Dave Cottam takes the plunge with The Waterboys at Hammersmith Palais.
DATE: May, 14 1986
VENUE: The Hammersmith Palais
PA: Concert Sound
BAND: The Waterboys
I've always associated the name of the Hammersmith Palais with gentlemen in evening dress complete with bow tie, ladies with yards and yards of chiffon made to look like a duck's bum and Peter West droning on about the day and the winning couple. It appears that as usual I've got it all wrong. Tonight I've been despatched by IM&RW to the Mecca of W6 to check out the PA that The Waterboys specified for their UK tour. It's always possible of course that the band didn't even get a say in the matter and that the decision to use Concert Sound was taken in some board room, by a rep from the management company looking for the cheapest quote. However, in reality I don't think that this could have been the case on this occasion as the rig and team operating it were far from the 'bottom of the barrel' in terms of professionalism. Just as well really, as the band are far from a 'bash it out as loud as possible' mob.
The Waterboys centre around Mike Scott who hails from Edinburgh and who provides all the vocals whilst playing guitar and piano. He's not the greatest guitarist in the world, and I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that, but he is able to knockout a very acceptable style on the piano.
Backing up Mike Scott is the versatile Anthony Thistlewaite who seems to be able to pickup anything that is lying around and play it. His part in tonight's gig required him to play tenor sax, electric mandolin, piano and guitar. On the other side of the melody lines is Steve Wickham from Dublin. He plays a very fair fiddle but is also called upon to pick up the mandolin occasionally. At the back, giving a tasty Gretsch kit a good seeing to, is Dave Ruffey and on bass is Trevor Hutchinson.
To say that the band is economic in the use of gear on stage is an understatement. It would horrify music shop owners if this trend caught on in a big way. There were just three Roland JC120 combos. The bass player had a very nice Boogie bass amp with a 2x15" Gauss enclosure with no grille on the front — the aluminium domes on the drive units had taken a poke at some time of course (why is it that people just can't resist poking the centres of JBLs and Gauss' to see what happens. Let me tell you what happens — they bloody well dent inwards and eventually crack up, costing the owner his beer money for the week.)
Alongside the gauss cab was a 4x10 Trace Elliot which I'm told was just parallel-wired to the amp. He also sports a 1x15 Trace Elliot which serves no purpose than to prop up the 4x10 and, should disaster strike, act as a spare. Trevor sports a gleaming, bright red, Music Man throughout most of the act, but during Pagan Place gets himself on top of a set of Moog Taurus bass pedals. If you like the sensation of your bowels flapping against your rib cage then this is the instrument for you.
Mike's Gibson Paul guitar was bunged straight into his JC. As I said earlier not a great guitarist and not a sound worthy of mentioning in despatches. However, his 12 string Ovation when brought up through the PA sounded wonderful to my ears — really fat and with a tingling sparkle at the top end. The CP70 electric grand was similarly wired to its amp. Nothing too tricky so far. The piano has its own balanced line output which was used, of course, to feed the PA. The fiddle playing Steve did have a few gadgets worth a quick glance. The violin does not take kindly to being amplified, but Steve seems to have cracked it. Underneath his JC120 sits a mini rack with an MXR graphic, one of the new Yamaha SPX90s (the things are spreading like a rampant disease) and a compressor. The whole thing is then sent to the amp and the PA.
Anthony confesses to having a desire to own a Sony radio mike for his sax so that he does not have to be tied to an amp. He has already given himself freedom from being glued to the spot in front of a mike-stand by fitting a C-ducer Saxman to his Selmer 80. The Saxman works okay but from what I've been told they seem to be a compromise rather than the perfect solution.
Officer in charge of the main board was the competent Simon Hart who has the ability to zip about the Midas 32-8-2 desk with a speed that is totally irritating to someone such as myself who really has to think about what he's doing before touching a control. Simon is one of that rare breed of freelance engineers that is consistently in demand. Those of you rich enough to contemplate a boogie amp may recognise him from his Rocky Road Co but now he's actually employed by the Waterboys and will be with them on the forthcoming European leg of their tour. He's enjoyed most of this tour but there was one gig which gave them headaches.
"Every surface in the students union was a hard reflector. The reverberation time was ridiculous — totally unsuitable for a concert but we did our best. You have to keep the level down to what the hall will stand. Also it's best to keep the levels right down on the stage. I don't use any analysers to see what is going on — I just rely on my ears which so far have not let me down. If you think about it and you know your equipment you can hear where the problems are and adjust to suit the situation. I hardly ever use boost on the main graphics — I just cut the areas that are peaking or honking. I can show you that this hall together with this rig is peaking around 3.15kHz." (He was right-on damn him). "I've cut that by the maximum the Klark Tekniks will give, that's 12dB. There's also a really good bonk around 160Hz. I don't know where its coming from but it's definitely the room acoustics. The balcony and the area underneath are probably the cause. If you go downstairs (the desk was in fact up on the balcony area in front of the stage) the bass end is up about 6dB from what we are getting up here — I'll allow for that on the mix but I'll have to do a check when the place fills up when the support is on. Two and a half thousand sweaty bodies can really change things dramatically.
"You notice that we will have to mix in mono tonight. Half of the audience will be on the outside of the PA's line, that's why part of the rig is split up so part of it is going round the corners. It's a funny gig this one. The hall is not very deep but it is unusually wide.
"If your readers want to know about the Midas it's got three Pro 2 modules which we use for the CD player, cassettes and tapes, four Pro 40s with the full sweepable eq sections and the rest are Pro 4s which have three band eq with the mid switchable around five points. It would be unnecessary to have all Pro 40s and the cost saving is considerable. We only use the parametrics on acoustic guitar, vocals and piano. Sub-grouping? I've put the vocals up 1 & 2, the guitars up 3, the mandolin, fiddle and sax up 4 & 5, the keyboard on 6. The drums I've split into the kit which is on 7, and the punch that's the kick drum, snare and the bass guitar is all on 8. We spend a lot of time getting the drum sound right for these lads, it really is an important part of the overall sound. Dave Ruffey always gets in way before the rest of them so as not to waste their time but it is certainly worthwhile.
"This Midas Martin rig is one of the quietest I know. If you take out the effects you would be hard pressed to know it's running even with the faders up. If you want to know more, have a chat with the rigger — Lawrence — he used to work for Dave Martin."
Lawrence Adams did indeed work for Martin Audio. He's now freelance like Simon with a very healthy track record behind him. He's been on the payroll of the Leo Sayer band, Rick Wakeman and Adam Ant. Last month he was with Boney-M euro-popping himself around the continent. He told of his varied career: "The next gig is going to be as 'guitar man' for the Waterboys in Israel. With Leo and Rick I was the keyboard man so working with Martin audio for all that time, although it was great experience, didn't put me in a type-cast situation. However the rig we've got in here today has 20 single 15" bass cabs each loaded up with a Gauss and being driven by RSD/Studiomaster Bs. Then we've got 10 Martin Phillishaves — they're a 2x12" device with a loading plug designed by Dave. Each one of them is being driven by RSDCs. We've got Emilar drivers on the upper mids and some JBLs in there as well. We've got RSD MOSFETS on them — they sound better. Total power is 12 to 15kW — it depends how you choose to count it. The best gig so far has been Rock City in Nottingham. We really got a good sound going. It should be good in here tonight. Come and meet Rory Madden — he's on the monitor mix."
And meet Rory Madden I did, having clambered up the side of the stage like a mountaineer.
"The desk is a Midas 24.8.2 and I've got a separate Korg delay to fatten up the sax a bit and a Roland Space echo 201 for the vocals. The band is very critical and know what they want to hear of themselves and their instruments. I'd describe it as variations of a general stage mix; the problem is that they move around so much and what with changing instruments occasionally it is a problem following them around with what they each want to hear. There are also quite a few 'kills' to contend with as they move about. The monitors are Martin LE200 wedges which are okay for this size venue but if they get any bigger then I'd like to see something I could Bi-amp to get the levels up. Tonight I've got two monitors for Mike Scott. He likes it really toppy with a snatch of reverb. The drummer's got two as well but everyone else has one. I've got another pair working as a bit of side fill to cover the gaps. I have another pair of LE200s at head height to try to blot out the blur coming off the back of the bins. I have to allow for the fact that I'm hearing a lot more bottom than the guys on stage will get up their mixes. My favourite act to date — Tina Turner. I did the US leg of one of her tours — fantastic."
The time came round for the full sound check. The team had done their job very well indeed and for those of you who are stuck with your old pair of 2x12 columns — let me assure you that there is no comparison whatsoever.
Feature by Dave Cottam
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