With a back catalogue that virtually defines a genre, replicating the songs of the late Bob Marley was no small undertaking for the audio team behind the latest West End production, which looks to tell the real-life story of the singer. Originally planned to open in February 2020 to coincide with Marley’s birthday, Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical eventually opened in October 2021 at London’s Lyric Theatre.
Having been at the helm of the audio solution for the project for almost two-and-a-half years, Sound Designer, Tony Gayle discussed the journey he and his team had been on for this show.
“I already knew which PA I wanted for the show,” asserted Gayle, as he discussed the choice of the JBL VTX A8. “It was just a case of working out how we could get hold of it.”
Gayle had already had some hands-on experience working with the system on Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which allowed him to give the PA a true road test before taking it out on the road to soundtrack the iconic back catalogue of Bob Marley.
“JBL is one of the few brands that is just as recognisable in both the professional and consumer markets,” he explained. “I grew up seeing the JBL logo on speakers all over the place in clubs and bars, so I really associate the brand with reggae music.”
The system installed in the Lyric Theatre comprised 24 boxes of VTX A8, which are arranged in three sets of hangs across three of the levels of the theatre, with an additional ground stack on the fourth level, along with a ground-stacked B18 sub. The main low end for the show comes in from eight B18s arranged in the lower levels.
Gayle went on to explain the different mentality needed to bring Marley’s back catalogue into the theatre compared to a live touring setting. “When it comes to theatre, it’s all about getting speakers in the right areas without compromising sightlines,” he reasoned.
“Due to the design of most theatres with side boxes and proscenium boxes, this means a simple left and right hang rarely suffices. You must always remember the main goal that, no matter how expensive the seat is, everyone gets the same show from an audio perspective.”
One of the other characteristics that separates this production from others is the sheer number of live elements used on the show. “There is no click track or playback elements – bar the sound effects. Instead, we’ve done some clever stuff such as utilising live vocal looping effects,” he noted.
DiGiCo Quantum 7 was Gayle’s audio console of choice. “It gives me so much processing power, which is a necessity as it’s a big show,” he informed. Using the matrix, Gayle controls each speaker individually as much as possible, opting to do all his processing within the desk. FOH duties from day to day are handled by Roisine Mamdani. This was her first time working on a show with a JBL system, but she was more than happy with the results. “I went along to a JBL event at Sound Technology [JBL/Harman’s distributor in the UK] with Tony around two years ago, which was my first time hearing the VTX A8. I went away thinking how easy it sounded with no harshness.”
She went on to explain why the system is the perfect fit for Get Up, Stand Up! “We’re mixing a lot of elements together on this show, from live bands to vocals as well as sound effects, but it’s been interesting to hear the clarity of the balance. You don’t have those frequencies fighting for your attention like you do with some other systems,” Mamdani explained.
Production Sound Engineer, David Cole is another fan of the system. Having worked with Gayle on the Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole explained how he didn’t get much chance to have hands-on time with the system and was excited to be brought on for this project. “The system has been a dream to work with,” he stated. “My role involves a lot more of the rigging side of things, but the system just clips together so nicely and loads in very smoothly.” Cole described the audio performance as “crisp and clear” adding, “It’s like no other system I’ve worked with.”
Phil Hurley of Stage Sound Services commented: “Tony spoke to me a while ago about the project and it was intriguing to give a new brand a chance.” This was no small undertaking – especially after a year-and-a-half of live events being cancelled. “It was somewhat of a leap of faith,” stated Hurley. “We worked hard to make the numbers work, but we already had proof of concept on what Tony had achieved on Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
Harman Application Engineer, Steven Ellis explained how creating a system that is just as well suited to theatres as it is to touring was one of the primary aims of the VTX A8. “Being rider friendly was certainly a major goal for our R&D department,” he stated. “Theatre is unique in that all shows are telling a story, and if that story is not clearly heard by the audience, then it can affect the overall understanding and therefore, enjoyment of the show. The technologies incorporated in the speaker design excels at allowing the story to be clearly heard, and this is apparent in the design that Tony has created.”
Mamdani has even received comments from self-acclaimed ‘audio experts’ in the audience, who speaking after the show, were amazed that so much power could come from such discreet boxes. “Our main stage set features lots of old fake speakers, which act as a backdrop,” Mamdani reminisced. “One man came up to me after the show and asked if that was our system. He was surprised when I pointed out the little boxes in the air that had been used for the entire production.”
This article originally appeared in issue #267 of TPi, which you can read here.