The Hatfield Forum
February 2010 Issue 126
Rachel Esson travelled to the University of Hertfordshire to find out why its new £38m entertainment centre has put it on the map for AMG’s national tours...
A university’s music and entertainment offer is fast becoming a make-or-break factor in students’ decisions of where to pursue their studies. As a result, live music facilities at universities across the UK are steadily improving, with the best competing for national tours.
The University of Hertfordshire decided it was time to upgrade its dated and scruffy facilities, which consisted of a sweat-box club and large music hall, by designing a brand new build. Following a four-year planning process, the University opened its doors for the new term last September with a £38m entertainment venue, The Forum.
The extent of its modern facilities and the sophisticated technical infrastructure which has carefully been put together by main AV contractor, TMC, following a competitive tender, meant that it has already become a regular stop for Academy Music Group’s national tours. Launching with a live set from The Doves, the likes of Pendulum, Scouting For Girls, The Maccabees and Funeral For A Friend have also topped the bill at The Forum, few of which brought any of their own extra gear.
The venue’s experienced technical manager (and mixing engineer), Iain Rendle (pictured left), who graduated in Sound System Design at the University before taking up a permanent position with Forum Entertainments, commented: “I wanted a similar kit list to the Academy venues so that an Academy tour could roll in and find it’s the same standard of kit, if not better. I saw that the Academies used d&b sound systems so I modelled The Forum on that.”
The centrepiece of the complex is the 1,500-capacity main theatre, but this is supported by a second 310-capacity live/club (The Attic) complete with a Funktion-One sound system, and bar at balcony level, plus a 220-capacity cocktail bar, shops and café, all with Bose sound systems. Part funded by the local council, the venue is named after Hatfield’s former iconic music venue that was demolished.
Bradford-based TMC installed the audio, video and performance lighting in the main and ancilliary rooms, as well as all the house lighting, back bar cold cathode and display lighting. They were helped by engineering company Mighty. TMC detailed a high specification of sound and visual reinforcement throughout, the highlight being a giant LED chandelier centerpiece, suspended over the main theatre auditorium.
Based on an artistic concept created by Blueprint, and adorned with multiple LED spheres, the idea was taken forward by RMJM Architects and custom developed by TMC. Fabricated from a quad trussing structure, the upper diameter of the motorised rig measures 10m, the centre 7m and the lower ring 4m in diameter — with four operational positions, run by CM Lodestar motors, so that sightlines can be considered and it can be dropped on club nights to make it more intimate.
Rendle said: “TMC were great and really knew their stuff. I would definitely recommend them.”
Project manager David Turnbull was assisted by Martin Tarpy and liaised closely with the University’s commerical director Max Ross over four years to design a technical solution for the multi-room project. TMC engineers Parrish Schertel and Andrew Biggins were on site for over a year preparing the cabling, fixing, steel work, trussing, building the LED chandelier and installing the sound, lighting and AV systems. Paul Todd helped design and commission the main system in the auditorium, which was a d&b J Series rig.
Turnbull explained the allocation of the system: “We’re a pro partner for d&b in the UK and the J Series system now is probably one of the most requested systems by bands and touring companies. They’re all looking to use it because it’s a fantastic product, you can control it very easily and it sounds fantastic.”
Rendle first heard the J Series at Glastonbury a few years ago and became a fan after working as an engineer on it at various UK festivals. He said: “It’s one of those boxes that you plug in and it works straight away; you don’t have to mess around with it.”
The system features six Q1s flown per side, with one Q7 as downfill and one Q Sub flown at the top of the array. Bass is covered by two J subs, one B2 a side and frontfills are two Q7s, all running on D12 amplifiers.
The monitor system comprises eight d&b M4s powered by D6 amps and delays further down in the room which are all Logic Systems IS12s and IS8s. Processing is handled by 11 D12s and MC2 T Series amplifiers. TMC also installed touchscreen zone controllers behind each bar running on ShowCAD software.
At FOH Rendle specified a Yamaha M7CL digital console, on which he commented: “Once you get the hang of it, it is really good and the new Version 2 software makes such a difference; they’ve answered a lot of engineers’ needs, especially in monitor world. All the engineers that have been coming here have been plugging in their USB and off they go.”
The University has a long history with Soundcraft technology, running the SM12 for many years in its previous live entertainment venue, but
Rendle wanted to switch to the Soundcraft 48-input MH3 as his monitor desk, for many reasons. “We were aware that the MH3 had been standard spec on all their early venues and I also wanted a dependable analogue board that could be switched to the FOH position should a guest engineer be digital-averse,” rationalised Rendle.
“A lot of monitor engineers are still more comfortable on an analogue board and everything is a lot more responsive on the MH3,” said Rendle.
“There’s just no compromise in sound and for the features you are getting the MH3 is amazing. They are very reliable desks, the EQs are superb, it’s quick when want to navigate something and the signal routing is very intuitive.”
In addition to the EQ, he also picked out the desk’s flexibility and modularity, the ease of putting Groups or Aux Masters on to faders and the quality of the mic amp. “Having the 12 aux sends is particularly useful as we generally have a six-way monitor mix and then the stereo sends for in-ears on top of that. It’s also especially good for cross-patching as we stage multiple bands with fast turn around times.”
Also giving it the thumbs-up is Rendle’s number two, Chris Smith (pictured right previous page), who is himself completing a Masters degree in sound design, and handles most of the house monitor mixing duties.
TMC’s installation included a rectangular truss structure over the perimeter of the main stage (6.5m deep x 11m wide), which carries eight Martin MAC 575 Kryptons, 12 PAR Cans, six-bar Molefays and eight Martin MAC 250 spots.
Rendle said: “We changed to Martin Professional fixtures from another brand and they’re much brighter and easier to service. The 575 Kryptons are great high powered fixtures and good for a touring spec. We haven’t had any issues with them since the install.”
The lighting fixtures are controlled by an Avolites Pearl lighting desk and two ETC Sensor racks for dimming and relays. The venue has two video screens flown left and right, and two spare screens for upstage if needed. BenQ and Optima projectors are in use with a Datavision video mixer and a computer running VJ software, along with two Sony cameras.
“On in-house nights we have our own graphics and use the cameras to relay I-Mag,” said Rendle. Three dressing rooms, two ensuite showers, production and staff rooms complete the venue.
The Forum has so far received critical acclaim from touring bands. “Enter Shikari are based in St. Albans and they had their homecoming Christmas show here. They were absolutely blown away. Within a few days it sold out and when it finished we reopened it as a club, so we had 4,000 people through the door in a 2,000 capacity venue,” smiled Rendle.
Turnbull added: “Hatfield is on a different scale to any other university project. They’ve taken some big decisions to have such a large venue and create the opportunity to get touring bands in there. There can’t be many student unions in the UK that have such a facility to offer.”