Jim Betteridge takes his purple paisley shirt down to Wembley, and catches small but perfectly-formed American Prince in the act
BAND: Prince and the Revolution
VENUE: Wembley Arena
DATE: August 12, 1986
PA: DB Sound/Turbosound/Entec
I was prepared to postpone a few days reprieve in the country for this one. In the end, by some fluke, I managed to get tickets for the first night and it wasn't necessary; but I was prepared to let people down with lifts and receive commensurate bollockings, and go a day late and miss a party in a big house on a river — all in order to see 'your little friend' as he refers to himself with mock self effacement. Editor Horkins had insisted that if there was only a single pair of tickets forthcoming, I was to take him as opposed anyone else, and meanwhile the rest of the staff were busy trying on a variety of unlikely blag tactics with the record company for their own tickets — to no avail. In the end I got a whole pair of tickets to myself and happily set off on the Tuesday night full of expectations.
There were disappointments ahead, however, when I discovered that our seats were to the side of the arena, almost in line with the stage so that for most of the concert I was staring obliquely across the front of the apron watching Prince dart in and out of view behind lighting stanchions and speaker stacks. Not the ideal position from which to review a concert, let alone the sound. Still, you'll never guess who we sat next to — Dave Edmunds and daughter, no less (or more). David was obviously there more in a fatherly role than as a Prince enthusiast. He sat in tacit endurance while his daughter danced about excitedly showing The Short One the kind of adoration that might once have been his in his hey day.
I must admit that I was left standing somewhat by the speed at which the audience leapt to their feet and into overdrive. Even before our star came on many of them had rushed past the perfunctory restraints of the security men to crush forward nearer the stage. I sat stoically observing the hysterical responses of the young (and not so young) impressionable hordes, shouting careful, clinical notes into my tape recorder. But within a couple of numbers I too was upon my feet, partly so that I could move my body to the likes of New Position and partly so I could lean over further to try and see what was going on. The heat generated on stage by Man and Revolution was irresistible, and when he fell in with the three backing vocalists for a swift and slickly choreographed dance routine, I was sold.
The next disappointment was in not getting to speak to the sound engineer after the show — it was a first night and he was a bit busy, and I figured I'd phone him at his hotel the next morning. I did and he asked me to call him back later. I did, and he asked if he could call me back the next day. He didn't and then he had checked out and was lost on tour somewhere in deepest Europe. I must admit I did wonder whether I'd particularly want to speak to me if I was in his position. Anyway, he obviously didn't, and so I don't have quite the detailed account I'd wanted for you.
As a final resort I called the DB Sound HQ direct in Chicago to get the low down on the rig. They were in charge of the sound for the entire tour and not unusually they were touring their own front end with them but hiring in the amps and speakers from contractors in Europe. Turbosound supplied the boxes for the main rig which consisted of 24 TMS-3 full range cabs either side, 12 (three by four) at stage level and 12 (two lines of six) flown in an arc to cover both the far end of the arena and the sides. Entec came up with 12 Meyer MSL-3 full range cabs for the two rear-of-hall quad stacks which were simply for effects rather than for any delay tower purposes. From my position I have to say that the sound was pretty dreadful. When the band 'took it down' and the arrangement was sparse, it sounded quite good, but then it was as if the whole band groovin' simultaneously was too much for the electro-acoustics to bear. Turbosound rigs and specifically the TMS-3s have been reviewed very favourably in these pages before, and I know the system is capable of good things, but in this area of the arena it was harsh, distorted and unclear. Having talked to a few other people who were there, some say it was the best sound they'd ever heard at Wembley and others say it wasn't too good. It's very difficult to judge a system when you aren't allowed to walk around during a performance, but it is clear that coverage and quality were not entirely uniform. It's not the easiest thing in the world combining the forces of three companies to create one cohesive system.
Out front DB had three Midas Pro 40 consoles — 16:12:2 (for drums alone), 24:12:2 and 32:12:2, giving a total 72 channels. This may seem like a lot of channels but several of them were duplicates re-routed to feed the quad speaker stacks. The system was run in stereo although several of the groups were mono. Each console had four auxiliary sends that could be used individually or linked together with the other consoles. The sends on the 16 channel desk were used to feed a separate set of effects of their own dedicated to the drums. In Europe they were using their own eq across the desk outputs and then going straight to whatever the contractor offered. At Wembley these were four KlarkTeknik DN300s, two of which were for the rear quad stacks. The auxiliary rack contained two AMS RMX-16 digital reverbs, a Lexicon 200 digital reverb, a dbx900 rack containing nine noise gates and a few compressor/limiters (one of which was used on Prince's vocal) a Carver CD player, a Lexicon PCM 42 DDL, a Lexicon model 97 Super PrimeTime, an Eventide H949 Harmonizer, four dbx 160X Over-Easy compressors and a pair of Yamaha C200 cassette decks.
When using their own system in the States for Prince, DB Sound once again run the outputs of the desk into a pair of KlarkTeknik DN300 graphics for overall system correction and from there into DDA four-way stereo crossovers each band output of which runs into a dbx 160 compressor, making eight 160s in all. This method of band limiting has the advantage over simply sticking a stereo limiter across the left and right outputs of the desk in that it only affects the frequency band that it peaking, thereby avoiding unwanted pumping or breathing effects caused, for example, by a single HF peak from the brass section causing the whole system to squash. In a way the difference is similar to that between Dolby B and Dolby A noise reduction, in that the latter splits the audio spectrum into four bands before processing it. In the case of the DB rig the limiters are generally set with a very high threshold and are really only there to protect the PA from unexpected peaks. The cabs used by DB in America are their own design. The system consists of three types of cabinet: a four way full range and a three-way plus complementary bass bin. They're all 36" square and 30" deep making them easy to stack or fly in any configuration. The horn loaded bass bin has 4x15s, the three-way has 2x12s and two HF JBL compression drivers with 40°x60° horns and four bullets made specially for DB by JBL. The four way full range cabinet is basically half of the other two put together into a single box, offering half the power — 2x15s, 1x12, one horn and two tweeters. The full range cabinets are used for the side hangs and along the front of the stage so as not to deafen the faithful in the expensive seats or the unlucky ones in the side seats. The three-way/bass bin combination is then used to throw to the more distant seats. To optimise directivity and coverage they hang about twice as many three-ways as they do bass bins, and they put about twice as many bass bins on the ground.
From my position so close to the main PA, I didn't even get to hear the quad system, and so I find it hard to comment. Certainly the main system was sonically disappointing in Block 75, Row H, Seat 107 and nowhere near what I know Turbosound to be capable of. The show, on the other hand, was really fabulous. Wasn't it Dave?
Feature by Jim Betteridge
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