So a while back I said I'd never mixed the Underground Lovers before and that I was really excited. Turns out I had. Years ago, at the Evelyn. I found an old stage plot I had done years ago- like in the early noughties. Richard A wasn't drumming and Pip was nowhere to be seen, so maybe I just blocked it out of memory! It was Rushall Station times I think. Anyway I just thought that was funny.
Last Saturday night, I was an extremely excited mixer indeed. I got to mix The Underground Lovers for the first time, and hopefully not the last. They played on Saturday the 31st August at the Northcote Social Club - I was worried that it would be a little shy on volume but had forgotten how much power that system can put out - there was plenty of headroom. Thanks to the very helpful Clint Sigmund, who does house when Andy isn't around, I was able to get every little thing I wanted happening on the console really quickly. (It's a DiGiCo SD 9). The audience was a very loyal and supportive one and there was a lot of love in the room. I've loved this band since I arrived in Melbourne in '93 and I had to keep pinching myself during the show. I'd love to know if anyone else has ever experienced that feeling as a mixer - do you love to mix your musical heroes or do you just want to kick back and enjoy them as a punter? I think it might be a pretty universal desire to want to make them sound exactly how you want them to.
"Too easy. It's a walk up.. Just babysitting really.""
I came to the venue at 4, bang on time as I was booked by Facebook message "4-23.00 sorta time". I was able to get in after a bit of banging on the door where I met the promoter. I had questions. All the information I had was that it was a Persian function.
I didn't know if it was a wedding or bingo or what. He said "yes, Persian function. Music.".
I looked at the stage and the mics were already up. I'd been told the event would require 2 instrument mics, 1 wireless mic, and one DI. So I went onstage and shouted into them and got a rolling sonic avalanche of 200 coming back at me from the massive, parallel-walled room. The place is an aeroplane hanger. I took 200 out of every signal path I could find. The desk was a 16 channel PreSonus. Worse, it was set up underneath and in front of the PA stack. As I stepped out to listen to it, way out, I saw a big tear in one of the top boxes, so I ran pink noise through the system and the left differed substantially from right in response. I sighed. Short of slashing the corresponding speaker in the right hand side of the system, there wasn't much I could do about it. It was by now 4.30 and the promoter said "I'm really sorry, but they won't be coming til 5.30.". I decided this was going to be my last chance to get something to eat so I went for a beer and chips across the street.
I came back at 5.30 and soundchecked a local guy who played violin - he was pretty good. He wanted reverb and delay, so i gave it to him and didn't say anything about the fact that he was already in a massive cave. We mucked around for a while and I waited for somebody else to join him. I think it was about six when another, tall Aussie guy- though I mean he was Iranian by heritage but he was an Aussie - who had a Tombak, rocked up with some old guys, one of whom got up with a hammer dulcimer by another name. The others disappeared upstairs to the band room. (I think they were referring to it as a santjur. Actually i looked it up later.) The santjur player spoke not one word of English and didn't speak to me directly at all. I would ask a question while looking at him and he would only look at and speak to tombak. Sound check was long and arduous. Tombak said first we'll sound check the Tombak, then violin, then santjur. The way he was saying it - so carefully and slowly, I knew he thought this was my first month or two on the job. Whatever, I super-don't-care. Santjur guy wanted reverb too and Tombak wanted him to have delay. Except he didn't know what delay was. Eventually we broke thought the language barrier and lost the delay. So....time passes, I never get to hear or see the star of the show but they all assure me it'll be cool.
When the show starts, it's the musicians first. They come on and play for a while and they are really very, very good. I can see side of stage a few guys in suits start down the stairs from the band room up on the second floor, including an old guy who, by the way they are deferring to him, is the main act. He waves away the offered hand of a young buck in a sharp suit who wants to help him down the stairs. Someone has given him the wireless mic. He waits quite a time before coming on and when he does, there is thunderous applause from the throng. He is short, and quite feeble, being 78 years old, but I can see myself in his highly polished shoes and his suit is tailored. The sunglasses he's wearing lend an element of organised crime to the look but stay firmly on throughout the night and after the show. He doesn't even take them off backstage. I guess like Bono. He walks on, holding up both hands as if to bless us all and makes his way over to the middle of the stage , shadowed and shepherded by Young Buck. He takes a seat. The music is still playing and when he is comfortable, he joins in. The crowd goes wild. People leap out of their seats to applaud. To my ear the first note is somewhat pitchy and tremulous but hey, perhaps Iranians are particularly supportive people. The songs all run into each other and last about seven to ten minutes each. Perhaps it just seems that way.
The annoying thing is that having done his first duty, which is get Mr Golpa onstage, young Buck keeps up the good work by popping up on stage right, right next to his hero, and folding his hands in front like a bouncer. He beams engagingly at the audience and doesn't realise he has successfully blocked 80% of the light previously hitting the star of the show from two of the three lousy led pars on offer to light tonight's performers. So now he's pretty much in the dark. He looks so out of place up there that I reckon people must be pretty distracted, but since I have no information about the show I am guessing this is the way everyone wants it. I'm in humble servant mode. I'm also thinking this guy must be famous in Iran.
While I'm thinking about this the song comes to a crescendo and the singer's voice strains to peak volume and he holds his arm up to punctuate the point. He sends the channel into the red with a shout and then there's a bang. Then no more vocal as the song continues. Hmm. This was what I was afraid might happen - before the show I changed the batteries out and the plastic inside that holds the battery in place was cracked.
I hurriedly shove the wired 58 into Young Buck's uncomprehending hand and motion for him to give it to the star to replace the radio mic. He gets it together and gives me the radio mic. I test it out, listening on headphones and it comes good. I give it a few shakes and it's ok. I don't trust it but decide to give it another go after interval. Which can't come too soon.
It transpires that the old guy is like the Michael Jackson of Persian music. Minus the surgery. I don't find this out until interval when a few people come up to complain about various levels. I explain it's tricky for me to hear what's going on (I'm sitting under the PA and I am spotlit every time I move - I'm right in front of the audience, all of whom are sitting in worshipful, well-dressed silence, and I don't like to be part of the show, but every mic lead on stage is home run to the little console) but that I welcome any comments.
The second act continues in the same delightful way, providing me with ample opportunities to decide that I have chosen the wrong career. Every time Mr G reached the climax of a song, he would shout and the mic would die for a few seconds. As did I. Best of all, every sonic and gear related issue had to be dealt with under spotlight, in a position which could only be said to be nearly offstage, and as I mentioned before, in full view of the audience. Perfect.
It was at the end of the concert that things turned from hellish to simply surreal. David Lynch would have loved it. After the second encore, Mr G returns once more to stage to give the royal wave and accept the thunderous standing ovation of those gathered. Then, the bouquet to end all bouquets arrives on stage from somewhere in the audience. It would have to be six foot tall and three wide. And then people start throwing carnations and roses by the dozen, and rush the stage. Young Buck and the other suits gather protectively around Mr G and start to arrange people in a line. They queue up and one by one have their photo taken with him, as he remains firmly wedged behind sunglasses and stiffly expressionless in the face of all this adulation. He is clearly used to it. This goes on for about half an hour and I try and pack up a little but everything is ankle deep in plant life. But it's a miracle. The gig is over and I'm acutely conscious and grateful that no one I know saw me in such a compromised situation.
I never return to the venue again.
Well, last week on the 19th, 20th and 21st of June, I'm really pleased to say the Midas Digital Training went extremely well. We had about 35 people on the boards. Dan Corless from The Wick Studios in Brunswick hosted us and put in a massive effort to make the place look fantastic. Forever Films donated their time very generously so that we had multiple views of the consoles, the presentation and a closeup of the GUI, and of course NAS boys Dave Jacques and Brian Vayler brought all the consoles and set them up as a network with multitrack audio going through them. And gave the presentation no less than 6 times - and quite possibly were a little fried by Friday night. If you would like to be kept in touch about future workshops and training, please email me here. I know there are some better shots of the sessions thanks to FF's Wes but I don't have them quite yet.
A Polo tournament is a very posh, expensive and well sponsored event on the social calendar - I learned a lot at this show about rolling stages, weight loading and the importance of prior planning.
Each year at the MCG Grand Final a stage is rolled on for a performance. The turf on the MCG is very flat and smooth. There is not much weight on it, just a bit of backline. It's also towed in a straight line.
All week during prep I felt uneasy about how much I didn't know about the gig I was about to do - I was taking an XLD system and subs out to put on a rolling stage on a polo ground. Everyone told me it would be fine. The original spec was for an XLE system. The client got upgraded to XLD because it was available and bigger. BIGGER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER.
We got to the gig, waited for the stage to be built and at about 4pm on setup day (the day before the event) we got to put the PA and monitors on. This included four XLD per side (and a sub a side as well). The Midhighs on their own totalled 160kg on one side of the stage, and the M7 monitor board weighs about 50kgs. Lets not forget the 2 massively heavy amp racks that run the XLDs. I don't even know what they weigh. Then of course there was the distribution board, the power runs, the monitor speakers (we started with about 8 of them on there as I recall) and a bunch of other stuff.
We were meant to tow the stage out 3 times and back twice during the course of the event for awards and such like, and the third time was so that the band could play. Each wheel could handle 30 kgs. and we were well over that..... Obviously the majority of the wheels got ripped apart on the first undulation of the polo ground. A polo ground is nothing like cricket turf, and has many pits and potholes and gets quite churned up by the horses.
The field is massive as well and keeping it smooth is both unnecessary and prohibitively expensive. Pop!Pop!Pop! on the first curve and we stopped and replaced at least half the tyres. We got spares in from the staging rental company and the event manager negotiated the tows down to one - the last one. (We ended up doing the awards on the ground in a fairly brisk wind so here I include a note to organisers - an event by the sea with large backdrop for photos should have plenty of airholes in it to prevent it becoming a sail to carry away the grumpy looking people dressed in black)
We ALSO PUT the DAMN PA BACK IN THE TRUCK and after several phone calls from between all concerned parties, a very red eyed staff member brought us a new and much smaller rig at 7 the next morning after finishing at 2 at Festival Hall the night before. So for the actual show we towed the stage on with the new gear and half the number of foldback monitors, but we stiill had all the backline and the M7 on there as there was really no way around towing that on. The above picture is with the replacement system. Most of the tyres still buckled and popped and ripped apart, but it didn't really matter because we were there on the spot, and the show went ahead, and the public was none the wiser.
Moral of this story is if you feel you don't have enough information - persist with your questioning. If your questions are not getting answered and are making you unpopular, make sure someone else is accepting with open eyes the responsibility for the gig going smoothly. "If you give me the tools that I need, I can give you the result that you want".