Flying Scotsman Stuart Gillan watches UB40 make an exhibition of themselves North of the Border
VENUE: Scottish Exhibition Centre, Glasgow
The SEC in Glasgow is a purpose built exhibition/conference centre which was only completed in the later part of the summer of 1985. The only problem with the place is it wasn't built for concerts or indeed any event where an audience has to watch activities happening on a stage. The centre itself is divided into five halls of varying sizes, the largest of which is hall No. Four where UB40 played to 10,000 people. I'm told that this hall can be opened up to connect with another one, making it very large indeed. If you would cast your mind back to the days of Zeppelins (and I don't mean the early '70s) imagine one of the huge hangars that these airships were kept in and you might just be getting close to what this hall looks like (and sounds like!).
I had thought to myself, while watching construction of this monument to the noise abatement society, that the designers might have learned something from other large exhibition halls in terms of acoustics. Even other halls in Glasgow could have been used as examples of what not to look for, so there was no excuse about having to look far to see acoustic problems. I obviously fretted to no avail. In fact, if you ever visit the SEC take a look into Hall Four and listen carefully — you might even hear the end of this concert!
There were a number of contributing factors making this not exactly the best concert I've ever been to. Firstly, this was the first concert in the SEC and more than a little inexperience from the hall staff was in evidence. You just can't grab a mike and tell 10,000 people, who have paid a lot of money to see their favourite band to sit down "in the interest of safety". You also can't have a concert in an arena and expect the lighting and sound desks to be outside in the car park, and to that end there were a lot of irate people with seats that should've been where the desks were. As if all this wasn't enough, this was the first night of the tour which due to a mix up of times had the band and crew arriving in Glasgow from Los Angeles almost directly at the end of a two month American tour.
Also part of this mix up was that there were no days set aside for production rehearsals, ie practising with the full technical facilities. This then made the concert at the SEC the production rehearsal effectively, at the expense of 10,000 individuals.
Nevertheless the show went on and, for your perusal, I bring you the gear. Starting at the desk, or should I say desks, there were two TAC Scorpion 32-8-2 FOH desks, one for returning effects (more or less) and the other for the band. There were a lot of effects as you can imagine since they needed a separate desk. There were actually some percussion mikes and DI's into this desk as well, but the main part was effects. Sub groups on the main desk were:
1 - Kickdrum, snare, timbales
2 - Toms, overheads
3&4 - Keyboards
5 - Brass
6 - Guitars
7&8 - Vocals
And the subs on the 2nd desk were:
1&2 - Tapes
3&4 - Percussion
5&6 - FX (main)
7&8 - FX (sub)
The four effects racks read like a who's who of auxiliary equipment with system correction via KlarkTeknik DN360 graphics and two Yamaha D1500 delays for the two midway flown stacks. There were Lexicon 224X reverbs, AMS reverbs and delays, Eventide 910 harmonizer, loads of dbx, 160 compressors and several other graphics by KlarkTeknik and Yamaha.
There were also plenty of Drawmer dual gates and comp/limiters and a couple of Roland SRE-555 chorus echo units. Crossovers were Soundcraft and BSS and frequencies for the FOH stacks were 250Hz, two kHz and eight kHz, so the system was four way.
All the speakers were by Cerwin Vega, as were most of the amps, with a smattering of BGW's as well. On each side of the stage were four (2x 18) Earthquake bins and eight (2x12 and 2 x JMH1 tweeters) mid units. All drivers were EV or RCF. Also on each side of the stage, but flown in, were eight of the 2x18 bins and eight of the (2x12 horn) modular mid cabinets. About halfway down the hall were another set of flown cabinets which were on each side two (2x18) bins and two modular mid cabs. This midway flown system could have been a bit larger as it seemed a bit underpowered for the area it was sent to cover.
The monitor desk was a TAC Scorpion 30-12 which sent its outputs through KlarkTeknik DM360 graphics through Cerwin Vega amplifiers out to some 22 wedges, two sidefills and two drumfills. All wedges were two-way (cross over at two kHz) and were of Texserv design consisting of 1x15", two CV tweeters and a JMH1 horn. Sidefills and drumfills were identical and comprised: 1x18 and a modular mid cab as used in the FOH system.
All vocal mikes were AKG 330 BT's, as were the brass mikes. The drum kit was fairly standard with an SM57 on snare and hi hat and MD 421's on toms and kickdrum. Overheads were AKG C414's. All guitars, bass, keyboards and even some of the percussion were DI'd with BSS active boxes. I was very surprised to see the guitars were DI'd but they did sound very clean, which I suppose is what the music calls for.
Overall, up close to the stacks and out to around 10 yards away the sound was quite good and well balanced, but since 95% of the audience were outside this little bubble of quality, a lot of people missed out. This particular style of music demands a big fat, boomy bass sound which is a shame really since that is exactly the sort of sound you don't want to have in a blimp hangar.
All in all, the evening was fraught with difficulties for a number of reasons and no one person isto blame. I'm told, however, that since the Glasgow date, everything has been going well.