Dubbed as the UK’s first dedicated socially-distanced music venue since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Virgin Money Unity Arena recently opened its gates in Newcastle, presenting an eclectic programme of top line acts, and equipped with a premium festival kit list provided by AV company, Kingdom Services, centred around DiGiCo SD10 mixing consoles managing FOH and monitor sound.
Located in the city’s Gosforth Park racing ground, the Virgin Money Unity Arena consists of a pop-up amphitheatre, with 500 separate elevated viewing platforms spaced two metres apart, and hosting a maximum of 2,500 people. Local hero, Sam Fender, headlined the first two sold-out shows, followed by a diverse line-up of artists including Van Morrison, Maximo Park, Alfie Boe, Ronan Keating, Jimmy Carr and Bill Bailey, as well as the Bongo Bingo dance phenomenon.
“Originally, the series of events was going to be a drive through format but remarkably the organiser, SSD Concerts, managed to devise the biggest socially-distanced live event in the country, so that we are able to safely and practically run four events a week over a five-week period,” explained Kingdom Services’ MD John Smith.
Kingdom Services is an AV supplier based in Northallerton in North Yorkshire, with a high spec, premium brand stock list, which includes eight DiGiCo consoles. “This was the first time we have worked with SSD, a Newcastle-based promoter which organises festivals in the area. We started discussing the logistics of live event production in the current climate several months ago,” said Smith. “Like many industries, the live event scene has been blighted by the pandemic, so it’s heart-warming to see a production crew out working again doing what they do best. On the opening night with Sam Fender you could feel the buzz and the energy throughout the crew and the audience.”
Kingdom Services is supplying the entire sound system for the event series, comprising a d&b speaker system, and is employing three of its DiGiCo SD10 consoles, one at FOH with a 32-bit rack, operating at 96k over fibre, and two working in tandem at the monitor position to make act changeovers easier. The monitor desks are running a sizeable 48 outputs for IEMs and wedges, and there are SD Racks on both monitor desks. The sound system is complemented with Sennheiser 6000 series mics and 2000 series IEMs.
“We selected the SD10s because they are very popular and the most rider friendly console we have in our warehouse. We can manage performers’ expectations across the board, and most engineers turn up with a show file and that’s it – nice and simple,” continued Smith. “The consoles also give us all the capacity we need with plenty to spare. The quality of the results is excellent, and the reliability is second to none.”
One of the major technical complexities of the set up was the size of the venue site, which would ordinarily cater for a crowd of 15,000. The extensive area posed a problem for achieving even sound coverage and sonic detail, whilst adhering to the strict sound level limits imposed on the venue.
“The situation is compounded by the fact that visitors are unable to circulate or move from their viewing areas as you would normally do in a festival scenario, so it is more imperative than ever that we give every visitor the same audio experience,” said Smith. “The SD10’s processing power and capacity, coupled with d&b’s array processing software, helped us map the site and deliver the best audio quality.”
Smith noted that the events are all running really well and that feedback from Kingdom’s client is not only positive, commenting that the audio quality is crystal clear and that the COVID-19 regulations have been navigated and enforced successfully.
“Audiences have been very compliant with the rules and have quickly got over the strangeness,” Smith concluded. “The crew have remained COVID-19 compliant with their procedures, such as sending FOH outputs to system control during act changeovers to run the house music and audience announcements, to allow time to clean the desk controls before the next engineer jumps on. All in all, it has been a positive experience and it’s wonderful to be involved in a live event.”
Discover more about the kit and crew powering Virgin Money Unity Arena in the forthcoming October print edition of TPi.