James Bay, his band and loyal touring team joined forces for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic’s unwelcome arrival to present a unique livestream experience at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on 21 October. The ambitious livestream, which saw the artist play in a range of spaces across the venue as well as an encore at the Jacobean Theatre, was produced by Driift, and provided an outlet for live music fans and production crew.
Tour and Production Manager, Jamal Chalabi of Backlash Productions headed several site meetings at Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of the broadcast. He picked up the story: “Most of us hadn’t been involved in a gig for six months, so we were enthused to return to work. Not only that, but to be able to go into Shakespeare’s Globe was such an honour for us.”
Tasked with selecting technical suppliers, managing the budget, and handling any logistical challenges proposed by the multi-staged production, Chalabi relished the prospect of overseeing an abnormal rock ’n’ roll show in equally abnormal times.
“The touring community enjoys a challenge,” he said, acknowledging the unique nature of the venue. “The staff at Shakespeare’s Globe were phenomenal, very open and extremely helpful in supporting our vision. Their on-site people were fantastic – they really rolled out the red carpet.”
Chalabi’s chosen band of trusted suppliers comprised Capital Sound – a Solotech company – for audio, handled by Project Manager, Paul Timmins; Siyan for lighting, handled by Project Manager, Ben Inskip; John Henry’s for staging and backline, handled by Project Manager, Jason Putter; Sound Moves for freight, handled by Project Manager, Harry Calthorpe and Stage Miracles for local crew, handled by Project Manager, Alex Slater.
Chalabi recalled a “straightforward” load-in, build, and load-out of the venue. Despite being concerned initially about the latter while operating in a residential area, the team were buttoned up by 11pm – having loaded in the “bones of the structure” (lights, audio and the staging) a day earlier.
The camera track and backline were subsequently added on show day. As a member of the Tour Production Group (TPG), Chalabi is well versed in the ever-changing rules and regulations of a COVID-19 secure gig – working with a group of industry insiders to develop the Working Procedures Guidance.
“Everyone was sent a brief and advised not to use public transport unless it was absolutely necessary,” he explained. “The band and production each had rehearsals ahead of time at John Henry’s – who ran an efficient track and trace protocol. In addition to the usual PPE, set vocalists were situated 2m apart from each other during show and rehearsals.”
The producers, Untold, also provided a designated COVID-19 safety officer on site to remind people not to get complacent with mask-wearing and social distancing. “Shakespeare’s Globe was incredibly supportive on site, with single ways in and out of the venue,” he remarked.
Chalabi believes that livestreaming provides an interesting way of keeping the industry active and reminding the wider world what can be done by an otherwise invisible industry. “It’s a vital tool for artists’ release campaigns right now. Our community has dropped off a cliff since March, so these shows are vital to remind people what we do as an industry and how exciting and needed it is,” he added. “They should not forget us because we need their support.”
‘GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS’
As Director and Executive Producer, Paul Dugdale was responsible for the creative ideas and capturing the livestream. With award-winning and critically acclaimed feature documentaries, concert films and global live event credits including Taylor Swift, The Rolling Stones, Adele, and, more recently, Shawn Mendes, the Shakespeare’s Globe livestream marked Dugdale’s first time collaborating with James Bay and his team.
“I had quite early conversations with promoter Driift, discussing key aspects of what might help make livestream concerts successful and potential creative approaches, and later, this project emerged from conversations with production company, Untold Studios and Executive Producer, Phil Lee who I had collaborated with from his days at XL Recordings – filming a variety of live performances for Adele.”
As a director, Dugdale explained that his process always begins with the artist and the music, creating and crafting ideas that serve the artistry. “The process of creating this project really felt very natural; James and I had similar ideas of how the show might be presented,” he reported. “From the moment we met at the Globe, we were finishing each other’s sentences while discussing potential ideas. In terms of creative collaboration, you can’t really ask for more than that.”
By the end of the year, Dugdale would have wrapped up four global livestreams, so who better to ask about the collaborative nature of the projects? “Livestreams are different from simply filming a gig because all of the audience is at home, so the director, artist and crew are truly creating something together. Artists and their crews would normally, and understandably, have a loyalty to the audience in the room. With a global livestream, the artist and crew are unified for the audience at home.”
Driift CEO, Ric Salmon agreed: “These types of shows are a deeply collaborative process,” he commented. “The speed in which these shows turn around is much quicker – you’re going on sale on average three weeks before the show goes live, whereas a normal tour or live show goes on sale often six or 12 months in advance,” he added. “I can’t wait for audiences to return to venues. However, shooting a show with no audience is often liberating. There’s a certain degree of joy you can get from the creative freedom of shooting a show however and wherever you want.”
With no audience on site, Dugdale was able to take far greater liberties in the way he presented the experience, recalling a “far greater creative scope” on proceedings. “I love shooting audiences, and without them, a concert is nothing, so everything we do for a livestream attempts to bridge the gap between the artist playing in the room and getting the audience to feel something while they watch at home, without the electric atmosphere of a bustling crowd, lights in their eyes and the smell of beer in the air.”
From the beginning, Dugdale was eager to build a sense of evolution in the set, reimagining the gig without the conventions or boundaries of a single performance space. “This also meant we could be more dynamic in terms of instrumentation and the layout of the stage,” he remarked.
The three founding pillars of Dugdale’s headline creative ideas were firstly, to have a three-act structure to the show – a nod to the theatrical environment of Shakespeare’s Globe. “This informed the three different musical sets, starting acoustic, then James playing completely solo on a ‘wurly’ for the first time, then coming back to the main stage for a fully plugged-in finale,” Dugdale noted.
Secondly, to set the band up in the round so that it was more natural for the artist to communicate and vibe with his band with no audience. “This made the whole thing more 3D to film,” he said. “A traditional proscenium arch show stage plot is redundant for a livestream since there is no physical audience to present to, so this was a key part of the capture.”
This meant building out a stage extension to place the artist at the centre of the circular space, which enhanced the ‘jeopardy’ of shooting an outdoor show in October. “Seeing musicians communicating as they play beats any big close-up shot of guitar strings or inanimate piano keys,” he explained. “Anything that conveys or promotes an emotional response to playing music is valuable currency to a director, and it all helps translate the feeling of the show in the room to someone watching in their living room.”
During the opening ‘acoustic’ part of the set, the artist was framed by the traditional stage backdrop – but while he began playing, the crew switched the entire orientation of the stage setup, meaning Dugdale could end the livestream with the singer’s back to the three-storey audience balconies.
“This enabled the show to grow in scale and allowed Liam’s lighting design to really flex,” he said. “Turning the entire stage setup 180° in the duration of two songs is no mean feat, but James’ crew smashed it!”
The camera kit boasted Luna Remote Systems Junior 5 Telescopic. The dolly was fully encoded for AR and VR use with a 360° track circling the band.
“We were so pleased to be asked to work on this show, in this amazing historical location and after such a long time without gigs, it was brilliant to be back doing a music shoot,” Camera Supervisor and joint owner of Luna Remote Systems, Dean Clish, said. “The Junior 5 is perfect for this kind of thing because it’s a remotely operated dolly and social distancing is so important at the moment, it meant we could get the amazing shots from a distance. With this sort of intimate production, the Junior 5 is unobtrusive and discreet.”
Despite the nature of the task, Dugdale approached the livestream as he would filming any other project. “You dive into the music, you do your homework, you work efficiently, and you focus on collaborating with the artist and their team,” he underlined, explaining that the “real challenges” in broadcasting to a global livestreamed audience lay with the film’s Producer, Amy James.
“Amy was absolutely vital in getting this on screen and was a total hero in terms of managing the logistics of a project as complicated as this,” he reported. “She was truly the architect in immersing the film team into the artist’s world without a hitch, which, as I’m sure a lot of band crew reading this will testify, is sometimes not a simple thing!”
Summing up the collaborative experience, he said: “This was a total team effort, especially with a show structure as complicated as this one. I really loved being part of this project. Creatively, it was enormously satisfying, but it was also life affirming collaborating with other people again and being able to create something together that does the artist and music justice and is greater than the sum of its parts.”
‘PEOPLE NEED TO BE ENTERTAINED’
As one of the longest-serving members of the James Bay touring camp, Lighting Designer, Liam Tully has witnessed the evolution of the artist from small London shows to four sold-out nights at Brixton Academy. “I have never missed a live show James has done,” Tully stated proudly, estimating the figure of shows to exceed the 1,000 mark. “I’d like to think that my career has grown in tandem with James Bay as we’ve both experienced a lot of ‘firsts’ together – such as touring the United States.”
To bring his vision for the show to life, Tully drew the show in Vectorworks and renders were created by Syncronorm previsualisation tool, Depence2. With the creative decided on, he set to work lighting the space. “We washed the whole building with light – this show was really stripped back,” he said, explaining that the first half of the set featured key light, which didn’t require much legwork from his MA Lighting grandMA3 light console operating in grandMA2 mode. “During the last five songs, we did a big rock ’n’ roll set, so, despite his movement from different spaces in the venue, from a programming point of view, it wasn’t a big challenge.”
Fundamental to the director’s vision and the colour palette of the venue was enhancing the closing rock ’n’ roll set, while respecting the music and the venue. “James was the focal point of the design; we didn’t want to have tonnes of strobes and moving lights, to allow for key light,” Tully explained, adding that he started the show file fresh for this project. “I spent a day at home getting it right, with two hours of programming on site.”
With no traditional mother grid structure in place – the team instead opting to use the natural architecture of Shakespeare’s Globe – the choice and footprint of the lighting fixtures placed on the floor, in seats and around various spaces of the venue were key. Among the workhorse fixtures were 30 Vari-Lite SL Nitro 510C fixtures and Siyan’s exclusive range of 80 Martin by Harman Atomic Dot fixtures.
“I was looking for small fixtures such as the Atomic Dots, and Siyan was the only company in the country with them en mass,” Tully explained, utilising the fixtures to pixelmap Shakespeare’s Globe. The floor package also comprised 28 IP-rated SGM Q7 wash fixtures in case the venue with no roof fell victim to the outside elements, along with eight Robe MegaPointe spot fixtures.
“When you’re shooting in 360°, because the camera man is close to the artist, you struggle with shadows,” explained Tully. With this in mind, he specified six Robert Juliet Dalis 862 LED asymmetric footlights for band key light on the floor to avoid shadows. “They’re a theatrical strip-style light, designed with the output of a tungsten light, which we placed 2ft away from each band member to prevent any shadow play during the stream,” he explained. In closing, the LD identified the transition from the piano section to the raucous rock ’n’ roll set as one of his favourite moments of the show. “Above all, it was lovely to see people again,” he recalled. “People need to be entertained. Live music fans yearn to see their favourite artists perform and shows like this are a great tool for artists to promote their latest releases.”
Tully believed that by embarking on the Shakespeare’s Globe livestream, both the artist and production crew could earn money during a particularly difficult time for the live events sector. “In normal times, we would never have the chance to do a rock ’n’ roll set in Shakespeare’s Globe,” he stated. “I’m never going to have the opportunity to place lights in the seats of Shakespeare’s Globe again, so despite the obvious downfalls, the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded us the luxury of space and time to be more creative.”
‘AN EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE’
James Bay’s FOH Engineer since 2015, Robert Sadler assumed the unfamiliar role of audio recording and the broadcast audio mix. “Normally I don’t have that much to do with broadcast audio, so it was really great that Jamal asked me to be involved,” Sadler began. “This was my first time at Shakespeare’s Globe. We had a great local crew from Stage Miracles, so load-in went smoothly. [Monitor Engineer] Donny found a space for the mons desk that wasn’t difficult to load in to and kept us out of everyone’s way.”
As a Monitor Engineer, Mark ‘Donny’ Donovan’s job was to collate the signals to the recording (PC-based DAW) via DiGiGrid MGB, as well as to the in-ear monitors. “I went over to Capital Sound at Park Royal to prepare the gear with Audio Tech, Ollie Fallon – we had four days of rehearsal at John Henry’s before the show.”
Sadler took MADI feeds into a pair of DiGiGrid MGBs and MacBooks running reaper. “The broadcast mix was done between my home studio and Mill Studios in Alnwick, Northumberland,” Sadler explained. “I don’t think I would have been able to achieve the results I got without using the Sonarworks calibration software on my monitors – that was a lifesaver.”
As audio suppliers on James Bay’s past few tours, Sadler and Donovan shared an affinity with the company – in particular, Capital Sound Project Manager, Paul Timmins. “Donny has worked with Capital Sound for a while, so he knows their kit inside out, which is always a bonus,” Sadler recalled.
The Capital Sound audio package comprised a DiGiCo SD10 mixing console, an SD rack and a SD mini rack. An SD11i was used during the encore set in the Jacobean Theatre, which saw James perform the entirety of his debut EP.
“Our normal show is around 40 inputs, whereas this show was around 70 inputs split over four different performance areas,” Sadler explained. “Donny had the idea of adding a mini rack, so we weren’t repatching between each performance area,” he added.
Walking TPi through their “usual setup”, Donny explained that an extra SD mini rack was added to handle the channels of the extra acoustic element of the show. “The band were on IEMs as well as James, who also has a couple of d&b audiotechnik M2s as a pair downstage centre. As James was performing in various areas of the building, Donny added a couple of extra monitor feeds to those locations. We had Shure PSM1000 for the in-ears and one wireless Shure Axient with Audio-Technica Ae5400 mic capsule for James.”
The excursion was a much-welcomed change of pace for the engineer following a tough year. “It was great to hear the songs performed in such a historic space. This year has given me the chance to do a bit more studio-based mixing, which I’m starting to enjoy,” he said.
Although one thing that will stick with him after this gig is… “Never underestimate how loud the sound of a drone camera will be in all those microphones capturing an acoustic performance, and how much time it takes to get rid of it. Mind you, the aerial shots look great!”
Sadler recalled the “emotional” experience of watching the stream back. “It was an emotional experience, all those talented people that often get forgotten about coming together and putting on that gig in that historic space.”
Donny looked back on a “great experience” on his return to some semblance of normality with the team. “The lovely thing about this show was that the director wanted it to be like a ‘normal gig’ as opposed to a fancy promo video. James’ performance and the fact he played in a range of spaces in the venue added the energy and dynamism required to make it feel like a proper gig.”
‘LIVE MUSIC IS AN OUTLET FOR PEOPLE’
Stage Manager / Guitar Technician, Arthur ‘Art’ Smith was working in Tesco when he got a call to rejoin the camp for the Shakespeare’s Globe set. Having toured with James Bay since graduating from BIMM Institute in 2014 – touring as his guitarist / keyboardist’s backline tech – Art shares a storied history with the artist.
“I’ve known James for almost half of my life,” he revealed. “We were schoolmates, and grew up playing music together.” In 2018, Art became the singer-songwriter’s Guitar Tech, before assuming the additional role of Stage Manager.
Joined by Backline Tech, Sara Ferrero and Drum Tech, Owain Lloyd, Art enthused: “It was surreal to be back on site, working with people again,” he reflected, explaining that going into the project, he was anxious following a long spell away from the rat race. “Thankfully, the rehearsals prepared us perfectly. Being back in a room with friends and hearing how James had slightly reworked the material was brilliant,” he added.
Describing the building’s acoustics as “fantastic”, Art’s main challenge was ensuring the various moving parts of the production were timed to perfection. “It was a non-stop day, and I was kept on my toes, but we rose to the challenge,” he said. “I’d describe the experience as a touring show with several warm up acts – there was a lot of movement and a lot of gear to process. James’ brother, Alex Bay, joined the band on guitar and percussion, so that added a little extra production value.”
Overjoyed to be working and providing an experience for live music fans in lockdown, Art said: “Live music is escapism from the mundanity of daily existence and it’s something people can immerse themselves in. The digital world is great for the here and now, but the live experience with an audience is simply irreplaceable,” he concluded, looking to the not-too-distant future. “I’m feeling optimistic.”
This article originally appeared in issue #256 of TPi, which you can read here.