November 2009 Issue 123
This month, Jerry Gilbert catches up with legendary sound engineer Roger Lindsay, who becomes the latest prospect in our ongoing series covering the people, the technology and the events that have helped to shape modern live production...
One of the most enduring and in-demand FOH practitioners in the cosmos, Roger Lindsay has remained at the top of this craft for the past three decades.
This laconic Scouser can boast having begun his trade at the Beat capital of the world, working at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool as far back as the late ’60s.
Like so many, what started out as a passion — originally intended as a short-term infill — would turn into a lifetime profession. “I’d always said I’ll do this until I’m 21, and then get a haircut and a proper job,” he reflects. But history tells a different story.
In his late teens, Lindsay played in bands on Merseyside, however, the better bet was to migrate to a three-piece blues band called St. James Infirmary, featuring some of his mates. Among the band’s regular local college gigs was a residency at The Cavern.
St. James Infirmary’s PA consisted of a Vortexion 30W amp and two home made 4 x 12” columns, “which looked like coffins”. The only mic they owned was a Reslo Ribbon — “but that was swapped with another band for a Shure Unidyne, with an old sixpence holding a unique side cable exit,” Lindsay remembers.
It was to handle this inventory that Lindsay, who was then working as a sales rep/driver for a carpet company, joined the band as its roadie. The route to London soon beckoned.
“They decided to buy their own Transit van and move to London to get a record deal. I ended up as second man on a bacon slicer in a supermarket in Hampstead, while we all looked for gigs in and around London!”
Down in the Metropolis, Lindsay was soon introduced to entrepreneur, Tony Novissimo, who ran a roadie agency called The Cabin in a former recording studio in Shepherds Bush’s Goldhawk Road.
“The chance to work with Procol Harum came up,” Lindsay recalls. “I had to be economical with the truth, both about my age — you had to be 21 to hire an Avis van — and about my experience as I had almost none at this point.
“I discovered that the band had a 300W WEM PA with six column speakers and I had no idea how to put it together.”
And so he contacted a fellow Scouser, Bob Adcock, who had been working as Cream’s roadie. “Bob was a few years older than me and lived in Marlene Dietrich’s old house in Hampstead, and I asked him ‘How do I set it all up?’
“After he explained how it went together, I wrote the important details down on a small card that I could keep in the palm of my hand. That way I could put the system together without anyone knowing that it was my first time.”
In fact, Procol Harum had two roadies, Mick Murray handling backline and ‘Roger the PA’. “While he set up all the Hiwatt stacks and drums I had my first experience with a WEM Audiomaster [five-channel] mixer.”
Lindsay recalls that Yes had been the opening act for Procol on several shows around Europe — and some years later they bought the first horn-loaded system he had ever heard in Europe (the RCA ‘W’ system), from Iron Butterfly after they supported them on a tour.
“Eventually I got fired by the band for oversleeping and being late for a session at Abbey Road. This proved to be a very costly mistake and it was my first important lesson in production time-keeping: no matter how much fun you’re having, be on time, or better still early... always!”
Charlie Watkins had been like a godfather to Lindsay in those early days. “He would come to gigs and no one would know. When I worked for jazz trumpet player Mike Cotton’s band, Satisfaction, he doubled the size of my PA system. It went from 300W to 700W.
“Later, when I could afford to repay Charlie, he refused to accept any payment. Imagine that today.”
At some point the role of the multi-purpose ‘roadie’ transmuted into the more professional ‘sound engineer’ — recognising that men like Lindsay did more than drive the kit to gigs, set it up and then pack it into the Transit afterwards.
He remembers the day he crossed that particular Rubicon: “Stan Tippins [Mott The Hoople’s tour manager and sometime vocalist] rang me up and said [the band] were playing the Royal Albert Hall and needed a ‘sound engineer’.
“And that was the first time I’d heard the term used outside a recording studio. They had a 600W WEM PA and I had 700W... but they also wanted 14 or 15 channels.”
The only person Lindsay knew who could run three Audiomasters was John Thompson from WEM, who had set this configuration up at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970.
“He told me how it was done. We set up three Audiomasters side by side and people gathered to stare at all this technology.”
But it also led to one of Lindsay’s most embarrassing moments. “Midway through the first number the whole PA suddenly went off. It was the first time I’d used a multicore and the input jack had come out of the first slave amp on stage. The whole 1300W PA system died and I had to run from the desk down to the stage and put the mono jack back in and restore the audio.”
In late ’71, Tony DeFries, David Bowie’s manager, wanted to take out the biggest PA in the world to promote the rising star’s latest album, Hunky Dory — a scheme designed to beat Deep Purple who were in the Guinness Book of Records. Once again, Lindsay was asked to provide the solution.
“Richard (Shoe) Sanders, James Atkinson and I put together a 2000W WEM system. When we played clubs like the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, with 40 or 50 WEM columns on a club stage, we’d put all the cabs up and have wires hanging out the back to look impressive — but we would just use about 600W worth.
“Conversely, I also remember at City Hall Glasgow they said if we turned the full system on, the roof would cave in — and they cancelled the gig!”
The next generation of sound encountered by Lindsay ranged from “strange Marshall 4 x 12”s with integral horns from IES, to US cinema systems using RCA 2 x 15” horn loaded bass ‘bins’ with Vitavox multi-cell horns... all powered by the new Crown DC300 amps.”
Lindsay believes that Yes were the first UK band to use this type of horn-loaded system. “It was designed Don Hardwick, I think, with Altec horns and mixers and Crown amps.
Dave Hartstone at IES followed this new development with JBL 4550 and 4560 horn loaded systems for his rental business, as did Dutch band Focus with their system of Electro-Voice Eliminator passive three-way cabinets.”
The Midas/Martin partnership then became one of the first UK enterprises to produce a large scale system with huge 3 x 15” bass horns and Midas power block amps — used by Scott Thompson at Colosseum Acoustics. Martin Audio duly produced its folded horn three-way system, which became one of the most successful and popular systems of the day.
Another seminal twist in Roger Lindsay’s career path took place in 1972 as he crossed the divide from customer to provider. Europa Concert Systems was set up in conjunction with with Graham Blyth and Phil Dudderidge, who had formed Soundcraft Electronics the same year.
“Phil had worked with Led Zeppelin and I was working with Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone and a lot of country acts,” Lindsay remembers.
“We wanted to aim for the MOR market by offering hi-fi sound, with our first systems designed by Stephen Court. There was really only IES and Entec at that time in the rental business, so the three of us pooled our resources and purchased our first Court system.”
After a short period at Soundcraft’s base — the Fender Soundhouse in London’s Tottenham Court Road — Dave Hartstone [IES] leased his old warehouse in Regent’s Park to Dave Martin, and Europa rented the warehouse from him (later sub-letting some space to Peter Clarke of Supermick Lights).
“In 1986, after years of touring and engineering with all Europa’s clients — and later under Lindsay Audio after taking over Soundcraft’s interest — [Britannia Row’s] Mike Lowe asked whether I’d be willing to do an Alison Moyet tour without my own system.
“The tour was successful, and at that point I realised I could follow my main passion without the headache of owning and running a sound company... and just be a successful sound engineer.”
A year later, he also became the first sound engineer to use the new Martin Audio F2 system, when Keith Davis [Capital Sound MD] rang him to say that Sade was looking for an engineer with a track record to mix at FOH on her upcoming Stronger Than Pride world tour.
“So we went to a Sade rehearsal at Brixton Academy and Dave Martin was there with the F2 prototypes. I joked at the time that Dave couldn’t have built it, because it sounded too good!
“Production rehearsals started in Atlanta and the system had never been used before, but Keith ordered 90 F2 enclosures for the tour. They had to get a forklift truck to separate the cabs in Atlanta because they were shipped in containers to the States while the paint was still wet. But it was a great sounding system.”
During the early ’70s, two places from early rock lore produced more anecdotes than any — from the apocryphal to the picaresque — that helped form the music industry annals.
As a rock journalist in the early ’70s I vividly recall my colleague Roy Hollingsworth being driven up the M1 by a band who shall remain nameless, and deposited at Watford Gap services.
His mission was to pass the time in the legendary Blue Boar, observing, interviewing bands who made the obligatory comfort break, and then wait for the return ride home after his band had finished their gig. The only problem was that on the return journey back down south they forgot to pick him up!
Lindsay’s memories go back to around the same period — the freezing winter of 1972 when he was working with Colin Blunstone, and the star was basking in the glory of his recent hit ‘Say You Don’t Mind’.
“We bumped into the boys from Argent at the Blue Boar in the early hours after each doing shows ‘up North’. They had a Ford Galaxy Convertible and I was driving Colin and his band in a Transit minibus. As they left the Blue Boar about 500 yards ahead of us, they pulled on to the hard shoulder and then quickly moved off again as they came into our headlamp beams.
“Standing on the back seat, holding the windscreen with their pants round their ankles — at 70mph in sub-zero temperatures — was the whole band... mooning.”
The other legendary ‘after hours’ haunt for bands and their crews at the end of the night was the West End’s infamous Speakeasy Club. Although essentially a membership club, between the hours of midnight and 3am it became almost exclusively a hang-out for bands.
Stories emanating from this place (many revolving around the antics of one Who drummer — to keep that Moon theme going) are legion.
Says Lindsay: “Jeff Beck had a young band that he was financing and they were playing the Speakeasy one night when I was there. Halfway through their set the barman said ‘That’s a good idea... putting lights in the PA... and it suddenly burst into flames.
“The power amps had gone DC, and the lights he thought he saw were glowing voice coils. It was one of those real ‘oh shit’ moments.”
Since his formative years, Roger Lindsay has worked with a wide variety of artists, from Frank Sinatra to Prince, George Michael and the Pretenders, from the Olympic Games through the NFL, to the Charles & Diana Royal Wedding — and on more unusual projects than he cares to remember.
“But still I maintain a passion for live mixing, no matter what the project,” he says. “To be among the best-known engineers in the world you usually have to be on the best-known tours, so by staying just under the radar I probably avoided that distinction,” he considers.
“However, the year I spent working with James Taylor was probably one of the most rewarding from a musical and professional viewpoint.
“I do it because I love music, not for the financial rewards — the places it’s taken me, some not always music-related.” For instance, in 1992, a one-off gig mixing Pink Floyd at the Albert Hall turned into years of projects in motorsport and Formula 1.
It had all started with a conversation with Nick Mason about his racing cars. “He said, ‘I’m producing a book on the history of the racing car and want to make digital recordings of all the cars to include on a CD with the finished book. Do you think it could be done?’”
Several editions and ‘Best Sellers’ listings proved it could.