programmer, David Kennedy of Strictly FX. That cone provided the restrained space that Normandale envisioned for Royal Blood. “The Vortex is a truly unique effect, which is indeed a rare thing,” Normandale added.
For Take That’s stage set Quantum Special Effects designed and supplied a large spherical structure, mounted with lights and 50 long-armed flaming mini cauldron’s hung in front of the graphics on the backing screen. Each bowl was timed to ignite from the first chorus and simultaneously with the graphics behind, to represent the burning sun. Towards the end of the song, two confetti blowers released a steady stream of white confetti over the stage and crowd.
Aquabatics created The Cloudburst over and around Paloma Faith. It involved several weeks of trials, tweaks and dry runs before a full rehearsal with Paloma in preparation for the live filming on the night. They provided a rain effect over a 12-metre by two-metre area of the stage, which fell from a height of 10-metres onto the dancers.
A four-metre square rain curtain (essentially a sheet of water) then surrounded the singer half way through the track, followed by a further rain effect directly above her towards the end of the song.
The installation included 0.5 km of hose with 6,000 litres of water as well as a water heater to ensure the water was warm during the act.
Oglehog were the video producers tasked with overseeing the biggest and most ambitious BRITs to date. On the main stage the video screen was 36-metres wide at the top by 13.2-metres high created from 968 panels of Pixled F12 LED screen supplied by XL Video. The catwalk was created from 360 panels of LEDGO 15mm floor supplied by LedGo. Side of stage relay screens were 26ft Projection IMAG screens with Panasonic 20K projectors plus four 16ft relay screens with twin 12K projectors on each. Oglehog had a control room in the O2 service yard next to the CTV OB trucks that contained six SNP V5 Catalyst servers, supplied by SNP, which were controlled by Hog 4 desk, also supplied by SNP. Nick Malbon programmed and operated the Hog 4 and SNP Catalyst servers, ably assisted by Richard Porter. Also in the control room were two of Oglehog’s own cameras plus six feeds from the broadcast facilities, all cameras and VT were mixed via a combination of Grass Valley Kayak vision mixer and Barco’s new Encore 2 system.
Individual artist requirements included a request from Ed Sheeran who used a custom designed screen comprising of 128 panels of Pixled F7 screen, forming the floor and a ceiling. Sam Smith’s set deployed four Barco 40K projectors to cover the orchestra risers and for Royal Blood four Bradley Engineering Robo Cams were used.
Chris Saunders, Director of Oglehog commented: “Whilst I have been involved in the BRITs for many years, the main difference this year was The BRITs organisers came to Oglehog to put the show out to tender. This years show was video heavy and we took what was an evolving design to a number of vendors to look at what they had to offer. The market now has a bewildering array of LED screens if you don’t know what your looking at! We bring a pragmatic approach to specifying products helping us come up with the best solution, on budget. We were very pleased when XL Video came through with a good product with the F12, I was very keen to get the panels installed into the MC touring frame, which in my mind is a market leader. XL Video’s, Paul Wood was our Project Manager and as always he was brilliant.”
Outback Rigging, celebrating its 20th year in business and 13th BRIT Awards, was responsible for all rigging, audiovisual and mother trusses. It also supplied all of the hoists for the event including Kinesys motion control automation. Set up over four main mother grids, one over the main stage and three over the auditorium, a total of 120 tonnes of equipment hung from The O2 roof, which included a huge amount of moving elements over both the main stage and auditorium. Conrad Ryan, now Technical Director at Outback Rigging after joining as an apprentice in 1999 is now on his tenth BRITs. Speaking before the show he explained the changes he has seen on in that time: “The BRITs were at Earls Court when I started. It has always been a hugely demanding show with an overall set design and then within that artist elements. When we started we were using Ibex systems for motion control. Within the last 10 years the use of Kinesys motion control has really come in. Now it is a huge part of the show. For this year we have we have six significant artists sets that we fly in and out, hung at 20-metres above the stage and then a major element over the auditorium.”
For Outback Rigging work on this year’s show began in earnest early January. “It is a steady flow from there,” commented Ryan. “We got the primary stage design from Es Devlin and from there we were able to begin our design for the mother grid over the main stage. That was our starting point. There are certain things that are a known value from the start such as the PA and video screen size and weight. Because of the nature of music awards shows artists can hold back on their requirements. It makes for an exciting show, but at times it really does go to the wire. We work closely with the entire BRITs production team and especially on the technical elements with Technical Production Manager, Tony Wheeler, Malcolm Birkett, CAD Stage Technical Sesign and Steel Monkey, who have been doing the fabrication of the set elements for many years. So between the three of us we look at and work on all the designs, making things fit as they come in. Obviously then it’s a question of my team trying to work out the rigging and a weight picture.”
In total over the four mother grids some 420 hoists were hung, including 83 Kinesys motion control systems. A total of 1.5km of truss was installed, 3km of cabling running across the system, as well as a spider cam broadcast system that Outback Rigging assisted with and installed. A key design feature for this years show was the use of 14 flown neon Tracey Emin writing signs, used at points over the dinner guests and main stage, and flown in and out for presentations, all running on a Kinesys system. Ryan explained other key elements: “Then we had all of the moving band elements, a large flying grid with a water management system on it for Paloma Faith. For the water system, designed by Aquabatics we had to manage that over the large fixed stage video screen, allow it to travel in and out above the stage into a show position and out to a hidden position. We had some large six metre high set letters for George Ezra which fly in and land on the stage, all on Kinesys hoists. The majority of the hoists we used were liftket hoists that have been converted to work with Kinesys systems Elevation One Plus Control and Vector software. We stored a six metre diameter riser for Madonna that flew in and out. Ed Sheeran had a 10-metre by two metre video ceiling panel that was wheeled out then flown into position. We also have a Vortex laser that we lowered in at show height for Royal Blood. And there were a pair of Barco 40K projectors that were lowered in over the audience for the Sam Smith number.”
On site Outback Rigging ran two separate Kinesys motion control systems operated by Steve Bellfield and Darragh McAuliffe with a team of eight spotters out on the floor, who had an eye line on all the elements making sure that if there was any emergency the system could be stopped. Ryan commented that it’s a real Outback team effort with Charlie Longcroft, Operations Team Manager, as his right hand man on the technical side and Stuart Cooper running budgets.
And how does Ryan keep so calm under all this pressure? “Simple. I drink loads of Chamomile tea,” he laughed. “But seriously, we have hugely trusting relationship with The BRITs production team. They trust us and we trust them.”
CREWING AND SAFETY
Alongside Stage Manager Mike Grove of Stage Miracles provided an ASM and 15 highly trained crew for the production load in, rehearsals and show-calls. These were joined by a further eight crew members for show-calls on show day and another 14 crew dedicated to individual bands and all were overseen by Crew Boss, Frank Moran.
As the dust settled and the VIPs headed into the after-party, local crew company Showstars prepared for a major overnight challenge. The East London firm’s work on the event began as the O2’s loading doors opened at the start of the hectic 10-day schedule that has become a way of life for Showstars’ Logistics and Personnel Manager, Paul Calverley and his colleagues.
“This was my 15th BRIT Awards,” said Calverley. “Although Showstars has been involved with The BRITs in one way or another since 1993, when it was at Alexandra Palace. And since Stageco took over the staging in 1997, we have supplied all steel and production crew. Our peak of activity was from 10.30pm at the end of the show, Wednesday night. On Thursday when we had 152 crew members, split into 72 for the night shift and 80 during the day, to work on the breakdown and load-out.”
Showstars enlisted several Departmental Crew Chiefs to take responsibility for specific areas. For example, Peter ‘Mavis’ Ridley headed the spot operator team, consisting of nine front of house ops and seven truss spot ops. “Lighting Designer, Al Gurdon likes to use us and as he returned to his role this year after a break, we expected an increase in our spot call this time,” said Calverley.
“We book the crew, get them all together and show ‘Mavis’ all the spot positions, and then he takes them all away to get everything worked out. It’s the same with the PA and lighting. PRG’s Richie Gorrod will tell us what he needs from us, we will allocate numbers accordingly and Tony Say or Richard Sullivan will head those teams. There’s always a leader of every split-off group while Stuart Milne and I are present to oversee the entire project and maintain a management presence.”
Finally keeping the event safe and secure were The SES Group who have been involved with The BRITs for 15 years, managing security, crowd safety, international media and of course the all-important red carpet. Planning for SES starts weeks in advance and like so many other events at The O2 when The BRITs come to the arena, they need huge flexibility, with the building configuration being adjusted from the standard O2 show format. SES has worked on hundreds of shows and events at The O2, having been contracted to the venue for the past five years.
In conclusion Kate Wright of Papilo Productions said: “I thought this year’s event was a tremendous team effort with all suppliers going beyond the call of duty to deliver a truly spectacular show. The event was not without its technical challenges but everyone embraced them and came up with some fantastic solutions.”
Photos: JM Enternational