Royal Blood opens the doors to ATG’s Swansea Arena

Following the release of Typhoons, Royal Blood and their long-standing touring team kick off their latest touring campaign at Ambassador Theatre Group’s brand-new, gold-clad Swansea Arena.

Swansea Arena, operated by Ambassador Theatre Group, hosted its first live music act and large-scale production on 19 March 2022 when Royal Blood and their tight-knit touring crew descended on the new 3,500-capacity, multipurpose arena – in support of the band’s third studio album, Typhoons. 

Gilded with a wraparound LED screen made up of approximately 97,500 LED lights, Swansea Arena is primed to host upwards of 160 performances across music, comedy, esports, sport and conferences – bringing an additional 230,000 visitors a year to the city, and generating hundreds of full-time direct and indirect jobs in Swansea. 

Keith Powles, Head of Technical at Swansea Arena – who has spent most of his working life as an engineer outside of the city – picked up the story: “This is a huge coup for Swansea,” he began, beaming with pride. “The fact that there is now infrastructure and the opportunity to work in the live events sector on my doorstep is incredible. Swansea has never really been on the touring circuit – if an act comes to the Southwest, they typically visit either Bristol or Cardiff – so, seeing artists like Royal Blood coming into the city gives the next generation something to aspire to.”

Production Designer, Sam O’Riordan, like most of the crew involved in Royal Blood’s live shows, has been with the band for the long haul. “When I started working with them, we were putting a floor package together to take out with a FOH engineer around the pub circuit, so it’s been nice to see the growth of the band and production – from pub audiences right through to festivals, and a hometown show at London’s O2 arena,” he reminisced, speaking to TPi as the dust settled on a cyclonic first show.

“This design was exciting because they’ve got an entire catalogue of music now, which spans pop-rock to disco, whereas in the early days, I only had a handful of songs to create looks for,” he added. “Their output over the past eight years has been nothing short of impressive, and it’s great to see the production design evolve at a similar rate.”

O’Riordan explained the ‘organic’ design process of the band’s live output, which follows the release of each album. “When they wrap up an album, we casually begin discussing ideas for the next live campaign. Often ideas can take an avenue of their own, or fall by the wayside, so it’s nice to have that organic creative process,” he detailed. 

“The idea for this campaign was born out of the album title, Typhoons. The band wanted to play among a typhoon, so the easiest way to create this from my perspective was by encompassing the band in vertical light – thus came the idea of a flown, circular truss of Robe MegaPointes for them to play within.”

Some 89 MegaPointes were selected by O’Riordan to create a ‘typhoon of light’ in the centre of the rig, mid-air. A handful of Robe BMFL WashBeams and a RoboSpot camera system were dotted around the circumference of a secondary, outer circular truss, along with Molefay Light Two units, as well as a front truss to help spot the energetic band.

A curved LED back wall was joined by over 200 individual Martin by Harman VDO Sceptron 20 1000 linear LED strips located left and right of the screen. “The nice thing about this campaign is because the band’s newer material is pop-rock and somewhat disco influenced, particularly on their latest record, it has allowed me to branch out from a usual spectrum of monochrome and add colour,” O’Riordan said, referencing colourful tracks such as like Limbo and Typhoons. “Little Monster and Figure It Out are always good songs and definitely among my favourite looks in the show,” he added.

The floor package saw left and right lines of SGM Q-7s purposed for side light; Robert Juliat Dalias 862s units located at the foot of stage riser to uplight the band while performing, and two semicircles of GLP JDC1s – 26 situated on the outer bridge as backlight and 24 on the riser, used as frontlight. 

The introduction of an extra keys player on stage, particularly useful for the disco-influenced tracks on Typhoons, meant that musical experimentation was at the forefront of performance, with nothing performed to track. “Everything has to be triggered live, which adds an extra level of creativity to the show design,” he stated. “The show isn’t constrained by the synchronisation of production.”

Case in point, video screens projected a gritty, monochrome live camera feed that was triggered and broadcast at points throughout the show, emphasising the live nature of the broadcast, with no edited or pre-recorded content synchronised with each track. “It’s refreshing to be involved in a production at this level with this ethos,” O’Riordan remarked.

O’Riordan collaborated with Video Director, Dylan Etherington and the VSS team to unify the visual departments, colourising the camera feeds, crushing the blacks and contrasts to match the screens with song designs. 

“Although the feed was live, we didn’t want it to look like we just put a video screen at the back; we wanted to unify the colour of the songs and palettes and camera feeds by colourising and filtering the feeds tied into our cueing, so we would have black and white versus, a chorus that was crimson red – all of which were triggered by a disguise media server, manipulating the camera feed,” O’Riordan explained.

Each song was cue stacked on Lighting Operator, Freddie Meunier’s MA Lighting grandMA3, and each part of the arrangement had a specific look programmed to accommodate the setlist – allowing Meunier to emphasise certain hits, without compromising the structure of the lighting design, despite a sporadic extension of outro or chorus. 

“The band don’t often stick to a set song piece; there’s an arrangement, but they’ll repeat or extend an outro – nothing is orchestrated or rehearsed,” O’Riordan underlined. “Everything is live.” With no production rehearsals ahead of the opening show, O’Riordan used WYSIWYG and Vectorworks to pre-visualise the show. “We spent all night taking our programming from previs to real life. Thankfully, despite the nerves, the show went well.”

Undoubtedly, the biggest technical challenge of this campaign was the fact that nobody had seen the rig until the first build day at Swansea Arena. “To think that was only a few hours before the first show is mind-blowing, but I was over the moon with the support from our vendors, TSL Lighting and VSS,” O’Riordan said, praising the hard work of the entire crew. “I’ve never seen a stage so clean. Their cable routing, planning, picks, specifically, how they cabled the Sceptrons and runs, was immaculate and accurate to the plots provided. I couldn’t have asked for a better collection of vendors or team members – everyone was at the top of their game. The fact they were loading into a venue for a show the following day was outstanding.”


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The Royal Blood – Typhoons visual touring team featured Production Manager, George Doherty; Tour Manager, Steve Chapman; Production Designer, Sam O’Riordan; Lighting Operator, Freddie Meunier; Lighting Crew Chief, Tom Hill; Video Crew Chief, Steve Clarisse; Stage Manager, Darren Clark; TSL Managing Director, Sam Tamplin and Account Handler, James Davies; VSS Managing Director, Adrian Offord and Account Handler, Pat Dore; Video Director, Dylan Etherington; Media Server Programmer, Josh Wood. 

O’Riordan described his and Doherty’s ‘amazing’ personal and professional journey with the band and crew, which culminated at London’s O2 arena. “The O2 was a special moment for us,” he said. “Although we’ve played to that scale of crowd before, to perform in front of a home crowd was special – especially with TSL Lighting along for the ride, who [Production Manager] George Doherty and I began our careers with 15 years ago.”

However, following the O2 date, Royal Blood rescheduled their remaining UK shows, plus their gigs in Dublin and Paris, after Mike Kerr contracted COVID-19. “Within a week, the dates were rescheduled and the band were back on the road demonstrating the speed in which artists and production personnel can adapt to the landscape of live shows post-lockdown,” O’Riordan pointed out. 

Production Manager, George Doherty shared his thoughts on the production. “I have to thank our vendors who not only put together a fantastic show with no production rehearsals, but got the show back out on the road with only a week’s notice for the reschedules. It was also a pleasure to be involved in the first full scale production in Swansea Arena. The entire team was fantastic and we look forward to returning in the future.”

Royal Blood was the opening live music show in a 2022 season during which Swansea Arena audiences can expect to see Bill Bailey, Rob Beckett, and Katherine Ryan, as well as debut Swansea shows from Alice Cooper and The Cult, Fontaines D.C. and the Kaiser Chiefs, among others.

Reflecting on the landmark experience, Powles said: “It is weird to say how such a large event can be a test for the Arena, but that’s what it was. There was a lot of planning and forethought involved. As much as it was the biggest show that we’ve put on to date, at the same time, it was as much of a test for us moving forward and we’ve already adapted into future shows. The entire Swansea Arena team was phenomenal and we’re excited for what the future holds.”

This article originally appeared in issue #269 of TPi, which you can read here.