In the same weekend that saw our own Jacob Waite head over to the CIRCUS club event in Liverpool (p34), across town, a hard-working team hoisted a big-top tent in preparation for a mini-festival event, which saw the likes of Blossoms, The Lathums and Zuzu take to the stage, much to the joy of the 5,000-strong crowd who gathered, shoulder-to-shoulder, to experience a true live experience without social distancing or face masks.
Overseen by Festival Republic, this test event, like the others taking place in the UK, had each attendee take a lateral flow COVID-19 test at a local centre prior to being granted entry, as well as another test after the show. Although this event certainly did not mean that the industry was back to full working order, it offered a glimmer of hope to those on the side lines waiting for full-capacity shows to return. Since the event, The Liverpool Echo reported: “Liverpool public health bosses and scientists have found the city’s pilot events did not cause any detectable spread of COVID-19 across the region.”
Once the dust had settled, TPi caught up with some of the team responsible for making this event possible. First stop was Production and Stage Manager, Spike Beecham from the Music Consortium. Having been approached by Festival Republic on 14 April, Beecham was asked to take on the dual role for the festival.
“As a trained COVID Compliance officer, I was able to ensure that protocols that had been put in place were adhered to from a technical production perspective,” began Beecham as, unlike the crowd enjoying the show, the technical crew were still following the COVID-19 measures. “All personnel working on site had to have a negative lateral flow test before arrival, and repeat this testing protocol every 72 hours,” he reported.
“My main aim for the weekend was to ensure that social distancing measures were adhered to while creating a safe working environment on stage, all of which mitigated the chance of transmission.”
Beecham went on to give an example of the loading docks being 2.4m wide. “This would mean that in passing the crew would break the 2m rule. Therefore, as well as all crew wearing masks, I also implemented a one-way system so everyone had to enter from stage right and egress from stage left.”
He also laid out arrows across the stage and, after half an hour spent shouting the process was ingrained in all the crew. “We also supplied the load-in and out crews with bottles of antiseptic spray, which they applied to handles, butterfly catches and corners before handling them.” With all these extra measures, the team opted to stagger the load-in across five days – “a good 36 hours longer than usual,” according to the PM.
GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER
The show was advanced by Festival Republic’s Nick Davies with artist advance completed by Andy Redhead at SJM. Filling the supplier roster were Serious Stages, Colour Sound Experiment, Adlib, STS and UK Rigging. Beecham’s team from The Music Consortium were also brought in to supply local and technical support crew for the build and de-rig.
Speaking personally about being back on a working festival site, Beecham commented: “It felt really good to be back doing my thing on site. It was great to see all the team and suppliers operating as if nothing had changed – other than the face coverings and social distancing. I haven’t seen so many happy smiling faces in a field for such a long time.”
The aim was to have no major interaction with the crowd. Once the crowd entered the arena, all crew had to revert to wearing FFP 2 grade masks. Those members of the crew that had to attend FOH had to wear these masks until the public exited the tent.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Colour Sound Experiment’s Haydn Cruickshank gave his thoughts on being involved in one of the UK’s first festival style shows held in the past 14 months. “If over the years we’d started to take the awesome spectacle of a festival for granted, then it was cured the minute the gates to this show opened,” he enthused. “It was genuinely emotional to stand in the crowd and remember why we do what we do.”
Opting for a very traditional festival setup, the lighting rig comprised Robe MegaPointes, Claypaky Scenius Unicos and B-EYE K25s, GLP JDC-1s and CHAUVET Professional R1 FXBs. For LED screens, Colour Sound Experiment supplied a ROE Visual Black Pearl 3.9mm. For control, the company supplied an MA Lighting grandMA3 light.
Cruickshank remarked that none of the planning for this show felt like a challenge. “It felt like being back at home,” he stated, warmly. “Even the testing and working protocols for the crew were fine and have just become second nature for the past year.” Alongside the collection of gear, Colour Sound Experiment supplied nine techs, who handled the lighting, LED screens, cameras and ground supports.
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BRING THE NOISE
Sharing FOH with the Colour Sound team and providing sound support for the event was Adlib. Overseeing the audio deployment was Adlib’s Dave Jones, who walked TPi through the build up for the event.
“Other than actually remembering what we had to do?” Jones joked when asked about the main challenges in the build up to the show. “The biggest obstacle was dealing with the COVID-19 protocols to keep everyone safe. Festival Republic came up with their procedures that everyone quite rightly had to adhere to.”
Jones was impressed with how these extra health and safety measures were deployed. “I got a call way in advance of even going on site to go through everything, which I thought was a nice touch,” he said.
In total, Adlib supplied four audio technicians and one driver for the load-in and out, as well as the control package and CODA AiRay PA system that sounded out the event.
Having worked with Blossoms since their first album launch back in 2016, Adlib were able to provide the band’s regular audio setup, including a Midas Heritage-D at FOH with a DiGiCo SD10 for monitors. The band supplied their own mics, along with a Shure PSM 1000 IEM system.
“We added the CODA AiRAY speaker system to cover the tent, much to the pleasure of Chris Pearce from Blossoms, who is a big fan of the system,” stated Jones. Moving down the line-up, The Lathums were rather self-sufficient, providing their own console and IEM system. Then for Zuzu, Adlib provided a FOH console so they didn’t have to share with Blossoms.
“Nothing was shared – especially microphones, with all the bands having their own,” said Jones. “We were all also fully equipped with alcohol wipes, face masks, hand gel and visors.”
Looking back at the event, Jones enthused how “from the moment the technicians were in the warehouse prepping, through to tipping the trucks after the show, it was great!”
He elaborated: “The crew were on a high as it had been over a year since something like this had happened to them. Dealing with COVID-19 and the impact it has had on many people’s lives had a mental impact that is not to be underestimated. Getting back to doing the things you enjoy can only be a benefit. Adlib is proud to be involved in the Sefton Park and other test events as they all have a goal in mind to help get the industry back on its feet,” he concluded. “Like CIRCUS, this gig showed that events of this scale can happen safely in a COVID-19 world and not impact the spread of the virus, and the data backs this up. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing our warehouse and others up and down the county prepping festival systems with the help of freelance technicians and starting the production chain rotating again.”
Adlib Managing Director, Andy Dockerty gave his thoughts on the event. “There is a misconception that the world returns to normal on 21 June. People may have their ‘liberties back’ but they will not have all their choices back. Mass gathering and large indoor gatherings are still under review with a statement due the week of 14 June. The initial road map stated that indoor gatherings maybe 50% cap or 4,000 – whichever is smaller. Although some smaller venues may open, as far as I am concerned, until arenas are open in full, we have the majority of the sector not working and in need of support. The perception that we are all back is not good in the fight to gain that additional support.”
FROM BEHIND THE CURTAIN
It only seemed right to also speak to the Blossoms crew to get their opinions on what it was like to dust off the old flight cases and get back into the live environment again. Rounding up the experience of the SK2 Crew during the past year was Tour Manager, Dan Woolfie.
“The past 14 months have been up and down to say the least,” he stated. “Glimmers of hope and then the rug being pulled out from beneath our feet again. The stress that the government has put on our industry has been unforgivable; a few of our crew fell through the cracks in terms of financial support. It’s been tough. I just hope we can all bounce back quickly once we’re allowed to work full time again.”
He continued to give an insight into what the band and crew had been doing during this time to try and keep busy, including throwing themselves into renovating the band’s new lock up and HQ. “After the initial lockdown, some of the band and crew were able to busy ourselves with painting and putting up shelves. Not only that, but the forced lockdown gave us a chance to give all our gear a deep service after five years of touring.”
The band has even had a chance to start working on a new album, although Woolfie pointed out that they still had to finish that last album’s touring cycle. Speaking of the test event and what it was like to be back on a festival, he had a very quick answer, “there’s nothing quite like a sub hit to the chest!” He continued: “The livestreams have been a good idea as a whole, but it’s those extra senses you get with a live show – the atmosphere and build up and the sheer volume and quality of the audio. Even the sticky beer-soaked floors and the smell of the port-a-loos!”
With the excitement of being back in their rightful place, Woolfie explained how the goal from the production side for this show was to keep equipment to a minimum. “We took in full backline and our normal audio package at FOH and monitors, but kept things minimal with the rest of the production. With it being a one-off and a three-band bill, there was already going to be a festival lighting rig with a couple of extras that we were able to use as a ‘headliner’ feature, so it didn’t make much sense for us to rebuild our touring floor package and have to de-rig it again after one show.”
Summing up his final thoughts on the event, Woolfie dubbed it a “10/10 experience” . He added: “Everyone was on top of their game. It’s looking really promising for the future of our industry. Get us back on the bus!”
LET THE MUSIC PLAY
With promising data emerging from the test events, it seems that the industry is on the right path to making a return sooner rather than later. Since welcoming the 5,000-strong crowd to Sefton Park, Festival Republic has announced further plans to host another festival-style test event, aptly named Download Pilot. Taking place from 18-20 June as part of the UK government’s scientific Events Research Programme, 10,000 rock and metalheads will be welcomed to a three-day camping-only festival at Donington Park – home of Download Festival.
Rounding up his thoughts on the Sefton Park Show, Beecham concluded: “The event was a huge success. With no positive tests, we’ve proved if we put a robust set of protocols in place, we can safely go back to work and continue to provide some of the most talented artists in the world a platform to showcase their talent and provide audiences with memories that they cherish their whole lives – just like we did in the past.”
This article originally appeared in issue #262 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: The Music Consortium and Colour Sound Experiment