Touring for the first time since 2009, Spandau Ballet are undertaking a six-month arena-tour across Asia, before finally rounding off the summer with a series of festival performances. Intriguingly titled Soul Boys of the Western World, this latest tour finds the band on eclectic form, performing an array of classics and tracks from their 2014 Greatest Hits album 'The Story - The Very Best of Spandau Ballet'. Simon Duff goes behind the scenes at the O2, London, to find out more...
Tour Manager for the Soul Boys of the Western World tour, John Martin, (The Boomtown Rats, The Clash, Echo & the Bunnymen, PIL) has worked with Spandau Ballet since 1984. Martin began preparing for the tour with Band Manager Steve Dagger in early 2014, while Spandau Ballet travelled to SXSW to premiere the Soul Boys of the Western World film, before returning home to rave reviews at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Not a bad start to their comeback!
“I have pretty much put all the crew together from scratch and the band are playing phenomenally well,” Martin commented. “We have an incredibly hard working, friendly and relaxed crew, who have a great relationship with the band, it was really the best atmosphere I have ever known on tour. Artistically speaking, the band has really stepped up considerably since the Reformation tour in 2009. This new show has much more of a narrative feel to it and every aspect of the production has really gone up a gear.”
THE SET UP
Production Manager Phelim McMahon began his career in Dublin in the 1970s, driving trucks and doing lighting for The Boomtown Rats. In 1980 he made a move to the Def Leppard camp, working as the band’s Lighting Designer alongside Production Manager Jake Berry. McMahon, who came on board with Spandau Ballet in December 2014, explained: “We were in LH2 for five days in February before the start of the tour, two days with the band and then three days of production rehearsals. In total, with crew and band, we have 50 people and it’s a very pleasant and relaxed tour, the band are fantastic to work with. On a normal day we mark the floor at 7am and load in at 8am. We roll the stage at about 12.30pm and we are ready for the band at 4pm, with a sound check at 5pm. Danny Spratt is our Stage Manger, Chief Rigger is Ian Bracewell and Stage Carpenter is Andrew Pearson. For The O2, London local crew was provided by Stage Miracles, EST provided nine trucks and Phoenix Bussing provided three busses.”
All Access Staging provided its new Touring Wall System for the European arena run. McMahon requested this new fast deploy rolling stage system to allow the lighting and video departments to work from floor height before the stage is rolled into position. Under stage access is excellent, with a 360° walk-through capability. The touring wall deploys a drop down leg to enhance the lateral and live loadings. The stage was looked after by Mike Humeniuk and Andrew Pearson, who who had both used All Access equipment in the past and were very pleased with the ease of use of the new touring wall system.
McMahon worked alongside Creative Director, Lighting Designer and Spandau Ballet veteran Patrick Woodroffe to deliver on the tour’s striking visual design, while Manchester’s Kennedy Street Enterprises were on hand to promote the show. SSE were tasked with furnishing the production’s audio requirements. Lighting was provided by PRG, video by PRG Nocturne, with Eat To The Beat catering the tour.
Robbie McGrath, who has previously worked with AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Stone Roses, Echo & The Bunnymen, was on hand to deliver the FOH mix and got the call asking him to do the tour in August 2014. McGrath had done a couple of one off shows with Spandau Ballet during their early days and Martin thought it would be a good idea to get him back on board. For the tour, McGrath has opted for an Avid Venue console, a desk which he believes combines analogue quality with all the advantages of digital control. McGrath commented: “I have been with Midas consoles for years but I thought it might be time to move on and try something new. Miles Hillyard, Senior Project Manager at SSE, very kindly let me A/B a few desks. There is something about the Avid sound that I really like. Its character and warmth inspires me to dig in and achieve everything that’s necessary for Spandau’s sound. In some respects the EQ reminds me of the Midas XL3, while the onboard compressors have a dbx 160A feel to them and the gates remind me of the BSS Quads. All these familiar characteristics seduced me into giving it a go, so I did a couple of shows last year with no plugins and it felt really good.”
McGrath, who is using the Waves Gold plug-ins supplied by SSE, said: “I have fallen in love with them and the quality of sound they bring to the table. As usual with my set up, 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 amazingly powerful and hard-hitting sound, which then goes into the Waves C4 multi band compressor, introducing incredibly dynamic control across the softer sounding numbers, up to the rockier, R&B tracks. I’m not pushing the drums around all night, the processing looks after a lot of that movement.
“I round it all off with an onboard graphic, using a V-EQ4 analogue EQ on all the drums, vocals and saxophones, they are amazing I can’t recommend them highly enough. As soon as I heard them I was back in the studio in Dublin, EQing drums. 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, it enables me to soften or harden the vocal depending on the song. It’s an old trick I managed to keep up 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.”
For microphones McGrath uses a Sennheiser 5000 Series SKM5235 handheld for Tony Hadley’s lead vocal. On the drums there’s a pair of AKG 414’s for overheads, Sennheiser 604’s on toms 1 and 2 and 609’s on 3 and 4, with Sennheiser 42’s1 on both floor toms. For the kicks, the E901, snare Beta SM56A and Neumann KSM 104’s are placed on the ride and hi-hat. For percussion, AKG 414’s and Shure Beta SM56’s. The bass guitar is DI’d and for guitar cabinets the Sennheiser E906’s and DI’s for all the acoustics. For saxophones he uses a Shure Beta 98H and for backing vocals Shure SM58’s.
At FOH the Avid picks up 53 inputs from stage. McGrath has scenes on the desk for each song, but prefers to mix the whole show on the fly, adding tap delays and moving manually around the mix. Commenting on the mix he said: “A lot of it is about space and all of it is about attack. The drums are either big and reverby or tight and funky, the band have a great groove so it’s important to get on the groove train!”
Nick Lythgoe is the System Tech from SSE, looking after the L-Acoustics rig and has worked with McGrath on a number of occasions, most recently on Spandau Ballet’s Royal Albert Hall film show last September. The K1 PA system for The O2, London consisted of a main hang comprising three K subs at the top of the array and 12 K1’s hung underneath six boxes of KARA. A notable feature of main array was that it was hung 4.5 metres from the front - in line with the drum kit - which enabled more side seats to be sold. Side hangs comprised three K subs at the top and 12 K2’s.
For subs on the floor, 30 L-Acoustics SB28 sub bass cabinets were spread out across the front of the stage. On top of the subs, a row of five L-Acoustics KARA were used for front fill. On the very outside three L-Acoustics ARC II’s were used. The outer hangs above FOH control used a rig of eight V-DOSC cabinets for delay. All running off L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers and Lake LM26 processors.
Lythgoe uses L-Acoustics Sound Vision prediction software prior to arrival on site at each venue. He commented on his work flow on show day: “I get in at the venue 7am each morning with the riggers to mark out the floor and work out our final tech positions, then I tailor our work around that infromation. We unload the trucks at 9am and by 3pm I am in position to hand over to Robbie.”
Mixing at monitors is Richard John from ESS, who has been working with Tony Hadley since 2000, he also toured with the whole band on their Reformation tour in 2009. His FOH clients include John Martin, Judy Tzuke, Go West and Nils Lofgren. John mixes 68 channels on a Yamaha CL5 console, a desk that he favours very highly, partly due to its 32 output busses as well as its rock solid reliability. John who, like McGrath, mixes manually with no scene recalls, explained: “This show would never work doing scene recalls. Day by day things change and there is so much work done on the fly. The big move for the band on this run is that most of the band are using IEMs for the first time, although there are plenty of wedges still used on stage, including d&b audiotechnik V8 side fills for Hadley and d&b audiotechnik Q7 and Q subs for the drummer John Keeble.” John creates 18 stereo mixes for band, techs and side fill. All IEMs are Sennehieser 2000 Series.
LIGHTING AND VIDEO DESIGN
Creative Direction and Lighting Design for the tour is delivered by Patrick Woodroffe of Woodroffe Basset Design (WBD). Terry Cook, Design Associate at WBD explained the thinking behind the lighting design and work flow: “Design work started about four months prior to the tour. A first concept involved a number of circular trusses, including some fabric in an inner circle and a number of coloured drapes.
As discussions between Patrick and the band progressed we developed more rectangles and straight line edges, so that we could really build in the impact of the three LED frames which surround all three LED screens, which are supplied by PRG Nocturne.” Cook’s role was central to the realisation of Woodroffe’s vision for the tour’s video, lighting and scenic elements.
The truss layout for the tour comprises three rectangles that size in on a pyramid concept. The largest rectangle is 60ft wide by 25ft deep, the outer and mid are two 50ft by 50ft box trusses and then the inner is a 30ft by 30ft box truss, which runs on five Kinesys motors, enabling height angle adjustment during the show. Four on the inner rectangle, and one on a 1.5 metre mirror ball, which also flies with the rectangle.
Cook continued to explain the thinking behind Woodroffe’s vision: “We wanted to be bold with our looks so we decided to really take the rig down to two fixture choices, a wash and a multi-functional light. That was the start process and then we worked with our lighting vendor PRG, to ultimately decide what those fixtures might be. WBD likes working closely with our vendors, we see it as a partnership more than just a vendor supplying us with equipment.”
The rig fixtures include 60 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 washes, with a standard lens setup split between all of the rectangle trusses above the stage, two side outer trusses sit above the exterior LED screens, and six units on the floor. 18 Clay Paky Stormy LED strobes were deployed, with 44 Mythos hybrids sat across the flown positions, and a further six units sat behind the band riser, lending impact to some of the band’s drum and sax solos. A total of 36 light linear molefay, 12 Philips ColorBlast TRXs, 12 Light Projects MR16 Birdie, four Robert Juliat Lancelot 4K follow spots and three Canto MK2 medium-throw follow spots overigged with chairs as rear spots, as well as eight GLP X4Ss to light the scenic drapes.
Cook explained the scenic element of the lighting design: “We have 315 LED panels, which we built custom frames for, these sit around the three video screens and along the front edge of the band riser. The frames were manufactured by PRG. The LED is a panel called Elidy and is a tungsten coloured LED product that comes in a one sq ft panel. The beauty of it for us was that we wanted something that was high impact and which would gave us a layer of effect that wasn’t just video. It is bit-mapped with chases and sequences that really coincide with the video screens. Another element in the show that I would like to flag up is the curtain, which is used across the main LED screen and was made by Jane Barrett of Back2Front, a draping and staging specialist.”
The Lighting Director for the tour is Roland Greil, who has worked his way up through the ranks, and is now a regular associate at WBD since 2008. He joined the tour at LH2 working on Woodroffe’s overall looks and ideas for each song, learning tempos and music. Greil employs a grandMA Full Size from MA Lighting with a grandMA2 Light as back up. Greil, who mixes manually, with a total of around 750 cues, added: “The show and music has a great energy and is really fun to work on. I have got an amazing lighting crew from PRG led by Crew Chief, Ollie James.”
Video Director Chris Hilson, who has previously worked with Bruce Springsteen, is working with a combination of IMAG footage of Spandau Ballet’s early career and commissioned graphics from a Catalyst media server and a 48 input / 24 output GVG Kayak 2ME HD switcher. Four Thomson Grass Valley LDK 6000 standard high definition cameras are used for IMAG, two positioned at FOH, one in the pit and one on stage with a wide angled lens. Two Panasonic AW-HE120 robocams and one Panasonic AG-HCK10 HD robocam are also used. Hilson explained: “The video and lighting work beautifully together. Our Video Engineer, Mel Von Der Decken, has worked very hard to create a unity between the two.”
Alain Demey from PRG Nocturne is the LED Tech looking after the three LED screens; a main screen at centre stage (nine metres wide by five metres high), then two LED screens either side of the stage, (three metres wide by 12 metres high). All running the ROE MC-7H 7mm LED tile, 80 by 80 pixels.
FED BY THE FANTASTIC FOUR
Feeding the crew came down to Eat to The Beat, who catered the tour across the UK and EU. Its team of four caterers - Susan Power, Pauline Austin, Jamie Morris and Lulu Foster - Young prepared innovative menus which were a hit with the crew, serving up delicious cakes and desserts, along with a handmade sushi bar. The band are big fans of cheese too, a daily selection was placed within their dressing rooms and in the catering areas, courtesy of the company’s cheese supplier, Pong.
THE POWER OF SUBTLETY
On the show night, Spandau Ballet and their production crew prove that they still have a great deal to offer, combining fan favourites with exciting new tracks. McGrath’s mix is full of power and subtlety, a drum sound worthy of the band’s 70s heyday, iconic guitar sounds from both Kemp brothers’, signature sax from Steve Norman and Hadley’s iconic voice. Woodroffe’s creative design, along with Greil’s spot on timing, is sharp and bold, with plenty of bright colours. The LED screens lend a distinctively Las Vegas-style glamour to proceedings. The band’s heritage is pushed to the fore with plenty of video clips included in the show, reminders of the band’s The New Romantic Blitz Club days and a very kind tribute from Hadley to Steve Strange, who sadly passed away in February. Proof of just what a loyal band and crew this is.
Photos: Simon Duff and Harley Moon Kemp