With an extremely short lead time, the level of production for McFly’s latest UK tour was truly incredible. With staging elements that paid homage to the hard-working crew who have been on a forced hiatus for a year-and-a-half, to an enormous pink bear that appeared halfway through the show, the band were clearly looking to make an impression, welcoming fans back into the arena setting once again. While all eyes were on the stage as Tom, Danny, Dougie and Harry ripped through early ’00s classics such as Star Girl and All About You, TPi’s focus was at FOH with Lighting Operator, Chris Yeomans standing behind Avolites’ new flagship desk, Diamond 9 (D9).
While it was officially launched at the beginning of this year, COVID-19 has inevitably meant it has taken some time for the Diamond 9 to get a true outing on the road. However, with an itinerary that features most of the major arenas in the UK, the designers at MIRRAD convinced Avolites that the band’s latest outing was an ideal proving ground.
“We’ve been really pushing to get the Diamond 9 out on all our larger shows, but the demand has been off the charts, and it’s been difficult to source them,” began Young Dumb Thrills Tour Lighting Designer and MIRRAD Managing Director, David Cohen.
With two D9s in MIRRAD’s inventory – and another two in the pipeline – both were sent out on the road with the band. At FOH, Lighting Director, Chris Yeomans helmed the show via a 330 version with a redundant 215 version.
“We started the design for the show in August with the tour beginning in September, so it was a very short lead time,” explained Cohen. “The creative direction came partly from the band, Video Director, Dave Spearing, and our team at MIRRAD.” Although he wasn’t personally pressing the buttons and pulling the faders out on the road, Cohen gave his thoughts on the D9. “The options we had with the NDI features were great,” he stated. “Not only that, but the inclusion of Timeline is already proving very useful and fast when timecoding a design. These days we all prefer to think of cues in a horizontal fashion opposed to a cue list.”
With a few weeks working with the D9 under his belt, Yeomans spoke of his experience with the brand new console.“Prior to the tour, I’d only been able to play with the desk a little in the Avolites demo room, so this was my first job, which was slightly terrifying,” he admitted candidly, adding that he was thankful for the very small learning curve needed to get up and running.
“I’m well versed in Avolites software, so it was just a case of getting used to where all the different buttons were as well as a few of the extra features it now has,” he admitted.
Questioned on some of his favourite features of the desk, the LD stated bluntly: “It looks the part!” He explained that the new addition to FOH had already turned heads, especially with some of the local crew.
“At several shows, I have had people come up to the barrier who turned out to be a student studying lighting or an in-house lighting guy from a local venue and very keen to know more about this new desk they don’t recognise.” Aside from aesthetics, the LD commented on the design of the console.
“The screens, for example, are super high-res and give me the option to preview what is going on in video world with the NDI feed. I’m not always looking at the stage and therefore can’t see what’s going on with the IMAG screens or the rear wall, so having it all down on my desk while I’m sorting something is incredibly useful.” He also commented that clearly a lot of work had gone on under the bonnet of the desk with the D9 being flawless both in programming and during the show. Explaining some of the technical highlights of the D9 was Ron Carrington. A familiar face on the Avolites stands at trade shows, he’d taken on a practical role on McFly’s latest tour, handling the video content that was run through an Avolites AI media server.
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“We always knew that the D9 was going to be our flagship console and therefore we knew that the hardware inside had to warrant the price point,” stated Carrington, while rattling off some of the highlights. “It has almost a media server level of graphics card due to the number of screens it has to power.”
In addition to the off-the-shelf, high-end components, the Avolites representative complemented the hard work of the R&D team, who had produced their own boards, software and firmware to the highest possible standard.
A major selling point of the D9 is that it is not just a lighting desk but a visual mixer that is able to work within the world of video and lighting simultaneously, building on the company’s Synergy software that has enabled a greater coupling of lighting and video over the years. “If you use this show as an example, there are still video and lighting departments with different load-in times, but Avolites software means it can all be integrated together more seamlessly,” Carrington said.
With a rig supplied by PRG, the D9 controlled a sizeable lighting arsenal, centred around several automated lighting pods. “The band had requested an old school ParCan grid of lights, similar to Queen back in the day,” explained Cohen.
The result was LED pods above the band with a MoveCat system to “keep things interesting,” according to Cohen.
The pods contained numerous GLP impression X4 bar 20s, along with PRG BestBoys and Icon Beams. To close, Cohen gave his two cents on the tour. “It’s clear that the industry is still struggling after COVID, with issues such as crew shortages being a major problem, along with isolation rules.”
A case in point was McFly band member Tom Fletcher having to step down from the tour due to testing positive for COVID-19. “The uncertainty is a problem going into the winter months,” he stated.
That said, the fact that even in these uncertain times we are seeing brand-new technology getting used in the field is a promising sign. Not only that, but one that now features numerous software updates that were worked on tirelessly during the months of lockdown. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we see what other tricks designers can perform with the Diamond 9.
This article originally appeared in issue #266 of TPi, which you can read here.