Professor Green: Read All About It
Having conquered the charts, east end slick lyricist Professor Green raised the bar on his first full production tour. With his band of musicians and supportive production team in tow, the talented rapper played to sell-out crowds across the UK and ireland. TPi’s Zoe Mutter attended the Cardiff leg of the At Your Inconvenience tour to chat to the crew as they prepared for the grand finale performance at Brixton’s O2 Academy.
If Professor Green’s increasing success following his first number one single Read All About It was anything to go by, the rap star’s live shows were guaranteed to have a buzzing atmosphere and a rather enthusiastic crowd. Rolling out his razor sharp lyrics at Cardiff University’s Great Hall, as fans surged forwards against the barriers, singing in unison, Professor Green received the recognition any artist would be proud of.
The chart star, whose real name is Stephen Manderson, has had somewhat of a whirlwind journey since the early days of his musical career when he started making a name for himself by dominating the UK rap battle scene. His talent didn’t go unnoticed and the release of his debut album Alive Till I’m Dead in summer 2010 firmly placed his name on the radar. A couple of years later and the award-winning artist has collaborated with the likes of Lily Allen and Emeli Sandé and is preparing to support the Stone Roses on their upcoming tour.
Filling TPi in on the story behind a production that has grown with the artist, was Tour Manager, Trigger: “I started with Professor Green two years ago; it was just him, me and FOH Engineer, Pat Tunbridge. Monitor Engineer, Ben Kingman, then joined and suddenly we went from a splitter bus to a full production.
“I brought our Production Assistant, Kerry McRobb, in for this run too because it is our first full production tour. We met when she was working on N-Dubz a year ago and I asked her to join the crew based on the impact she had on that tour, she’s absolutely superb.”
Although primarily known as a solo artist, Professor Green wanted to put a full band together for his live shows. “We started off doing college balls at the back end of the first album in August 2010 and it hasn’t really stopped since then. We’re now getting on to the end of this tour and he will be recording the third album,” continued Trigger, a live music veteran who has worked as a Tour Manager for 25 years for the likes of Public Image Ltd, EMF, New Model Army and Primal Scream. He is also experienced in production management, having taken on the role of PM for Oasis on the 1995 What’s The Story Morning Glory? tour.
Last November, when Professor Green scored his first number one single, Trigger received a flurry of phone calls from suppliers keen to be part of his upcoming tour. “I’d already planned out who I would be using because I had the nucleus of this tour in my head pretty much a year before,” continued the Tour Manager. “We went with Adlib for audio because Account Manager, Phil Kielty, helped us out in the early stages and the company has been superb. System Techs like James Neale and Mike Flaherty know the venues so well and how much weight we can hang without affecting sight lines, which is invaluable. “The visual side of the show is all down to LD Pete Watts from DPL who I knew I wanted to work with from a very early stage after meeting him on the N-Dubz tour that Professor Green supported.”
A connection that goes back 20 years saw Silver Gray supply two of their buses for the tour and Fly By Nite provided two trucks from its fleet. “Dave Coumbe from Fly By Nite is one of my oldest mates in the industry,” said Trigger. “I met him when I was doing EMF in 1993 and the company was just starting out. Now they’re one of the biggest trucking firms around and using them for this tour was a no-brainer.”
Once the crew and suppliers were secured, four days of rehearsals were carried out at Central London’s Terminal Studios and then another two at Music Bank. The 16-date tour then kicked off in Cork Opera house, followed by Dublin Olympia and Glasgow O2 Academy, and then worked its way around the UK and Ireland before its climax at Brixton’s O2 Academy.
“Brixton Academy is one of my favourite venues in the world. On a personal level, I think once you go from Brixton to venues such as Wembley Arena you can start to lose touch. My fondest memory of the tour has to be playing Blackpool Empress Ballroom because I hadn’t been into that venue for 16 years and it was where I did my very first Oasis gig. I love playing theatres and beautiful buildings that have such history,” enthused Trigger.
PRODUCING PURE SOUND
Having started his journey in the music industry as a drummer in a band, FOH Engineer, Pat Tunbridge, is comfortable both on stage and behind the mixing console. “I first made the switch into music production in the studio; live mixing on tour came later. It was back in 2006 that I started working with Stephen after I got a call from his Manager, Ged Malone, who I’ve known for almost a decade,” said Tunbridge [Grace Jones, Peter Andre, Brand New Heavies].
The audio engineer’s main aim whilst at work behind the mixing console is for the experience of the live show to make a lasting impression on the audience. He continued: “Sonically, I want it to be as pure and clean as I can make it and for Stephen’s vocal to be as strong as possible.”
The microphone models selected played an instrumental role in the clarity of the audio that Tunbridge endeavoured to achieve. For vocal mics, the audio crew chose a Shure UHF-R with a Heil RC35 capsule along with two Sennheiser EW 500’s; one paired with a 935 and the other with a 945 capsule. Drum mics comprised a Sennheiser MZH908D, a pair of Sennheiser 904’s, an AKG 451, AKG 414b, Shure Beta 52, Shure SM57 and a Shure Beta 91A.
Commented the audio engineer: “The new Shure kick drum mic - the Beta 91A - is unbelievable and I’m a huge fan. The first time I heard it I said we needed one immediately. I’ve used the 91 before, but the 91A is devastatingly good; it’s savage in the right way and benefits from the built-in frequency dip switch.”
Picking up the sound of the bass was a Sennheiser MD421 and the Shure SM57 made another appearance over on guitars. Also assigned to guitars was the Sontronics Delta ribbon mic, much to Guitarist, John-Louis Riccardi’s delight. “Sontronics is a wonderful company and this designated ribbon mic can handle really high SPLs,” explained Riccardi.
“My amps are quite loud and there are some heavy sounds throughout the show, but the mic gives it a lot of clarity and good depth so it’s not too spiky.”
“I first came across it when I was looking for kit to record with at home and the company suggested I try out the Delta ribbon mic. I used it in the studio first, but I love it for live too because it produces such a warm sound.”
Riccardi, who has worked with The Overtones, Jamelia and Goldie, auditioned for the tour a year and a half ago after helping out on one of the band’s early rehearsals. “My first gig for Professor Green was Glastonbury and that was also my audition in a way,” the guitarist continued. “Stephen has to know you’re the right personality to fit in with the band and it’s been great so far; they’re such a friendly and talented bunch. With it being rap, you wouldn’t automatically think of the show as being particularly guitar-based, but it’s been nice working some chords into the gig.”
THE BENTLEY OF CONSOLES
Tunbridge was overjoyed to discover his first choice of console - the Midas PRO6 - would be joining him on tour. Although he was working with 48 channels from the stage, the audio engineer used a total of 56 channels on his beloved desk, including effects returns. “Along with the XL8 and the whole of the PRO series, I think the PRO6 really is the best sounding digital board on the market; I’m very clear about that. I felt blessed to be told that I could have the Bentley of consoles on this run of shows,” he added.
“Working with the Midas desk, I also get the benefit of POP groups, which are really cool because you can assign anything you want to appear at once. I’m also using a different scene for every song, which was something I wanted to get into with the PRO6. This is the first time I’ve worked with scenes and it’s been so helpful because we’re running backing tracks, so knowing you’re starting each track in exactly the right place is reassuring.”
Tunbridge made use of outboards including three Manley Voxboxes, which the three main vocals went through. “Stephen doesn’t really need any special effects; he’s a rapper and I want him to be really up front and as direct as possible so I keep him dry. I’ve found the Voxbox pretty useful though because it tends to give vocals a bit of weight. I took one on the whole of the last tour of the UK and was so impressed I decided to bring it out again.”
Also being utilised on the production was a TC Electronic 2290, a piece of equipment that Tunbridge referred to as a “wicked delay unit”. A Lexicon PCM91 was then chosen for drum reverb, along with a selection of the console’s additional onboard effects.
After leaving the desk, the sound went into a Lake LM 44 before being distributed by the internal router to another LM 44 and two LM 26’s. These then fed the L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers via the analogue multicore. Added Tunbridge: “The Lake products were brought in by Adlib for processing and control and I always feel happy when they’re next to me; there’s something very reassuring about those units.”
Also making an appearance was a Klark Teknik DN9696 high-resolution audio recorder, which was tested at the Cardiff University show in preparation for the grand finale performance at Brixton’s O2 Academy. This meant when the tour progressed to London, the crew was already familiar with the product and sound recordings captured were available for the film crew shooting the production for a webcast.
STABILITY IN MONITOR WORLD
Entrusted with both monitor and RF duties on the tour was Ben Kingman, who has been a freelance audio engineer for the past six years. The mixing maestro shared the story of the start of his career in audio with TPi: “I originally studied Physics in Cardiff, where I still reside, but have always been a keen music lover and when the opportunity arose to get involved in live sound I jumped at it. I’ve been working with Professor Green for nearly two years now, but prior to this I was running monitors for Super Furry Animals and FOH for Cerys Matthews.”
Yamaha’s PM5D was the console of choice for Kingman, who is a fan of its stability. “The PM5Ds are everywhere come festival season and I felt confident using it for the eight stereo IEM mixes and six wedge mixes needed for the At Your Inconvenience tour,” he added.
Six wedges were positioned on the front line, which were predominantly chosen to give Professor Green the “Voice of God”. The four L-Acoustics SB28’s, combined with four L-Acoustics ARCs, which made up the sidefills were then used to add weight and make the tracks feel more localised. Also featuring in monitor world was hard-wired Shure P4HW for drums and 10 of Adlib’s own design of wedge, the MP3. Continued Kingman: “DJ IQ, who was performing alongside Professor Green, also had his own set of Adlib MP4 subs, with two MP3 wedges run off PLM 10000Qs and we’ve been using a ButtKicker instead of a sub for the drummer this time around.”
A total of eight Sennheiser G3 wireless IEMs made an appearance on stage, meaning the entire band was on IEMs, with the exception of DJ IQ. Stephen’s IEM mix is very vocal heavy. As guest MCs seem to fly in from all directions, we also have a separate guest mix and quite a few spare packs,” the monitor engineer added.
“Vocal clarity can be an issue with rappers as they have a tendency to bury the mic. I was recommended the RC35 capsule from Heil, which deals with it really well. It has a tight rear pick up pattern, which means Stephen can put his hands wherever he likes without making much tonal difference. I’ve recently added a Focusrite ISA One in line to warm it up a bit for the IEMs.”
THE SONIC YODA
FOH Engineer, Tunbridge, was given free reign when selecting a PA system to bring on tour and opted for an L-Acoustics V-DOSC rig for its ability to produce “spectacular sounding gigs”. Although he had worked with L-Acoustics frequently before, the meticulous manner in which Adlib’s Systems Technician, James Neale, set up the system elevated the touring experience to a higher level.
He explained: “James mapped out the room and used L-Acoustics’ software to determine where and how the PA was hung. We have had to make some changes at certain venues due to restrictions of weight load. In one building we couldn’t fly the whole thing and had to split it up because of sight lines off the balcony.”
Audio equipment vendor for the tour Adlib has crossed paths with Professor Green previously, but the recent full production has strengthened the working relationship further. For the show leading up to the tour at Olympia Theatre in Dublin on 21 April, the crew was carrying desks and multi cores, but not the full PA rig. The production then used in-house gear when it moved on to Glasgow a couple of days later and it wasn’t until the Plymouth gig on 25 April that the full Adlib PA was flown.
At the Cardiff show TPi attended, near the tour’s end, eight L-Acoustics V-DOSCs were flown a side, along with four ARCs and four SB28’s a side. The dV-DOSC downs were not incorporated into the PA set-up due to the low roof of the Great Hall at Cardiff University. However, when the artist and his band performed at Brixton Academy, the system grew in size to comprise a total of 22 V-DOSCs, six dV-DOSC, six ARCs cabinets, 16 SB28 ground stacked subs and two L-Acoustics Karas on the lip of the stage to cover the front rows.
“There were a few more speaker cabinets at Brixton because the balcony front is quite deep. In some ways, the smaller shows like Cardiff are harder to fly than a venue like Brixton, where it all goes up like that and is pretty straightforward. Cardiff is more bitty and you have to put cabinets everywhere to cover the width,” explained Systems Tech, Neale, who has spent the last year working on diverse productions such as Swedish House Mafia at Alexandra Palace and Jerry Seinfeld at the O2 Arena London.
He continued: “The V-DOSC is very flexible because you can fly or ground stack it in various combinations. You can hang the dVs underneath, which gives you a lot more coverage in the vertical plane. The system needed to be versatile because some of the venues we went to didn’t have much weight capacity in the roof so you need a small quantity of PA in terms of weight but still get the maximum output.
“When we went on to London we increased some of the quantities of cabinet. It was the first show Professor Green had done at Brixton Academy and as he’s on his way up the team was conscious that it had to be really good so they paid a bit more to get extra cabinets in.”
The L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers were used to run the system, it was great using Adlib’s standard Lake processing racks with the Lake LM 44 and LM 26 for system EQ and time alignment delays. They have evolved from the Dolby Lake product and the software is really easy to use and so powerful,” added Neale.
The LM26’s and LM44’s were being used with new wireless Motion Computing J3500 tablets, supplied by Rugged Mobile. These ran Adlib’s bespoke Windows 7 disk image, which simplifies management of multiple computers and enables all machines to be easily upgraded to the same standard or reset to Adlib’s factory settings complete with the full suite of live software.
Joining forces with Adlib’s talented Systems Technicians, James Neale and Mike Flaherty, was singled out as one of Tunbridge’s many high points of the tour: “They’ve both been amazing and I have dubbed James ‘Sonic Yoda’ for this tour because it has been so useful having such a wise sage as part of the crew.”
Adlib Account Manager, Phil Kielty, was equally delighted to be associated with the rapper, commenting: “Watching Professor Green, the band and the crew develop as a live performance over the last two years has been an absolute thrill for us. I’ve seen them many times at festivals, and for Adlib to be involved on this tour was a real privilege.”
Another standout moment for FOH Engineer, Tunbridge, was seeing Professor Green crowd surf for the first time at a recent show. “It was a real spectacle to see and I could tell he was having such a great time,” he added. But returning to the more technical elements of the gig, Tunbridge revealed that although he has worked on larger scale shows, in terms of production value, this run of shows has been the most exceptional: “It’s been the highest level of production that I’ve gone out on the road with, especially thanks to the talented crew and top quality kit. I feel very blessed and I’ve been so happy with the results.”
LONG FADES AND SILHOUETTES
As Technical Director of the tour’s lighting vendor DPL, Lighting Designer / Director, Pete Watts’ wealth of experience was indispensible when choosing the fixtures that would bring his concepts to life. “Trigger asked me if I would be the LD for the last tour, which I did on my own with just a small floor package. We’re now touring full production so the design has grown substantially from the last tour and now I have my Chief Tech, Mike Smith, and Dimmer Tech, Andrew Laidlaw, on board,” said Watts.
“As an artist, Professor Green likes floor-based lights; he’s not one for massive flown rigs. This rig was specifically designed so we could put it into as many of the venues as possible including the Ireland dates at the beginning of the tour. The only venue we didn’t get the whole rig in was Leicester Academy because of the height.“
Watts started the designs for the show in late February before showing his concepts to Trigger and Professor Green. The LD then carried out pre-programming using CAST’s wysiwyg software ahead of rehearsals and with the band at Music Bank. “Wysiwyg is worth its weight in gold; it gives you the ability to try ideas and create renders. It enabled me to produce an idea and then see if it would work in different sized rooms from various angles,” explained Watts.
The lighting designer went on to give an overview of the rig he designed for the show: “Apart from a grid of MAC 101’s, I’ve only got 12 big moving spots and 21 small washes and that’s it. We don’t have hundreds of moving lights; I think the key is using what you’ve got to the best of its ability.”
A total of 12 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots were split between the floor and back truss, alongside 12 Martin Professional MAC 301’s, which were mounted on the curved towers at the back along with a further nine on the floor. To produce sidelight and floorlight, Watts opted for 14 Chroma-Q Color Punch LED fixtures. Another 18 of Chroma-Q’s DB4’s were used as truss toners, configured two per tower.
Also incorporated into Watts’ design were 12 Showtec Micro Blinders dotted around the rig, 4 Martin Professional Atomic 3000’s, 2 Robert Juliat Super Korrigan followspots, Avolites ART 2000 dimmers and 36 Martin Professional MAC 101’s in a grid at the back of the stage. Trussing was a mixture of Prolyte 290V and Tomcat One Truss 390, which was also supplied by DPL.
“Professor Green’s music is very wide in its style so we have some numbers that are full-on with lots of flashing and some that are much slower. The advantage with the fixtures - especially the Vari-Lite - is that they are very good at doing both jobs,” said Watts.
“The 301’s and Vari-Lites are amazing, the VL3000 Spots are my favourite light because they are so versatile; for this show they’re keylight, backlight and strobes.
“I’ve used the Color Punch as band light for several tours and they always impress me. When you use them, it doesn’t look like the shows being lit with LED.”
The last run of Professor Green’s shows featured black truss towers that were not designed to be seen. This time around they were silver and lit using truss toners, making them a feature on their own. The LD continued: “As I started in theatre, I am trying to bring some theatrical elements to the shows I light. There are some long fades, some silhouettes, at times most of the lights are moving and at others it is static and really quite dark.”
To cater for the younger fans that make up a large percentage of Professor Green’s audience, Watts made the lighting design camera-friendly: “The amount of people that record the show on their phones to upload to social networking sites demonstrates how audiences are constantly changing from one generation to the next. Our biggest problem at the moment however is the lights on camera phone because we never get a proper blackout!”
DIFFERENT TO OTHER ARTISTS
The lighting design Watts created for the At Your Inconvenience tour have had such an impact that the LD has since been nominated for a Knight of Illumination award. Being part of the touring team also had a profound effect on Watts: “One of the things I like about working with Professor Green is that he is so different to other artists. What makes him stand out is his talent and attention to detail. With the skill of the band around him the sound they produce is of a quality you don’t hear that often and I am enthusiastic about being a part of their live shows because they give that bit more. What makes me really enjoy my job is being around such creative people and having the opportunity to do things that nobody else has done.”
As Professor Green attends many live shows, he brought a lot of ideas to the table, including elements of lighting designs he had seen at other gigs that he would like Watts to incorporate. “He wants lighting to be tightly synched with the music so there’s a lot that I’m running manually throughout the show,” said the LD. “I’m wearing in-ears so I hear the same as the band because there are a lot of points when the band will stop and the only way I know they’re going to start again is from them speaking in my ear. The band is so tight and I need to be absolutely in time with them.
“You need to not get bogged down with the technology and we specifically chose not to include video on this tour. We don’t need video to sell the artist as he’s good enough on his own. For some of the songs, we’re not even using colour.”
Console choice was left in Watts’ capable hands, who places as much importance on the lighting desk as the fixtures on tour. “Given the choice, I would have fewer lights to be able to use the desk of my choice. After all, if I can’t get what I need out of the rig because of the desk, it effects the entire show. It’s all about the software and the control surface and how it links together,” he explained.
Watts opted for a High End Systems Hog 3, making use of its prioritization features to allow him to layer elements in terms of importance and make quick changes. “I really like how the desk controls the fixtures and the flexibility of the shape generation. It allows you to do a lot of editing and although I’m using cues, I’m not just pressing go. I’ll have certain cues in a stack, which I run forwards and backwards through during a song. I leap in and out of things as I need to and most of it is done live. A set list can change in sound check after all.”
ZEALOUS CROWDS AND BUOYANT ATMOSPHERES
Working alongside venue security at each of the buildings the crew visited was Personal Security, Trevor Arthey. “Around 15 months ago, Lily Allen - who I had been looking after for two years on her world tour - retired. I got to know Stephen really well because he had supported her for one song a night so he invited me to work with him,” the touring security pro explained as Professor Green prepared to go on stage in Cardiff.
“It’s been different to other tours where you’re normally on the bus because Stephen can’t sleep on tour buses so we do a lot of touring in a Mercedes four-wheel drive. We’ve done about 2,000 miles up and down the country so far, staying in hotels.“
Before doors open at each venue, Arthey is busy briefing the 15 Showsec venue security staff to make sure all positions are covered throughout the performance. Arthey’s health and safety briefings begin by explaining the demographic of the crowd expected before moving on to crowd movement. “It’s either lateral or forward movement. When I worked with Kasabian, the crowd almost acted like a body of water because the fans were so squashed together; you can almost see the wave moving. This crowd normally jumps up and down instead of moving laterally,” said Arthey.
For Professor Green’s tour, the briefing also informed the team that the artist would come off stage and stand against the barriers before the encore. “All the girls try to grab him at this point and I have to break him away and get him back onto the stage. The fans love it and sometimes they even manage to rip his T-shirt off, it gets them into a real frenzy,” said Arthey.
To cater for the zealous crowd attending Professor Green’s shows, a weight-loaded barrier that could withstand being pushed against was necessary. “Mojo Barriers was the obvious choice and has been used throughout the duration of the tour,” Arthey continued. “There are 1,500 people here at the Cardiff show so it’s not a massive crowd as we’ve been playing up to 4,000 some nights. The Cardiff University venue is also quite tightly packed so it gets hot. There’s a very low 2ft stage too and the potential risk with this is that someone could get on stage.
“The whole tour has been fantastic, but Plymouth was amazing. The crowd was so buoyant and the atmosphere was one of the best. Brixton is the big one though because we’ve got a lot of guests coming as it’s the final gig. There will be a great deal of backstage activity that needs to be monitored heavily so we’re bringing another member of staff to support me.”
When listing their favourite aspects of the tour, multiple members of the crew highlighted the service provided by Popcorn Catering as being exceptional thanks to Head Chef, Vicky ‘Beva’ Beever, and FOH Artist Liaison, Jessica Mayer-Jones. The Yorkshire-based company was set up by Wendy Dean over 20 years ago and has catered for a long list of notable clients.
Beva, who has worked as a chef in the touring industry for over a decade, has created delicious meals for artists such as Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox, Elbow and Scissor Sisters. “The crew on this tour is fantastic and very polite. They are good eaters so we never have much left; tonight’s lamb shank just flew out of the door,” said the head chef.
“I try to provide good variation to the menus and to accommodate all diets. There is always a healthy option, a vegetarian, and a seafood dish. We purchase produce daily so the menu is a little dictated by what is available on location wherever that may be. As a company, we do try to be as eco-friendly as possible and make every effort to use green products.”
LIVING THE DREAM
As the eager fans piled through the doors ready to see the star perform in Cardiff, proud Tour Manager, Trigger, gave an insight into the evolution of a succesful tour: “The figures are good and we’re selling out venues, but Stephen actually takes no money out of the tours. Everything he makes from the shows is rolled onto the next tour because he has other revenue streams. At Your Inconvenience has proved the demand is there and he could probably do this tour again in the autumn, but knowing the way his mind works, I reckon he’ll be looking at the next level.
“Stephen loves the fact he is working with all these talented people every day and they can become part of his dream. This is what he’s been working towards and he is very focused, which also keeps me focused. If you look back to 18 months ago when we were travelling in a splitter bus, we’ve definitely raised the bar this time. Now he walks on stage and knows that he has made it, which is satisfying for me too.”
Photos: Zoe Mutter and Tony Wooliscroft
www.dplx.co.uk, www.adlibsolutions.co.uk, www.flybynite.co.uk, www.silvergray.co.uk
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