Taking The Crown
With a d&b audiotechnik J-Series PA supplied by Entec Sound and Light, Avid Venue Profile from Britannia Row and an MA Lighting grandMA2 console and lights by PRG, Robbie Williams set out on a four-date UK tour to promote his new album. Simon Duff reported from Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion.
Robbie Williams has sold 60 million albums, won 17 Brit Awards and even shifted 1.6 million concert tickets in a single day for his 2006 world tour. His ninth album Take The Crown released on November 5 is a big, brash confident pop record produced by Jack Knife Lee. In support of the record, he undertook a four-date UK tour, backed by his regular seven-piece touring and studio band, taking in 02 Academy Leeds, Glasgow Barrowland, the 02 Dublin and finishing at Cliffs Pavilion, Southend. The short tour was in anticipation of much bigger things to come next year.
Willie Williams was Creative Designer and Lighting Designer working with Alex Murphy, Lighting Director, accompanied by Lighting Technician, Harry Forster. The lighting brief from Williams was to deliver a club land ballroom feel for the venues with the main emphasis focussed on Robbie himself. A comparatively small lighting rig was used with flown fixtures on a front and rear truss including 17 GLP Impression 120 RZ zooms, four James Thomas Engineering PAR64s and nine Philips Vari-lite 2500’s. Floor fixtures included eight Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobes and a further eight 2500’s. It was mixed from an MA Lighting grandMA2. For effects, one Cirro Strata CS mist generator and one Haze Base Touring 2600W were used. The overall mood of the lights was based on tungsten with colour used sparingly from behind RW. Said LD Murphy: “The band is only featured on a tungsten back light. It is all about Robbie basically. To be honest, he is such a good entertainer his show and presence speaks for itself.”
Murphy, who has worked with Williams for a number of years including all of U2’s 360° tour, explains what he likes about the grandMA2. “It’s a fantastic console. There are so many great features on it, including real-time control for up to 65,536 parameters per session in connection with MA NPU (equivalent to 256 DMX universes), 8,192 HTP-/LTP parameters, six DMX outputs and three internal TFT wide mode touchscreens (15.4-inch WXGA). MA provides fantastic back up support. Whenever I ring up Ollie Rump, from technical sales in Germany, he is absolutely brilliant. When we started out on the 360° tour he came along to ensure that from the start things went well and that we were up to speed with the console.”
Preparation for the lighting on the short RW tour involved one day of plotting and rehearsals for the 18 songs chosen for the tour. Murphy continued: “I was doing Batman Live prior to this and Harry joined two days before me to put the whole system together. I came in on the Sunday morning of rehearsals. Willie came on the Sunday afternoon and the first show was at Leeds on the Tuesday. Two weeks previously I had been sent the music so by the time we started I knew the songs.” Continuing, he explained how individual cues were approached: “For Let Me Entertain You and Rock DJ we use around 30 or 40 cues. For other songs like Road to Mandalay and other slow ones we are only using five or six, if that. All of Robbie’s songs are completely structured in a total pop way with verse, chorus and middle eight bridge points. The band is really tight and great to work with. So we hit verse and chorus points easily.”
A strong feature of the show were three large banners based on a 3D scan of Robbie’s face and used on the new album cover hung from a rear truss above the band. Designed by Hangman Limited, the Norfolk based design and scenic art specialists. The banners, combined with a host of different lighting colours, gave an unusual 3D effect.
Sound Technician for the tour was Brit Row’s Josh Lloyd, assisted by freelance engineer Rod Clarkson. For the Cliffs Pavilion gig a d&b audiotechnik J-Series PA was hired from Entec Sound and Light with the main L-R hang consisting of four J8’s per side. Ground stacked were a further four J8’s per side. Five J subs per side were augmented by J-INFRA subs with two positioned under the middle of the stage used for certain low-end bottom octave synth parts that had their own feed from FOH. Lloyd commented: “The J-INFRA is a cardioid infra subwoofer that can be used to supplement J-Series systems. It extends the frequency response of a J-Series system down to 27 Hz. A number of d&b Q1’s were used as infill and outfills. All driven by 28 d&b D12 amps with Lake LM26 Processing.“
Mixing at FOH was Nick Allen, on one of Britannia Row’s Avid Venue Profile consoles, using a total of 64 inputs from stage and recorded via MADI onto Allen’s laptop. Each song had its own scene memory with Allen then able to mix from that recalled setting. He used a variety of plug-ins including Waves Delay and Sony Oxford EQ and for lead vocal a straight forward channel compressor. For outboard a single Lexicon PCM 90 was used on a 1.3 second plate setting for the vocal. In terms of microphones used for vocals, Shure Beta 58’s handled both lead and BVs.
Lloyd commented on how the room sounded at Cliffs Pavilion: “It’s a fairly warm sounding room with a reverb time of under a second. So we have not had to do too much adjustment EQ wise to compensate for the room acoustic. Volume wise, one of Nick’s biggest challenges is being able to mix against the levels of screaming fans. The other night the SPL level was about 103dB, just from the people screaming. So Nick has to mix over that noise floor.”
Nick Allen’s FOH mix pushes a tight rock band sensibility with the J-Series giving a punch in all the right areas. Let Me Entertain You opens the show to 2,000 adoring fans. Drums, bass and guitar are all well to the foreground. Loud and proud, but never overpowering, RW’s vocal is well-defined. For the ballads Eternity and Angels, the mix is subtle and powerful, leaving plenty of space and a generous balance to drive the emotion through. The new single, Candy, a catchy up-tempo slice of Briti pop, co-written with Gary Barlow, goes down well and sounds great. The show closes with Losers, a duet ballad off the new album performed with Sarah-Jane Skeete, leaving the audience wanting more. They might not have to wait too long for a full scale stadium tour. On current form, RW and crew should have a blast...
Photos: Simon Duff