In 2009, British singer Paloma Faith released her debut album 'Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?' and became a mainstay on the UK airwaves. Her infectiously bubbly personality soon gained her an army of fans, and her live performances have become a huge selling point for the artist. The recent recipient of a Brit Award, Faith is going from strength to strength as she embarks on her first full production arena tour. TPi talks retro glam and customisation at Leeds First Direct Arena.
There’s a distinctly chipper atmosphere inside the Leeds First Direct Arena - it’s only a couple of weeks since Paloma Faith took home a Tracy Emin designed BRIT Award for Best British Female, and she’s part way through her debut UK arena tour in support of her third album A Perfect Contradiction. Steering the tour forward is Production Manager Derek Fudge, who explained how her popularity had impacted on this tour: “This run has sold out very quickly - we’ve been releasing as many seats as we can. We’ve not had any site-line issues, so we’ve been able to release seats on the corners and put in extra rows too. We’ve been selling over 100 extra tickets on show day, which is just fantastic.”
For the singer’s first full production run, supplier relationships have largely remained the same as on previous tours. Fudge is himself fairly new to the camp, but works on the principle that suppliers shouldn’t change if he’s talking over a job. “Of course I have my personal favourites, but in general, a supplier will have been with an artist for a while and will have done lots of favours on the way up. The reward is that they get to the big gigs when they finally come around. All of our companies are on top of their game, and they’re doing a fantastic job,” he said.
For rehearsals, Fudge took the team into London’s Brixton Academy, a unusual move for an arena tour. “I had to persuade them not to take a couple of gigs on so that we could have a clear nine day rehearsal. I chose Brixton Academy because their stage is massive; you can mark out a 60ft by 40ft footprint, which is the size of a standard stage. It was absolutely ideal and the people who work there are lovely too, they really looked after us,” he continued.
The design brief for the tour itself was to look Escheresque, with staircases going in different directions. To bring Faith’s ideas into a practical reality, she turned once again to Set Designer, Joshua Grace. “Paloma was a guest mentor on the first series of The Voice, where I had designed the rehearsal spaces for the coaches. We spent a long time chatting about all things design and off the back of that encounter, I ended up designing a set piece for one of her live performances. Paloma then asked me to be involved in her touring productions, which was a very exciting prospect!” he explained. That was just over three years ago, in which time Grace has designed several tours and numerous television promo appearances. “It’s always a pleasure working with Paloma. She has a very strong visual identity for each album campaign, performance and tour, and she references all sorts of visually rich worlds,” he continued. “This album has upbeat and retro disco-style songs, and Paloma wanted to create a stage which would allow us to reference Motown, disco and ‘80s aesthetics, whilst also having a touch of ‘30s cinema glamour, with a nod to Escher style surrealism.” The amalgamation of these references made for an interesting outcomes as to how the tour would eventually look. “She showed me clips from some 30s dance extravaganzas and images of art and photography. We would also meet regularly with LD Tony Austin and brainstorm together. Working with them is very creatively fulfilling; we all swapped images and clips that had inspired us, and I’d sketch up the ideas.”
The design was made with the intention that it would grow to fit into the larger venues. The smaller version of the set toured in the autumn of 2014 in theatres, and the idea was later expanded for the arena tour. “The layout of the band, and being able to interact with them all is very important to Paloma and so I am always mindful to make sure that she is able to access each band member, and the Escher reference allowed us to incorporate staircases and stage levels in to the design, which is exciting for a dynamic performer like Paloma. Both her and the band incorporated choreography into the performances this year, which was inspiration for the new set additions.”
The white high gloss stage and the set pieces were built by LS-Live, and draping came via Back2Front. “The drapes for Paloma were quite tricky to produce as they are an unusual swag shape, being more ‘droopy’ than usual. They were made in white treveira and we used over 100-metres of fabric. The end result however was well worth it, they looked great with the beautiful white stage set. At rehearsals in Brixton there was a round of applause as the truss went up for the first time… so that was pleasing!” said Back2Front’s Jayne Barratt.
Having worked together with Fudge over the summer period, the PM returned to LS-Live and tasked them with designing a bigger, tour-friendly version of the star’s previous set design. LS-Live’s Adam ‘Bullet’ Bettley and Jess Woodward worked closely with Fudge to come up with a master plan on how to incorporate the old design into a brand new tourable design. “We looked at the previous design and made amendments to achieve this. Manufacturing began two weeks beforehand, all the curved steps, handrails and fascias were custom made, and this incorporated staging from the rental warehouse, all marleyed with high shine white gloss,” explained Bullet. “We did a pre-build onsite at the LS-Live studio, which myself and Callum Short put together. We then packed it all down and squeezed it into 35ft of space on the truck. We went to rehearsals at Brixton Academy to do the first initial build after which we passed it on to the touring Set Manager, Tim Allcock.”
“Paloma has very clear visual direction and she planted the seeds in my mind… it’s a highly collaborative process, but it’s very much led by Paloma’s strong sense of aesthetics,” continued Grace. “Once Paloma approved a concept drawing, I work closely with the lighting and production team to work out all of the practical requirements. The result is a beautiful set that is suitable for touring and I was very happy indeed, Tony Austin did a great job of lighting it and bringing it all to life. I love seeing all the fan and press photos on social media of Paloma and the band in her playground.”
“It’s back to the old school with us, the way it used to be,” enthused Programmer / Operator Phil White of his duel operating duties with Lighting Designer Tony Austin. “We used to have two lighting desks out front, both running the same system, but that’s changed a lot now.” Austin is a key part of the crew for Paloma Faith, having been with her for three years, he knows her lighting requirements inside out. “There always used to be a Lighting Designer, a Generics Operator and an Artisan Programmer, so a tour would have three people putting the lighting together. Now, because of budget limitations in TV and concert touring, the role often goes to one person. Paloma likes to have Tony here all the time so it’s back to how it should be; the designer still has an input in the live show, rather than it just being handed over. It’s enjoyable to bounce off each other,” he added.
Austin’s relationship with Faith began due to her admiration for his work. “I was doing lighting for Portishead for years and Paloma came to watch a show. I then got a call out of the blue and she asked me if I would meet her to chat about her shows - it doesn’t happen often these days. We got on really well, and the next thing I knew, I was at her house having a cup of tea,” he smiled. “She’s really great to work with. There’s a lot of theatre influence in the lighting design. She even talks about it during the show, ‘the theatre of live music’, as she calls it.” Faith likes her band to be totally involved, so they’re very well lit most of the time. “It’s her theatre background, she’s very keen on having everybody being visible to the audience.”
White agreed: “There are moments when we pick her out on her own, but that will normally be at the beginning or end of a song. Tony’s always got key lights on everyone because she’s also influenced by late 70s Motown shows. It’s crucial to consider, with a white, high gloss stage, how the lighting will create the kind of ambience she wants.
“If she’s wearing white, the camera operators have nothing to accent, so the idea is that we try and tame that background as much as possible, except for the songs where she wants it mainly white. You have to be careful with the intensity, because one can just bleach out the other. We spend a lot of time getting it right,” he said.
Entech Sound & Light supplied the lighting kit for the tour, which included an MA Lighting grandMA2 Light console for both Austin and White, a desk chosen for its robust touring capabilities and mass storage. “It’s easy to operate and it’s a very powerful desk,” continued White.
The lighting rig comprises three trusses; the mid, front and side. The fixtures are heavily based around a Clay Paky Sharpy Wash and Martin Professional MAC Viper combination, of which there are 40 of each fixture. Four of the Vipers have been customised by Rob Stokes of Board Repairs, and finsihed in white. Entec has also supplied six Robe 600 LED Washes, 12 Chroma Q Color Force LED Battens, three Lycian followspots, 12 ETC Source Fours and 12 generic molelfays. For the lighting effects, 10 SGM X5 LED Strobes and five Martin Professional Atomic Strobes are utilised alongisde eight 10-metre festoon strobes. “It’s all very punchy, which is a must for the white set design,” concluded White.
Video Director, Robin Haddow and Video Engineer, Gerry Corry are using a straightforward IMAG package, a set up they describe as a ‘grass roots’ part of the production. “It’s great because we can concentrate on getting the IMAG looking as good as possible,” said Haddow of the simplistic visual elements. “But we’re very fortunate with this because the lighting design is superb, it’s very bright so we’re not struggling,” he added. “Normally we need more light for the cameras, but with this show, we haven’t had to cross that bridge because it’s a very bright, white set. Whatever look we want to do, we’ve got the room to do with this lighting setup. So that’s fun for us!”
Corry added: “Believe it or not, that’s how we base the whole lighting look. We’re trying to make her lips stand out, because that’s what people focus on when she’s singing, we’re just trying to make them look over saturated and put a lot of emphasis on them.
“Then we balance the rest of the colours and skin tones around that, so we have to do a lot of tweaking, it’s not just the standard colour matrix, we are constantly changing things. There’s a couple of numbers where we stay with one shot. Sometimes the camera is out of focus, but that’s on purpose, it’s deliberate, it’s deliberate focus softness.”
The package from XL Video comprises a Panasonic AV-HS450 mixing desk, running 16 HD channels, three Sony HXC cameras and two J17’s in the pit, on track. At FOH there is a Cannon 70x long lens camera and two of XL Video’s TW-80 HD mini cams are placed on stage. Two Barco FLM HD20 projectors (either side of the stage) and 16ft by 9ft fast fold side screens are deployed for IMAG. Video Tech, Mattie Jobson is manning the projection.
“It’s a very good setup at XL,” commented Haddow of the tour’s video supplier. “That’s definitely a benefit of XL Video being so large; they’ll get you anything if you need it!”
FOH Engineer, Huw Richards has been working with Paloma for some years, and described her as “a very, very meticulous performer, who loves attention to detail.” As the star wanted a white set design, audio supplier SSE took it upon itself to create white microphone stands and leads, to go that extra mile for the finished design. “That was kind of a thank you from SSE to Paloma for using them as a service company,” noted Richards, who uses a DiGiCo SD5 desk.
“It’s a great desk, all of the DiGiCo desks are. I scale them up and down depending on what I need. I first used the SD5 a few years ago with UB40, so I’m used to the surface. The channel count is pretty high too so it’s quite powerful desk. What I like about the DiGiCo range is that whether you’re using an SD11 or an SD7, it has the same built-in preamp and the same quality - they never cheapen the product. The finish is good and the support backup is good.”
Paloma Faith likes her mix to sound quite ‘big’, Richards pointed out. “She’s likes both a theatre and a pop sound, and likes it to be quite powerful within that so it’s dancey in the low-end; she doesn’t want to sound light and fluffy,” he continued. The singer also opts for reverb as she dislikes her voice sounding too dry. “She’s got quite a challenging voice to mix because it’s very powerful. She looks after her voice well and has a vocal coach, as there are a lot of gospel style tracks in the set, with her three backing singers, and Paloma hits some very high notes. It’s all very demanding on the voice.”
PM Derek Fudge brought Montor Engineer James Neale on board for Paloma’s UK tour in September 2014 and this is his third tour with Paloma. He handles monitors for everyone on stage and the current line consists of 11 musicians plus Paloma. Like Richards, Neale has opted for a DIGiCo desk, this time an SD7. “The DiGiCo SD range of consoles are great, one of the best on the market, their customer support is superb. They also sound really good and are very intuitive in their operation. I had been touring a SD10, however the SD7 has much more infomation available for view on the surface,” he told TPi. “The musicians on stage are all on stereo mixes, plus various effects so there is a lot going on with outputs. Paloma is a great artist to work with, as she has a good idea of what she wants to hear,” he added. “We are using Sennhesier SR2050 IEM and no wedges on stage. I prefer the sound of Sennheiser IEMs, and I keep everyone on in-ears in order to keep stage noise to a minimum.”
Paloma has three customised Sennheiser SKM 5200-II handheld microphones with the DPA d:facto II microphone capsules. There is a white one to match the current set design, manufactured by the SSE audio group. We also have two others, a black and a gold crystal version which were customised for us by Crystal Rocked. “I’m very happy with everything this tour is going very well; we’ve had some great shows and overall it’s been a big success,” he concluded.
THE PA SYSTEM
Systems Engineer, Perttu Korteniemi of SSE is using the company’s go-to PA manufacturer, L-Acoustics with a combination of K1, K2 and KARA. “We have 12 boxes of K1 on the main hang, and six KARA underneath to cover the first 15 metres of the room. K1 got topped up to 14 per side for some bigger rooms like O2 arena. For side hangs, we have 12 K2’s per side and 12 SB28’s per side too. There are six KARA for lipfill and nine KARA for rear hangs, which isn’t that common these days,” he said. Additionally, three delay hangs are added for the shows in London.
Korteniemi is a fan of the smaller K2 unit, which have assistied many of SSE’s shows since it was welcomed into the sound rental supplier’s inventory. “It is a very versatile, lightweight box. It’s tonal characteristics are pretty much the same as K1, so it’s easy to employ a K1 as the main hang and the K2 as the side. It looks good and it’s easy to rig. It fits nicely into our trucks too! I was actually quite heavily involved before it got released, so I used it during its beta testing phase.
“I come in early and design the system, I don’t rely on tour riggers to mark my points because I don’t believe in keeping the same rigging points for a UK tour like this, all of these rooms are very different. Here in Leeds for example, the mixing position is high up, so you can’t use the same design you’ve used the night before! It’s somewhat easier in mainland Europe, where the venues are very similar.”
For processing, there are two Lake LM44’s at FOH and two at stage left and right running on Dante between FOH and the stage. Then AES from the LM44’s go into the L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers. “The LM44’s are very reliable, we’ve never had any issues with the Dante, and we’ve used them in countless muddy fields on all the big UK festivals which is key for us,” he added.
The audio team at FOH also utilise a Real Time Rack comprising a UAD powered quality plug-in connected via MADI to the DiGiCo SD5, controlled through a touchscreen and Apple Mac Mini. “Huw is using it mainly for vintage compressors that would be a bit too fragile to carry on tour and hard to maintain. Also this way there is no added analogue to digital conversions needed. Some generic reverbs were used from the Real Time Rack as well but the main Paloma reverb is still Lexicon PCM 96 or TC System 6000. Depending what is available from country to country,” he explained.
The mutual respect between Korteniemi and Richards is clear; they come as a unit. “It’s really important to build that family vibe to get consistent results every night,” continued Korteniemi. “Many companies own very similar gear now, but for each artist and tour you have to match the crew and build relationships in order to keep the tour running smoothly. I don’t want to be the best systems tech in the world any more - I want to be the nicest!” The SSE audio crew is completed by Sound Crew Chief Paul Keeble and PA SR Tech Miles Barton.
Keeping it all moving from venue to venue, PM Fudge welcomed back Phoenix Bussing. Andy Gray has worked with Fudge for many years, and this year saw a welcome reunion. “It was great to be working with him again on Paloma Faith’s tour. For the UK leg we supplied three 14-metre double decker buses - two for the crew and one for Paloma and her band which was configured with a separate ‘star’ bedroom for her. Dealing with a professional like Derek made for very efficient logistical planning in regard to the driver’s hours and stop breaks, which meant that no one was inconvenienced in any way when the drivers took the required rest periods,” said Gray. “It was a very smooth tour for us and everyone involved. It was great to play a part in it after Paloma’s well deserved BRIT Award win.” For production logistics, McGuinness supplied five trucks (six for the London date) led by Lead Driver Bobbie Worgan.
Eat to the Beat has catered for Paloma Faith on a number of occasions and were delighted to be asked back by Fudge to supply her biggest tour to date. The catering team was led by Rachel Collins who worked closely with Sally Cureton and Sarah Money. Meals included a mixture of healthy dishes and hearty comfort food; the Leeds show offered options such as vegetarian dahl, baked salmon and oreo cheesecake. “It’s the best dessert ever, and the main reason I use EETB!” smiled Fudge.
“We are always happy to cater for everyone’s needs whether meals need to be gluten free, dairy free or wheat free. No diet is ever a problem for us and we create a tasty meal. The catering team really enjoyed working on this tour!” explained ETTB’s Lauren Joyce.
SHOWSEC SECURITY AND APPRECIATION
During Faith’s hilarious, poinient and often adorable on-stage ramblings - “I know I’m in the North because I went to Asda today and they had a pie aisle!” she also gave a speech about the importance of voting (rightly so) and seized the opportunity to show her appreciation for the inspirational part Showsec steward Edward Lynch played in her rise to stardom when she appeared at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Lynch decided to drop the singer-songwriter a note to make her aware that he would be on duty at the Arena for her sell-out concert there, but he was overwhelmed by the response as he enjoyed an emotional reunion with one of his star pupils.
Not only did she tell the audience all about her old dance teacher, turned security guard, but she invited him backstage after the concert for a catch-up and then made him a special guest for a night out at the O2 Academy to see Chic featuring Nile Rodgers.
“It was pretty amazing; she is still very much the same Paloma I worked with many years ago,” said Lynch, a professional dance teacher instrumental in forming RJC Dance in 1993 which established The Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
“Although we have stayed in touch, it had been a long, long time since we last met up. So I thought it might be worth making her aware that I would be there on this occasion, never expecting to get such a fantastic response from her.
“I’ve always gained a lot of satisfaction from seeing what she has achieved. The warmth of her words on stage, her reception when I went to meet her backstage and her insistence that we go out the following night were a measure of her appreciation of the support and guidance in the early stages of what has been a long journey to the top.
“She may have been crowned the Best British Female at The BRIT Awards recently, but she is still incredibly humble and very honest.” Lynch recalled when he first came into contact with Faith in her early teens as RJC Dance undertook a project at a school in London. “It was clear she had a lot of talent, not only as a dancer, but also as a singer and an actress,” he said. “Our work was all about inspiring young people to express themselves, to be creative and to make the most of their talent. After that initial work with Paloma, she then came to The Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Chapeltown to study for a degree in contemporary dance, so that was another important stage of her development into a top performer.”
SPECIAL EFFECTS ENDING
With a successful run of her biggest headline shows to date well underway and winning tabloid approval throughout the UK, Paloma Faith has certainly proved herself to be a singer with some real star power. Upon returning to her native London, the tour’s production values were upped again, this time with the added glamour of special effects courtesy Quantum Special Effects. Keeping the clean, white theme strong throughout, the company released 72kg of white confetti over the audience during her heartbreak anthem, Only Love Can Hurt Like This, at The O2, London. In order to create the ‘paper rain’, 24 swirl fans were rigged above the audience, allowing a continuous stream of confetti to flutter down over the excited crowd for the duration of the song.
As the crowd of the tour finale could confirm, Paloma Faith’s foray into arena touring has been a dazzling, theatrical accomplishment. She’s a well accomplished performer, having had success in the theatre world, and even in Hollywood films, yet the charm of this talented artist still continues to dazzle in her concert touring career, as her trophy for the nation’s favourite female pop persona explains.
Photos: Kelly Murray and Sarah Womack