Under The Bridge
April 2011 Issue 140
When TPi was exclusively invited into the vaults of the former Purple Nightclub at Chelsea’s famous football stadium last month, we knew we were in for a treat once we had entered the hallowed portals behind the East Stand, marked by two oversized theatre lanterns.
XL Video’s Ian ‘Woody’ Woodall successfully bid for the installation contract to convert the former Purple Nightclub, in conjunction with Andrew Frengley of Matrix Nine. They worked alongside concept creator, Jim Cafarelli, to totally transform the interior.
With Woodall’s vast experience in fitting high-end bars and nightclubs, and his former Green-I colleague accustomed to the exigencies of concert touring while with Canegreen (Green-I’s associated company at the time), the combination was just about perfect.
On entering the venue, the circular geometry initially suggests more of a premium nightclub vibe than a venue that will host artist showcases, record launches and eclectic blues festivals.
But snap perceptions can be horribly misleading and you quickly realise that this illusion is the result of design genius. With 25 years’ experience in interior development for dining and entertainment venues, Jim Cafarelli’s work first came to the Chelsea owner’s notice while visiting the aptly-named live venue, House of Blues in New Orleans, which he had originally conceived (and which has now rolled out successfully in the States).
With an impressive client list including many themed attractions and David Copperfield’s Late Night Magic, illusion was his speciality. And in London SW6, that ‘bridge’ theme has been thoroughly extrapolated.
While Cafarelli has ensured this has all the wonderment often felt when entering a magical theme park, Woodall and Frengley are confident that the visiting sound engineers will equally enjoy the ride.
RIDGE OF SIZE
In this 600-capacity bijou venue — built to an undisclosed budget — every metre of space has to work within the dynamic interior. And yet, Cafarelli, with all his theatrical sensibilities, has still somehow managed to create a paradoxically oversized Alice in Wonderland world — a Brobdingnagian bowl using macro-sized pieces.
How had he managed to source these incredible old steel girders and buttresses — and more pertinently, shipped and loaded them on to site?
The answer is, he didn’t. Almost everything in the design has been constructed from MDF, spray painted and authentically ‘rusted’ by two specialist finishers flown in from New Orleans, like some etiolated plant (the faux industrial joists serving as aircon ducting).
There is also a 6’ high waterfall (with lighting washes) greeting visitors as they enter, while the venue is equally awash with an archive of some 150 British vintage rock photographs, curated by renowned photographer Jill Furmanovsky of Rock Archive (at the entrance, the best of these have been cut into a giant wall collage).
Many are being exhibited for the first time and have been signed by the photographer, with informative captions about the context. American theme bar/sports restaurant bric-a-brac this most definitely is not.
The technical team have met their own challenges head on, commissioning special, weight-reinforced lifts with truck-pack precision and constructing five 42U drive racks on sliding rails because of space restraints — a kind of industrial game of solitaire which ensures an access route to all five with careful repositioning.
XL Video rationalised that QSC provided tour grade amplification, but in this instance the units were importantly compact and with minimum heat output. As a result no fewer than 66 PL3s sit in these racks following extensive product comparison.
Also taking a protean form is the stage, in which the front section (and three rear modules) are on rise and fall spiral lifts created by Stage Technologies. It means that a drummer can rock out on a dedicated riser for a live show but for a product launch or conference the stage will be in flat mode.
There’s no need for the stage to be dressed, since it already is... with Austrian-style, ruched black lame silver liquid drapes. This is backdrop deluxe. Stage Technologies, incidentally, has also applied liftgear to both sound desks (see later).
Invitingly, the four-year gestation of this venue will work in the public’s favour. Originally thought to have been intended as more of a private venue, purely for invited guests, events manager Joanne O’Reilly, working with bookers Full Circle Live, now expects to stage seven or eight events there each month.
Working alongside Chris Gleeson, group facilities manager at Chelsea Football Club, and the venue’s creative manager, Alan Tenenbaum, Woodall and Frengley decided from the outset to give touring sound engineers an experience they wouldn’t forget (the detail even includes two Avalon stereo valve compressors, which didn’t escape TPi’s notice!)
“We went for industry-standard equipment that would immediately be recognisable in the hope that visiting production will only need to bring their own backline,” commented Woodall.
LINE ARRAYS & LIGHTING
Frengley’s extensive use and knowledge of touring EAW’s classic systems over many years drove the partnership to that brand. “What we really wanted was a KF730 on steroids,” said Woodall.
Enthusiastically, they headed to Frankfurt’s ProLight+Sound show to petition EAW’s engineering guru, Kenton Forsythe, charging him with developing a custom KF740, with additional drivers. These are designed into an L/C/R system (4+2+4) to take account of the venue’s width.
In the event, the KF740 ended up being a prototype for a system that is now commercially in production. And to prove the point, Woodall points to the ‘CFC-740’ imprint (the legend denoting the football club).
Low frequency extension is provided by six EAW SB1000 subs on individual sends. Woodall: “This is because the stage is arranged an arc and the subs are staggered and offset — so we can delay them individually.”
The main system is reinforced by a hang of KF730 (outfills) with further KF695 covering the stairs, KF850/SB330 for stage fills, a pair of EAW’s JF80s to add sparkle to the more enthusiastic stage-huggers in the mosh pit, and a vast array of MK2396 and JF80s as delay speakers. There is also a large supply of low-profile EAW MicroWedge 15 floor monitors and MicroSubs for the visiting drummer.
As for the stage lighting, designed and specified by Max Conwell, the trusses can lower on pantographs. Martin MAC 700 Profile conventional moving lights are offset with the new MAC 401 Dual CT Zoom LED fixture, with RGB on one side and white on the other. Meanwhile, dazzling across the ceiling in chase patterns are Barco MiStrips — with source material coming from a dual output Catalyst.
Master lighting control is from MA Lighting’s current flagship grandMA2 console feeding the six separate DMX universes along with the Ethernet protocol ArtNet being used on the MA2 fader wing for the Catalyst video control.
The backdrop and rise-and-fall stage sections have already been referred to. But how did Stage Technologies work its magic? The company supplied all the overhead rigging and control which consists of four up/down stage self-climbing beamhoist trusses, a rear stage self-climbing beamhoist truss (purpose designed for the venue), the curtain system (with Big Tow winch) and a fixed lighting bar. Delstar Engineering (part of the Stage Technologies Group) supplied four main stage Spiralifts and two bespoke console lifts.
All the stage lifts are of a bespoke design. The four main stage lifts use Spiralifts, while the stage left console lift uses a winch to raise or lower the platform. The FOH lift is a standard Edmo platform allowing for the rare request to change the FOH or monitor console being as simple as a button press to lower the house console and allow for a visiting desk to be installed on top. Control is from a Stage Technologies handheld console running the stage lifts and trusses to position, with variable speed.
MICS & AUDIO CONTROL
What happens when the music needs to function in playback or ‘walk-in’ mode? Via the BSS London BLU digital routing environment, this will be switched to a ‘surround’ preset, bringing the 54 deliciously-concealed Meyer micro MM4s at the back of the venue into play.
But the engineer’s treat doesn’t stop there. A Yamaha PM5D is stationed at both FOH and monitor city and there is a vast selection of wired and radio microphones from Shure, Sennheiser and Neumann (with Shure and Sennheiser in-ear systems).
“Different types of band prefer different mics,” reasons Woodall. “Following our remit of not hiring anything in we wrote down our ideal mic wish list and constructed the spec. We have provided a choice of well-recognised models and also been sensitive to the instrument micing requirements.”
These include Shure’s popular Beta mics and in addition they have supplied 12 channels of Shure UHF-R wireless mic systems with Beta 58 handhelds, and wireless lapels; six channels of Shure PSM900 premier in-ear monitoring systems and three hardwired PSM600 systems — all with flagship SE535 earphones. Sennheiser provided various instrument mics, plus six channels of SKM 2000 series radio mic system and EK2000/SR2050 IEM.
The spec also includes infrared equipment for the hard of hearing (in the form of two SI 30 infrared modulator/radiators), which complies with DDA legislation as does the ramp accesses (neither the disabled, visually impaired nor the production crews will need to contend with stairs).
ARCHITECTURAL & ACCENT LIGHTING
The guests luxuriate in their own bookable alcove seating, in the beautiful curvature of Bentwood oak benches, with personal television screens that can show a variety of sources.
“More comfortable than anything you would find in church, minus the guilt,” quipped Cafarelli. But as they do so they will note that the architectural and environmental LED lighting has been tied into the general concept.
Again specified by Conwell and XL supplied, Architainment Lighting aided with all the Phillips iCove lighting, edging the seats and under-bar and consoles, while ACDC have provided a more industrial treatment of the bridges, custom LED picture lights built into each frame and have been busy in pretty much every other area.
XL dipped into the Philips catalogue further to provide extensive pieces of iColor Cove QLX (in 12” and 6” lengths), with different beam angles, as well as the higher-intensity iColor Cove MX Powercore, with iColor MRg2 colour changers, working with classic MR16s. ACDC have provided a wide range of RGB products from their iGLu and Integrex highlighting the entrance and ground floor areas. Eclipse LED micro luminaires are wall recessed on the main stairs, while Galli provide in-ground lighting at the VIP seating. Spek and Artemis LED spots can be found in the ceiling while further RGB battens have been incorporated into the stage design illuminating the left and right on-stage wings.
Mercifully, old school is represented in some eccentric (and wildly expensive) lamp shades, shipped in from Bran Van Egmond in Holland, customised and placed within the booth seating. And last but not least, mention should be given to Dave Smith of Specialz, for his inventive signage — both on the side of the stadium and outside above the main entrance.
VIDEO & BROADCAST
With XL Video pioneering the fit-out one would expect a high specification of sophisticated broadcast and transmission devices, and the integrators don’t disappoint.
output recorded for DVD purposes. Mixing is via a Panasonic AV-HS400 video mixer, where individual feeds can be streamed to any destination including the internet for webcasting.
“Although the club operates entirely independently from Chelsea F.C., not only at a management level, but also with its own isolated mains, we wanted to be able to record easily and piggyback on to the stadium’s broadcast network so there are four broadcast fibre camera points provided by broadcast experts TTL,” Woodall explained.
To achieve this not only with video but also with audio, they have incorporated a full rack of BSS active splits. For good measure they have also provided a separate 110v feed for visiting American acts.
On entering the technical bunker, the first thing that strikes you are not only the large 39U racks, shoehorned into an impossible space, but the neatness of XL Video’s cable looms.
In addition to the five amp racks on rails, there is a large IT control, a dedicated cabinet for the stage lift gear, two large air conditioning units and custom patch box. Video control devices include the master AMX control and Kaleidovision KL4 media player, with production, architectural and environmental lighting, respectively driven by Avo dimmers, a Pharos DMX scene controller and Mode Tiger dimmers.
Every wire is fed through DIN rail-mounted patch panels with cross patching system inside the box to allow ultimate flexibility during the installation. Provision has also been made for 12 general tie lines to go around the venue for those ‘get you out of trouble’ situations!
Comms is taken care of via Clear-Com’s HelixNet, all-digital intercom system and Master Control Station (including wireless).
GREEN ROOM (& ANCILLAIRES)
The Stamford Bridge venue has its own luxuriously-fitted amber and tan Green Room (if that makes sense), and the artists can relax in the knowledge that there is a private entrance and exit — the load-in lift can also double as an artist entrance. The ergonomics have certainly been thought through as from the Green Room there is also direct stage access.
Green Room entertainment is provided in the form of a large LCD screen bearing 40 of the most iconic rock photographs, digitised and animated by Kaleidovision; this will also flash upcoming events on to the giant screen. Two Soundweb London BLU-10 local remote touch panels provide source selection and volume control in each Green Room. Within the main Green Room are two fully equipped bathrooms and showers. However, it’s the public toilets that really deliver the ‘wow’ factor.
A designer once said that every master concept starts at the powder rooms and mushrooms out. UTB certainly doesn’t disappoint in that respect as in these two mosaic monochromatic worlds, while a giant John Lennon mosaic dominates the Gents, Annie Lennox is the distaff equivalent.
Under The Bridge has the same curiously absurdist retro feel of ’80s superclubs, when the loudest sound was that of the RAMs, cranes, hoists and liftgear moving giant rigs.
Fortunately, 25 years of technological advancement is on display here (and this runs silent). Clever touches are how Jim Cafarelli has created the illusion of space, using mirrors to amplify the oversize beams, and by mounting the photos off the wall on metal grids to create extra dimension.
But more important than any of this, is that UTB is of the people — a living, breathing space that theoretically everyone now gets to share. Jo O’Reilly told TPi that this will be for fans of music and the best thing of all is that when confirmed bands like Booker T and Dr. John strike up this summer, all these special effects will simply evanesce into the background... just as they should.