Ronan Keating In Australia
April 2012 Issue 152
As a singer in one of Ireland’s most successful pop groups, Boyzone, Ronan Keating has further enjoyed a decade of solo hits and more recently, a broadcast career. TPi’s Kelly Murray heard from the production crew who got the star back on the road down under for a triumphant theatre production after a two-year touring absence.
“I guess we must be doing something right if they keep using us,” smiled Production North’s Iain Whitehead, on why the UK and Ireland’s biggest pop acts continue to call on the Leeds based company not only for touring on home turfs, but for international and long distance reliable road packages.
“We try and explain and educate new artist managers rather than dictate to them. We can be quite blunt at times though, I think that must be the northerner in us coming out now and again!”
“We get calls from the people we work for all year round about various things, not just before or during a particular tour. This helps us build relationships that can make the planning of a tour much easier. Apart from that, we have been doing this for over 20 years so there isn’t much that has come up that we haven’t had to deal with before,” he added.
On this occasion it’s another long-standing client, Ronan Keating, that Whitehead is touring with as the crew’s Production Manager. He explained: “These dates were put on sale due to Ronan’s popularity over there after his appearances as a judge on X Factor in Australia; they were not part of a tour taking in any other territories.
“Ronan last toured as a solo artist in both Australia and the UK in early 2010, so it made sense to base the production around that show in order to be able to utilise some of the pre-existing video footage, supplementing it with new footage for the latest songs.
“We used the same band riser layout as we had previously. Neil Trenell [of Fix8Group] designed a lighting rig specifically for these shows. Neil operated the last Boyzone tour too and his abilities with the Green Hippo media servers meant we’d be able to deal with potentially different screen sizes and the new video footage which was not arriving until the first show day.”
With an established and ever-growing fan base in Australia (and New Zealand), it became clear for Keating’s production crew that another tour - the singer’s first in two years - was on the horizon for the Aussie public. The fundamental mileage involved when travelling across a territory such as Australia can present challenges. The distances between cities is much greater than in the UK, but as less bands tend to tour Australia, the routing is more flexible at short notice or during even the busiest periods.
Said Whitehead: “We freighted over around 2,000kg of backline equipment and the Hippotizer media servers but sound, lighting and video were picked up locally. There are no sleeper buses in Australia, so the crew and band tend to fly between cities. This means you are at the mercy of the airlines, though there are many regular flights between cities and they do tend to run on time.”
Despite often being separated from the necessary equipment, the tour was straightforward to package, needing just three trucks; sound and backline on one, video and set on another and lighting on the third. Whitehead’s lengthy experience touring on the vast island has left him with a good knowledge of who he wanted to employ for Ronan’s dates down under.
“In Australia we used JPJ Audio as we had used them previously and got a great service. The same goes for Chameleon Touring Systems [lighting] and Big Picture for video equipment,” he said. For the Auckland, New Zealand show, Oceania was used for sound rental and Spotlight systems for lighting as according to the PM it “had the best gear available.” Big Picture, the video suppliers also have a New Zealand office, so it made sense to use them for the Auckland show too.
Whitehead added on his suppler choices: “We last toured with Ronan in early 2010 and used them all then. All their crew last time were really helpful and we managed to use some of the same guys again this time around.”
There was no physical production rehearsal for the crew, so much of the show design was pre-programmed in the UK. Band rehearsals, however took place in a London recording studio for seven days. Whitehead noted: “We used an Australian string section for these shows. They didn’t come over to the UK for rehearsals, but we managed to get a run through of the show with them on the afternoon of the first show day in Sydney. Ronan has always been great to work for. He is a lovely bloke and appreciates the work that’s done by everyone. We have used the same people many times before to do Ronan’s shows when he’s performed as both a solo artist and with Boyzone.”
The lack of production rehearsal - due to tight schedules and the crew being on the other side of the world - didn’t hinder Keating tour one bit, as the professional team - well trusted by Production North - set about ironing out any initial bumps. As the first show day got underway in Sydney, the first challenge had begun. Said Whitehead,“The lighting equipment was loaded in the day before our first show and utilised for another band that night. Due to the location of the theatre in Sydney [the load-in bay is on a bus lane] all the sound, video, set and backline equipment had to be in the venue before 6am. This meant an early start, but it also gave us an opportunity for a longer sound check and some video and lighting programming time. We were in Sydney’s State Theatre for two nights, so the second day enabled us to get a bit more time to do some tweaks and changes after the first show.”
“The load-in and out of the State Theatre in Sydney presented the biggest challenge. All the equipment had to be lowered down onto the stage via a very small hoist, just one or two cases at a time. They have the strangest shaped theatre stage I’ve ever seen! Apart from that, it was a combination of arenas and large theatres, so was really easy,” he concluded.
THE AUDIO FAMILY
FOH Engineer, Nick Warren, has worked with Ronan Keating for over a decade now, ever since the Irish frontman left ‘90s success story, Boyzone. It was also, coincidentally, Warren’s tenth visit to Australia. “It’s my favourite place on the planet,” said Warren. “I like the whole Aussie outlook on life.” This made for a great atmosphere on Keating’s latest tour.
Warren always chooses his touring console, his choice for Keating’s outing being the Avid Venue desk, using a total of 45 inputs. His reasons were clear cut, after years in the business, the Avid Venue continued to impress him. Said Warren: “It just works. It never goes wrong and it sounds great!” The choice of some great plugs-ins was also a key factor when it came to Warren’s desk. The TC Electronics reverbs were a bonus, as was the CLA classic compressor. The absent pre-production for this tour, which wasn’t an issue for the FOH mixer, who said “There was nothing saved on scenes at all; mix by the seat of your pants, it’s the only way!”
As Warren has worked with Ronan since the very start of his solo career, sound preferences are today a well-mastered part of touring. Virtual soundchecks never take place, and Keating was keen to perfect his live sound further. This meant seriously minimal processing. Warren continued: “I usually try to ensure the sound goes through the least amount of processing and the least amount of conversions before it hits the speakers; just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!” Therefore the live mix actually goes straight into the PA system from the Venue desk.
Warren’s own working relationship with Keating is now very fluent, so his biggest mixing challenge actually came via the band, not the singer. “But only in the respect that there are two guitarists and two keyboard players all competing for the same slice of the frequency pie,” he explained. “The secret is not what you turn up, it’s what you turn down!”
For the last 14 years, Mark Buckley has been a Freelance Monitor Engineer, and has spent the last four years mixing monitors for the comeback of Keating’s pop band, Boyzone. Buckley is also a fan of Avid, and requested the use of a D-Show Profile console. Buckley highlighted: “For this particular show, the D-Show profile is my first choice. I’m using all 24 outputs, that’s the one thing I would like, more outputs!” For RF, Sennheiser G2 IEM systems are used as is a combination of wedges. The d&b audiotechnik M4 wedges and d&b Q Subs are utilised. “A couple of the guys like just the one ear in, for click and then take it out as and when needed, others prefer just two wedges, the old skool way!”
Keating himself has a centre placed pair of the d&b M4 wedges. Buckley explained: “It’s just for a bit more feeling when he is in his position. Then he will work around it, he very much likes to hear the venue.”
“The real challenge for me was monitoring for the viola and cello players, purely because of the nature of where they are positioned - directly behind a fairly loud drummer! They all had Shure Hardwired P6HW packs and Weston UM2 in-ear moulds. The DPA placement was crucial, and moving them 20 or 30cms back from their original seating position made a tremendous difference,” stated Buckley. “I would just like to say a huge thanks to Guto and Leggs, our Aussie sound team who made it as pain free as ever for Nick and I,” he concluded.
THE DELUXE SOUND
Also on monitor duty was the aforementioned Dave ‘Leggs’ Leggatt, the tour’s Monitor system Tech. “I am a Monitor Engineer and have done the job for about 10 years,” he said. “I work on a lot of tours and festivals around Australia and sometimes internationally with bands from all over world.” As part of the Australian sound crew, Leggatt looked after RF for the second time. “I worked on Ronan’s tour in 2010 looking after Mark Buckley and Nick Warren, and we clicked pretty much straight away, so they asked for the same guys on the next tour which I was really happy about. We certainly had a lot of laughs!”
Leggatt’s duties on this occasion included setting up the monitor station, putting out and testing all of the floor d&b M4 wedges, Sennheiser G2 in-ear monitors, then wiring up the stage; setting up all the mics on stands and cabling them.
Leggatt noted: “I love the d&b stuff, it all sounds deluxe. The monitors were M4’s with a Q Sub for drums. The side fills comprised of L-Acoustics DV Subs and ARCs, ground stacked.
Having all the string section on hardwired in-ears along with the bass, drums, keys and one of the guitarists made the RF situation very simple.
“Ronan’s stage is kind of split; there are the guys up the back on the risers who are all on hardwired in- ears [Shure P6HW packs] then at the front Ronan, and three members of the band using the Sennheiser G2 IEMs. Ronan and Jo [Garland, backing singer], were singing into Shure UR Series radio mics with Beta 58 caps. There was three channels for radio mics and five for in-ears,” he added.
The tour’s UK and Australian certainly built bonds following Keating’s 2010 live jaunt. Leggatt furthered, “I’d have to say my highlight was working with my mates Nick Warren and Mark Buckley, both are brilliant sound guys and top blokes.”
Monitoring the PA system was Guto Monteiro, a FOH Systems Tech from South America, who entered the industry in the year 2000. The Brazilian native used to work for two live production companies in his homeland before coming to Australia in 2007. He became a part of Keating’s road team via Iain Whitehead’s Australian sound rental choice.
Monteiro elaborated: “I’ve been working for Johnston Audio, (JPJ) since 2007 and I’ve done some of the biggest festivals and tours in Australia.” The audio pro has worked with acts including Kings Of Leon, Gorrillaz, James Blunt, INXS, and as of 2010, Ronan Keating.
Monteiro worked with the d&b audiotechnik J Series PA. He told TPi how the decision came about: “The J Series was our [JPJ’s] main system, and it’s one of the best systems around. Most of the biggest tours have the J series as first choice. It’s very easy to rig and it took less than two hours to complete the main and side hangs. I like the whole system, the boxes are light, and the R1 software gives you total control of the PA.”
The d&b audiotechnik J Series created the main PA rig and side hangs, which had a mixture of - quantities depending on the size of each venue - the J8 loudspeakers - boasting an 80° horizontal constant directivity dispersion pattern - and the J12 loudspeakers, alongside the cardiod d&b J Subs and d&b Q1’s for front fill, was a very welcome choice from all on the tour’s sound department.
“The tour was great, I have worked with Nick Warren and Mark Buckley before and they’re the best! It’s a fantastic atmosphere. Nick set up his console and FOH gear every day and plugged the stage with us, he and Mark are very, very hands on, they’re fantastic engineers and I look forward to working with them again,” he concluded.
SIMPLE LIGHTING RIG, EFFECTIVE SHOW
Mark Plunkett, Manager of MP Music Management and Ian Whitehead, Production Manager at Production North, approached Neil Trenell of Fix8 Group to fulfill the role of Lighting and Video Designer. It was the first time Trenell has worked with Keating as a solo artist, although had worked with the Australian X Factor judge during his Boyzone years.
Due to the unavoidable tight timescales for the production rehearsals before the first show, Trenell spent two days programming the lighting and video in one of Fix8 Group’s Previz Studios at its Stockport, UK, offices. He later flew out with the show files and content on a hard drive.
Said Trenell: “It is always a challenge to program without the actual music or lighting rig. Despite this, the pre-programming ensured the first show went smoothly, saving an invaluable amount of time and resulted in only a few content changes.
“We kept the lighting rig simple as we did not carry production with us to every venue. The design was based around Philips Vari-Lite 3000 spots and 3500 Washes and with Clay Paky 700 beams on the floor.”
The front truss utilised eight Philips VL3000 Washes, eight VL3000 Spots, eight James Thomas Engineering 4 Cell Linear Moles, a 48ft Spigot A Type truss (customized in black), and 10 ETC Source 4’s.The mid truss unveiled seven VL3000 Washes and eight VL 3000 Spots. A further two Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobes, four ETC Souce 4’s and another 48ft Spigot A Type truss was used. On the back truss, eight VL3000 Washes and seven VL3000 Spots were rigged. Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobes were again used on a third 48ft Spigot A Type truss.
The back truss was completed by a 48ft by 30ft White Star LED cloth. On the floor additions were 12 Clay Paky Alpha Beams 300’s and eight Vari-Lite 3000 Spots. Basic lighting effects were also implemented, and two AF-1 Fans, two DF50 Hazer DMX Controls and a 2.5kw followspot helped to finish the look of the show. Chameleon Lighting Systems provided production lighting for the East Coast shows with Levi Bois and Simon Land as local crew
For lighting control, Trenell used two of his own MA Lighting grandMA2 Lite desks and one grandMA2 NPU, the consoles that he is familiar with, and has invested in. Trenell concluded: “The tour was a big success, it was hard work for everyone with vast distances to travel between shows and having to adapt to large theatre venues and arenas. Sydney’s State Theatre was a particular challenge for all the crew, but the last show held at the spectacular open-air venue on the green at King’s Park, Perth was a fitting end to the tour. It was a great tour to be a part of with a fantastic crew, band and of course, Ronan himself. FIX8Group look forward to working with everyone again in the near future.” Trenell was also delighted with his Australian lighting supplier, Chameleon Touring Systems, due to its excellent support and extremely well maintained gear.
DANCING IN THEIR SEATS
The video visual part of Trenell’s role comprised both custom content and FIX8Group’s own extensive library. Playback was run off a Hippo Critter controlled by DMX tails from an MA2 Lite that had full control of both lighting and video. Big Picture supplied the video screens and Steve Lemahieu acted as the company’s solo Video Tech who worked with a single screen, placed up stage
Steven Lemahieu, like many industry professionals, is a freelance technician. With 20 years of experience at hand, it’s PRG that Lemahieu collaborates with regularly. However for this tour, it was Big Picture who requested his talents to handle daily LED duties. He stated: “I installed the LED back wall, that consisted of 112 14 by eight - panels of Hi lite 12 [mounted in frames four by four], driven with the Green Hippo Critter media server. Neil Trenell did some amazing work with it. The wall was a big part of the show, not only because it was used in every song, to fill the back of the set, but it also gave Ronan the chance to show the audience new images of his latest movie during one of his songs.”
The biggest challenge for Lemahieu was fixing any dead LEDs. The VuePix P12 LED Mesh panel features an innovative three in one LED chip design. The P12’s quick to assemble / disassemble nature is lightweight and transparent. The VuePix modular system can be combined into extremely large displays, horizontal or vertical. Yet the guaranteed wear and tear during transportation over a wild route such as Australia can cause some LEDs to inevitably become loose. However, the LED tech’s knowledge quickly came into play. ”After a few gigs I fixed all that, and it gave me the chance to build in two hours, have a very relaxing day, do the show and loud-out in an hour.”
“The lighting and video was nice, but as a technician, I do spend the whole show in the back corner of the stage watching racks, prepared to resolve problems if they occur. But what I could see by the end of the show was that everybody in the seated theaters were dancing, so I guess they must have liked the gigs!” Lemahieu summed up.
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