PAT testing complete

Just a quick post to thank Neville Mitchell of Safe Plus Sound who thoroughly and affordably undertakes my PAT testing annually. I prefer to outsource this task rather than tackle it myself because Neville stays on top of the regulations, has a qualification in PAT testing, and supplies very thorough reports to help me remain compliant. Far better than just claiming to be a ‘competent person’ and doing it myself.

Would strongly urge anyone in the entertainment business (including musicians – you aren’t exempt!) to have their testing done regularly by an expert.

Thanks Neville, see you next year!

Fond farewell to Bristol Jazz and Blues at Colston Hall

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival is my baby. I’ve been involved with over 20 festivals throughout my career (as in permanently supporting) but Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival holds a special place.

Its the only festival I service that is right on my doorstep. In choosing to specialise my sound service provision to folk, jazz, world genres, I rarely work in my home town of Bristol which has a very healthy music scene of grime, dupstep and drum and bass! Instead I tend to sidestep the dubstep on the doorstep (still with me?) and travel much further afield than most to support festivals that hire me for my specific knowledge of acoustic music and wonderful team.

Of all the festivals I’m involved with, BJAB is the only one I have been involved with since year one, festival conception. Usually festivals start organically very small, and my sound services aren’t usually drafted in until a certain level of sound provision has been demanded by a certain level of artist. No such natural growth period for Bristol Jazz. In year one we hit the ground running with the venerable Arturo Sandovall, and the formidable Ginger Baker – and we’ve staged some of the biggest names in Jazz and Blues in the 6 festivals to date.

Generally the vibe for me at Bristol Jazz is making the impossible possible. We stage some incredibly unique projects involving large choirs and even larger jazz orchestras (as pictured above) all shoehorned onto the “unique” Colston Hall stage, which really wasn’t built to receive some of these grand scale productions, both in terms of logistics and acoustics.

How we ever went from Melody Gardot’s 2016 full touring production (first image) with its 10 hour get-in…30 min get-out, straight into the Bruce Ilett Big Swing Band (second image) in under an hour in total is beyond me to this day (auditorium seating out, completely stripped empty stage, stage extensions, pianos, risers, many other impossible tasks too boring to list, or fit into the time allotted)

Acoustically, we also cracked the uncrackable Hall 1. Even the “big boys” can make a pigs-ear of this place. A quick google search of “colston hall bad sound” will reveal some very disgruntled customer reviews for the likes of Paul Weller, Joe Bonamassa, Michael Bolton, Allison Moyet to name but a few – and these are one off shows where they have all day to get the sound perfected for the one evening show! Unlike a festival where a 30 minute sound check is considered a luxury.

This year, in using the new wireless mixing system, we were able to place a separate sound engineer up in the balcony which has typically receives the bulk of any sound quality grumblings despite the “flagship” Nexo system servicing that area….compared to sliced bread here:

Bristol’s finest. The Colston Hall installs Nexo.

Just goes to show, a difficult room, is a difficult room and no amount of latest equipment or industry hype is going to improve those acoustics for you….as anyone that works with me will know all too well having had me bore them with my audio philosophy/mantra/soapbox many many times….sorry guys!

I do it to inspire them to focus on their own skills and abilities – instead of the glossy “gear-porn” magazines, articles, and marketing ploys that surround the pro-sound industry.

(In fact if you want to glaze my eyes over with boredom very quickly in payback…just start talking latest mixing desks, speakers, so on. Unlike most sound engineers, I find this conversation so very uninteresting!)

I’ve observed over the years that the balcony requires quite a substantially different mix to the downstairs FOH mix, especially at our Jazz Festival whereby you have the likes of Mr Jonny Bruce committing nothing short of virtuoso audio assaults on the trumpet at what must be in excess of 120dB! (That’s pain threshold / Boeing 747 take-off territory Jonny…hope you’re proud of yourself). This tends to translate to a compensatory mix downstairs that doesn’t provide a full audio picture up in the balcony (no trumpet!).

This year we utilised a FOH + contribution system in the balcony so that the dedicated mix engineer could take a feed from FOH and augment it with some of the missing instruments such as Mr Bruce’s aforementioned trumpet, a loud guitar amp, over excited drummer or whatever the balcony engineer felt was needed to complete the balcony audio picture.

(The joy of the aux fed, matrix fed contribution was that once the balance had been compensated, the balcony mix still essentially followed the FOH downstairs mix in terms of fader riding throughout the performance. Clever huh?! Boring teckie bit over)

To my knowledge, you wont find a bad review on-line of the sound at any of the six Jazz and Blues Festivals so we must have been doing something right from the get-go to tame the acoustics. Deploying a dedicated mix engineer armed with iPad for the balcony was the final piece of the puzzle.

So why is it fond farewells in the face of such adversity? There are certain tasks that I know I do very well. I love to be challenged, pushed, stressed and stretched. I’ve not a single doubt in my mind that this festival could have sailed directly into disaster if left in the hands of a less caring technical department. I’ve spent evenings dreaming up solutions to problems most people don’t know exist..and implemented them flawlessly. Nothing quite beats that sense of accomplishment. Giving it your all, and achieving the desired results for all to enjoy.

As well as the fond farewells to Colston Hall as it closes for refurbishment, I look forward to unearthing the new challenges that await with going multi-venue in 2019.

Did someone say cathedral? My speciality! Spiegeltent will be a new one on me admittedly…made of wood though…..what can go wrong?!


Polishing our RAMS! (Risk Assessment & Method Statement)

We have recently secured a contract supplying a number of small playback PAs in a rather large busy public space. Perfect time to revisit our RAMS (risk assessment and method statement) to ensure we are up to date with the latest regulations for conducting our work in as safe as manner as practicable!

If you would like to see a copy of our safety documentation feel free to get in touch. We have all relevant insurances, PAT testing reports,  and highly polished RAMS all available for inspection.

Neil Cowley Trio – deep space, or down to earth?

Continuing my pledge to be more proactive with my updates….today we are with the fabulous Neil Cowley Trio. Talented bunch exploring a deep space theme with a combination of traditional and electronic instruments, samples, synths, iPads….it’s not rocket science….or is it?

Not much to report here from a technical standpoint. Small village hall gig so important to get the volume coming off stage balanced with the PA. Henry made deplomatic negotiations with bass player Rex Horan, no egos were bruised and a decibel settlement was reached amicably without any fisty cuffs!

Actually, I’m completeing this blog update post gig and I’m slightly starstruck to realise via Wikipedia that Neil was one half of a band called Fragile State (The Facts and the Dreams…amazing electronica/jazz album) as well as Brand New Heavies and Zero7 to name but a few of his past incarnations that resonate with me. Perhaps I should have done my homework before hand, although it would have probably served me no good….going a little quiet infront of an artist you admire is always a bit awks! Soo glad I skipped the opportunity to meet Lou Rhodes…but thats another story.

Meeting your idols is something I do with great caution. They could turn out to be complete prima donnas, or in the very least having a bad day that leaves a lasting negative impression. Luckily Neil, Rex and Evan Jenkins are some of the nicest jazzers you’ll meet on the circuit. (Not wishing to be a “jazzist” but lets be honest there are plenty of aloofists floating about the scene). Greetings with warm handshakes, exchanged names on arrival (you’d be amazed at how often this small yet important detail gets skipped…note to self), jokes a plenty, a sense of mockery about their own work (soundcheck was subtly hilarious..can’t explain it in words). These guys are the cream of the crop. Professionally, musically, generally….fact…no dream!

Henry is continuing to become good friends with the DL32R system, as well as  being a good listener to some of my spoutings of “wisdom” regarding how to go about monitor mixing in such a way as to minimise volumes on stage. I’m afraid I can’t share that particular tip…it’s one of our trade secrets that sets us apart from the crowd.

This was a good gig. Promoters…book this band! You’ll have no BS and fabulous music…no brainer….(and while you’re at it, book us to provide the PA! I’d work with these fine gentlemen again any day of the week.)

Dualing iPads! Mackie DL32R

So after 20 years in live sound with shamefully very little documentation of my work portfolio, I’ve decided to start a blog. (Let’s see how long the good intention lasts). Usually we are too busy at a given concert to document our happenings, and after the gig the moment and inspiration has passed.

Excuses over…onto todays event. We (Rob Ellmore and the newly appointed Henry Moody) are at the 47th Guiting Power Festival in the Cotswolds providing sound for their series of concerts.

Spot the multicore

We are using the relatively new (to us) Mackie DL32R wireless mixing solution to provide front of house sound and separate monitor mix duties via two iPads controlling a single mixrack. This is to be Henrys debut as a monitor engineer, and his first ever monitor “desk” will be an iPad! (How times have changed… must have the dial-up modem chat with him one day!) Also testimony to the excellent and intuitive interface the Mackie MasterFader app provides.

He was smiling seconds before I took this picture!

The beauty of the Mackie system allows multiple devices to control the mix rack, so having set monitor levels for the musicians Henry was quickly promoted to mixing FOH while I was set the important task of negotiating some mighty pies for lunch from a nearby trader. I know my place!

There are no multicores to run, all connections are made on stage which seriously speeds up the set-up time. The whole system was up and running ready for 11am soundchecks and a noon kick-off.

It’s a great platform for training too because I can see what Henry is doing on my own screen and intervene if/when needed! Hence the dualing banjos/iPads! Fitting because onstage we have Hot Fingers with Emily Campbell complete with banjo and a sousaphone providing the ooomph!  The concert was rounded off with an excellent second set from the Paul Richards Trio.

We have our FBT / Renkus Heinz Qube QSA system providing FOH and db technologies Arena 12 monitor speakers driven by Crown amplifiers with custom DSP profiles.

Packdown only took one hour from last note played, to closing the rear doors of van, partly due to FOH control consisting of:

  • 1 gazebo
  • 2 camp chairs
  • 2 iPads
  • 2 lovett pies (well, the empty boxes at least)

One final noteworthy advantage of wireless mixing is the liberation brought about by being able to have your mixing desk about your person at all times. No more 100 yard dashes back to the sound desk to save something from feeding back while you’re halfway across a field with a face full of pie. This is the future.

“Dear Mackie..can you now please focus your efforts on every other aspect of PA systems…making them all wireless, smaller and lighter?”

Thanks muchly,

Rob Ellmore & Henry Moody