Sting: Back To Bass
March 2012 Issue 151
English Man In Toulouse
Singer / songwriter, Sting, has enjoyed an enviable career. 35 years after The Police first toured, the genre exploring frontman goes back to bass-ics for a solo tour entitled back to bass. TPi’s Kelly Murray and Zoe Mutter investigated the story of how one down-to-earth musician has kept his happy production team on staff for decades.
For Sting’s Production Manager, Seth Goldstein, heading up the tour has been a part of his life for the last 22 months, progressing from his previous role as Site Coordinator for the 2007 Police reunion jaunt. Said Goldstein: “Charlie Hernandez, PM on The Police Reunion Tour was setting
up the Symphonicity tour and asked me to take it on the road as the PM in May of 2010. I have been here ever since.
“Production wise, Back To Bass is a fairly straightforward tour and show; it’s about the music and that’s what Sting wanted. He’s done many configurations since The Police Reunion Tour including a lute tour [featuring the music of 16th century composer John Dowland],
concerts for his winter album [2009’s If On A Winter’s Night...] and the orchestral tour [Symphonicity], but for this, he wanted to go back to basics, just him and his band.”
Although minimal, the suppliers for Back To Bass are longstanding, valued clients of the Sting touring family. Goldstein continued:
“We’ve always used Upstaging for lighting and Neg Earth is their partner in Europe. They’ve done every Sting tour for at least 20 years. Ken
Burns, Lighting Crew Chief from Upstaging, has done 20 years with Sting. Bill Spoon, our Head Rigger, has been with him at least that long.
“What we have out here is a lot of experience in all areas of the crew, from Stage Manager to lighting, sound and backline. Many members of this crew have been with Sting for a long time and almost everyone out here has been touring for many years. In the sound department with Howard [Page, FOH] and Pete [Buess, Monitors, both of Clair Global] there are many years of touring experience. What Clair gives you is a great tour and worldwide support. Where ever we go to in the world, there’s a Clair office, whether it’s Jands in Australia or Audio Rent here in Europe, Clair Bros in America or Japan, it’s the same great equipment, worldwide.”
The current tour is a simple set-up featuring Sting on vocals and bass, with a band of trusted musicians. On lead guitar is Dominic Miller, who has played with Sting for 22 years and is now joined by his son, Rufus on six-string rhythm. Jo Lawry handles backing vocals and violin along
with electric fiddle player Peter Tickell and Vinnie Colaiuta, who has manned Sting’s drums on numerous occasions since 1990.
“Whether it’s the orchestral tour last year or the Back To Bass configuration you’re seeing now, we’ve played every kind of venue from a stadium to the square in St. Petersburg; Sting has the ability to play any kind of venue to any size audience. This tour is generally smaller, playing mostly in theatres, but the show fits wherever it’s booked,” Goldstein added.
Indeed the tour is a simple but effective set up, and that’s the whole point. There is no element of video content or even screens for
the audience because the simple intimacy of the music is able to take centre stage and the crew has a production formula that works. The
load out takes an average of just one hour and 15 minutes to complete, Goldstein explained: “At the Zenith in France we can do it in around
one hour five. For load-ins and to get everything
finished, it takes around three hours.”
Part of the equipment that has travelled with the tour is two 12-inch band risers, supplied by Tait Technologies and just three trucks are
needed for the tour to be packaged and moved on, all supplied by Transam Trucking. The preproduction time for Back To Bass was a very low-key arrangement, with a modest one-day rehearsal at the Wang Theatre in Boston for the crew whilst the band did a five-day run at Caroll Studios in New York.
A 30-YEAR PARTNERSHIP
It would be accurate to say that Howard Page isn’t your typical FOH Engineer. Or rather, his working life at this point was never intended
to revolve around touring. Page is on the engineering staff at Clair Global, based in Lititz, Pennsylvania, USA, and by his own admission
he doesn’t usually tour these days and calls his presence on the Back To Bass tour somewhat of an “anomaly”. Meaning there is, of course,
just one musician who can get Page on a tour bus these days.
Said Page: “I worked on the Symphonicity tour with an orchestra and small band for 14 months, as Sting needed someone with a lot of experience - a total understanding of dynamics and live orchestral balance because if you don’t go into a tour like that without total control of all those elements, it will never be as good as it could be. We came along and solved that, working closely with Sting to totally control those elements to achieve some pretty stunning results.”
Sting has many facets these days; semi acoustic; rock ‘n’ roll and with Back To Bass, an arguably unique set of musicians using violins
and rhythm guitars to recreate songs from the artist’s catalogue in never before heard arrangements.
Page continued: “Basically, the man is a genius, so if I have to come out on the road again with anyone, he would be the only artist I could imagine being with. He’s the nicest guy in the world, and is just beyond creative. He comes up with things and you sit back and think ‘but how is that going to work?’ and it comes together, every time.”
To say the staff at Clair is passionate about
one of their longstanding clients (Sting has been with the company since the very first time The Police toured America) is an understatement. Catching up with the tour as it neared its end and having the audio engineers talk with an infectious enthusiasm as discussions about what makes mixing Sting the very environment in which they want to be in every day is quite charming, but it’s their combined expertise which also puts Sting in the very best position on the road.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and all my career have been dedicated to always strive for perfection,” Page explained. “I’m involved
with the final design process of all of the Clair systems, tuning and commissioning how they actually sound. We have a lot of very clever
people in our office, who deal with all of the design theory, but it still has to work in the real world and that’s where my 36 years of practical
experience comes in. I’ve mixed everything over the years, from AC/DC in Sydney when I was a kid, to operas and orchestras alike.”
Australian-born Page started off in radio, gained a Technical Engineering degree and built his career around it. “I imported the first Ampex 4Track recorder into Australia and built a recording studio to make jingles for radio stations. I then went to a recording studio and
we built consoles, pretty much from scratch. My specialty is design of live mixing consoles. You find something that you enjoy and that you’re good at, and then you virtually dedicate your whole career to it. I’ve only worked for four companies in my whole life, always doing the same thing, and it is very rewarding.”
A UNIQUE SYSTEM
The Back To Bass tour uses Clair’s medium sized propriety line array, the i3, a very wide dispersion system. Page chose the system for its natural, musical sound. “In physics, there’s always a trade-off. A lot of the high level, very loud, longthrow line arrays are 90% dispersion, but there’s always compromise when you have narrower dispersion because it is a little harder to make it sound as musically natural as a wide dispersion system. This i3 system sounds as natural as you could possibly imagine because it’s 140º wide and it holds its tune across that full 140º, which a lot of line arrays don’t do.
“With this Clair i3 System, you get amazing definition and clarity, but of course, you have to be careful in a bigger air space. If you use this system in a bigger venue, you have to be very careful about how you array it; that you get enough throw out of it, that you get enough
punch for the longer throw, which means more components pointed in the longer direction,” Page said.
At the venue in Toulouse, Page wanted to reach the very back of the tall, 4,000 capacity sold-out room, which had both a standing floor space and a seated, raised area. “The vast majority of the system is pointed pretty flat and straight ahead, the reason being because I know I don’t have a high Q system, so I get around that with the sheer amount of components pointed in that direction. With our bigger i5 line
array system, I could get away with less boxes pointed in each area and curve it some more, because I’d have a higher Q system, but the i3
is perfect for this tour as it’s essentially theatre
Clair’s high-powered definition BT218 subs, driven with the incredibly high-powered Lab.gruppen PLM 20000Q amplifiers are also on
show. Page continued: “If you use subs right and you align them correctly, you don’t need that many to get the ratio to work for you. I put
them on the floor so that I get nice coupling, and stacking vertically is a nice alignment too. They’re very tightly time aligned to the main i3
system. The front fill is our older design, the Clair P2, which is a two-way system; a 12-inch and a horn.”
The P2’s are timed carefully in two zones: in the inside centre and the outside. He continued: “The trick with front fills is to get the definition and vocal projection over the sound that’s coming off the stage gear in perfect time to the main system to maintain the correct acoustic image, because the audience down there are standing so close, that they’re out of the direct sound pattern of the main arrays. I feed the front fill with a special mix which consists of a mix of the vocals mixed with the full mix from FOH, therefore the vocals end up 3dB higher than the band.”
Part of Sting’s reputation as one of the most
unique and reliable voices in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame is, at least in part, due to an audio team with an unrivalled knowledge of the singer’s needs.
“I’ve got an exceptional crew out here. One thing about a Sting tour is that it’s a very close-knit family and that comes from him. He expects the best all the time and we deliver the best. Everybody here is very experienced and skilled at what they do. If ever we do run into a problem, it’s fixed instantaneously because we are people who know how to fix an issue instantly from all our combined experience.
“We work very hard with Sting’s own crew to keep it as together as we can. What I find in this business generally is that at the rank and
file crew level of touring, you can’t pay enough money for the hours; it’s very early starts, working late into the night to get on a bus,
travel and still work all day into the next night, so the golden rule for me when I’m training crew people, is that they have the initiative and above all else, do they want to be here? If this job is not what you enjoy doing in terms of the hours or travel, then you shouldn’t be here. You have to really love what you do out here, and have a real empathy for it. These people want to be here and it shows in their work ethic.” Systems Tech Charlie Hernandez Jr can be found flying the i3 System and setting up and connecting all the subs and front fills. He is also involved assisting Page in his very exacting system tuning and optimisation process.
A SPECIALLY DESIGNED CONSOLE
For his role at FOH, there is only one console Page would use whilst out on the road, and it just so happens that the audio pro was heavily
involved in the design process of his Studer Vista 5 SR.
The console is a live version of the manufacturer’s larger studio Vista series. Said Page: “I originally saw the broadcast studio
version and fell in love with the user interface, it’s a touch screen and very intuitive. The key to any digital console is how quick it is to learn and how quick it is to get around on because most digital consoles these days have layered control surfaces. Live mixing is immediate, so if it’s not intuitive - how to get quickly to a channel or compressor for instance - then it’s not a good console for live operation.
“I made contact with Studer’s management suggesting they build a dedicated live version of the exciting large scale studio Vista. The Studer
Vista 5 SR is the result; a truly wonderful console. It’s probably the finest sounding - of the latest generation - of digital consoles that there is. I’m biased, but I do love it! You can do anything with it, and as the DSP is fully configurable you’re only limited by the amount of installed hardware to have it do whatever you can think of; it’s amazing,” he concluded.
Monitor Engineer, Pete Buess’, time at Clair Global has seen him endure a varied 26-year career. He’s previously worked with acts such as Phil Collins, Janet Jackson and Bon Jovi with his first live mixing gig being an Aerosmith tour in 1985. The Las Vegas resident often shares his duties as a Monitor Engineer with fellow Clair employee, Ian Newton, who is currently out on the hugely successful Roger Waters’ The Wall tour - another long-standing triumph for Clair.
The Yamaha PM5D desk Buess mixes Sting on was an inherited choice from Newton. Buess said: “We’ve been friends for 20-something years and we keep each other’s gig seat warm. If he comes back, this is his gig. God bless him, I love him to death! This desk fires up every day and its stable, that’s the most important point. I like the PM1D a little better, but it’s too large for this tour. This Yamaha desk is a very steady, reliable console and we don’t have any issues which is what a show like this needs.”
Buess required a 24 mix out and 48 in set up. “I pretty much just save scenes per city,” he continued. “The band is so tight, that it’s all real, a real band of incredible musicians, and they’re very consistent which helps me,” he stated. As you will probably gather, there’s no such
thing as a virtual sound check in the world of Sting and his band.
Buess continued: “They’re very particular about how the show sounds, and it’s great. Sting’s amazing at what he does,” he added, showing a genuine passion for the job.
Drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, also has his own monitor station where a Yamaha LS9 console is utilised by Drum Tech Noel White. Sting uses a custom built Sennheiser 865 microphone model,
with just a touch of reverb on his vocal. The band uses a combination of Electro Voice, Shure, Neuman, Earthworks and Beyerdynamic microphones.
Monitor and PA Tech, Steve Carter, is a Yarmouth native who now resides in Orlando, Florida. His plans to work stateside within sound
began five years ago and he has been a member of the Clair audio network for two years, working for Sting. Carter said of the i3: “I like
the sound of this PA, there’s a lot of high fidelity in it. The subs we’re using, I think are the best in the world. I’ve had them on pretty much every tour I’ve ever done.”
Again, the sentiments of just how important it is to retain the same faces as much as possible on a tour, has partly been what’s made Carter’s transition to a new job and new country far more fluid. “It makes a huge difference that the core crew have been together a while, it’s like an awesome family. And Sting is very approachable, he comes to chat and hang out, it’s very laid back and we’re working with amazing music every night. Vinnie Colaiuta, Sting’s drummer, is my favourite drummer ever; this band are absolutely top players.”
On stage, the Clair 12AM and R4’s are what Sting has always used. “The PLM 20000Q amps are all we use at Clair now because they’re so solid and reliable. They really work well, every day and we’ve never had any problems with them,” Carter stated.
At the monitor station, there is a total of nine PLMs 21 boxes (per side) were utilised for the PA. “This is quite a small tour really,” Carter continued. “But we have the ability to add a lot more PA if needed. Processing is built into the amp rack and Howard uses the brilliant Lake LM44 out front.”
TRICKY FREQUENCY COORDINATION
Sennheiser SR2050 IEMs were used with Clair combiners and the Sennheiser Elliptical design for transmitters. Buess said: “The hardest part is
going from country to country and city to city, it’s a huge challenge for Steve and I, it’s a lot of work. Every country has different frequencies
and channels and that’s a big part of what we do when running this much RF. It’s easier in the states with the zip code software but there’s
a lot of Clair research that goes into frequency coordination.”
Jo, Rufus and Vinnie all use IEMs along with Sting who uses one ear mix and wedges. The tour carries 20 wedges but only 12 are utilised
for the 4,000 capacity show in Toulouse. They comprise Clair 12AMs and ML18’s with R4’s for side fills, four per side and two front fills per side. The stage wedges are positioned centre, left, right and upstage centre. The bass rig for Sting is in the middle, it comprised two ML18’s.
“To mix Sting every night, well this is one of the gigs you dream of, audio wise. What sound guy doesn’t like the tonalities of Sting? Plus he’s a great guy, he really is so nice and this crew is the best of the best. We get treated really well, Sting is a great person and we have his music every night so you’re never fatigued, you’re in a
good mood,” Monitor Engineer Buess continued.
“Sting can be demanding about sound, but he’s never difficult about it; he’s kind. He always wants the best, but he’s a kind-hearted guy, so
we’re very, very lucky. I’ve done a lot of audio gigs and this is one of the best in the world.”
For RF, Carter used Pro Wireless Intermodulation software, and incorporated the entire guitar lines into the wireless, additionally using WinRadio to spectrum analyse.
EXPERT ADVICE FROM HOWARD PAGE
“Unfortunately far too many live concert shows are just way too loud overall and totally dominated by bass and sub bass, very out of
proportion to what real sound is, as though if the sound isn’t overwhelming, the crowd won’t get into it. The problem with that is that
you quickly fatigue your crowd with too much bottom end or out of balance too loud mix. You can see it in even the most hardcore of metal
bands; the audience becomes less interested quickly because you’ve basically just beaten them over the head with an audio baseball bat,” Page said.
“A concert can certainly have loud moments in it, but one of the things Sting and I worked long and hard on with the Symphonicity tour which was the challenge of a having a small group with an orchestra, was to work on the absolute dynamic levels shifts within each song and for the show as a whole and we’ve carried those dynamics concepts over to this rock group set up.
“I’ve had people come up and tell me that this show sounds like the greatest show they’ve ever been to, but it’s not necessarily just what
I’m doing, it’s what Sting and the band are playing, and how we’re all delivering it. It’s the sum of the total. You have to know your
audience; you have to give them the sound quality they expected when they bought their ticket. Know the reference point. Their reference
point is listening to Sting records at home, with the album quality of mix texture. They don’t come here expecting to have their heads blown
off, so I won’t blow their heads off. That is the key to live sound; giving the audience, exactly what, my years of experience, tells me that they
“Some of the critical reviews we’ve had on
this tour have stated that the sound was perfect, but that’s frankly because it was exactly what the audience imagined and hoped it would be!” he smiled.
A CLOSE-KNIT TEAM TO BE PROUD OF
Within minutes of meeting Head Rigger for the Back To Bass tour, Bill Spoon (U2, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen), it is instantly apparent he
is proud to have been a part of Sting’s crew for nearly 25 years after first working with him on the 1988 Amnesty International benefit concerts. Compared to the musician’s previous tours, the current stripped back production required a simple rig and only four local riggers
at each venue, plus Spoon - the tour’s only full time rigger.
“It’s about getting back to the basics this time around so there’s no video or moving elements like we’ve had on other productions.
I think the audience enjoys it too because they concentrate more on Sting and the band than the video screens and movement,” explained Spoon.
“This show is only around 12 tonnes so it’s very lightweight and doesn’t have many complex components. We made the decision to keep it light to fit in with some of the venues we’ve been playing. With this tour starting in the US and playing small theatres, it had to be pretty simple and it’s been the same here in Europe because we’ve played some small tricky venues.”
Due to the uncomplicated nature of the
rig, Spoon has started work an hour before the rest of the crew at each venue by marking on the floor the points where hoists lifting the audio and lighting equipment should be placed.
Added Spoon: “It’s simple and in two or three hours we’re set to go. We use CM Lodestar chain hoists and, although I carried my own automation on previous tours, this time it has been supplied by Clair Brothers, Neg Earth and Upstaging.”
Touring with a high profile artist such as Sting has taken Spoon to some of the world’s most interesting venues. He elaborated: “All of
his shows I’ve been involved with have been a fantastic experience - he’s very worldly and has always been keen to visit everywhere around the globe. The largest rooms we’ve played on this tour have had a capacity of around 8,000, but most have been in the region of 2,000. We’ve played some new venues during Back To Bass such as Sala Kongresowa in Warsaw.
“There are always some that are a little tricky for me to rig - the different ceilings can present a challenge, but that’s what makes it such an interesting job. Lots of places are limited on weight so sometimes we put spreader truss in or have a sub grid to try to divide the weight up.
Size-wise, we’re going to have to cut down in some of the German venues because the width of the lighting rig won’t fit.”
More than two decades of touring have left Spoon with an incredible collection of production highlights, one of which being Sting’s 60th birthday benefit concert, for which he once again provided his services as Head Rigger. “The event was absolutely fantastic. The stars that came along to play his songs were amazing - Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Bruce
Springsteen; the list goes on,” said Spoon.
STRIPPED BACK LIGHTING
“With Sting’s tour being called Back To Bass and very much about going back to basics, the simplest and most stripped back thing we could do was to go black and white,” explained Lighting Designer / Director, Danny Nolan. “It’s a very simple lighting design with only two fixture types and some white LED audience headlights at the front of the stage. Sometimes Sting is just lit on his own - it’s a complete departure from many other styles of tour lighting.”
Moving from the UK to Brazil 15 years ago has meant Nolan has lit a vast selection of Brazilian events such as the Rock in Rio festival
as well as the tours of individual artists including Simply Red. “I first started to work with Sting on The Police Reunion Tour and have remained
working with largely the same crew since then.
The lighting design on this show is much more scaled back and low key than, for example, the 2010-2011 Symphonicity tour, which featured an orchestra and three moving video boxes displaying IMAG. This tour is visually based around the lighting because there is no video.
Nolan continued: “When basing a show’s lighting around black and white, you have to be very careful because it can be quite samey. You have to dig deep to find good ideas. It was challenging but I enjoyed it and I’m very pleased with the outcome. There is a lot of cross lighting and when I say black and white, I literally mean half in shadow and half in light on some occasions.”
With the musicianship on Back To Bass - as all of Sting’s tours - being of such high quality, Nolan chose to tightly base the cueing of the
lights around the music. “I wanted to make sure it complemented the songs,” he added. “I believe the way it all integrates with the musicians on stage has been the key to how successful the lighting design has been.”
To control the lighting, Nolan opted for the console he is most familiar with - MA Lighting’s grandMA 2. It had been such a reliable platform that he had no hesitations about staying with the brand. Having previously used the grandMA 1, moving to the newer desk was a natural
progression for the LD. Prior to rehearsals in Boston, Nolan pre-programmed the show at MA Lighting’s base in Brazil.
He said: “They gave me a console to use with the MA3D 3D visualiser software that comes with the desk - yet another useful feature when planning out lighting designs.“I like the grandMA’s networking capabilities and the feel of it,” said Nolan.
Aside from the overwhelming talent of the musicians, getting the opportunity to form a show’s visual design around black and white tones has been a pleasure for Nolan. “I think every Lighting Designer wants to do it once in their life. There are several ways of doing it and
not only did we do it in black and white, but using only two fixture types. It was a challenge, but looking at the end results, I think it was the
right decision,” said the LD.
“You can do it using different types of white
lights; tungsten for example. I use various colour tones here - off white on the blue side, off white on the orange side and then just white. You can incorporate different fixtures types too - I’ve seen shows use fresnels and molefays or ACLs mixed with PAR Cans.”
SIMPLICITY IS KEY
Although based around just two fixtures, selecting the right lighting equipment was of great importance to Nolan and Lighting Crew Chief, Ken Burns Junior, whose touring career with Sting started back in 1992. Said Burns: “I was just three weeks out of graduation
and Sting was opening for The Grateful Dead. I’ve worked with him on every project he’s done since so 2012 marks the twentieth year I have
been on tour with him. Aside from Sting, I’ve also toured with Rihanna, Eric Clapton, Beastie Boys and Tears for Fears.
“Being able to say I’ve worked with Sting for 20 years is amazing. Repeat client requests are always a good thing and Sting is one of my
favourite artists, so getting to tour with him has been an honour. It’s great to hear music I grew up listening to and I’ve enjoyed seeing Sting go
back to his rock ‘n’ roll roots on Back To Bass. He is a great musician, no matter what he does.
“Sting has a certain amount of creative input into the look of the show, but he trusts the people he works with a lot so he allows a lot of creative liberty to an extent and then if there are elements he wants changed, he will let us know.”
As an employee of Upstaging since 1991 - a company that has supplied Sting’s shows since the late ‘80s on The Dream of the Blue Turtles tour - Burns plays a vital part in piecing together the best lighting package for the job.
He explained: “As far as lighting equipment making up the show, that’s my role. Quantities, how it gets built, the cabling, how it’s assembled and taken down is all down to me. I’ve worked with Danny for a long time. Danny bounces ideas off me to see if his artistic concept will be functional and achievable.”
With Upstaging supplying lighting equipment
for the North American leg and lighting console throughout the tour’s entirety, its London-based European partner, Neg Earth, provided equipment for the production’s European dates to help save on freight costs.
Burns stated: “This has been one of the smallest packages Sting has toured with, which fits in with the theme of the tour. We tried to get the most out of the smallest package and make it efficient for travelling. This show is very stark and minimalistic - it’s a classy show, presenting Sting. Back To Bass is a very simplistic show, artfully done. Sometimes less is more.
“It’s a radical departure from previous tours as far as the show’s look goes. I think it’s a great production and what Danny has been able to
achieve with just white light is phenomenal.”
With the exception of four of Upstaging’s LED Headlite fixtures acting as crowd blinders on the downstage truss, the entire lighting rig was Philips Vari-Lite based. Neg Earth - who Sting has worked with on multiple occasions on both sides of the Atlantic - supplied a total of 26 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots, which were spread throughout the three trusses as well as on the drop-down T pipes suspended below the trusses. Completing the streamlined lighting set-up were 24 Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FX, which were again spread throughout the trusses as well as on the floor.
Added LD Nolan: “The main reason I use the VL3000 range is because they are bright, have great versatility in their beam sizing and can go very wide, spotty or washy. They’ve got it all; fantastic optics too. Instead of using the traditional molefays or something more rock ‘n’ roll to light the audience, I thought I would use something simpler for the LED audience blinders.
“As I have so few fixtures, they are all used for everything - effects lighting coupled with spotlighting, profile and backlighting. The
fixtures are arranged in such a way that some of them are on the side, some are on the top and some of them are on the floor so I get the angles needed.
“I have key lights on everybody and three followspots that I use for four or five songs in the set. The key lighting is different throughout
and sometimes I light their faces, sometimes I don’t, so there is contrast. Occasionally I like to light in a very unorthodox way.”
Upstaging’s HUD truss was selected for the tour, according to Burns, due to the convenience it offered the crew. He added: “It’s been a very useful tool. You don’t have as much physical
construction to do in the morning and the load-in and load-out is quicker. It helps with set-up time and streamlining things having automated
Having the lights pre-mounted and pre-wired has been a blessing to Head Rigger, Spoon: “It rolls off the truck with all the lights assembled.
Just hook the motors up to it and away it goes.
The production team likes to make things as simple as possible so we voted HUD truss. When working with a rig based around three straight
trusses, it just made sense to go with that
Like Spoon, the greatest challenges presented to Burns have revolved around playing unfamiliar venues. He commented: “Sting likes to play very unique places and when you play smaller venues you have to be creative in how the rig works in a squashed format. The Zenith is more of a luxury venue for us as we have tonnes of space.”
Day-to-day tasks for Stage Manager, Chris Deters, revolve around the logistics of the tour; encompassing everything from bringing the
Transam trucks into each venue to liaising with the crew. A career that has seen Deters feature in the production crew of AC/DC, David Bowie,
The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe’s live performances also brought him to work on The Police Reunion Tour in 2007.
“It was at this point I first started working with Sting and the rest is history. It’s a small crew on Back To Bass and interacting directly with everyone is easier to do on a three-truck tour,” commented Deters.
“With this tour, Sting is playing places I’ve
never been before and I’ve experienced a lot of unique theatres. For example, many of the opera houses we have visited have been beautiful places I’ve not had the chance to see when working previously on heavy metal tours.”
Toulouse’s Zenith stood out to the Stage Manager as a convenient venue for the team, allowing problem-free rigging and providing enough room for the trucks to drive right up to the stage. Added Deters: “We haven’t had to transport the kit down any narrow hallways or take it up and down in elevators here. It isn’t like some opera houses we’ve played, which haven’t
allowed much equipment to be hung from the
With the crew on Back To Bass being a scaled back version of the one that first worked on The Police Reunion Tour, Deters has found the familiarity with team members’ personalities a great comfort on the road. “We’ve been out on this tour for so long with the same crew that
everyone knows the most efficient way to set up and how best to stay out of each other’s way during load-in and load-out to make it all run
smoothly logistically,” said Deters. “Last night’s load out in Grenoble took just an hour and seven minutes because we have such a good crew.”
The relationship between Sting and his production crew certainly seems to make the ideal touring environment, one based on mutual respect, creative encouragement and above all, exceptional experience and constant willingness.
Howard Page, Clair Global’s Senior Director of Engineering, left TPi with an understanding of just how an artist like Sting retains his own
“We call Sting ‘The Boss’ because he doesn’t have handlers, minders, or bodyguards so if I want to go on stage and talk to him about
sound, I will because he’s the boss. I’ve been
involved with some artists on tour that I’ve never even been introduced to. I’ve never seen them offstage, never spoken to them and yet I’ve done sound for them for months.
“They’re so removed from reality and protected by an entourage, that it’s just out of all proportion for a touring reality - and it
doesn’t make for a happy environment with the crew. It creates a gulf between the artist on stage and the people who are working their guts out for that artist; it can become a very difficult situation. With Sting, we don’t have any of that and it’s quite a unique situation. Being as big an artist as he is, it’s almost amazing that he’s not aloof, instead, he’s incredibly hands-on, always creating new arrangements and trying new things,” Page elaborated.
Sure enough, during TPi’s visit, Sting was happily and discreetly playing an acoustic guitar on stage before the official soundcheck began. Back To Bass is not strictly a greatest hits package. Many album tracks make up the majority of the set which according to Page, wouldn’t normally be played live. “It works here, within this intimate setting. The audience
all know these songs anyway, but we have to deliver the musicianship, and that’s what stuns the audience.”
After the Back To Bass tour finishes in South Africa at the end of March, Sting will return to the US and then to Europe for concerts
throughout June and July, including many festival appearances. These performances will feature a similar, laid back stage arrangement.
Get a ticket if you can!
Photography by Zoe Mutter
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