Legendary guitarist and the final member to join Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, supported his most recent album, Rattle That Lock, with extensive live shows mixed by his long time FOH engineer, Colin Norfield. In late September 2015, on the eve of the album’s launch, TPi’s Kelly Murray visited the tour’s most majestic venue – the Orange Theatre Antique in France – to hear the DiGiCo and L-Acoustics ensemble provided by Britannia Row Productions, the PA company that was birthed from Pink Floyd’s first tour.
Sat in the autumn sunshine, sipping an espresso and marvelling at the hoards of fans that flood the quaint streets surrounding the Orange Theatre Antique – one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in Europe – FOH Engineer Colin Norfield has a thing or two to celebrate. Not only is it the eve of David Gilmour’s latest album release (the following day the album went to No.1 in 16 countries) – an artist he’s been working with for an impressive 21 years – but it’s also his 65th birthday.
Norfield began his career as a Sound Engineer with Motown hit makers The Temptations and went on to work with a multitude of stars ranging from Toto, to Iron Maiden and ultimate soul diva, Diana Ross. During his time, Norfield has worked very closely with audio supplier Britannia Row Productions, which for his current mix is supplying a DiGiCo SD7 and an L-Acoustics K1 / K2 system depending on the venue.
“I absolutely love Brit Row,” he said with a smile. “They’re very passionate about what we, as engineers, do. I worked for Cliff Richard for 26 years and that’s where Brit Row gave me my first break. Before Mike Lowe [Co-Director of Britannia Row, alongside Bryan Grant] started working for PA companies, he was actually a roadie for my band.”
Lowe added: “Every David Gilmour tour is extremely special to us. He, along with the rest of Pink Floyd, was responsible for starting Britannia Row, 40 years ago this year. Without him, there would be no Britannia Row Productions. David sold out to a management buyout in 1984, and we have continuously tried to live up to his legacy. It is a great feeling to know that he had the confidence to keep us as his sound company ever since. My personal music tastes are very varied and David Gilmour is a giant artist within that spectrum. He is a master craftsman.
“His sound engineer Colin Norfield and I go back even further. When I moved to London in 1969, Colin’s band at the time, Crew, was one of the first London bands that I worked for on a regular basis. As one did in those days, I did the lot – drove the van, set up the backline and PA, mixed the band, collected the money, packed up and took them all home again! Colin is a man of zany humour and sharp wit and has been a good friend for over 45 years now.”
CONSTRUCTIVE, PASSIONATE MIXING
Norfield himself is somewhat of a pro audio legend, firmly ranked in the school of ex touring musicians turned engineers who mix by ear and take minimal notice of the latest technology presented to them. This method holds Norfield in expert stead to choose the tools of his craft, and although it may not be commonplace in younger generations, is invaluable. “I said to the crew at the beginning of this tour that they might find the way I do things a bit ‘different’, shall we say. I’m here to create sound, and the artistic side of me must create something on the night. I’m not technically minded at all; I simply mix as a musician. For me mixing really is a passion, and in those two hours that I’m mixing, I can be constructive. For example, I run the subs on an aux because I can be more creative with it that way.”
Lowe added: “Colin was a good bass player, but he gradually moved over to sound engineering and has has a great ear, musically speaking. He can talk with musicians about what they’re playing and gets the very best out of their live sound. I have seen him more than once in rehearsals or during a sound check, offer a different arrangement for harmony parts to a lead and backing vocalist. Every time I have seen him do this, his arrangement has been gratefully adopted as the better option! He is a fantastic live engineer and probably unique in his approach, in his musicality and in the soul he brings to a live performance.”
Norfield has been using solely DiGiCo for the last nine years; he chose an SD5 last year, and has opted for an SD7 on this tour. He continued: “It’s the most user-friendly, fast desk out there. I can get to two places at once. Even though it’s a digital desk, it comes at you like an analogue console; the multiple screens make it very easy to understand.”
A GREAT OUTDOOR SYSTEM
He continued: “For the main tour we’re using K1, and a K2 at this venue. It’s a superb system; it sounds great. I wanted to use L-Acoustics because I knew we would be playing a lot of outdoor venues, and it’s a great open-air system; the throw is unbelievable. It’s very direct and solid, which is what I need. I have worked with other systems but for me, this is the best-sounding system for outdoor use.”
Due to the weight restrictions of the roof at the Orange Theatre Antique – the incredible venue was built in the early 1st Century AD, and in 1981 it became an UNESCO world heritage site – the main system today is a K2.
The open-air setting is breathtaking, conjuring up images of historical events, augmented by the feel-good riffs from Gilmour’s guitar.
“It’s flown slightly wider than I’d perhaps like, but we don’t have a choice at this venue. The venue has been great considering it’s an amphitheatre. They can be very difficult but besides the weather this morning, [there was a slight rain storm] this one has been very easy.”
“We’ve got a really good set of guys out here with us too,” said Norfield. Namely, FOH and System Tech Johnny Keirle – who is Norfield’s number one. He said: “I landed in the UK from New Zealand a couple of years ago and started working for Brit Row as a freelancer the very next day. They certainly keep me busy!
“As far as PA systems go, L-Acoustics is definitely my system of choice, it’s been designed to have a good thrashing!”
The system comprises 12 boxes of K2 per side, running in pairs with six KARA utilised as sidefill. At a more hospitable venue, the rig would comprise 12 K1 per side and six K1SBs for the main hang with 12 K2 for sidefill and some additional KARA as the centre hangs. Stage monitoring is via d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges, d&b D80 amplifiers and L-Acoustics LA8’s. Distribution is though Lake LM26 and LM44 processors. The outboard for the SD7 comprises four analogue and four digital lines running via an SD minirack. “We’ve had no issues at all, from start to end, DiGiCo has been very reliable,” concluded Keirle.
EVERYTHING COMES FROM THE TOP
The show in Orange was met with monumental appreciation from loyal fans – some of which had travelled by plane to France – to see see Gilmour perform new material in an enchantingly old venue, yet it was the strength and longevity of the relationships between the artist, supplier and touring engineers backstage that really created an atmospheric show on the surface.
Lowe concluded: “The whole of the David Gilmour camp is just brilliant to work with – everything comes from the top. Phil Taylor, who has been David’s right-hand man on the road since before the inception of Britannia Row, Production Manager Roger Searle, who I first worked with in 1972, and the superb Marc Brickman to name just three key crew, continue to make every David Gilmour a great experience.”
So, with a wealth of live production expertise under his favourite DiGiCo desk, will Norfield be retiring in the near future? “I might cut down my workload a little bit, but I won’t be retiring any time soon,” he smiled. “I love what I do and in a business with a lot of frogs, David is a prince among men, he’s a rare diamond.”
David Gilmour plays South America in December before a North American tour begins in March 2016.