Arlo Parks’ loyal crew reflect on last year’s touring campaign

After experiencing a rapid rise in popularity during the first lockdown, Arlo Parks hits the road for her first full-scale headline tour with a loyal band of crew in support. TPi speaks to some of the key personnel as they look to the future with this critically adored artist.

Despite live music grinding to a halt in 2020 and the first part of 2021, there were still some artists experiencing a rise in profile, even with the regular means of gaining support no longer an option. One such artist was Arlo Parks. Claiming Best Breakthrough Artist at the 2021 BRIT Awards and gaining critical acclaim with her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, it’s certainly been a busy year for the artist and her core crew. With live shows returning to the UK, the collective looked to honour several dates that were cancelled in 2020 as well as moving into bigger venues to match her rising popularity. TPi caught up with the crew in Manchester Academy Two to hear what it was like working behind the scenes with this rocket ship success sorry.

Leading the conversion was Production and Tour Manager, Adam Williams of Riverjuke. Having been one of the leading figures in the Arlo Parks camp throughout lockdown, he helped the artist navigate everything from filming the The Late Late Show with James Corden music segment through to a large-scale BRIT Awards performance. Now with live shows back on the menu, he helped coordinate the varied touring schedule, which ranged from 500- to 2,000-capacity spaces. 

“We are retaining the dates that had been moved over from 2020 along with new bookings in bigger venues,” explained Williams. “Now she’s just been nominated for a GRAMMY! It’s certainly been a roller-coaster, but one I’ve been really glad to be part of.” 

For the UK run in 2021, Williams called upon MIRRAD, Liteup and Patchwork London. As any crew member will attest, jumping on the road again after an extended enforced hiatus was an adjustment – especially with the extra administrative tasks, such as COVID-19 protocols that now fall into Williams’ remit. 

“Thankfully on this tour – for the UK run at least – I had both [Lighting Designer] Tom Campbell and [FOH Engineer] Chris Parker who also have PM experience who were able to help out majorly with the production elements,” he said.

This gave Williams more time to deal with the other admin tasks, including the protocols in the UK and as they set their sights on Europe. “I’m thankful that I have a very responsive team within the Arlo Parks camp who have been with us through lockdown and know first-hand how complicated some of this can be.” 

Arlo Parks: Progression in Lockdown

ADAPTABLE AUDIO  

As the band and crew prepared for doors to open in Manchester Academy, TPi grabbed some time with FOH Engineer, Chris Parker of Patchwork London. Parker had been brought in during the midst of the lockdown to handle Arlo Parks’ audio for several televised shoots as well as all proceeding live commitments. 

For Parker and the team, their live journey began over festival season but really hit its stride in the US – playing to mid-sized venues before returning to the UK for a tour that began with two nights at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. “When you start working with a new artist, going through those smaller venues is fantastic as you can change things very quickly,” stated Parker, as he discussed how it had been establishing the basic audio foundation. 

With the variety of venue sizes, portability was of the utmost importance to Parker, who put his faith in the Allen & Heath CTi1500 for the UK run. “I had brought in the wmit some of those problems. “It’s been a life saver,” he noted. “It’s taken time to adjust but it’s essentially a frequency gate, so when she’s not on the microphone it reduces background noise.”

This was Njuguna’s first time touring with Allen & Heath but he was more than happy with the result. “I’d been keen to learn more about the desk and after rehearsals I was sold,” he stated. “We had upwards of 40 channels for our biggest show in Shepherd’s Bush, but even with the 12 faders I didn’t struggle.”

While both audio engineers were pleased about being back on the road, the entire touring family used the tour as an opportunity to give back to the community.  “At each date in the UK, we’ve had a young technician come out and shadow us,” Parker explained. “It’s fantastic to give young people a chance to see what goes into a tour and provide resources to help them in the future.”

 

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LIGHTING THE WAY

Taking care of the visual aesthetic for the UK run was Lighting Designer, Tom Campbell. Having worked with Adam Williams on a livestream for the band TesseracT [TPi #259], Campbell was keen to link up with the PM once again for Arlo Parks’ latest run. “I was already familiar with her music and before I knew it, I was being introduced to her managers, Ali and Sarah,” stated Campbell. 

“When I start working with an artist, one of the first questions I ask them is what gigs they have enjoyed live. However, with this project it leant towards favourite art installations and artists rather than concerts.” 

This gave Campbell a lot more scope to come up with basic stage treatments. “We wanted to create a theatrical art installation rather than a concert,” he explained. “Many of the looks are more static than I traditionally go for, in an almost operatic manner.” 

Going into several smaller venues, Campbell often made use of in-house rigs as well as a floor package provided by Liteup. This comprised Robe ESPRITEs and GLP impression X4 Bar 20s. For the larger shows, Campbell had three rows of X4 Bars, which he used to create colour gradients to complement the rear sphere backdrop and “create a mood” during the performance. 

The other notable elements of the stage show included custom lamps that were arranged throughout the stages along with floral decoration, which adorned the stages as well as FOH – a set element that had been carried over from some of Arlo Parks’ filmed performances in 2020. 

Due to the varying size of venues, the production toured with an A, B and C arrangement of the show. Despite these three distinctive versions of the same design, Campbell explained how the look of each show was very organic. 

“Due to the type of rooms we were going into, we had to be flexible, but it began to feel that the stage grew naturally as each space was taken over with sunflowers, cherry blossom and the other stage elements,” mused Campbell, who was quick to complement the collaborative nature of the tour, which saw everyone getting stuck in, including Williams, who was responsible for laying out the flowers on the stage. This collaborative environment stretched to see Campbell work creatively with FOH Engineer, Chris Parker. 

“Chris and I began timing some of my lighting cues to the delays and reverbs on the audio,” said Campbell. “It was the first time I’d tried anything like this. With no timecode, it was all done manually and was a really interesting experiment that added cohesion to the show.” 

While discussing riding the show, it’s worth noting how on this run Campbell was manning at Avolites Diamond 9 – the latest offering from the manufacturer. Campbell had used the Diamond 9 at the tail end of January 2020 for a one-off show with John Grant at the Roundhouse along with a few other projects in lockdown, but this was his first time taking it out on the road. 

“It’s a really nice desk to stand behind,” he beamed. “The hardware is great and it feels fantastic to operate from. As well as creating a great piece of equipment, one of the best things that Avolites has done is not change the software too much. In high-pressure situations, you simply don’t have time to re-learn new workflows and the fact you can jump on a brand-new console and yet it still feels very familiar is a blessing.” Campbell concluded that although it had been great to finally get to use the desk on a tour, he hadn’t yet pushed it to its limits and was excited to tackle more projects with the Diamond 9 in the future.  

 

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ON TO EUROPE 

After TPi caught up with the team in Manchester, the party made their way through a string of dates before heading to Europe. With a slightly reduced crew personnel, they made it through the continent despite the increasing restrictions imposed in various countries. 

Before the end of 2021, TPi tracked down Williams to review the realities of touring on the continent. “On the whole, we were very lucky with our routing as we had already done some shows in Germany before tighter restrictions came into force, meaning we only had to cancel a few shows,” he explained. 

Taking on the dual role of production and tour manager in ‘normal’ times is always a logistical challenge, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic along with increased admin because of Brexit, the task was made even more challenging.

“I’ve had a few chats with other tour managers about this very subject and as COVID-19 is clearly going to be an ongoing concern in 2022, with larger touring parties it’s going to have to be a consideration when it comes to budgeting someone to handling this admin task as there is a great deal of paperwork to deal with,” he said. “My biggest advice when it comes to both COVID-19 protocols and new Brexit-related issues is to print everything you might need at the border.” 

On the topic of Brexit however, Williams had some words of encouragement about the future of touring on the continent.  “I can only comment from a touring perspective, but I think there has been a lot of misinformation put out there in the touring community. I’m currently out in Europe with a 10-person touring party who mostly have UK passports and we have done it all legally.” 

Not to downplay the effect that Brexit has and will have on the industry, from those who are heading out on longer tours that will exceed the 90- to 180-day rule, or the issues faced by suppliers and transport companies, but Williams believes that Brexit doesn’t mean that touring in Europe with a UK passport is theoretically “impossible” to do. He elaborated: “A lot of people on social media would make you think without a European passport, touring in the EU is impossible, which is an incredibly dangerous message – especially as many people haven’t worked for the past 18 months.”

Williams made the point that any tour managers heading out to Europe should quickly familiarise themselves with Carnets. “Even pre-Brexit, we would have had to fill out a Carnet for Arlo’s tour as we were heading to Switzerland, but it’s now something that everyone has to familiarise themselves with and it’s something you don’t want to get wrong as it can lead to heavy fines,” he noted. 

With Arlo Parks’ 2021 touring campaign coming to an end, artist and crew looked forward to some downtime, with sights set on an extensive support tour in America in early 2022. It will certainly be interesting to see how the production expands when she returns to the UK later this year.

This article originally appeared in issue #267 of TPi, which you can read here.

www.arloparksofficial.com

www.riverjuke.co.uk

www.mirrad.com

www.liteup.co.uk

www.patchworklondon.co.uk