Back in 2018 when TPi last covered Ed Sheeran on his record breaking ÷ [Divide] Tour, it seemed to be somewhat of a new chapter for the singer-songwriter. Having ascended the ranks of academies and arenas throughout the 2010s armed with just a guitar and a loop pedal, Sheeran was suddenly breaking attendance records at stadium level with an iconic production that never shied away from the fact that this was one man on stage – no backing band or dancers but one person rewriting the record books. After such a career high, what is the next step? Well, there’s always ‘in-the-round’.
As the thousands who have already seen the artist’s latest production will attest, this is not a standard in-the-round production. From a fully automated central stage, Sheeran remained the focal point throughout the evening while performing under a giant LED halo, which was held up by six masts, immersing the standing ticket holders in the action of the show.
To learn about the origins of this design, TPi grabbed some time with Show Designer, Mark Cunniffe and Production Director, Chris Marsh. “As soon as we’d finished the Divide Tour, Ed was asking what we should do next,” reminisced Marsh, several weeks into the +–=÷x [Mathematics] Tour.
“He wanted a show that would be iconic and something that people would remember. Armed with that knowledge, Mark went away and started putting together some designs.”
With the in-the-round concept already on everyone’s minds, Cunniffe was keen to remedy one of the biggest issues he has with this type of show. “I didn’t want to create a show that is just held up by four posts,” he began. “I hate the idea of having many in the audience’s view blocked by a physical object – especially as Ed is only one guy on stage.”
After toying with a few other ideas, most of which were left on the cutting room floor, Cunniffe busied himself with creating a brand-new design – the likes of which had never been toured before.
“I got in touch with Jeremy [Lloyd] from Wonder Works to see if touring a cable net system was possible. Before I showed a design to Ed and management, I wanted to ensure it was even possible.”
After several wind tunnel tests, Cunniffe got the nod from an engineering standpoint that his show was indeed feasible.
Jeremy Lloyd of Wonder Works reflected on his first impressions when Cunniffe proposed the idea. “To my knowledge, a cable net system like this has never been toured before,” he stated. “My first impressions were that this is ambitious but totally achievable. I like a challenge and it was clear that this would be challenging and fun in equal measure.” The design process started by assessing the overall geometry of the design and ensuring that it would fit in a multitude of venues. “The build process starts with levelling the mast bases; then the masts are installed at their inclined angle of 15° and are supported with temporary buttresses,” explained Lloyd.
He continued: “Once all masts have been erected, the structural cables are installed, then the buttresses are removed. At this point, some advance equipment – chain hoists, power and data cabling, and some lighting fixtures – is installed on the cable net and masts. When universal production arrives, they initially install the halo mother truss. This increases tension in the structural cables, which in turn stiffens the entire structure.”
From that point, everything is coordinated in teams of two from each department working on opposite masts to evenly load the structure. The final element to be rigged on the cable net is the main audio arrays, which are suspended from the cables adjacent to the halo. During installation of the rigged elements, the stage is built to one side of the masts then, when all rigged elements have been taken to trim, the stage is rolled into place.
“Touring this system requires a different mindset,” stated Lloyd. “There’s a very specific procedure which has to be followed during all phases of the build, from assembling the masts, to installing and tensioning the cables, to finally loading in the production equipment. Without following the correct procedure, the structure would not be stable.” One person that had to adopt this change in mindset was Stage Manager, Matt Caley.
“With this being my first in-the-round tour and an entirely new concept, it was exciting and terrifying all at the same time,” he commented. “One of my main jobs is to ensure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing, in the right order and troubleshooting issues as they arise.”
With such a bespoke set, Marsh knew from the outset that a standard staging company would not be able to create this show from stock inventory. “In addition to Wonder Works, we brought in Stage One, which created the main structure of the show. Although we hadn’t worked with them before, they are ‘the’ staging company when it comes to ceremonies and have years of experience working with cable net systems such as in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.”
In fact, this tour saw many individuals entering the world of live touring. “We’ve had to bring in experts from other walks of life due to the nature of this show. This is not the type of set you hammer together and requires a great deal of precision. Along with regular rigging and steel guys, we have people who’ve worked on oil rigs and the construction of suspension bridges,” enthused Marsh.
CHANGING OF THE TIDE
With Sheeran’s tour becoming increasingly complicated, Marsh had to adapt his role. Having previously juggled the roles of Production Manager and FOH Engineer (and monitor engineer, but we’ll come onto that later), for the Mathematics Tour, Helen Himmons assumed the role of Production Manager. A key member of Sheeran’s previous run, she gave her thoughts on her new role.
“We had to separate the roles to give Chris more time to focus on the new audio challenges of an in-the-round show and having a band, as well as overseeing the design and technical aspects of the show. That enabled me to focus on the day-to-day management and logistics of the production and our site teams and crew, as well as dealing with promoters, and vendors.”
During the Divide Tour, the production had one advance manager that went to venues for the initial load-in, but due to the scale of this tour, the team opted to have a dedicated site manager and site coordinator for each of the two advance teams.
“They are there from the first day steel is loaded in right the way through until it loads out after the show,” commented Himmons. “It works so much better to have a team there from start to finish, providing continuity.”
Several key suppliers from previous runs returned to put their stamp on the tour, including: Lights Control Rigging, Colonel Tom Touring, Major Tom, KB Events, Pieter Smit and TAIT. There were also numerous new additions to the party, such as WICREATIONS, Pains Fireworks and The Pantry Maid.
Among the returning suppliers were several familiar faces amid the party of 65 crew in the universal team, along with a further 27 in each of the two advance teams. Notwithstanding 84 additional truck drivers on the universal production and advance teams. “This show is nothing without the people,” asserted Himmons. “At the end of the Divide Tour, we had a crew that really cared about each other, the show and the artist; with friendships that extended way beyond work. That ethos has carried through to this tour and been bolstered by the new members of the team. We could achieve anything with this crew – not because of the quantity, but because of the type of people we have. You can have the best artist, the best show design, PA, lighting and video, but none of it works without the right crew.”
SETTING THE STAGE
Every part of the production showed signs of innovation before a single chord was struck. “I’ve been using Cinema 4D when drawing packages for clients for a long time, but to take this to the next level, I made use of Real Time Rendering and Unreal Engine to put myself and clients into virtual reality to experience what the show will be,” explained Cunniffe.
As well as giving clients a better idea of how the result will look, it was also a design aid. “My biggest concern with taking Ed in-the-round was for those at the barrier,” he explained, noting that the stage had a minimum of 7ft to not obscure the view for those at the front, while still giving enough head room for the technicians working under the stage.
During this VR design stage, Cunniffe tried to solve the problem of making Sheeran visible to the full 360° audience at all times. The solution came from TAIT’s fully automated stage, which included a full revolve on the stage edge, as well as automated stairs, which rose from the main performance area whenever Sheeran stood in the central microphone position. “The central stage lift is more a functional stage element than a gag,” he explained. “It means that everyone can see Ed.”
The speed and fluidity of these automated elements was remarkable. Responsible for all these moves was Kirsten Eddy, who operated the TAIT stage from the circular underworld. “When I first saw a pdf of the stage alone I was a bit disappointed with the amount of the automation I was controlling. With only 14 lifts and one giant revolve, I thought it was going to be a rather slow show to operate. That was until we got to rehearsals. The production much bigger than I thought it would be and I learned how functional and utilised everything I control is – then I got much more excited.”
The revolve and scissor lifts moved constantly during the show, controlled by TAIT Navigator to create a raised staircase in the middle of the stage. “There is a camera feed of the stage from the halo so I can see Ed at all times,” stated Eddy. “I can see when he is safely on the centre of the lifts and take my cue off that visual. I also have Estops that control either a specific lift (local) or the entire system (global) to ensure the safety of Ed and everyone else. I can hit the Estop at any time and everything would come to an immediate halt.”
With this stage being open to the elements, weather was one of Eddy’s biggest concerns. “TAIT was great in making this as weather-proof as possible with rain covers that were custom made for every drive, motor, and rack. There was a lot of testing needed to ensure it works properly in the rain.” On the topic of automation, TPi turned its attention skyward to the halo of LED video screen that hung above the stage. This fully automated set piece, along with the chandler lighting elements within, was provided by WICREATIONS and control on site by Kim Bennett-Abbiss and Andy ‘Paris’ Hilton.
“Originally, we thought we’d have one company look after all the staging and automation elements, but when we began drawing the show and sending it out to tender, we had to rethink our position. Coming out of the pandemic, we didn’t want to put too much strain on one company, so it seemed wise to divide the jobs,” explained Marsh.
“We got the green light back in September 2021,” recalled WICREATIONS Key Account Manager, Koen Peeters.
Collectively, WICREATIONS provided automation to allow the halo to move up and down as well as several scenic objects within the structure. The company also supplied the automated rigging for the masts as well as a centralised control system with link ability to third-party automation systems.
On site, Bennett-Abbiss walked through the various automation elements above the stage. “We have 18 chandelier units within the halo structure – each of which are powered off Kinesys Evo Drivers,” she explained.
“We then also have 12 GIS WI hoists that are split into six groups of two, which lift the 45-tonne halo structure. We then have a further two on each of the six masts, which are responsible for rigging and derigging the show.” With this side of the automation team being so critical in the build section to the show, both Paris and Bennett-Abbiss often arrived on site early on the build day to hang the halo before equipment was added. “Getting it hung early means it reacts better later in the day,” stated Paris. “The halo is 24 tonnes by itself!”
Reflecting on the show, Peeters gave his thoughts. “The most challenging aspect of this project was the fact that everything we delivered was newly developed and custom built – from the halo and mast hoop structures to the WIMOTION hoists, drives and cabling,” he stated. “Delivery times for many components have multiplied compared to back in 2019, which forced us to constantly anticipate.”
Despite the challenges, Peeters was incredibly pleased with the show. “The overall clean look, with this giant halo floating in space, the plectrum screens and the mast video hoops suspended from these tapered beautiful ruby red masts makes for a well thought and extremely clean touring set.” The plectrums and chandeliers were designed and manufactured by Twenty Three from Belgium.
A VISUAL FEAST
With the elaborate 360° stage set, the lighting and video teams had to create a cohesive show to live up to the epic proportions of the design. However, before a single button was pushed on a lighting desk, Mark Cunniffe ensured that he had the right tools for the job.
“I got in touch with the main lighting manufacturers way back in 2019 with a very specific wishlist,” he revealed. “I needed all my fixtures to be IP rated as I can’t stand waterproof jackets and domes, visually. I also wanted a 51,000-lumen LED profile with full colour mixing as well as CTB and CTO wicks,” he noted, adding the caveat that he needed 180 of them. Ayrton fixtures featured heavily on the rig, with 138 Domino LT, 48 Perseo Profile and 22 of the new Cobra laser-sourced fixtures utilised.
“Ayrton showed me the prototype for what would become the Cobra – the company’s first laser source lighting fixture,” Cunniffe recalled. “I could not believe the power of them.”
Enticed, Cunniffe incorporated them into the design with the Cobras on the circumference of the stage. “They did a great job to deliver them on time – especially with all the supply chain issues,” he praised. “I see them more as a creative tool rather than a functional light, but they provided a great finish to the show.”
While talking about new lighting fixtures, the Show Designer also commented on the GLP XDCs that were placed in a trough around the stage. “I’d been a big fan of the Q7 but I wanted something a bit punchier and with a stronger beam that was also IP rated and LED,” he explained. “The XDC ticked all the boxes.”
The show was operated by long-serving Lighting Operator, Matt Jones via an MA Lighting grandMA3 using MA3 software.
“It’s been a bit of a jump,” he admitted, while discussing moving to a full MA3 setup. “That said, the fundamentals of MA are the same and the software offers some very interesting effect options. The first show was a bit nerve-wracking, but now we’ve been on the road for a while, it’s becoming second nature.”
Due to the nature of Sheeran’s performances, timecode was always going to be out of the question, with the entire supporting crew following the singer’s lead when it came to the timing of songs. Not only that, but he also tends to go off script with the setlist depending on how the crowd is reacting. “We sometimes get a heads-up from the stage manager, but there have been occasions over the years where I think he’ll be playing one song and then he’ll go into another,” laughed Jones.
For this reason, Jones has an arsenal of macros to jump to until they know what song is being played. To ensure that the visual show is as tight as possible, the visual team also takes a midi feed from Sheeran’s loop pedal and with that information can have the stop of the foot pedal trigger certain lighting cues.
With Sheeran making use of the full stage throughout, it was key to have an effective follow spot solution. Sitting alongside the video team were two Follow-Me operators, keeping up with the singer’s movements.
“The Follow-Me system is controlling the Domino LTs with the main goal to keep him visible at all times both for the crowd and the camera feed,” stated Jones. “The tracking information is also sent to the trough lighting to give him more light depending on his position.”
Working tirelessly behind the scenes was Lights Control Rigging – TPi Awards 2022 Favourite Lighting Company – which provided kit and crew. “[LCR Director] Mike Oates was an enormous help not just with providing lighting but also in other elements, such as helping get the steel system together. He was at every video meeting in the build up and was the first to put his hand up and ask the integral ‘what if’ questions,” enthused Marsh.”
Colonel Tom Touring provided the video elements of the production. TPi got the highlight reel from Video Director, Phil Mead. Due to space constraints, the video team, along with the Follow-Me operators, connected themselves by fibre from the stadium to a converted 45ft trailer that transforms into an OB setup, which is known to the crew as ‘The Loft’. “As a Director, you must be able to communicate with the video team at all times, so being away from the stadium full of fans helps you to concentrate,” began Mead. “There’s a level of anxiety that goes away when you’re in The Loft compared to out at FOH.”
Mead streamed IMAG content into two main video surfaces – the halo structure, which was made of ROE Visual Vanish V8T, as well as two giant double-sided plectrum-shaped screens attached to the six supporting masts, which had two sides of ROE Visual CB5. The floor of the stage incorporated BM5 screens to provide more content for those at a higher vantage point, while the ROE CB5H LED hoops fixed to the masts displayed content throughout.
In The Loft, Mead controlled all the camera cuts from a Ross Carbonite Black+ – the same desk he used on the Divide Tour with the only update being the addition of a Ross Ultrix router. Also in The Loft were the robo camera control positions, four disguise gx 2c media servers (three active and one understudy) and Brompton Technology SX40 LED processors to power the video surfaces out in the stadium, all of which are connected by fibres.
“The main fibre distribution system was designed by Adam Wells,” stated Mead. “Four MTP 24 fibres feed the show from The Loft to masts one and six. Each 24 core fibre is then distributed further through the system to all the other mast locations providing various video services on site.”
A custom fibre distribution box was located at each mast rack. These provide termination to all local services for equipment required at that mast. Connections then continue through the custom fibre system until they reach their required destination. “Where possible, we have reduced the unnecessary waste of dark fibre by utilising MTP12, OpticalCON Quad, and Duo in different parts of the system,” added Mead.
The only video presence in the stadium was Ben Lapworth, who oversaw the playback of the video cues as well as the Notch treatments to the live video feeds, all from an MA Lighting grandMA3 Lite.
“It’s easier to sequence looks on the MA and launch them rather than directly via the disguise system,” he said. “With no timecode, Ed diverts from the setlist, so you need to be able to make changes quickly.”
As well as ensuring the right content is playing for each song, Lapworth was also in control of some of the parameters on the Notch effects that were used heavily on the show – many of which were used on the live footage of Sheeran. Show Designer, Mark Cunniffe also oversaw the content creation for the production through his company, Twotrucks Productions, and lead Graphic Artist, Matt Cromwell. “The project was far too big for one studio to handle, so I turned to my old friends Vincent Steenhoek and Urs Nyffenegger of Evoke Studios,” Cunniffe noted.
Steenhoek and Nyffenegger were given the responsibility of creating looks for a third of the set list and worked closely with Cunniffe during the creative process. “It’s always exciting to be working on a show of this scale and as Evoke was only founded in 2019, this tour was a great platform for us,” said Steenhoek.
According to the two creators, the direction from Cunniffe was to create a harmonised look between the IMAG treatments and the content shown on the halo.
“Notch was used heavily for many of the IMAG treatments, but we used the platform to produce and prerender much of the content and other 3D looks,” stated Nyffenegger. The 3D looks, such as in the song Bloodstream where Evoke created a 3D render of Sheeran’s head, which then began to bleed tears, was a highlight for both the creatives. “I don’t think there are many shows that have utilised this level of 3D graphics on such a large scale,” he stated proudly.
Back in The Loft, Mead was keen to highlight another notable part of the show in that there was not a single camera operator in the pit or at FOH, with every IMAG shot being captured on robotic cameras – specifically the Panasonic UE150. “I think we should be pushing technology as far as possible, which is why I think this move to a full remote camera solution is a positive decision,” stated Mead.
“As every camera out there is the UE150 and has the same chip, it makes grading much easier. The UE150 also has the benefit of having a full frame 4K output and also a cropped HD output. With the two HD-SDI feeds from one camera, I can have a medium shot of Ed and also a cropped close up.”
In total, six operators were looking after the 12 cameras with the ability of switching between a mast and on-stage camera depending on Sheeran’s movement.
Mead admitted that the operators had their work cut out ‘keeping up with the speed of Sheeran’s movement on stage’. Not only that, but the shape of the plectrums meant shots were often a challenge to frame.
“I’ve only ever directed for Ed and we’ve had multiple looks over the years – both in IMAG size and orientation, to fit Ed into some small moving PIPs,” he remarked.
I SEE FIRE
A new addition to Sheeran’s show this time round was pyro, with Pains Fireworks handling the various visual ‘gags’. “My relationship with Pains Fireworks goes back to when I was 15,” reminisced Marsh, explaining how he used to create audio tracks for large-scale fireworks displays. “I brought them in because I trust them, which is key when working on a production this complicated.”
Although more known in the sporting sector, Pains has been making inroads into the touring sector – notably providing special effects for Rod Stewart’s latest live campaign. Speaking about what the company was deploying for this run at FOH was Dave Fancett, Head Technician for Pains Fireworks.
“This tour is much bigger than others we’ve worked on,” he chuckled, as he pointed to the large set on the stadium floor. A team of four, including Fancett manned all the pyro, which included numerous effects, which were triggered on the floor of the stage as well as on top of the halo.
“On stage we have 11 flames that are all fired via a Galactus Wireless system, so there are no cables connecting me from my position,” stated Fancett. “We also have a Pyro Digital system, which deals with all the effects in the halo.” In total, there were 24 plates in the halo, which produced a range of effects from smokes and mines throughout the set.
Giving his thought’s on the tour was Pains Fireworks’ Sales Director Tim Griffiths: “It’s been fantastic to see the joy the SFX or pyro has brought to Ed’s performances every night. The incredible set design and circular stage were the perfect fit for the daylight coloured smoke mines and the Galaxis L-Flame system.”
Despite overseeing the production of such a large show, Chris Marsh still took on the role of FOH Engineer for this tour – a job that also sees him mix Sheeran’s IEMs, as well as the band who have joined him on this tour. Having mixed with Sheeran since the beginning of his rise to fame, Marsh and the wider audio team have learned together how to take his one-man loop pedal setup and ensure it has the power necessary to fill a stadium.
During the Divide Tour, TPi learned all about the loop pedal – Sheeran’s custom-made loop pedal created by the singer’s audio and backline team. In essence, this provided Marsh the ability to mix each one of Sheeran’s individual loops and treat them as if he were a full band from FOH.
With a full in-the-round setup, a few more updates to the singer’s signature loop requirements were required. The first was several different controllers scattered around the stage to give the singer more freedom to make full use of the space. The solution was four fully IP-rated pedal boards that sent information to the main board in the centre of the stage. Any board on stage could start and stop a track and be used to create new loops.
“We are now on our third iteration of the loop pedal – now called the Sheeran Looper – and have taken all the lessons from the Chewie I and Chewie II,” began Dave White, who was responsible for Sheeran’s loop pedals and back-end software. “The actual operation of the pedal hasn’t changed a huge amount, even though the software has been recoded and engineered from the ground up. We have added patchable samples to Ed’s keyboard so that he can play new material. We can now also use the looper as an amp modeller for some songs that he plays on electric guitar.”
The need for a full IP rated solution for the pedals as well as still being able to function on a revolving stage certainly created a few interesting challenges for White and the team. “The pedal boards have been completely re-engineered and designed to be able to give Ed the physical comfort of the old loopers with the added IP rating we require,” he explained. “The revolve constantly in one direction throughout the show, so cable access was not possible. Identifying this early meant that we could design the pedals around a 24v system and power them via battery pack and give them wireless connectivity. We rely on a Cisco FluidMesh Wi-Fi system to deliver the network backbone to keep latency down to a figure, which means that the pedal commands and feedback are instantaneous with minimal packet drop.”
In the signal chain, everything remained in the digital domain from the Sennheiser Digital 6000 packs all the way to the amplifier modules in the speakers via AES and MILAN.
White closed by talking about his main responsibilities during a show day. “We are constantly monitoring how the software and hardware reacts to different environments and conditions. Our reliance on battery packs and a Wi-Fi network, there are more variables than ever.” White also called the lift moves of Ed’s guitar changes working closely with long-serving Guitar Technician, Trevor Dawkins.
It was not just Sheeran’s new pedal setup that was brand new, but all the black boxes hanging in the air. With weight saving the name of the game on the Mathematics Tour, it was the ideal project for Meyer Sound’s latest, super-lightweight PANTHER system.
“We had originally designed the show using the Meyer Sound LEO system as we used last time,” explained Marsh. “We’ve used it for Ed for years and in my opinion it’s the best PA I’ve ever worked with. That said, it is heavy – not much more than its competitors, but we had to be conscious of weight with this setup.”
This led to Marsh speaking to John and Helen Meyer Sound about the options for a lighter solution. Fortunately, the PA manufacturer already had a lightweight solution in the pipeline, so Marsh lent a hand collaborating with Meyer Sound in designing the system.
Nine months after the initial conversation, the production got delivery of the first boxes of PANTHER. The tour rig was made up of 212 PANTHER loudspeakers with 14 hangs in two rings. Six inner arrays each were made up of 10 80° long-throw versions, two 95° M versions and two 110° W versions. The eight outer arrays comprised 12 L, two M and two W versions.
The three horn dispersion configurations enabled system designers to tailor coverage for uniform levels and frequency response at various distances.
For the low end, six flown gradient arrays of 10 1100-LFCs were deployed, while a total of 20 LEOPARD loudspeakers were set around the circular stage as front fill, with low end for the floor supplied by six stacks of three 1100-LFC elements in gradient arrays.
The system was so new that the first time Marsh and the rest of the audio team got to hear it was on the first night of the tour in Dublin. “Once it was hung, my System Technician, Charlie [Albin] and I put some pink noise through it and got to grips with the system, but we didn’t get a chance for Ed or the band to get near it,” he chuckled, admitting the nervousness when opening night approached. “I loved it from the start. It has the clarity I was looking for, it stays very flat and doesn’t lose shape or character at low to high levels.”
System Technician, Charlie Albin shared his thoughts on the new system. “We worked closely with Meyer Sound’s Bob McCarthy when it came to the system design and Josh Dorn-Fehrmann with the network configuration for the backbone of the system,” he began. “It delivered on everything Meyer Sound promised – if anything, it exceeded expectations. The fact that the system is just as loud as the previous speaker yet considerably smaller and lighter is truly an incredible feat of engineering.”
Albin went on to explain how the setup for this tour changed dramatically due to the inclusion of a full band playing with Sheeran for some of the tracks.
“We had to revisit some elements in the mix to ensure the sound would work with a full band while maintaining the impact when Ed was just using a loop pedal,” he noted.
The PA setup for this campaign, he explained, was a “from the ground up redesign,” he stated. “There were some major changes in how we usually configure the PA due to the band element.”
Marsh gave his two cents on the changing PA configuration. “We always used to set up our arrays in a very specific way to deal with the acoustic guitar in a way that you would not for a band. I often used to feel sorry for some of our support acts for this reason, but as we now had a band playing with Ed, we have created a system that is more traditional in how you would work on an in-the-round show, working with more elements on the desk.”
Marsh mixed the show from a DiGiCo Quantum 7. The move up from the SD7 on Sheeran’s previous run has seen him take out some of his outboard gear and use the DiGiCo master processors and spice rack that is built into the console.
Marsh also handled all monitor duties for both Sheeran and his band from his FOH position. “We don’t have room on the stage for a dedicated monitor engineer, but as I have always mixed Ed’s monitors and everyone in the band was comfortable, there was no need to add an extra person.”
One of the tricks which the audio team had at its disposal to ease the monitor demands of the band was the KLANG:kontroller. Members of the band had an interface at their platform. “They haven’t tended to touch them, but it’s a comfort to know they are there,” stated Marsh.
He also gave his thoughts on how Sheeran has dealt with the move over to the KLANG system for his IEMs. “He had previously been using a mixture of IEM and monitors, but with the size of this stage, it would need to be so loud on stage,” he explained.
“Early in the process, Ed discovered he was going to have to move to an IEM setup. During this move, we learned that he never liked the idea of being enclosed with an IEM-only setup. The beauty of KLANG is that I can ‘move’ elements of the mix that are not as critical and keep the main mix of his guitar and vocal locked in. The system makes everything much bigger.”
Marsh also had six-audience mics laid out on the set to add to Sheeran’s mix. “I haven’t had to use any of them,” he laughed, as the audience noise was so loud coming though his vocal microphone.
KEEPING EVERYONE GOING
“The challenges this year have been numerous, starting with securing the amount of trucks and drivers needed,” stated Himmons, highlighting the logistical elements of the tour.
“We decided to split the trucking across two companies to try and mitigate any risk.” Pieter Smit supplied 52 advance trucks and barricade trucks, and KB Event the 31 production trucks. “Issues such as Brexit have largely been managed by the two companies which is great. That said, there are other issues including the rising cost of fuel and availability of HVO fuel has also been an issue from both a budget and sustainability perspective,” she explained.
“It is really nice to work with a production that realised the shortage of trucks for this season in time,” began Steven Kroon from Pieter Smit. “Production confirmed the tour early on securing two groups of 23 trucks on advance systems and six trucks on barricades.” At the request of production, Pieter Smit trucks run on HVO Renewable Diesel. “Our drivers are more than happy on this tour and production has taken excellent care of our team. They are great to work with and really know what they are doing.”
KB Event’s 31 trucks were made up of 26 Megacube Box Artics and five Megacube Curtain Sided Artics all overseen by Lead Driver, Steve Crawley. “This has been a long time in the planning and as such we took to the road in April with pretty much all boxes ticked,” commented KB’s Stuart McPherson.
“Although this tour is on a whole different scale to Divide, the schedules are a lot gentler. The biggest challenge was caused by the TCA – the Brexit agreement. KB is one of only five companies that have established bases in the EU as well as in the UK and are therefore able to tour in the UK and in the EU without the extreme shackles placed on other trucking companies.
“We are extremely proud to be part of the Sheeran tour team again,” he added. After months of preparation, to see the trucks rolling out and seeing the photos of the first load-in in Dublin put a ‘very large lump’ in McPherson’s throat. “It’s an amazing tour to be part of. We are very much looking forward to the move into mainland Europe now,” he concluded.
SHOW YOUR WORKING
You would be forgiven for thinking that any band or production heading out on a stadium tour in 2022 would wish to ‘play it safe’ after two-and-a-half years when having a large number of people in stadiums was unthinkable.
What was incredible to hear from the Sheeran camp was that every single department saw a seismic change or innovation to their workflow and challenged the generic touring model. From incredibly intricate engineering of a stage set, to a brand-new, lightweight PA system, all the way to a fully remote camera package, it’s tours like this that make covering live productions so exciting and give an indication of the sheer amount of innovation we are likely to see in the future.
This article originally appeared in issue #270 of TPi, which you can read here.