As one of the most celebrated artists in recent times, global phenomenon, singer–songerwriter (and worldclass personality) Adele, is back on the road after a four-year hiatus supporting her third studio album, 25. TPi’s Kelly Murray visited the visually captivating production, complete with technically intricate sound design, to meet the crew at the helm of this highly anticipated tour.
Like the rest of the world, it’s been some time since I’d seen Adele perform live. My first experience with the proud London lady’s voice was in a tiny venue at Manchester’s Matt and Phred’s Jazz Club, when the only production requirements were not much more than a microphone and a wooden stool. The colourful stories detailing her troubled teenage love life enthralled the room. She made jokes about her bum not fitting on said wooden stool, and with a breath a pure affection, the room fell in love; with her and her voice. A couple of years later her UK academy tour was to become my first ever technical piece of writing for TPi. I was nervous, naturally, until I saw her backstage en route to an interview and she smiled with a simple “ello!” The same thing would happen in 2016, only this time she had her little boy in tow and the entire world by her side. And, despite the ungodly pressure that must follow this success, she made it clear in that brief moment that she carries an air of absolute gratefulness and excitement wherever she goes. The accent, of course, hasn’t changed…
Her comeback single Hello (January 2016) was the first single in YouTube history to achieve one billion views, and the subsequent tour became the most sought after ticket in concert touring. Effectively this production required the best in the industry. With a production design from Es Devlin, a lighting vision from Patrick Woodroffe and a sound system courtesy of Dave Bracey & Ulf Oeckel, 25 is nothing short of a creative and technical feat, drawing on the expertise of a touring crew at the very top of their game.
Pulling the show together each night is Production Manager Richard Young (Radiohead, P!nk), steering 25’s 60 plus crewmembers into live success. As one would imagine with an artist of this calibre, initial talks were somewhat under the radar, as he explained: “Adele’s management contacted me in June 2015 and were very discreet about what the project was but enquired about my availability and interest. I was working with Ricky Martin at the time but it worked out nicely, as the end of his tour coincided with the beginning of Adele’s rehearsal period.” The band began rehearsals in October 2015 before TV promo started, which in itself was the start of a challenging regime. “Of course during the promo shows, we were also putting the tour together! It was tricky actually, and I never thought I’d say this, but there is a lack of suitable rehearsal spaces in the UK. LH2 was my initial choice, but it was already full, all the film studios I approached were busy with TV projects and unfortunately LS-Live was too far outside of London for what we needed. Wembley was available and it turned out to be the perfect size for us because we have the main A stage and a quite substantial B stage. It also meant that Adele could have a true representation of how her show was going to look. We were very conscious that she has never done an arena tour before, and unless you’re in one, it’s not an environment you can specifically explain, so Wembley worked out great and Adele adapted to the arena setting very quickly.”
With the exception of Monitor Engineer Joe Campbell and one of the backline crewmembers, everybody else was a new recruit to the Adele camp. Young continued: “It was refreshing to have to start from scratch because it meant we could select suppliers that were exactly right for the job, rather than have any historical involvement. Adele’s shows have grown from small clubs to arenas and it doesn’t always necessarily mean that the suppliers who were with her then would be able to rise to that level of production she needs now. It was definitely a good opportunity to have a clean slate and select appropriate companies for the task at hand.
“We included every department as much as possible right from the beginning to discuss what they wanted and needed in order to deliver this show, we didn’t want anyone to feel left out of the process,” Young added.
This ethos also extended to the creative team with whom Young was also to join forces with for the first time. “I hadn’t worked with any of our creatives before but I’d known about their various work for years. It’s interesting because if you work with the same design team for a long time it becomes comfortable, familiar and probably a bit too easy. This show is a real design collaboration; Es Devlin has come up with some amazing looking designs and Patrick Woodroffe will adjust it based on lighting needs. Then I come in to consult and adjust for logistic and budget purposes. However,” he laughed, “my job is much more than just saying ‘no’ all the time! My job is saying ‘well if you want to do this, then we need to change it round’. So you get a different look that also satisfies any technical or design concerns.
“What’s quite often born from those discussions is a completely new idea, which ends up being a better option for everyone. It’s very interesting to work with new people and their ideas because it creates different experiences during pre-production. Both Es and Patrick have also got experience from working with other artists and production managers so I’ve learnt a lot from them. The problem with being a production manager is that you never get to work with another production manager, because there’s only ever one on the tour! I’ve picked up a few tips!” he enthused.
A notable change in live event safety rules has also come into play since Adele’s last road outing, but Young is well-versed with the importance of H&S. “With the new CDM regulations and the tightening of the regulations throughout the EU, health and safety is paramount more than ever these days. Responsibility lies jointly with the touring company and the promoter, and we do our part down to the last detail to ensure we’re thinking about this right from the very beginning of the production concepts. Local authorities are looking for these aspects clearly designed into a touring system,” he noted. The tour’s H&S rep is Andrew Lennie.
VERGING ON PERFECTION
“Throughout this whole project, the important thing to remember is that we’re dealing with Adele – it’s not a light and sound spectacular. Although, what we’ve achieved is brilliant, you could always argue that all you have to do is give her a microphone and a spotlight and she’ll be just as amazing!” Young explained. “Obviously from a sound point of view everyone has to have the same experience in the arena, but from a visual point of view Adele is extremely classy and extremely polished in her delivery, no matter where she is. She’s very professional, and despite her jokey mannerisms, the way she does her show each night is verging on perfection. From the albums she produces and the way that she sings, to how she conducts herself in her ‘public’ life, we were very keen to present a show that reflected all of that. What we have is something that’s understated yet beautiful. I think it’d be fair to say she never expected the response she’s had upon retiring to the limelight and each night that she performs, she doesn’t take it for granted.”
Holding down the fort out front in the maze that is Adele’s audio is FOH Engineer, Dave Bracey. The tour is supplied by Germany’s Black Box Music, which has delivered a sound package including DiGiCo SD7 consoles – at both FOH and in monitor world, and an L-Acoustics K2 PA rig. Sennhesier directly provided the microphone and in-ear requirements. Talking from FOH, which, is ironically situated at the side of the arena floor, part way between the A and B stages, Bracey began proceedings to explain what can only be described as one of the most interesting audio set ups we’ve ever seen – or heard. “A pivotal thing about the show is the sound design. There are a couple of points in the show where Adele moves from the A to the B stage and the audio follows her from one to the other. We have complete arena coverage from the B stage alone. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done that before. Normally if you were sat here [at FOH] and a singer walked out to the B stage, you’d be looking at her in one place and still hearing her coming from another. But that’s not the case for this show; we follow her around. That has its challenges! In the songs where there’s drums and percussion coming from the band on the A stage, we’ve had to make all of that completely silent, so that all of the audio comes from the B stage. There are two songs where our drummer plays a second kit in a room backstage, just so that we can get the best sound possible coming from the B stage.
“There are physical problems to be overcome with trying to fade slowly from one to the other. In a large space, you can’t have sound coming from two different sources firing in completely opposite directions. You have to be very careful how you do it so that it doesn’t sound messy to anyone at either end of the coverage area. It’s a good effect; we do it using TiMax, which you can draw time lines into and control the different fade times of all of the speaker stacks, but it can also fade delay times as well, because, of course, the rear hangs on the B stage are used as delays for the main stage too. When you’re listening to the B stage the zero time delay is part of the point source system at the B stage, but when you fade back to the A stage, you have to introduce delay, so that they line up with the A stage. TiMax does that job for us. Fading time delay is something that’s not readily available in audio processing, but that’s the wonderful thing that it does!”
The TiMax SoundHub-S32 audio showcontrol matrix has been employed for this fundamentally simple but vital task. As the show takes place across two main stage locations some distance apart, TiMax is used to seamlessly shift the PA system distribution and settings from one setup to the next.
Although simple conceptually, this involves crossfading 12 separate channels of PA between the two modes – made up of main L/R, side L/R, rear L/R, subwoofers and front fill for the main stage, and four channels of mono’d front and rear main hangs and front fills for the B stage. TiMax doubles this up in parallel AES and analogue signal paths to make use of the failsafe auto changeover facility in the system’s Lake processors.
The TiMax dynamic delay-matrix capability, which is generally known for variable vocal localisation in theatre, is used here to morph the delay times on the front pair of B Stage L-Acoustics K2 hangs from zero delay when Adele is on the B stage to 80-100ms delay when she moves back to the main end-on stage. TiMax has special algorithms developed to do this without glitching or zipper noise.
Controlling the mix, Bracey spoke of his affection for the SD7 console: “I’ve been using DiGiCo consoles since they began in 2002 and the SD7 since 2008 and for me it’s the only properly engineer friendly console that you can mix on. I just don’t consider the facilities on any of their competitors sufficient to do what I like to do. There’s no contest from that point of view and then it’s the best sounding console as well, so why would you even consider using anything else?”
As is Bracey’s usual set-up, there’s very little outboard in use. “There’s a Wave MaxxBCL across the mix that I quite often use and it’s very useful on this show. It holds the mix at a really nice level as the louder songs start to build; it’s a limiter across the mix, it’s very efficient and it’s the only thing I’ve ever mixed into. I don’t generally like having anything across the mix, but this works for me.”
Working by Bracey’s side is System Tech Ulf Oeckel; the pair are now on their third tour together as a duo following on from stints with P!nk and Cher. “It’s a successful combination of minds and I really enjoy it,” smiled Bracey. “Adele’s management are as pleased as I am with the results on what is her first arena tour. I don’t really want it to sound like the studio album though; I want it to sound like a live band playing in an arena. If you managed to recreate the album sound, I personally think it would be a lot less exciting. It’s got to sound like a live band, and not a studio performance.”
The engineer, who is dealing with around 112 channels, also said of his desk: “The SD7 does everything that you want it to do. If I think of something I need to do, I can always work out a way to do it on that desk. I don’t ever need support for the console because I’m so familiar with it but occasionally, I’ll go into a situation where I need some support, for example, we did the BRITs just before this tour started and we were feeding MADI from our rack into the BRITs’ system, where we faced some challenges. That kind of thing is worth a phone call sometimes to get a couple of brains on it. Dave Bigg at DiGiCo was very good at offering some suggestions that provided a solution, and off we went! Our new digital world doesn’t always behave the way it’s intended to, and you have to work out what you’ve done wrong and how to resolve it. DiGiCo are always willing to help.”
Oeckel added: “The SD7 is best thing ever! It’s the most flexible platform – there’s no competition at all. I’ve worked with DiGiCo desks for a very long time; I had a very early D5 when touring with Rammstein and the entire concept of how the desk was arranged is still the most logical to me today, it’s the most analogue. Dave also teaches me all the time – he knows every little bit of the desk!” PA
“We’re using L-Acoustics K2 for the entire system,” continued Bracey. “We have about 148 cabinets in total. All 10 hangs [three per side on the A stage and four in the round on the B stage] are made up of K2’s. It’s a good two hangs more than people would normally have, but that’s because we have to create the full arena coverage from the B stage as well.”
As is the case with his clear DiGiCo preference, Bracey is a firm fan of one brand when it comes to PA choice. “I would only use L-Acoustics K1 or K2. There’s no need for me to look anywhere else for a system. It became apparent that K2 was the answer for what we needed to do and it’s worked out really well. The weight of it does help, but weight didn’t come into the equation at all – it’s more to do with the dispersion you get from the box. The K1 is a bigger, longer throw box, but we don’t have the need to throw those distances with the PA in any of the spaces we’re doing, even though this [Manchester Arena] and the O2 in London would be the biggest rooms. For instance, the front hang only throws to almost the back of the floor, whereas in a normal set up you would have a larger hang here that was covering to at least the top of the first bowl. That’s what we’ve done on previous tours with K1. But because we had to integrate the design of this PA with the design of the set, a lot of decisions get made based on not what you would normally do, but the way the two systems have to join together and fade between each other, and both of them have to cover the whole room. Using the rear hangs of the B stage as the delays for the main stage is for aesthetics, economics and just hanging another pair of delays in there would be the wrong thing to do from a production point of view. So we made it work by being thoughtful with the design.”
The show has been designed with good sightlines all round. “I think we sell to 270 degrees, hence the three hangs per side. Adele spends most of the time out on the thrust, which is in front of the PA. It would never be a sound engineer’s choice to place a singer there, but we have to deal with the design of the show. It’s our job to follow and create good sound, even when the design might throw obstacles in our way!” added Bracey.
The new L-Acoustics X Series of smaller speakers also came into play for this design. “There’s X8’s, X12’s and X15’s, and they’re beautiful sounding boxes. I mixed in rehearsals on a pair of X15’s and they’re the best studio monitors I’ve ever used.” Bracey also used them as his monitor speakers at FOH for production rehearsals. “We don’t have any monitor wedges at all, so we use the X8’s as front fill around the B stage and on the front of the A stage.”
Oeckel added: “I work for L-Acoustics as a consultant, trainer and field engineer, but even so, I try to keep an open mind… I think we have got to a stage where we know about acceptable compromises in specific areas and I’m surprised that it is acoustically better than the predictions said it would be. We had a lot of in-house discussions at L-Acoustics to decide if we could or couldn’t do this and we involved a lot of other experienced people to gather opinions. There has been a lot of scepticism about it, but there’s no success without bravery!
“A requirement from the show designers was to have nothing visible in the scenery, and to keep everything very clean because there’s a lot of projection.” The system utilises L-Acoustics’ LA8 amplification.
Oeckel also commented on the success of the duo’s pro audio union: “Dave totally understands how to mix on a full range PA which leads to the success of providing good audio for large scale environments. The thing is, I depend on the input into my speaker system, and it’s only if this is arranged as a full range mix that I can use full range of sources efficiently. Many mix engineers do this in a different way, with Dave it’s completely clear. I don’t need to turn on any subwoofers and we have a full range mix across the entire arena with a deep low impact coming from one speaker source. I think that’s the main thing; I can tell him that I won’t turn on any subs before we have a finalised mix and he’s totally into it.”
Oeckel is also in the company of his native Germans, in the form of audio supplier Black Box Music, a supplier choice he was thirlled with. “I’m very happy about, it’s one of my favourite companies because everything is custom built. For example, the entire speaker wiring is very slim and custom made; I don’t have big bunches of cables anymore, we also have fly frames for all the amplifiers, so everything is really nicely custom made and with the exact cable lengths.”
MONITOR WORLD Engineer
Joe Campbell worked with Adele since the 21 album campaign (the aforementioned academy tour), but unlike Bracey, this is his first tour with DiGiCo. He said of the SD7: “I’m using 130 inputs and about 55 outputs, the vast majority of them stereo, so there are quite a lot of ins and outs, which this desk easily handles. Most other consoles that I’ve come across would struggle with such numbers,” he explained.
“We started in rehearsals with an SD10 and it’s all been fairly simple to be honest. We moved on to the SD7 because of the number of screens I needed. I enjoy using it very much; I think it sounds great and it’s done everything I’ve ever asked of it! I don’t use any plug ins. I’ve got two TC Electronics reverbs, an M6000 and a 4000 which I use as a spare. I really like the Lexicon 480 reverb too, that’s my only extra bit of outboard.
“When we started rehearsing last year I started with all wedges, and whenever I use wedges on stage I use all stereo, so I could begin to use mixes for people without using an in-ear system and that would be similar to what they were going to receive when they were wearing ears. It sounds complicated, but it seemed like quite a sensible way of doing it, without having to rely on an in-ear system, I could use wedges for everyone, then, as people became more confident and more used to the idea of losing the wedges, I could take them away mix by mix. Different members of the band would decide that they were ready to go into in ear world at different times. As we took the wedge mixes away, reducing the loudspeaker count on stage to zero, the quality of the mixes was getting higher and higher with each wedge pair that disappeared. So, for the last month or so of rehearsals, there were no wedges at all and now everyone using their in-ears loves them!” The tour utilises Sennheiser G3 transmitters with Ultimate Ears UE 18 moulds.
MICROPHONES AND RF CHALLENGES
For the microphone package, Sennheiser’s new Digital 9000 Series was chosen. The mics are running digitally into an AES input in the SD Rack. So, from the capsule through the transmission stage, to the receiver and all the way into the console, then out to the speakers, there are no convertors in use.
Said Bracey: “We arrive at the amps digitally, so from the microphone diaphragm to the amplifier, her voice never leaves the digital domain. We listened to the old microphone she used in rehearsals and were going to try out several options. We compared the previous Sennheiser to the 9000 and it was clearly twice as good. We were moving from something that she had liked on her previous tour and I liked as well – the last analogue version they did with a dynamic – but this was such a leap forward straight away that we thought it was an obvious move. Its whole sonic character is amazing.
“The main thing we’re listening to is the fact that there’s no compression or expanding going on in the transmission stage, so all of that messing with the signal that happened with radio systems is just not there now. It was always the case that the cable system sounded better than the radio anyway! Now there’s a radio system that sounds as good as or better than any cable system I’d heard. That was a pretty cool thing to lay your ears across…”
It was Bracey’s first time using the 9000 Series, but he’s doing so with longevity in mind: “You have to future proof your tour when you’re going out for a couple of years – you don’t want to have to change what you start out with.
“Adele A/B’d two mics, the previous one from the last tour (SKM 2000-XP wireless handheld transmitter with MMK 965-1 capsule) and the 9000 Series. It was funny because Joe [Campbell, monitors], myself and the entire band thought the 9000 Series was the best but she was unsure at first. It’s a normal thing with singers because their voice is so personal to them, the better the resolution of the mic the better they can hear the parts they don’t like as well. So whereas we’re usually after quality, a singer will often be a little taken aback by that extra level of quality. You often observe that the first time a vocalist uses in-ears when they’ve historically used wedges.
“She’s singing incredibly. Her voice sounds so beautiful. I’ve never heard anything like it. I’m doing quite a lot of processing with the signal, partly because she spends most of the show out in front of the PA, so I’m trying to control the relative tone from when she’s singing low right on mic and when she’s hitting top voice with it 10 inches away. It requires work just because of the nature of what all singers do. If Adele was behind the PA there would be fewer challenges. I’m sure you would have to do much less with it.
“The chat between the songs has to sound correct as well. You have to process the vocal so that it sounds good when she’s talking and good when she’s singing, in every way. You would think that Adele singing with a quality mic through a quality PA, the desk channel EQ would be flat all the time. It’s actually not.”
Campbell added: “The 9000 Series sounds great. It’s the best sounding radio mic we’ve ever used and moreover Adele enjoys it. She’s got a very good ear. We’ve never had any problems with RF. The main problem we have here is the antenna system. We don’t get to place it where we’d ideally like to have it because of the problems with sight lines, etc, so there’s nowhere on the stage that’s high enough to make it ideal. Stage left of the back handrail is where one of our antenna is sitting. They could do with being at least a metre higher, but then they’d be in front of the LED screen. So because we need flawless reception from the A to the B stage, we placed another antenna at FOH, which sits in front of the camera position and points at the B stage. Therefore wherever she is in the room we can switch between the two receiver systems and have full strength reception.
“I’m under the stage because the position I would normally have stage left doesn’t exist on this tour. I was going to sit out front with Dave, but other technical things have outweighed the advantages of being able to see the band. I don’t have line of sight, but there are cameras on stage and the monitor on the SD7 console has the broadcast image, plus we have spy cameras on stage, so I have a few different views.”
Oliver Twiby, the tour’s Control Tech was a crewmember personally requested by Campbell. He told TPi: “It’s my job to make sure the desks, fibre and optical loops are working, all the session files are working. And I do all the RF for the tour, so I do all the radio frequencies, all the licensing, through Mission Control with Ali Viles, Frequency Coordinator. It’s a pretty hard set up; there are 32 frequencies to look for and set up every day, so there’s a lot to squeeze in. All the in-ears are in the same range, so we have a quite tight RF plot, but it’s doable!”
The RF spec comprised two Sennhesier ew 9046 receiver units (with all eight channels on each used), eight 9000 Series microphones in use at any one time, two antenna systems for the reception of 9000 Series – one at FOH and one onstage, 11 Sennheiser 2050 IEM units using 22 stereo IEM mixes, four AC 3200 antenna combiners with four A 5000-CP antenna domes, nine IEM pack charger units, charging 18 belt pack at a time and eight radio mic battery chargers, charging 16 batteries at a time.
The last word in audio land went to Bracey, who declared: “I’m really happy with the way the tour’s started. It’s amazing. It’s so good I can’t believe it! It’s exceeded my expectations, certainly from an audio point of view. You always think you’re going to do your best and you’re certainly always working towards doing your best, but I didn’t dream it was going to turn out this well. There must be a 1,000 engineers out there that could do this job, but you get your results the way you know how and as long as you can prove you can get those results consistently and everyone’s happy, that must mean we’re the right team for the job.”
Other comms included 80 walkie talkies from Road Radios with programmable zones, allowing the crew to have a different set of frequencies for each country. PM Richard Young put it simply: “When we rock up in a new country, we press three buttons and we’re fully compliant.”
Production Designer Es Devlin – who was already working with Beyonce’s Formation tour when Adele took to the road, explained how the ethos for the tour’s design began: “With a project like this, the main brief is: don’t fuck it up! It’s Adele. It may be the only time she ever tours on this scale. People want intimacy with her voice and her character and the design needs to deliver this intimacy and contact without distraction. Really, the task was to deliver Adele to an arena audience in the most immediate and intimate way possible,” she added.
“I worked very closely with Adele, she has very refined instincts about all things visual as well as musical. She worked closely on every detail of the stage design, video content and lighting design and we built up a shared visual language over the course of a year preceding the tour, collaborating on all of her promo performances while evolving the tour design. By the time rehearsals started we had built up a clear visual lexicon.
“Adele is a phenomenal and generous spirited collaborator and constantly gave us all really clear direction. Creative trust had been built up over the course of the promo appearances so by the time we hit the tour rehearsals we felt like a strong creative collaborative unit with a clear mission.”
The collaborations didn’t stop there, the thinking and expertise behind this show reads like a who’s who of the production industry: “Lighting Designer Patrick Woodroffe and I are close friends and collaborators. He brought beauty, elegance and experience to the adventure.
“Video Director Matt Askem was crucial to the project as so much relies on calibration of the IMAG – there are no separate IMAG screens so they’re layered over content between gauzes and LED screens.
“Other vital collaborators were Michael Ashton – Adele ‘s Make-up Designer – because when the IMAG becomes the backdrop, her eye make-up becomes scenery. Gaelle Paul, Adele’s stylist and Burberry who made her dress were able to transform our rehearsals when Adele put it on. The IMAG backdrop became magnified by bespoke Burberry beading and Jonathan and Rose, Adele’s management team also have great visual instincts. Our Production Manager Richard Young provided creative input alongside his technical expertise.”
Approached by Devlin, Lighting Designer Patrick Woodroffe – who worked alongside Associate Designer Adam Bassett – has collaborated with Devlin in the past for the incredibly entertaining Batman Live, an arena-sized theatre performance. “That was very much a rock / theatrical hybrid and in a way, Adele’s show is the same sort of thing, although without the ‘bombast’, so it felt like a good fit to collaborate with Es again,” said Woodroffe.
“We had a three month period ahead of production rehearsals during which Es and I designed and lit three or four TV and awards performances for Adele. It gave us a chance to understand and get to know her and also to understand the aesthetic that she wanted. She was very clear about the style and the appearance of the lighting in particular and it was she who originally came up with the idea of not using any colour in the show at all. It meant that by the time we began to conceive and then rehearse the production in earnest, she, Es and I were all very much on the same page creatively.
“The production had to be elegant, dramatic and beautiful but we also wanted it to be timeless and otherworldly. We achieved this by making the projected images, the lighting and the rear LED screen completely seamless in execution. There are times you are never sure where one begins and the other ends,” he explained.
“We wanted the lighting layout to be architectural in appearance and so the ceiling of tightly packed profile fixtures overhead created the fourth plane that wrapped around the stage. The success of these shows is to make the lighting feel like part of the stage design and not a later addition to it. So as Es and her studio were finessing the way that the stage looked, we were very involved in that part of the design as the lighting design took shape.”
The success of the tour, and Adele’s return to the stage couldn’t have been predicted at the time of initial conception, but, was a thrilling turn of events for the LD. “When we began to work on this project at the end of last year, there was a buzz about Adele coming back but none of us had the slightest idea of just what the level of interest would be. It was an added bonus to be part of something so topical and exciting. She was a joy to work with – collaborative, engaging, funny – and for all our team, coming to work every day felt like a privilege and never a chore.”
Operating the Woodroffe-Bassett design on the road is Roland Greil, the tour’s Lighting Programmer and Director. He told TPi: “The theme is very theatrical, its about creating a picture frame around Adele so we only use colour in minimal parts of the show, just some pastel colours for accenting; there’s nothing saturated. A clear part of working with Adele is that there are no gimmicks; it truly is all about her vocal talent.”
Supplying the tour’s lighting equipment is TPi Award winner, Neg Earth. “I’ve worked with Neg Earth many times before and was lucky enough to handpick some of my crew. For example, the Lighting Crew Chief, Chris Davis, was a perfect choice. And that’s a good thing, because we are together now for at least a year!” he joked.
For control, Greil is using an MA Lighting grandMA2 full size console as his “weapon of choice”, stating that “for how we work and create shows, this desk works perfectly.” Woodroffe added: “I always leave the choice of control desk up to the programmers and lighting directors with whom we work. It seems that the grandMA is the board of choice for many of them.”
The grandMA is controlling hundreds of fixtures, of which only 20 are conventional, with the rest being moving intelligent lights. Greil explained that this “makes the show somewhat complicated.” He said: “We have 40 DMX universes, so the MA full size controls the show and I do all of this manually each night. If you can avoid time code there’s always a better outcome for your show. I like to feel the music happening around me when I’m directing. Because of the level of talent we’re working with, Adele runs a very live show. I get the click track from the monitor mix and I use my in-ears so that I’m on time with the audio form the whole band.”
The lighting design enlists 94 Robe BMFLs, 27 Martin by Harman Viper Performances, 16 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 washes, 16 Clay Paky Sharpy Beams, 70 Clay Paky Scenius spots, 44 2-Lite generic molefays, four ETC Source Four Lusta 2’s, 27 Philips Color Kinetics intelliWhite LEDs, 94 Ayrton MagicBlade Rs, three MDG theONE atmospheric fog generators, two Robert Juliat Victor 1800W follow spots and the control package comprises two MA Lighting grandMA2 full size consoles and an MA Lighting GrandMA2 Light with a total of five MA Lighting grandMA2 NPUs.
As a key fixture within the show, the Robe BMFLs are, according to Griel, “a good workhorse and spotlight fixture. The BMFLs are placed on the floor for aerial effects as well as being used for certain looks with the band.” He stated that, when combined with the Ayrton MagicBlades – which form a symmetrical grid of light above the A stage – the MagicBlades create “a very unique look with multiple light sources.” The Martin by Harman MAC Viper is also among Greil’s “workhorse” fixtures. “I use these to key light the band, and the new Clay Paky Scenius fixture is used for audience lighting, which is actually very important because Adele likes to see her fans. It’s a brand new fixture and we really wanted to try it out. It works perfectly and has great colour mixing abilities. The VL 3500’s light the B stage and gives front light to the A stage, which is again vital.”
VIDEO AND PROJECTION
Video and projection supplier Creative Technology – CT – has worked with Young on P!nk, Radiohead and Lorde tours, but due to the secrecy surrounding Adele’s comeback, CT Account Manager Graham Miller also began working on this project before he even knew who the artist was. He explained that this was an ideal way to test out each part of the video spec without any preconceptions about what the artist might need. “When we started looking at the design briefs, we went through the process of trying out lots of different products, we did some demos and shootouts and had a lot of different ideas to try out, from LED screens to projectors and media servers.
“The bulk of the design was pretty much done before we got involved to supply the right kit when we were handed a version of what the show had to look like. Richard worked out what was possible to achieve from a technical POV but certain bits; particularly the projection, was a bit tricky to begin with. There was quite a lot of head scratching going on at one point! But that makes it all the more satisfying when you’ve pulled it off. The LED was quite straight forward because it’s a flat screen that goes on the back of the stage, but shoehorning the projectors around the PA hangs on the B stage was initially difficult. Because it’s such a sound-specific show, and there was no debate on ever compromising that, we had to put projectors in quite unusual positions to try and get the coverage we required.
“Adele can carry so much with simply her voice and her personality, so it was nice being able to see where the design was going and I think it’s a very classy, understated show. Certainly compared to other solo artists where they often need a load of gags, this show isn’t about that – it’s about adding little bits of flavour around her performance,” he added.
To create the looks Devlin envisioned, CT provided an upstage LED screen – 22.5 metres by eight metres – of GLUX 10mm screen, and the whole screen, almost 200 sq metres, weighs in at just 1.9 tonnes. Miller elaborated on the chosen tool: “The LED screen is made out of carbon fibre so is very lightweight – it weighs just 11kg per sq metre. It packs really tight too, you can pack 10 sq metres in one of our flight cases, so for air freighting it’s perfectly compact for truck space.”
The main stage projection surface was an Austrian gauze curtain from Gerriets with two double stacks of Barco HDF-W30 projectors. The perimeter of the set is an additional pair of Barco 30Ks. The IMAG set up was two Panasonic 20K projectors with 11ft by 8ft fast fold screens. The B stage projection comprised four Panasonic 20K projectors with 0.8 lenses – all mounted portrait style on top of the truss to allow the video team to fill the roll drop screens with short throws within the B stage rigging structure.
Gerriets has worked with Devlin on several occasions in the past, notably using gauze and projection for Ed Sheeran. “We initially provided a variety of sample gauzes to see which worked best and we ended up using an eight-point white sharkstooth,” explained Gerriets’ Greg Shimmin. “The eight-point sharkstooth ISOLDE gauze has all the qualities of a traditional theatrical gauze – when lit from the front it appears solid and when the light level behind is lifted, it becomes transparent. The white works really well here as it enhances the contrast of the black and white projection while giving a good resolution on the coloured images. Once the type of gauze had been selected we worked with TAIT to make it fit. The gauze needed to fit within the picture frame which forms a point downstage centre of the mainstage. As a result, the gauze has a break at the top and bottom of the apex. We then had to make sure that we could retain the tension so that it didn’t sag at this point.”
The gauze used is 29 metres by 9.5 metres in one piece with a break in the top and bottom. Continued Shimmin: “The challenge for our Workshop Manager, Viorica Straut was to complete it without tearing it! We made one that we were essentially able to fit during the rehearsals at Wembley. We were able to make adjustments based on seeing this first one in situ and then get it exactly right for the two we made for the tour.”
The gauze is one of the first things you see when you enter the auditorium and makes a real statement with the huge black and white closed eyes image on display during the initial projection scene. “It fits the picture frame really well and we were very pleased with the visual result. The softness of the gauze allows it to ruche out as an Austrian drape on TAIT’s very smooth mechanism, creating a great reveal,” added Shimmin.
The rest of the video set-up just as complicated! The PPU set up from CT was a 2.5 Grass Valley ME Kayak video switcher with all outputs used over a variety of display surfaces. The PPU desks and media servers were all mounted into custom made touring racks, specifically for this tour. The camera package was five Sony HXC 100s (three with XJ 86 lenses) and a single Tower Camera fitted with a Sony HXC 100 and 40 lens. Continued Miller: “We’re basically switching to different sources; we’ve got a mixer that goes to the LED screen and a mixer that goes to the projector and the IMAG screens on either side are fed off that mixer as well. Because there’s a variety of destinations we needed a large mixer to be able to cover everything and make sure there’s enough capacity to send out to all the different displays really.”
The chosen media servers were VYV Photons, running content and warping the image to fit the screen from the necessary projection angles. “Photon has worked really well for us – we knew Photon would definitely be up for the job in hand here,” Miller added.
Media Server Operator Phil Haynes commented: “It’s a machine that can handle very powerful playback and very clever projection calculations. It made our rehearsals very easy at the point when we were changing content at the drop of a hat or half way through a song. The Photon’s timeline is also very efficient with everything we throw at it.”
Eric Plante, General Manager at VYV said: “We absolutely love to see Photon used on demanding shows where quality is of the utmost importance. This is why our systems work with uncompressed media, which is the only way to get both subtle gradients and high frequency images to look nice. The live editing, compositing, colour correction and effects built into the system also help to reach the desired quality level without the need for content re-renders, drastically reducing iteration time.”
The touring video team was completed by Matt Askem, Director, Piotr Klimczyk, Racks / System Engineer, Ed Moore, Projection and Camera Op, Joe Makein, Projection and Camera Op, Rob Brewer, LED Tech Camera Op and Kev King, LED Tech and Camera Op. Crew Boss and Projectionist Andy Joyes noted: “Kes Thornley is operating the tower camera, which we’re using because of the LED being quite low down. We had to find a way of still getting a shot of Adele for the IMAG when the picture is right behind her. The camera can pop up and get a picture from almost her face level without blocking any sightlines from behind. This was very handy because our main brief was the keep the show looking very clean.”
Working closely alongside Miller was CT Project Manager, Jim Liddiard. Miller concluded his thoughts by saying: “Adele’s tour was a much anticipated and very high profile show. I think what makes this tour different from others is that although there are a lot of difficult and complicated things going on behind the scenes, the show pulls of a very clean and simple look, allowing the audience to focus all their attention onto Adele herself. We are very proud to be a part of this.”
The visual content design is a vital aspect of the show’s narrative. Treatment Studio, run by Sam Pattinson, worked in sync with Luke Halls and Warren Chapman as lead creatives. Devlin told TPi: “Sam, Luke and I have been collaborating since 2008 and I try to avoid leaving home without them! They read my mind and generally improve on most things I have to say. For me the narrative of this show is a voice and a person, and the space and journey between them. The face that Adele wears for the concerts is not the face she wears day to day. It is part of her concert character and costume – her face becomes the show’s major scenic statement. The profound experience of the show for the audience is to witness Adele’s raw and very unaffected truthful personality speaking through classic, iconic film star make-up, magnified to an arena scale.
“Towards the end of the show, during When We Were Young, Adele asked us to show photos from her childhood. The beaches in these photos are not Caribbean, the interiors are not designed, it’s a very un retouched account of her childhood. I believe Adele’s creative impulse stems from her unusually raw and keen connection to her past.
“To me, this song with this production expresses Adele’s genius most keenly; she choses these photos, while wearing this dress and this make up, speaking with this voice, and singing with that voice a very moving song about capturing moments in time,” she concluded.
Joyes concurred: “The content is a clever mixture of various art pieces, film slices and old photos from Adele’s childhood which are used throughout the show. Although there’s a lot of it, in a way it’s a very simple effect, like a clear story-telling narrative.”
Quantum Special Effects designed two new products for the tour – a bespoke tourable rain system and storm blasters that can deliver up to a minute of non-stop confetti across an entire arena. Working closely with Devlin and Young, Quantum is supplying over 100 shows across 44 arenas. Quantum’s team of in-house designers and engineers had just eight weeks to design, develop and build the new Q: Rain Graphix and just a fortnight for the Q: Storm Blasters.
Providing a genuine indoor downpour for Adele’s performance of Set Fire to the Rain is Quantum’s the Q: Rain Graphix. The system creates a four-walled curtain of rain around the singer whilst she remains safe and dry within. Mike Badley, engineer at Quantum, built and designed the system. He said: “The use of water effects on tour is currently very restrictive and expensive, often involving pumping water large distances, with complex and time-consuming installations. Then there are the functional issues such as leaking and dripping to think about. Our brief for Adele was to create a transportable system that would counter these challenges.”
The Q: Rain Graphix achieves just that. Built with affordability in mind, the system is self-contained and remotely activated. Suspended above the B stage, the unit holds all the water needed for the duration of the performance in just eight compact tanks.
With no large visible hoses feeding from the ground, the system is discreet and takes just two hours to rig and fly (including filling the tanks). The water being collected under the stage in custom tanks and recycled after every performance eliminates wastage. In-built sound insulation ensures it remains studio quiet. The system is comprised of almost 800 separate valves, individually controlled by Quantum’s Q: Control System. The pattern of the rainfall is fully customisable from neat lines to staggered intervals – or in Adele’s case – a steady wall of water.
HAND WRITTEN CONFETTI
The average confetti hit lasts around 20-40 seconds, but the crew required a product that would last a whole minute – and reach the highest tiers of each arena. In response, Shaun Barnett designed the concept for the new units and project manager Phil Mundy engineered the Q: Storm Blasters, a bespoke system of 12 transportable confetti blowers able to deliver arena-wide coverage with a hit duration twice as long as standard. The new product achieves this without compromising on the compact and transportable nature of the unit.
Remotely activated using a Galaxis wireless system, each unit is suspended around the arena where they are able to shower crowds with 128 kg of personalised confetti per show. The confetti is printed with 10 different handwritten notes from the singer herself, including ‘Thanks for coming,’ ‘All my love, Adele,’ and a selection of song lyrics.
Released during the finale song Rolling in the Deep, the effect is the perfect personal touch to close the performance, with many fans taking home their own collection of confetti mementos. The team had just eight weeks to develop the rain system and two for the blasters. But, for Quantum’s MD Shaun Barnett and his team of in-house designers and engineers, it’s nothing they aren’t used to and they leapt to the challenge.
Shaun explained: “Nothing on the market could meet Adele’s brief to cover every seat in the O2 Arena with confetti for a whole minute, or for a rain system which wasn’t overly complex to install and transport. We took a step back and started from scratch and are excited to reveal these two new products to the market. Big thanks to our team, suppliers and Adele’s team for making it happen.”
Touring for Quantum is Steve Belfield, SFX Crew Chief, and Rob Watson, who were chosen for their lighting and rigging backgrounds, as well as pyrotechnic expertise. Belfield said: “We work very closely with the lighting crew, the riggers and automation departments because this tour in particular needs to work that way, the special effects team had to integrate easily into this show, and we have done – there’s a very warm family atmosphere on this tour.”
STAGING FOR A STAR
James ‘Winky’ Fairorth (CEO of TAIT) also worked closely with Young on achieving the high-level technical, intricacies required for Adele’s stage production including sightlines, movement of dancers, movement of stages, deployment of curtains, use of water catchment and more. Aaron Siebert, Senior Project Manager at TAIT, was the Lead Project Manager who worked closely with Adele’s team on the micro level of design and fabrication.
Said Siebert: “Richard and I spoke daily throughout the design and build process ensuring a constant touch point on every aspect of the set. He is very detail-oriented and contributed valuable feedback into the technical solutions for the set. His depth of technical expertise and our continued communication, ultimately led to his receipt of the project as envisioned and a smooth transition from shop to rehearsals to touring.”
Winky agreed: “It was a very collaborative effort along with Es Devlin and Patrick Woodroffe. With their vision, Adele’s vision, and Richard’s vision, TAIT had to determine geometrically and technically what would work on stage to meet the musical requirements. Geometry of a set is always crucial. It is imperative to understand and know how to accommodate sightlines, exits and entrances, lighting etc. in order to facilitate the look of the show and also the fluidity.”
“Initially, the design for the main stage proscenium was a simple flat fascia. However, it ended up being a large light box that expands the length of the stage with LED lighting fixtures inside. In creating the light box, the ultimate goal was to ensure sightlines – and it had to look seamless and polished. As we began building the lightbox, we used plastic, but aesthetically, it didn’t meet the desired effect, and we quickly pivoted and used fabric instead. The fabric created clean, smooth lines throughout by minimisng the seams,” added Siebert.
The automation included the Austrian curtain, the hydraulic lift on the main stage, the two elevator lifts on the B stage and the four roll drops on the B stage. The entire show was run on TAIT’s proprietary automation software platform, Navigator. The platform controls the lifts, the roll drops on B stage and the Austrian curtain on main stage. On tour, Rick Berger is the Head of Automation. He commented: “TAIT are great, they support us whenever we have any needs and put out a very good product for the automation industry, Navigator is the best tool out there.”
Winky continued: “For the B Stage, again, with sightlines being a crucial element, we built two lifts. There was one inner lift and one outer lift. The inner lift is 10ft by 10ft and the outer lift is 20ft by 20ft. When the show begins, the lifts are pre-set which allows for Adele to sneak onto the stage without prematurely revealing to the audience which stage she will be on.”
Once the show begins, the lifts move in either direction to meet at stage height and reveal Adele herself. When she moves from B stage to the main stage, we needed to ensure that the B stage lifts would not interfere with the audience’s view of her on the main stage. “Likewise, when Adele is initially revealed on the B Stage, we had to ensure that the inner lift and the outer lift would work in conjunction, meaning the inner lift would descend, while the outer lift would ascend,“ clarified Siebert. “During the middle of the show, Adele returns to the B Stage, and it is here that she sings Set Fire to the Rain in the now famous rain gag! TAIT provided the rain catchment, made of special splash matting with aluminum grating that catches the rain at the bottom of the stage and drains the water to tanks below. Therefore nobody gets rained on during the performance!”
The stages were built using TAIT’s patented MagDecks and the main stage used its new rock wood and grey vinyl surfacing. The main stage incorporates a rolling subdeck to allow backline and technicians to set before the stage rolls and to be hidden during the show. The objective of providing the rolling subdeck is to maintain a clean, polished look. The proscenium is a stacked assembly of equipment. TAIT’s Austrian truss supports the proscenium lightbox on the downstage and a set of tracks for blackout curtains on the upstage. We were able to minimise structure and maintain everything in close proximity due to this approach. The Austrian curtain (which is two separate systems synced by TAIT Navigator) uses a trough system to collect the material as it opens up – again to maintain a clean look instead of seeing the fabric pile up and swag between lines. The B stage lifts have equipment tucked below them; three scissor lifts, four water tanks, lift controllers, stairs, and also open space for Adele to move through and aboard the lift pre-show. We located the hydraulic pump backstage for noise, and run 300ft of hose daily, to run the lifts without taking away from the show. TAIT designed and manufactured the stage and set in five weeks.
Winky added: “The end product put Adele in the perfect environment. It gives the audience a lot to see and feel. It enables a clever interactive experience that is professional and polished. The audience, no matter where they are sitting, is a part of the show. It’s always good to be involved in success; and this entire show, from inception, has been the epitome of success.
“To Richard’s credit, the show is incredibly efficient. It has been packaged very well, it travels very well, it gets deployed quickly, and he has an excellent crew. Assembling a team that is effective, well organised and capable makes the entire process that much more streamlined. Richard is also very technical in every department – he knows every plug and every model number, which goes a long way in a show like this; it helps with efficiency and hitting milestones both technically and aesthetically.”
Load Cell Rental provided accurate weighing data for 25, ensuring the huge tour’s final rig could be accurately known for each and every venue visited. Load Cell’s Colin Luke commented: “During Adele’s rehearsals at the Wembley we trailed the new V3 Broadweigh load cell provided by Mat Millward at AC Technologies. One of the advantages over the V2 cell is that the range has been boosted from 200 metres up to 800 metres. We placed the cell above the mother grid and above the lighting rig, the laptop and USB extended range base station were in the production office and we achieved a stable reading off the cell, that is with mother grid, lighting rig, and three block walls in between the cell and base station. Another advantage of the V3 cell is the ability to remotely pair with the cell without the need to cycle the power, it makes the system much more user friendly and more adaptable should requirements change after installation. The trick to making a success of the Broadweigh system is knowing how to correctly configure it, that is why we send every dry hire system out fully configured and set up, we have yet to have a customer report an issue with this system. The successful trial of the new Broadweigh technology has led to us boosting our wireless cell stock to meet an ever-increasing demand for wireless. Customers who have witnessed the stability of the V3 Broadweigh system and the convenience of a wireless cell don’t seem to want to revert back to a wired system.”
Load Cell Rental worked alongside the production crew to install a cell on every point of the show. Luke continued: “In the case of the wired system we will typically follow the show cables, with the wireless it’s just a case of clipping the cell onto the motor hook. The system is then left live for production to monitor changes during rehearsals. Once truss loadings are finalised we will return and complete the weight report detailing truss types, makes and version of lights. At load out we return again to remove the system. Liaison with the rigging staff and production staff is continual throughout the process, feedback is given around point weights that need balancing or are closer to limits than expected, this can result in upgraded motors or taking a load cell system out on the road to ensure even distribution of the loads.
“For this tour, our entire wireless system was already out on hire so we used 115 cells from our stock of wired motion labs cells. Wired systems still have their place in long duration hires, we have hire cell periods extending to years so cabled is the way to go for that and also to monitor show critical weights a wired system would still be most people’s preference. Other customers like the Motion Labs system because there is no computer involved, it is a simple robust reliable wired system with an analogue display with no software to trip you up,” he added.
Once the entire rig had been weighed with every point celled throughout rehearsals, the production crew was able to monitor the effects any design changes were having on the point weights. “With the rain feature the water weight was variable depending on the water level in the tanks which were slowly being increased to provide rainfall for sufficient duration of the song. The weights could again be monitored throughout this process. Using a cell has provided an actual weight for every point as opposed to calculations, but it is also the detail involved in a full report that assists the tour to operate safely. The weights along with an independent verification of the loadings were included in a certificate for each truss, which were compiled into an insurance backed report. The difference we can see between calculations and cell readings still surprises me, it is not always the case that calculations are lighter, I have known of one tour to reduce their motor count by 10 motors for the entire tour as a result of using the weights report service and set pieces which have weighed twice their calculated weights.
“The sheer scale of this show with well over 100 rigging points presents a challenge, our mission is to ensure that we don’t delay any of the production teams in achieving their own objectives at load in, it takes prior planning and provision of efficient staff to ensure a job of this scale goes to plan. Also the detail required in the report is a challenge with every piece of equipment needing to be identified and catalogued accurately, but it is this attention to detail that will prove the services’ worth in the event of an incident,” he concluded.
With all of this technology in tow, the logistics and transportation elements of the tour also had to be thoroughly planned, right down to the flight cases. “We had worked on a previous Adele production, building a custom piano shell to house two keyboards so when Richard Young approached us towards the end of 2015 to ask if we were up for the challenge of supplying the current tour’s flight casing requirements, we of course said yes!” explained Matt Snowball Music’s Matt Young of the MSM Cases division. With the the challenge underway, the bespoke flight case team, completed by Paul Maliszewski, Robert Stepien, Lucas Wach and Dominic Carlyle-Parker began working closely with the production team in order to deliver all of the required containers. Continued Matt Young: “All of our cases are built to the same high standard to withstand the rigors of touring. We prepare our own laminated ply for the case construction so we can ensure the quality from start to finish.” In total, the Matt Snowball team built 44 new cases and refurbished a further 11 in just three weeks.
Once the bigger pieces of the tour were packaged, such as TAIT’s stage – which was initially to be moved from TAIT’s Lititz, Pennsylvania, workshop to the tour’s rehearsals in Wembley – the production used the freighting services of Sound Moves to securely deliver the items to the UK.
McGuinness Forwarding is the production’s trucking choice, servicing the tour throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe. Siofra McGuinness commented on being part of the show’s popularity: “Adele’s success this year has been astounding. 25 broke record after record and her ticket sales followed suit. The precision of this tour has been impressive, as you would imagine with an artist of Adele’s calibre. With Richard Young in place as Production Manager, you can always expect quality. This has been a well-run and detailed production with high standards required, and professionalism is evident across the board.
“On the trucking side, there is a lot to do at each venue with 20 trucks to load, tip and manoeuvre – and that’s before factors like double drivers or ferry crossings come into play. However, having one of the best lead drivers in the business, Bobby Worgan, makes all the difference to a smooth running journey. Bobby has 40 years experience and a team of skilled McGuinness drivers behind him. The drivers and everyone at McGuinness takes pride in playing their part on this tour.”
Crew and artist bussing was supplied by Beat The Street. The company’s Joerg Philipp said: “It’s a pleasure supplying buses for Adele. Richard Young and [TM] Jerome Crooks make for a well-managed, happy experience – as ever. Adele’s success has been phenomenal and we’re really proud to be involved with this tour!” Catering was courtesy of Eat Your Hearts Out.
Photos: Ralph Larmann www.larmann.de Caroline Corbett, Alexandra Waespi & Kelly Murray
http://adele.com/ http://woodroffebassett.com http://esdevlin.com www.black-box-music.de/en www.ct-group.com www.negearth.com www.mcguinness.eu www.beatthestreet.net www.soundmoves.com www.taittowers.com http://loadcellrental.com www.gerriets.com/uk www.q-sfx.com www.mattsnowball.com http://roadradios.com http://treatmentstudio.com