Love Spreads At Heaton Park For The Stone Roses Third Coming
July 2012 Issue 155
Twenty-two years after their groundbreaking gig at Spike Island in Warrington, the Stone Roses are back, and now in the midst of an extensive reunion tour. Most significant of all, perhaps, were the three mind-blowing shows held at Heaton Park in their hometown of Manchester, where the band proved to 75,000 people each night that their ‘third coming’ is set to be nothing short of phenomenal. Paul Watson reported for this TPi exclusive.
There are few shows I’ve ever attended that have genuinely got the hairs up on the back of my neck, but Sunday July 1st did just that – and more. After getting over the fact that I was actually there, about to listen to the songs I grew up to as a lad, a number of factors gradually came to light. Firstly, has there ever been a production run so smoothly and professionally? Not that I’ve seen, for sure; every department was not just tuned in, each appeared to seamlessly interlink with the next, and perhaps most incredibly of all, there was a sense of total calm throughout. This is not normal!
Much of this, I was reliably informed across the board, was down to the meticulous hand-picking process carried out by SJM’s Simon Moran. From crew to catering, audio to video, lighting to set design, everyone was most definitely at the top of their game.
Robbie McGrath, whose credits include The Rolling Stones, ACDC and Kasabian, was brought in to work FOH, and was responsible for creating what can only be described as a ‘wall’ of sound from the stage – if you closed your eyes, you’d never believe The Roses were a four-piece.
“We mic up the drum kit fairly extensively, and there’s six-or-so channels on the guitar and the bass respectively,” he revealed, pre-show. “Because there’s only bass, drums, one guitar and vocals, you have to use a few little tricks, to give it a kind of image.
“There’s a DI that comes straight from the bass guitar itself, and a DI that comes off his FX, then there are DIs that come out the back of the amps, plus we have microphones as well; you know, it’s all of that, and they’re all compressed, delayed, phased, out-of-phased – there’s quite a lot going on really.”
A Midas fan for many years, McGrath utilised 56 inputs from a PRO6 at FOH position and multi-tracked each show onto a Klark-Teknik 96/96 unit with the help of renowned system tech, Pete Hughes.
“Pete’s great – he has a great angle on the whole thing so he handles the multi-tracking,” he explained. “And the PRO6 for me is one of the best sounding digital consoles out there; I had a huge affair with the [Midas] XL4, and from a sound point of view it still gets my vote, but the PRO6 is the closest thing to it – it’s also small, and although it may not have facilities for plug-ins and things, we’re not producing an album here, it’s a live gig; people should try and remember that when they’re mixing, these days!”
McGrath favours Lexicon’s PCM91 and Yamaha’s SPX990 to create his reverbs, though assigns the respective units to very different applications.
“Yamaha reverbs are cost-effective and they sound great; they’ve got that rock ‘n roll feel, if you like; I use them on the drum kit as it needs more of an attitude,” he said. “And the Lexicons are really nice and smooth, which for me makes them absolutely superb for vocals.”
All Stone Roses control was provided by SSE, along with monitors and sidefills from Wigwam. McGrath says the fact that it is ‘an incredibly professional company’ installs confidence in everybody, which in turn makes his job much easier.
“Canegreen provided Pete, and I’d be entirely lost without him – and Yan [Stile] has been so incredibly helpful,” he said. “He’s so into the project, and when that’s the case, they really understand why you’re asking for silly things as well as all the upheavals that you have to deal with; it really does make an enormous difference.”
Other gear inside the two main racks included a TC Electronic 2290 digital delay, a Klark-Teknik DN6000 spectrum analyser and DN360 graphic EQ, an XTA sidd dynamic processor, and an Eventide H3000 ultra harmoniser, the latter of which McGrath uses to add ‘a little sparkle’ to lead singer Ian Brown’s vocals.
SSE also provided 18 d&b audiotechnik M2 cabinets, six L-Acoustics SB28 subs, six L-Acoustics ARCS, and two L-Acoustics dVSUBs, to cater for on-stage foldback, which was handled by monitor engineer, Mark ‘Magic’ Ellis-Cope, who utilised 60 inputs to create a plethora of mixes from his DiGiCo SD7 console.
“There’s a lot going on up there,” he smiled. “We have seven wedge mixes in total, and Ian has six wedges around him, which I generate a centre mix from and also a L/R mix outside of that. We also have Reni [Wren, drummer] on a set of in-ears, as he likes to be in his own little bubble. John [Squire, guitarist], Ian and Mani [Mounfield, bassist] all tried in-ears, but found they preferred wedges and sidefills. It’s old school, which is great.”
Ellis-Cope says unlike McGrath’s ‘big image’, he is looking more for clarity, and although he takes some signals from the on-stage microphones, for the guitars he just uses the feeds from the Red Box DI boxes.
“I don’t use the array of mics at the front, as I don’t need that massive sound,” he explained. “It’s just to achieve a really clean sound – they have to hear the notes, and for me, doing it with the DIs just clears the whole thing up.”
Ellis-Cope opted to go with DiGiCo when he got the call to do the tour whilst at last year’s PLASA show in London.
“I happened to be next to the DiGiCo guys when Ian [Brown] called me, and they agreed to let me take one on tour, which was great, as for me the flexibility of the desk beats everything else on the market,” he said. “Its in-built effects and the fact you can put any channel anywhere on the surface and create mixes or channels on the fly to cater for any situation really is fantastic.”
Wigwam was contracted directly by SJM and the PA system was designed by Crew Chief Rob Priddle. It consisted of d&b audiotechnik J Series boxes: 106 J8’s, 18 J12’s, 28 J subs, 43 B2 subs and 16 Q1’s, along with 13 J Bumper frames and eight Q Bumper frames were deployed, and a support package consisting of 16 d&b M2 wedges, two J subs, four c4 tops, four c4 subs, two c7 subs, and two Yamaha PM5D RH consoles.
“I thought Wigwam did a really great job, and I actually really enjoyed listening to the d&b system; also, the barrier system from Mojo [Barriers] was excellent – the way the crowd was split into two sections made everything perfectly safe, and also allowed us easy access to and from FOH; that was a superb design,” complimented Canegreen’s Yan Stile. “And for us, it was just great to be associated with the biggest gig of the year, to be honest. I thought it felt very friendly, family and fun, and the fact that both Wigwam and SSE have a history with the band is obvious. Wigwam provided crew and eqipment for the last two tours and SSE provided the audio for the Spike Island show all those years ago, which means we’ve kind of come full-circle, which is really nice.”
Mojo Barriers Jim Gaffney added: “We had 800 metres of stage barrier system and 400 metres of bar barrier. The system was unique in the way that the secondary system joined all six delay positions together forming one continuous sweep across the arena. This enabled us to also enclose the VIP platforms as well, creating a safe environment for them. It also enabled the security to access deep into the audience with ease.
“The design was similar to what we used at Heaton Park for Oasis a few years back, but with a few tweaks. The primary line was slightly shallower at the request of the promoter, something to do with the filming, but that was their decision and we signed it off to that effect. There were no issues as far as our part was concerned although event organisers need to recognise that building a stage barrier system on trakway is not always ideal because if the flooring moves up, then so does everything else!”
And SSE wasn’t the only firm at Heaton Park with a Stone Roses history. Star Hire’s founder, Roger Barrett, was Project Manager at the Spike Island gig; and now under the company’s new name, Star Events, Peter Holdich, director of stages, was in charge of constructing Heaton Park’s 68.5-metre stage frontage.
Tailored specifically for these Manchester shows, the 25m Vertec system (with 30m trim) is one of the largest the company has put out, and due to the hung sub, features a twin PA hang cantilever system in the middle of the wings.
“That [Spike Island] show was at the time when we first started our Vertec range of stages, and it was actually the first time we pushed the boundaries of what we could do; prior to that we did mainly mobile stages, small level structures, so from a historical perspective it’s really good to be involved in the third coming of The Stone Roses,” commented Holdich, who has been full-time at Star Events for 15 years. “A lot of development has gone into our systems over the years, especially with the arrival of large-format video screens and the changing PA specs too. This show, for example, required a 24-man team for five full days [fronted by crew chief, Bob Fennel] and utilised 18 trucks, which is pretty mega.”
Holdich was approached to do the job by SJM director, Rob Ballantine, back at the end of last year, who says the weather was such a struggle for all involved that the show almost didn’t happen. Thankfully, everyone dug deep to make it work.
“In honesty, it’s probably been the hardest gig we’ve ever put on,” Ballantine admitted. “We were hit with what could only be described as biblical weather in Newcastle, the Lake District and Shropshire, and somehow it didn’t hit us [at Heaton Park] until the Friday, when the heavens opened and it literally rained non-stop all day.
“One of the worst things you can do in this situation is to try moving the trucks as you’ll just cut up all the wet ground, so we basically had to suspend work for 24-hours. We managed to juggle our timetable though, and [site manager] Roy Morley and John Armstrong did an amazing job.”
SJM’s core team on site totalled 12, though that number expanded to 100 when all the electricians, plumbers and night crew got on site. Ballantine makes an interesting point when discussing the added challenges that come with one-off events like this: “When you’re doing a festival, the audience tends to calm down somewhat towards the end and the atmosphere is more chilled-out than it was at the beginning, but with these shows, you’ve got a totally fresh audience each day,” he said.
“Manchester was entirely buzzing over the weekend, and we absolutely had to get that message across to the stewards – that they have to be completely ready as every issue that could come up on day one almost certainly will come up again on day three. That’s a major challenge.”
Ballantine was also particularly impressed by the approach the band took to the shows, and by the professionalism of all involved. “We do a lot of big tours. Take That and Coldplay, for example, are both huge productions with many effects and different aspects to their shows,” he said. “This, on the other hand, was four musicians putting their music out there. Yes, they were conveying it to the audience via big video screens and a great light show, but there were no tricks up their sleeves; it was all about the music, which was pretty special – in fact, it was mesmerising.”
Ballantine certainly has a point there – and what’s nicer still is that Paul Normandale worked one-on-one with John Squire when designing the show; Squire’s artwork is used throughout, and, according to Normandale, is all relevant. “When Simon Moran asked me last October to get involved with the show design, I met with John [Squire] and we messed with his artwork on the catalyst,” explained Normandale, who put together both lighting and video. “It was very secretive at the time, and they were keen to use a lot of IMAG rather than content.”
Normandale says Heaton Park is unique in that they took a core system and then let it all come together. After 10 days of rehearsals at Wakefield’s LS-Live, the way it was set up was to allow fellow-operator, Glen Johnson, to take the reigns should Normandale be unavailable at any point. This, however, is yet to happen.
“All the content goes through Glen on the catalyst, the whole idea being to get one big picture, and really that’s not a challenge anymore because I have an overview,” he continued. “The band has been very keen to have me there at all times, and what’s interesting about this show is that it’s not just a series of cues; really it’s not that structured, so we are making bits up as we go, to a certain extent. There is a lot of manual stuff going on, which I think is very unusual these days, and personally I find it a pleasure to work like that.”
Normandale also commented on how relaxed the atmosphere was on site, and puts it down to the right people working together in the right environment. “It was very much a case of hand-picking the team,” he insisted. “And we like them where we can see them, so we can all work from the same place together – in this case, that was all of us under the same roof at FOH position, which worked a treat.”
Glen Johnson was the first operator to take out a grandMA2 console, two of which are used to control lighting and video. A previous Hog user, he simply ‘fancied a change’ and has never looked back. “I’m a big fan of the grandMA – I have used them now for four years,” he said. “I really like the feel of them, and they work very well with the software.”
Johnson says the whole system at Heaton Park is slightly upscale to everywhere else; there are 30 Universes of data and 40 catalysts, and because of the amount of screens, they are actually over 5,000 pixels wide, so a custom catalyst had to be written to accommodate them.
“We have an exact map that sends it to every screen correctly, then I have individual control of each screen. When you see each screen split apart and then join together during the show, I am then able to overlay an image over both screens while they’re moving and then map them correctly so the heads appear in the right place, for example, and stuff like that,” he revealed.
Despite controlling the lights and video, Johnson reiterates that it’s not a big undertaking, purely due to the way it was all put together. “It’s done in such a way that it’s all on one show file; I split Paul [Normandale] separately to the lights, and then I can just run the video, call spots, and do other stuff; and if Paul isn’t here, I have the ability to run everything off just the one desk; that’s very easy to do on a grandMA,” he said. “The whole thing’s just so smooth; it’s a very nice team that all want the same thing, and it’s why video’s right out here at FOH tower, so we’re all together. Paul can just turn round and give the nod, because he knows where everything and everyone is.”
Normandale’s own lighting company, Lite Alternative, provided the vast lighting rig, which consisted largely of Martin Professional fixtures: 80 MAC 101’s; 12 MAC IIIs, 24 MAC 2000 Wash XBs; six MAC TW1 Wash 80Vs. There were also 18 Sharpies; 12 iBeam iPix fixtures; 26 Sunstrip Actives; 20 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FXs; 12 Thomas Par 36 2 Lites (and 12 36 4 Lites); 15 Mole PARs; 12 Colorado 2 Tours; 10 Svoboda 2250s; six Atomic 3000s; four 2.5k follow spots; and two Hungaro strobes.
XL Video provided the video kit which comprised of 1054 tiles of Pixled F-12 LED (totalling 380 square metres), four Sony HXC 100s, and three Bradley Engineering Camball 2 Robocams (all HD). There were also 13 channels of record, which was carried out by Warp Films.
Matthew Vassallo was Video Engineer on site, and worked under the direction of Phil Woodhead. Also present at the pre-production period in Wakefield, he spent much of this time working out the setup, programming the [Kayak] desk, and working out the right way to route everything around the various screens.
“We are using the system to provide a mix output and we also run six auxiliary outputs into the catalyst system, but the outputs can be placed anywhere over the LED and can be textured with content or special effects at the same time,” he said. “All presets on the video side are being triggered by Phil [Woodhead] from the Kayak desk, who is actually choosing the different outputs and effects that go out of the six aux busses, and then the content gets layered over with the catalyst system, which is located downstream of us.”
In terms of challenges, Vassallo says although it’s always a challenge of sorts to achieve a gig of this scale, the equipment has made it fairly straightforward. “The band and the creative direction has been quite demanding, but luckily we’ve got a flexible system here, and to be fair, working in this nice enclosure at FOH means we haven’t had much of a problem with the weather either,” he explained. “Normally those issues depend on our exposure, as it’s broadcast equipment, and it likes to be treated as such, but it’s all been quite robust, especially the Bradley [Engineering] Robocams, which are actually very weatherproof. It gives you real peace of mind when you don’t have to worry about the kit – it’s very reliable and resilient stuff.”
Away from the stage for a minute, and off for some very good food... Wendy Deans and her Popcorn team were on site from 19th June – one of the first departments to arrive in fact - and required a whole arctic to transport their supplies. She was also kind enough to treat TPi to a stunning meatloaf meal pre-gig, which did just the trick.
And it’s a hell of an operation – 16 staff, 10 of which are chefs, feed around 800 mouths per day, and in total, Deans approximates that more than 3,500 meals were served over the duration of Popcorn’s stay. She and colleague Vicky Beaver have been in the game for more than 20 years respectively, and this appointment was another that came courtesy of Simon Moran.
“We’ve worked a lot with Simon before – in fact this whole setup at Heaton Park feels like a big family, really,” Deans revealed. “It’s made easy for us because we were there with The Stone Roses for three weeks during rehearsals, and we’ve done every Beady Eye tour since Oasis, so it’s been pleasant, with no great surprises, thankfully.”
Two more key members of personnel in this magical backstage line-up were Tour Manager, Steven Chapman, and Production Manager, Tony Gittins, both of whom were physically involved since the warm-up in Warrington. Chapman revealed that the initial prep for Heaton Park goes back to late 2011, and official site meetings with SJM were well underway by February 2012.
“At that time, Heaton Park was just a blank field, but these meetings initiated the event becoming a reality,” he explained. “Most elements are the same as when you’re touring from venue to venue, but there is certainly more production and increased personnel which affects transport, catering, security, hotels – all sorts.”
Although Simon Moran certainly drove the project from the very start, selecting core crew members (Normandale, Gittins, and himself), Chapman said there are other members of the team that go back some way with the band.
“It really is a unique energy when we’re on the road for all involved, even down to the security team – Steve Head was most certainly an essential and very much hand-picked member of the team; he also worked with The Stone Roses 20 years ago, so that’s quite a history,” he stated. “And of course I’ve known Simon [Moran] a long, long time, and on occasion even repped for SJM when I wasn’t involved with an active touring project, so it was always going to be the case that the SJM machine would make Heaton Park the slick event that it was – absolutely no doubt about that.”
I’ll second that; and when show time came, the band were explosive. The Roses opened with I Wanna Be Adored, which had the crowd in the mood from the word go, then went through hit after hit – personal favourites of mine including Ten Storey Love Song, Made of Stone, and, of course, Fools Gold, where it seemed John Squire was playing several guitars, as he tweaked the controls of his fully-analogue Tape Echo machine.
The band’s playing was outstanding – as if they’d never been apart, to be honest, and Brown had the crowd totally in the palm of his hand. Robbie McGrath’s FOH mix was absolutely thumping, and what was really impressive for me was when I eventually put my fear of heights aside and climbed the FOH tower (cheers for the help there, JP!), my reward as I reached the top was not only a spectacular view of the set, but absolutely perfect audio coverage! That, I didn’t expect.
Chapman said the band’s response was amazing as they left the stage – upbeat, adrenalin-fuelled, and jovial; and it’s no surprise, really. You take a real risk coming back into the public eye after such a long time, but it was more than worth it.
“One of the great moments was when everyone clapped an ovation for Simon Moran as he walked down the path into the dressing room area after the show,” recalled Chapman. “These songs are timeless and the sound created is enormous; I am very proud to be on the tour and flattered that Simon called me to work with The Stone Roses. We are having a great time out here, with some serious laughs on the way.”
And long may it continue, I say.
Other notable providers to The Stone Roses tour include Vanguardia, who were the trusted on-site ‘noise police’; Stagetruck, who provided the trucking; and Beat The Street, who provided the buses.
Photos by Loo Stickland, Pennie Smith and TPi www.xlvideo.com,www.sseaudiogroup.com