Welsh Rockers Return Home To Start Something Special
June 2012 Issue 154
Playing on home soil will always have a particular significance for Lostprophets, who - before achieving global success - started carving out a career by performing at venues across Wales. On the biggest show of their recent 15-date tour of the UK and Ireland, the band returned to their roots and pulled out all the stops with a full scale production. TPi’s Zoe Mutter was at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena for a gig incorporating the band’s signature blend of hard rock and pop-punk, that promised to deliver a one-off performance to remember.
Fans of Pontypridd rock outfit Lostprophets were in for a treat when the six-piece played a much anticipated homecoming show at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena in support of their recently released record Weapons. Thrashing out a collection of hits from their five album back catalogue wasn’t enough for the band, who also performed their second studio album Start Something in its entirety during the epic two-hour performance. With Start Something having been greeted by much success upon its 2004 release - marking the group’s breakthrough into the international music scene - it was the perfect way to repay fans that have followed the band since its infancy.
Speaking as the crowds queued up outside the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Lostprophets Tour Manager, Keith O’Neill, and Production Manager, Rob Lister, explained just how much the performance meant to the rock band and their crew. “As this is the homecoming gig it has made it even more special. The band want to give the fans a really fantastic show and for it to be as slick as possible,” explained Lister, who has toured with artists such as Swedish House Mafia, Katy B and Ellie Goulding.
A 15-year career in tour management has seen O’Neill work alongside Babyshambles, Art Garfunkel and Foals before joining Lostprophets four years ago. Lister was welcomed into the team a year later after collaborating with O’Neill on singer-songwriter Richard Hawley’s live production.
“Lostprophets is one of the bands I listened to in my teens. This album they’re playing tonight came out when I was about 18 so it’s exciting for me to be working with them,” commented Lister, who wore multiple hats on the tour, by production managing and operating the lighting. “The look of this show is completely different to other artists I’ve worked with. The production of Weapons really complements the band and when the lighting and video were being designed we were conscious that it shouldn’t become too overpowering.”
With four of the six members of Lostprophets living in LA, O’Neill arranged for them to be flown out to Music Box in Cardiff for rehearsals in the lead up to the Weapons tour. “We had no monitor system as such, there were a couple of wedges and the band just thrashed it out. It seems to work even though it’s a pretty punk way of doing it, but that’s the way they like it,” explained O’Neill. “We intended to do a full pre-production rehearsal when we had two days off in Liverpool but when we looked at the cost of it and asked the band whether they wanted to do it they said they would rather invest the money elsewhere in the production.”
The tour’s design changed significantly along the way, with the team considered multiple concepts before arriving at a final solution. Originally the crew looked at creating a full production tour, but this later evolved into one that would be split between using house systems with the exception of two shows. The band was keen to contribute during the planning stages of the tour, highlighted Lister: “Trying to combine six people’s ideas over the period of two months into one coherent concept was challenging and things tended to change quite a lot, but we’re all pleased with the final results.”
With life on the road being notoriously busy and requiring careful planning - especially when working on multiple tours at once - production ideas for Weapons were finalised when O’Neill and Lister met mid-tour in Australia. “Rob was on a different festival tour to us and we had some time in our packed schedules when our travel days crossed over to meet at a hotel in Perth and expand upon the ideas we had to produce the show we have today,” explained the tour manager.
For all of the 15 dates apart from the Cardiff and Brixton Academy performances, the touring outfit was streamlined, with the core components of the set-up transported in a kit trailer on the back of one tour bus supplied by Fastway. The crew - most of which had been retained from earlier outings - then used local production at each of the venues, something O’Neill believes tested the team: “It can be tough relying on local production, but we specc’d the house kit to the best of our ability and the lesson that we’ve learnt is it can be done if you’re on tight budgets. Considering the amount of different equipment our crew worked with every day, in both the Audio and lighting departments, the consistency of the shows on a daily basis was very impressive.
“We originally planned on using a truck and two buses, but transport costs have gone through the roof recently so when we looked at it again we realised that would be too expensive. Our brief was to keep the costs as low as possible, but we still needed to get a great show out of it. With the constraints we’ve had, I think we’ve done pretty well at bringing the costs down to meet that brief.”
Using vendors that offer a reliable and flexible service were imperative to staying within budget and on schedule. The tour manager continued: “I have a long history of working with Fastway and Director, Dave Thompson, and they always supply well serviced vehicles and outstanding drivers. I tend to be loyal to my suppliers because it works better that way and you can negotiate on prices too. This loyalty extends to other suppliers such as Sugar & Spice who have always provided a great catering service and good banter too!”
An extra truck from the tour’s PA, lighting and video vendor Adlib was necessary for the two full production gigs, which featured an extra lighting package, video wall and lasers. Continued O’Neill: “For the majority of the tour, however, it made sense to have all the backline and kit in a backing trailer because we are heading straight on to Europe for two weeks after the three-week run of UK shows and are limited by weight.”
Having worked with Adlib for 15 years, O’Neill already knew the company provided a consistent service and highly skilled staff, leading him to choose them as the vendor for both audio and visual aspects of the tour. He continued: “I find it works out better to have someone supplying all kit; it keeps costs down too. The company has supplied kit to Lostprophets for three years and we all like their work ethic. We’ve always welcomed them onto our team and they’ve done an amazing job for us.
“For instance, our Lighting Designer Ian Tomlinson from Adlib has provided a lot of support and helped pulled everything together for us over the past couple of weeks in preparation for this full scale performance.”
It wasn’t just crew and vendors that impressed O’Neill on tour, he also found the Master Tour, tour management software developed by US firm Eventric to be an invaluable addition to his day-to-day work. “I have all the crew and band members on it and they are absolutely loving it; we have all our itineraries on there so we have done away with tour books. Any changes that are made get updated in real-time using the desktop software and then whole team can access it, even on their phones too.
“We used it in Australia as a tester and everyone really liked it so we thought we’d bring it on this tour. I’ve been working closely with Eventric software, based in Chicago, on developing it over the year I’ve been using the software. It’s a totally different way of working for me, but the database layout is really efficient.”
Maintaining a consistently high level of audio quality has been integral to Lostprophets’ live performances; something that FOH Engineer, Alan ‘Doof’ McCann is well aware of. The audio engineer has been working in the lively world of touring since 1996 when he started out with Wolverhampton band Daytona. From there he moved to SSE Audio Group where he worked as a system tech and toured with Pantera, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The White Stripes and many more high profile artists. “I first came to be involved in this production when I was touring with Picthshifter in 2001. I met Lostprophets - who were the support band - and they didn’t have an engineer so I joined them and have been their audio guy ever since,” said freelancer Doof.
Joining the engineer at FOH was an Adlib-supplied Soundcraft Vi6, which Doof prefers to work with when given the choice of digital desk. “I love the way they sound, how hard I can drive them and how easy the surface is to use. The user functions on the Vi6 are so handy as they allow you to change the layout of your surface and of course the options of gates and compressors wherever you like. I also love that I can access the FOH EQ on my desk,” Doof added.
Drum microphones on tour consisted of Sennheiser’s 901, 905, 614 and e904 models, alongside a Shure Beta 52 and pair of Shure SM57’s. Another two Sennheiser 614 mics were put in place as overheads and a Shure Beta 52 was used to pick up the sound of the bass guitar. A mixture of Sennheiser 609, Audio-Technica AE3000 and Shure SM57 were chosen as guitar mics and - with the exception of the Shure Beta 98 microphone, which lead singer Watkins used in conjunction with a megaphone - vocal microphones were Sennheiser e840’s.
Having just bought a JoeCo BlackBox recorder, Doof not only used it to record the show but also made use of the virtual soundcheck feature the product offered. No plug-ins were incorporated into the audio set-up for the show and after nearly 12 years working with the band, mixing 34 channels on Lostprophets’ most recent show comes as second nature for the FOH engineer.
Doof has files for almost every digital desk, which allows him to easily establish whether his input EQs are correct. He continued: “This means even on a festival or non soundcheck day a few minutes on the PA during the first song and I’m where I want to be. Even with soundcheck I EQ the PA to my channel EQs as this keeps the sound linear from source to speaker. When it comes to special effects, I use some chorus and verb, with the odd delay. We also use a megaphone mic’d with a Shure 98, which works great.”
RUNNING MONITOR AND RF WORLD
Live music has always been present in audio engineer David Belis’ life, right from the days when he started out building stages for concerts at university. “When I wasn’t booking funk and jam bands into our campus pub I would be patching local band’s PA together for all types of shows. My close friends, Who Cares, began touring the Northeast US so I hopped in a van with them for a few years. When they broke up, the long Island Ska scene was still going strong and I hopped on tour with bands Edna’s Goldfish and Pilfers,” Belis explained.
The engineer then went on to perfect his craft in metal clubs in New York before working for Tom Heinisch at SK Systems in 1999. The years following have seen him work for a wide range of artists including Cradle of Filth, Indigo Girls, Donna Summer and Hugh Laurie. “A friend of mine from the Cradle of Filth tour, Kev Papworth, called to tell me Lostprophets were coming to the states and they needed a monitor engineer to cover them for two weeks. Eight years later, I’m still with them,” continued Belis.
Like Doof over at FOH, Belis used the Soundcraft Vi6 console to mix in monitor world. A total of six IEM mixes were created for the band along with five wedge mixes, usually with some snapshot automation to switch between their role as thumpers and a full range mix. In addition, Belis had one tech mix for Stage Manager, Sean Harrison. “The Soundcraft Vi6 is a good sounding surface and it provided multiple windows in my world. I still have some analogue habits and if I can’t grab multiple inputs and outputs organically, I tend to get frustrated with the interface, but Soundcraft allows me to work as if I was on an analogue desk, while giving me all the benefits of a digital surface.”
Belis’ monitor set-up comprised four L-Acoustic ARCS and a pair of SB28’s as side fills, six Adlib MP3 monitor wedges and four Lab.gruppen PLM 10000Qs. Most of the wedges were positioned along the downstage edge, with one upstage wedge position for the bass player. “I also have filters on the wedges to turn them into thumpers while the guys are on ears. Sometimes the boys just want a laugh, so they take their ears out, I bypass the filters and we have instant rock. We’ve managed to get rid of the drumfill that used to blast down all the drum microphones, my upstage wedge is a nod to the SPL of yesteryear without all the mic bleed.”
Belis managed radio frequencies as well as mixing monitors while on the road with the band. Making sure the proper licenses had been organised and that all frequencies were free from interference, intermodulation and distortion was necessary for the success of the production. “Wireless management software has come a long way. Basically, I just check in on all the receivers. I have a look and a listen, then come up with viable alternate frequencies and call in any changes to the licensing agency if we experience interference.
“The UK is fairly easy to deal with RF, especially compared to the US. I had to move the production to different frequency ranges primarily because of the upcoming US Warped Tour dates. Occasionally we run into issues with someone stepping on our licensed frequencies, so I just make a change and have our production manager call it into JFMG, a dedicated band manager for entertainment.”
The tour carried its own IEM rig consisting of six channels of Sennheiser G3 and two channels of Sennheiser G2. In addition, the crew carried two channels of Sennheiser SKM 500 G2 wireless microphones with a 935 capsule for keyboardist Jamie Oliver’s vocals. Belis continued: “I generally keep all of my artists on Sennheiser gear. The packs sound great, have reliable battery life and solid user interface.”
CONSITENCY AND DULCET TONES
Supporting Doof and Belis and making up the system technician team on the production was Adlib’s George Puttock and Carlos Herreros. Working for Adlib has exposed the pair to a wide range of clients; from chart pop to metal. “I was placed on this tour as we quoted V-DOSC and dV-DOSC. The atmosphere was great, everybody got on well with each other from the first day. Working for Doof was fantastic; he’s a great character and a good engineer. Every night sounded brilliant. What more could I ask for?” enthused Puttock.
The sound system at the Cardiff performance consisted of 12 L-Acoustics SB28’s, 16 L-V-DOSC and six dV-DOSC along with eight ARCS, which were all driven by L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers. System drive was then provided using Lake LM 26’s and LM 44’s, which according to Puttock, have “proven themselves to be extremely reliable, accurate processors with outstanding resolution and quality”.
Familiarity with the system meant that rigging was fairly straightforward for the team. Monitor tech Herreros would sometimes fly a side, given time pressures. “It is so easy to rig, we could be up within half an hour of points arriving,” said Puttock. “Obviously speed is not the main concern, it is more important to not rush and complete the rig safely but the Adlib 4 high dollies for V-DOSC make it very quick to rig the system ”
Configuration of the system changed drastically every date of the tour due to the difference in venues. One day the team would be flying 10 V-DOSC with three dV-DOSC and eight deep KUDO side hang, with six SB28’s in a hybrid cardioid configuration, and the next there would be four V-DOSC with four SB28’s due to weight limitations imposed by the venue. “This is often the overlooked part of tours; trying to maintain consistency for the FOH Engineer from one day to the next, given the wildly differing PA configurations,” Puttock added.
Familiarity with the system meant that rigging was fairly straightforward for the team. Monitor tech Herreros would sometimes fly a side, given time pressures. “It is so easy to rig, we could be up within half an hour of points arriving,” said Puttock. “Obviously speed is not the main concern, it is more important to not rush and complete the rig safely; nobody wants anything in the air over people’s heads when there could be any chance of it coming down!”
LIGHTING A SLICK ROCK PRODUCTION
Adlib’s Tomlinson took the lead in creating lighting designs that would best suit the distinctive style of the band and their music. Come show time, multi-talented Production Manager, Lister, took his position at the High End Systems Road Hog Full Boar control desk to operate the lighting. “Using this desk is an integral part for me as the show has been able to evolve on it,” explained Lister. “I own one myself and use the console for pretty much every tour I do. It’s my go-to desk and Ian and I have both been programming the same show for a long time so we know it inside out.”
The pair had joined forces previously for Swedish House Mafia’s last tour, on which Lister was the stage manager and Tomlinson took on responsibility for lighting design. “I flip between roles on tour, that’s the way I like it,” continued Lister. “The last Lostprophets production was very dark because the band wanted a Neo Tokyo sort of vibe. This time they were keen to brighten it up a bit more and so everything is more visible. It’s a slick rock show that is almost digital in appearance and pre-programmed on a cue-to-cue basis. There’s a lot of green, blue, white and red, with plenty of big key light looks and strobing.”
Tomlinson was also familiar with Tour Manager O’Neill, having both been a part of Liverpool rock band Cast’s touring crew. “Weapons is a bit of a development on the last one when it comes to lighting. Lead singer Ian was quite involved in how the stage looked and he wanted to evolve it from the previous tour so we’ve introduced extra elements such as the video wall and lasers,” said Tomlinson.
Compared to the previous production in May 2011, the Cardiff date of the Weapons tour included an extra top row of Martin Professional MAC 301 Washes to break up the rig and added Clay Paky Sharpy fixtures. A total of six MAC 301 fixtures were positioned on the back truss and another six on the bottom truss. “They’re great up there because you can get a really good wash over the stage and they are also capable of producing a tight beam so they are really versatile,” commented Tomlinson.
Another eight MAC 301’s could be found on the mid truss, configured in pairs to light up different sections of the band. The LD continued: “We use them as the key light and then introduced Sharpys for effects lighting. There are three on the back truss, four on the mid, four on the front and four on the floor. For me, the 301 is always reliable and from a physical point of view I think the Sharpys really stand out.”
Also being used to illuminate the band were seven Martin Professional MAC 700’s, 11 Martin Atomic 3000 DMX fixtures for strobing, three Avolites ART20000 dimmers and one Profusion DF50 Hazer to provide enough haze to make the beams of light visible. Adlib supplied trussing for the production in the form of Prolyte’s S36V Box Truss.
“We had to make some changes to the lighting design because we were limited to height in some venues. Therefore the truss that the MAC 301’s live on ended up coming in really low in some places. The Cardiff venue’s been fine though, it’s got a great height and the stage is huge,” commented Tomlinson.
A RETRO VISUAL PRESENCE
Video was a centrepiece of the first half of the show, which saw the band perform in front of a 8m by 4m screen made up of 36 Pixled F-30 tiles. Entering the stage to rapturous applause and cheers, the Pontypridd rockers were supported by a retro style computerised intro on the video backdrop that mimicked the album’s promotional artwork. The screen was then used to display a DOS syntax message informing the crowd that the system was booting. Numbers appeared on the screen counting up to 10; heightening the fans’ excitement further before the band kicked off the set with Bring ‘Em Down, a track from the new album.
With the new record being called Weapons, military themed stock footage of marching and bomb-making took pride of place on the F-30 LED tiles, which was produced by Sam Hodgkiss and Harry Bird from Comix for the Cardiff and Brixton shows. Once the creative duo had created the content that would be displayed at the Motorpoint Arena, it was previewed by Lister and Tomlinson before Bird brought the final selection of footage to the venue on a Windows laptop running Resolume 4 software, a tool for live VJ-ing and audiovisual performances.
While Hodgkiss and Bird gathered the footage, Tomlinson and Lister sent them band logos and past artwork to be digitised. “They put it into a cue so Harry is physically firing the cues, but I’ll be telling him when to fire them,” said Tomlinson. “There’s no media server because it was quicker to programme it to our show so we still control when the video is displayed on the screen as it is triggered from our lighting desk.”
London-based creative pair Bird and Hodgkiss have produced visuals for the tours of Dizzee Rascal, Swedish House Mafia and Tinie Tempah before working on weapon’s based concepts to fit in with the title of Lostprophets’ tour. “We used After Effects and Resolume to create the content; some of it being in a similar light to the footage we produced for a past production of Tinie Tempah’s. As Rob and Ian worked with me on Swedish House Mafia, they already knew what set-up we needed for this.”
The Pixled F-30 was chosen partly because it is stocked by the tour’s supplier Adlib who offered it at a rate that fitted in with the budget. According to Lister, the tile is a “fantastic” product, which led him to using it many times before.
“The video wall is pretty simple; it’s eight panels wide and four panels deep,” added Tomlinson. “I’ve worked with the F-30 previously on a variety of shows and on this occasion we’re using it to get an old school pixilated look.”
No live cameras were shooting the performance partly due to budgetary reasons. “Not using IMAG screens meant we could spend a bit more on the video wall. We’ve done this venue before and we didn’t use side screens last time and we didn’t suffer for that. This time we’re trying to keep production to a minimum, but with the greatest effect,” explained O’Neill.
Lister added: “This venue is also a smaller sized arena and it’s not really necessary to have a live feed. We would rather the audience focus on the stage than the two screens at the side. The band are so excited about their new album that they wanted the fans to concentrate on the performance rather than any bells and whistles such as side screens.”
The second half of the show, when the band played their second album from start to finish, was not accompanied by displays on the video wall. In it’s place, a 40ft by 30ft backdrop from the original Start Something tour that took place seven years ago was positioned behind the band, covering up the screen.
ROCKING THE LASER LOOK
Lasers supplied and installed by Lancashire-based special effects company BPM SFX were used to highlight moments of the one-off show, making it necessary for a second lighting desk to be brought in. Lighting Designer, Ian Tomlinson, used a High End Systems Hog IPC via DMX to run the lasers so Lister could concentrate on operating lighting.
Commented Tomlinson: “A lot of bands are catching on to incorporating lasers now but we don’t really use them like lasers in the traditional sense. Instead we feature them quite sparsely in a specific part of a song.”
Production manager-cum-lighting operator Lister had already dealt with BPM SFX Head Technician, Toby Macknight, when they toured the world working on Swedish House Mafia’s shows. “He’s great and knows lasers inside out, along with all the legalities and stipulations. Toby even built the laser system himself and it’s pretty impressive,” said Lister.
Lead singer, Ian Watkins, wanted to incorporate a laser effect into the show and Lister also had a good idea of the way in which he wanted lasers to be used. With 15 years of laser display experience behind him, laser tech Macknight - who was working for his company Laser Grafix through BPM SFX - was able to assist the band and Production Manager in choosing the most suitable effect. “We used 23 different laser beams to generate a static and chasing effect of emanating blue beams,” explained Macknight.
The lasers were then controlled via DMX and connected to the lighting desk, which was used to trigger the laser cues. “This type of effect seems to be a lot more prominent in shows now. Laser displays have moved on a lot in the last 10 years thanks to the laser hardware and control capabilities now available,” added the laser expert.
EVERY DAY’S A SCHOOL DAY
It was the Sennheiser G3 ew 300 in-ear monitoring system and G3 ew 500 guitar wireless system that joined the crew on the recent run of shows that impressed Stage Manager, Sean Harrison. “They are amazing and a great improvement on the older versions we were using,” he commented.
Having been with Lostprophets for six years, Harrison has seen the show and kit evolve. During this time he has also stage managed Art Garfunkel, The Blackout and Funeral For A Friend. Continued Harrison: “I originally got the call for this gig from George Davison, who is currently Tour Manager with Mastodon. I started off as keyboard tech and stage left guitar tech and then when stage manager, Sean Brady, moved on due to other work commitments, I took on his role.”
Harrison’s many responsibilities on the road included time management, ensuring the crew runs to schedule during the day and load-in happens on time. “I have to make sure we are ready for the band to sound check when they are supposed to and also organise getting the support bands sound checked and on stage on time. Taking care of the restocking of consumables, co-ordinating deliveries and dealing with the band endorsement requirements worldwide are also included in my daily tasks,” the stage manager continued.
Although he works alongside all members of the production team, Harrison deals mostly with the heads of department such as Lister, who runs the production side of the tour, and FOH Engineer, McCann, who is head of the audio department. “However, once the band go on stage, I deal directly with them for everything they might need,” added Harrison.
One of the greatest demands on the current tour has been making sure the keyboard rig functions perfectly every night, Harrison pointed out. “This can be tricky because we run three separate programmes at the same time; Ableton, Reason and Serrato Itch. Overall however, the tour has been a joy for Harrison and the crew. The stage manager concluded: “We have a really good team, who all work well together to achieve the best for the band. The other backline techs are top guys and we all work closely with the audio guys to make it sounds the best it possibly can. Every day is a school day, in my opinion, and every tour brings new experiences and knowledge.”
Photography: Zoe Mutter
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