Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Look no backing tapes! Sigue Sigue Sputnik play live without the aid of a safety net, Jim Betteridge fumbles for his ear plugs.
BAND: Sigue Sigue Sputnik
VENUE: Camden Place
DATE: August 6,1986
Based on the principle that most of the band had never played an instrument before joining the band, it seems quite sensible that Sigue Sigue Sputnik's live sound engineer should be without previous experience of live sound. Jessica Mercy studied maths at university and has under her belt eight years of classical voice training, having been a member of a church choir for some years. Could there be a cultural leap greater than that which would take her to experience life as an engineer on the road with SSS? What does her mother think? Indeed, what about the vicar's plans for her? Whilst not engaged in the performance of songs of praise to the Christian God, the young Jessica could be seen looking totally fabulous around the posey nightclubs of London. This was her initial point of contact with SSS creator, visionary and media star (plays bass in his spare time), Tony James, who later was to claim her for his sound engineer. She went willingly and continues to have a great time playing mixers around Europe, and getting a good sound to boot — and of course I do mean that literally. Her career as a sound engineer may be cut short, however, if the soon-to-be-released single by the act she manages (Robert Parnell) gets some success. So if you've never touched a fader, and you wanna be a mega star, Darling, apply now, just in case.
Apart from one token male, all the road crew are also women and are apparently somewhat more efficient and reliable than their male counterparts, possibly due to their relative lack of interest in drugs and alcohol and general self-abuse. There have been a few problems with overly amorous male groupies, though nothing that couldn't be handled.
These woman are not to be messed with. They even take care of on-stage security including the expulsion of even the most violent offenders who illegally find their way onto the stage.
The rig normally used for the Sputniks is from PA hire company Audiolease and company director Tim Sutherland always goes out with it to set-up and ensure that technical requirements are met. It's more or less the same rig as the one that goes out with The Banshees: an all JBL system powered by BGW amps comprising (per side):
6 RCA 1x18 folded horns to 200Hz
5 Tyco Brahe 2x12 to 1kHz
6 JBL 2482s to 5kHz
6 JBL 2441s and 16 JBL 075s
The FOH desk is a Midas 32:8:2 with a mixture of Pro 4 and Pro 40 input channels which goes via a pair of Klark Teknik DN27A graphics into a BSS four-way crossover.
The foldback mixer is a Midas 24:10 (Pro2), there are eight 27-band graphics (Yamaha and Klark Teknik), we use three BSS crossovers and the power amps are BGW 750s. There's a side fill either side consisting of:
1 Court 2x15
1 Martin Philishave 2x12
2 JBL 2441 horns
Then there are
4 Martin LE200 wedges
2 JBL 2x12 wedges
2 Martin/JBL drum fills consisting of:
1 JBL 4530
1 2441 with a Martin HF2 horn.
However, at the Camden Palace on Wednesday they were using the in-house JBL/Court Acoustic FOH system including a Soundcraft 400B 24:4:2 FOH desk, BSS crossovers, BGW 250 and 750 amps and the following speakers (perside):
32x15 folded horns to 150Hz
2 2x12 to 1.2kHz
3 JBL 2482 and 1 JBL 2425 all on flares to 6kHz
8 JBL 2402
A Yamaha REV-7 and an SPX 90 were used to create huge reverberations around the vocals and snare, and a Roland SDE-3000 DDL was used for a single repeat on the lead vocal — about 190ms.
The relative scarcity of mikes on stage greatly helps in keeping things separate and clear in the mix, and the sound was generally full and clear all over the auditorium.
The man behind Burn Burn Satellite creation (the English translation of SSS), Tony James, has five channels of bass on stage Di'd for the FOH sound and played through a pair of Ampeg SVT stacks for stage monitoring: a Roland synth bass guitar with foot controller providing a balanced XLR stereo output, a Roland Super Jupiter (MKS-80) with another balanced XLR stereo output and a Yamaha DX-7.
Neal X, recruited primarily for his barnet, has now learned to play a Gibson 295 semi-acoustic with some competence — he still doesn't use his little finger like the grown-ups do, but give it time, Nea|. His guitar goes through a Roland SRE-555 Chorus Echo and a pair of Fender Twin Reverbs, one with Gauss speakers and one with JBL speakers which are miked-up with a single ElectroVoice RE20.
Ray Mayhew and Chris Kavanagh weren't exactly afterthoughts, but they were chosen for their youth and enthusiasm. There are two of them, not to express James's particularly strong feel for rhythm, but because he felt it would look good on stage. Both drum kits are SDS-7s (kick, snare and three toms) plus hi hats and cymbals miked up by AKG 224s.
Would-be (and maybe is) extraterrestrial, Martin Deville, is a clothes salesman from Kensington. He has a really terrible voice and a decidedly rummy attitude concerning his choice of gents raiment. Thus he was natural choice as the band's vocalist. Not that it makes much difference, but he uses a Sennheiser 431 (a great mike) as opposed to the slightly more down-market Shure SM78s used for the backing vocals.
Yana Ya Ya plays a Portastudio running-in snatches of film and TV and John Sachs deriding SSS on Capital Radio. Also, the output of young Martin's vocal mike is split so that one side goes to the FOH desk as per normal while the other half runs into one of the channels of the Portastudio to be sent at will by Yana to a Roland 301 Chorus Echo the output of which is then sent off to the FOH desk for general broadcast. No, they don't use any other backing tapes, and no they don't do any miming. All the apparently live parts are played live — apparently everyone asked that question — or are they miming?
SSS are what the industry's been asking for for a longtime — a band based entirely on image. The famous quote from Tony James says it all: "If people look like stars and have the right attitude and charisma, learning to play is easy." And how very true — to the level that's required to thrash. With the coming of SSS I feel a strange sense of relief, as if the underlying, self-conscious sham of the Pop industry has finally been openly and enthusiastically expressed. And it's great — they're a perfect mirror. For half an hour SSS are great entertainment, but then that's it. The hour-long set was too much, everyone started to doze off, and the band came back on for an encore well after any applause had died out. So now it's peaked on the superficial image front, where's the music industry going to go next? SSS is all very well, but it seems to be losing itself in its obsession with screen violence (inducing real violence in its audience) and its untouchable 'I'm special so fuck you' image. So it's all a laugh, and the image thing is just a superficial game — but then what? I still think it has to die sooner than later, or I'll eat my Steely Dan albums, which is more than the EMI A&R department will be eating after that reputed £4,000,000 advance. Phew.
Feature by Jim Betteridge
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!