Promising to sell 16 million copies and to break up in a blaze of smoke after 18 months, welsh rockers manic street preachers released their incendiary debut double album, generation terrorists, in 1992. While neither of these ultra-idealistic goals were achieved, the band has since become something of a national treasure and has accumulated eight top 10 albums, 15 top 10 singles (including a number one) and a loyal fanbase. TPi caught up with the crew behind the manic street preachers latest tour of the uk and europe ahead of the release of their 12th studio album, futurology, later this year.
Tour and Production Manager, Angus Jenner, was on hand to talk a little about his role with the band and how he came to be involved with the Manic Street Preachers when TPi visited the tour partway thorugh its UK journey. “I’ve been working for the Manics since 2004. Before 2004, I was an SJM concerts rep, and I got to know the management of the Manics through that. I did production for the Manics in 2004 during the Lifeblood tour, and then I ended up doing everything.” On the challenges of being both Tour and Production Manager, Jenner stated: “My role is quite unusual in the sense that I’m doing two jobs. It’s confusing sometimes! I spend a lot of time translating what the band want show-wise, and working with the designers on it. I have to do a lot of advance prepping and building up to the tour. Then when the tour starts I end up travelling with the band and become more tour managerial and leave Chris Trimby - Monitor Engineer - to stage-manage the show and Cally Harris - Production Coordinator - to run the office.”
Somewhat anti-climactically, the band started the tour in March with a show at the Leeds First Direct Arena and two gigs at the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. Jenner continued: “The downscaling of the kit has been a challenge. Originally we had four trucks, but we lost two after the homecoming gigs in Cardiff. We’re only taking one truck around Europe after the UK leg, we’re not actually taking any production at all.”
A significant proportion of the Manic Street Preachers crew has been working with the band for over a decade. FOH Engineer, Davey Cooper is no exception. Said Cooper: “Back in the early nineties, Robbie Allen, who works for Avid, was mixing the Manics. When he went to the states for a year, he asked me if I wanted to jump in, and so it began. Actually, come to think of it, there’s only two people ever to have mixed the Manics: Robbie Allen and me!”
Despite the fact that he was wearing an Avid t-shirt when I met him backstage at the Manchester Apollo, Cooper actually mixes on a Midas console. “I’m using a Midas PRO6. I was using a Midas PRO5 previously, and a Midas XL4 for about 12 years before that. I just like the feel of the Midas - its got superior sound quality in my opinion, and good build quality is assured.”
Cooper attempts to keep the mix sounding as live as possible to stay true to the bands rock ‘n’ roll sound. “I’m such a Luddite, I don’t like using scenes. I try and ensure that my job behind the desk is just like the experience of mixing on an analogue desk as possible. I’m just operating and moving. I believe that there’s a lack of engagement in the show if you use too many scenes. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to employ scenes, but with a band like the Manics, I try and retain that live sound as much as possible.
“Playing the arena in Cardiff was a highlight. For a lot of bands that kind of homecoming show would be the last gig on the tour. But for the Manics it was the other way round!”
Cooper was keen to tell us about his preference for Shure microphones, especially with regards to the popular SM58 model, which is his vocal microphone of choice for the band. “There’s a reason why the SM58 is the most popular microphone in the world; it’s reliable, and you know exactly what they’re going to give you.” Cooper continued: “The only time to think about alternatives is if you’ve got a tricky vocalist. But with the case of the Manic Street Preachers, I mean, James [Dean Bradfield, lead vocalist] can really sing, he’s Welsh!”
In addition to vocals, Cooper also uses Shure to microphone the guitar and bass amplifiers - of which there is a whole assortment. With respect to drum microphones, Cooper and drummer Sean settled on an Audix set-up. Cooper commented: “Sean’s a great shopper. I was having a chat with him a while back about the Audix D6 kick drum microphone, which has great resonance, and he just went and bought the whole set of Audix microphones!”
Curious as to whether the enormous back catalogue of the band - from the heavier guitar sounds of the Holy Bible to the primarily acoustic ballads of their latest album, Rewind the Film - posed any difficulties from the FOH perspective, Cooper explained: “Well, whereas the Manics’ last album has a very acoustic sound, the new one [from which the band have rehearsed to play three songs] has a more krautrock / industrial sound. So we had to sit down and talk about how we were going to approach that, due to the large amount of differing sonic textures.”
Serving as both Monitor Engineer and Stage Manager on the tour, 2004 TPi Award-winning Monitor Engineer Chris Trimby has worked with the band twice before. Said Trimby: “My first stint with the band was in the ‘90s. I first met the Manics when I worked on [Channel 4 TV Show] TFI Friday, where the Manics played on a couple of occasions. The second spell started in 2007 on the Send Away The Tigers tour.”
Trimby, like Cooper, is using a Midas PRO6 for the tour. “I’ve used Midas since the start. When I first started out, I was using a PRO2. That desk had three knobs - presence, treble and bass [laughs]. Undeterred, I went from a PRO2 to a PRO4 and then onto a PRO5. The PRO6 is a continuation before they went onto the excel range. The sound quality is just superior.” He continued: “I’ve also tried out Avid and Yamaha consoles over the years. I was actually one of the first people to try out a digital board - an Innovason - when I was working on Top Of The Pops. But for me the head amplifier is the defining factor in a mixing desk, and in the Midas PRO6 the head amplifier is far superior than in other consoles.”
Both Trimby and Cooper work for audio supplier SSE, who supplied the audio equipment for the tour. Trimby has worked for SSE since 1990. He told us how he came to be involved with the company: “When I was working in TV, work would usually run over the wintertime. Consequently I’d pick up bands and lose them again - unable to finish the tour due to my television commitments. In order to keep work going, I’d then do some festivals in the summer months, originally with Entec back in the day - the promoters of Glastonbury and Reading festivals. SSE were heavily involved, and so I got to know them from there.”
As for monitors, Trimby uses the everpopular d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges. Said Trimby: “I think that the Midas PRO6 console and the d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges are together the best sound quality you can get.” In addition, two L-Acoustics ARCs for side fill and six L-Acoustics KARAs are employed for in fill.
Seeing as the Manics tour takes in both stadia and academies, I inquired as to the challenges this posed for Trimby. “There’s always a difference in the amount of cubic airspace in each venue. Theres a certain amount of reflective surfaces that you have to take into account. Wembley Arena has terrible sound due to the fact that there’s a swimming pool underneath, for example! The best venues are multi-teared - and full. We’re looking for things to absorb the sound. It’s not only the technology you have at your disposal, but how you use it. If you have monitors too loud, you can upset FOH - and vice versa. And problems can be created by turning up the PA to compensate in larger venues. In this respect, the PA can be like a game of squash, so you have to be careful. Working with one another in harmony is the name of the game!”
On the subject of PA, TPi was surprised to learn that the brand new L-Acoustics K2 line array was the PA of choice for the Manics Tour. The much-awaited K2 - hot off the beta testing circuit with SSE - offers K1 sound quality in a lighter, more easily transportable housing, something that is of interest to every production manager.
FOH System Tech, Nick Lythgoe furthered: “The K2 is the ideal system for our purposes. You can use it quite happily in an arena, but its small enough (same width as a K1) and light enough to easily put it in an academy or theatre. You can also ground stack it. In academy runs, we can very accurately predict its behaviour and tailor it to the rooms. Its an extremely versatile system.” He continued: “At SSE we’ve just bought 72 units to replace the L-Acoustics v-DOSC. We carry 12 on each side with two K1 subwoofers. We’re also carrying six SB28 subwoofers, and for the arenas we’re using eight.”
The set up is fully Lake controlled, with two Lab.gruppen LM44’s and one LM26 at FOH. In addition, two LM44’s are utilised per side in the Amprack, and the whole operation is networked by a Dante interface.
LIGHTING & VISUALS
Colin Ross has been with the Manics since 2007 and is both the Lighting Designer and Lighting Operator on the tour. “The Manics sound ranges so much from heavy rock to anthemic ballads like Motorcycle Emptiness, and so you need to have a lighting rig that can cope with both. I always like to have a rock rig that is capable of both extremes.
“I’m using mainly washlights; it’s a mixture of 16 Clay Paky Alpha beams and 14 of the new Robe Robin MMX washbeams. A washbeam is, of course, a washlight that gives a perfect beam light and also does gobo effects, so you get the best of both worlds. They’re very impressive and bright. I’m also using 12 Martin by Harman Atomic strobes.
“I always like to have a lot of tungsten and a lot of strobe. On that front, I’m using Altman 155 18-inch flood scoops, which have a very interesting theatre or TV lighting dynamic. It’s nice to have something big and impacting.” As for the lighting console, Ross is using a Chamsys MQ100 2010 desk: “I converted to Chamsys a couple of years ago. They’re easy to get a hold of, and very easy to programme. I’ve been on the road with this for about 18 months,” he noted.
2014 TPi Awards production supplier, Siyan Lighting provided the lighting equipment for the Manics Tour. “Siyan have always supplied the lighting gear for the Manics. Also, I’ve worked very closely with them for the last few years, and they’re a great compact sized company.”
Video Coordinator, Toby Vogel, is perhaps an anomaly among the rest of the team, given that it’s his very first tour with the band. “This is my first tour with the Manics. I became involved with the band through Kieran Evans who produced some of the video content for this tour. I’ve worked with him for the last 10 years on various projects, and he was originally the one who called me, and I also knew Angus through various projects.
“Kieran’s produced the content on a track specific basis with a lot of input from the band. For some tracks the videos are very text based, whereas on some of the tracks the videos are more narrative, like the film Show Me the Wonder which bagged Kieran and the band a Q Award in 2013 for Best Video.
“What we’ve got is video content for probably 75% of the set using Resolume software through an Apple imac. Half of the content is triggered from the stage by Timecode, which then triggers the track, and some of the songs are accompanied by text on the projection screen, so the timing needs to be bang on. I’m using two Barco FLM HD20Ks on the front truss projecting onto a site which is not actually screen material, but shark’s tooth gauze.
“Because its not projection material, you need good projectors to get the most out of it. I’ve got two projectors projecting the same thing, which gives me about 30% more light output, and of course, if the bulb goes in one of them, I’ve got the other as back up. I use Barco Toolset software to line both projectors, so it doesn’t take too long to double them up,” said Vogel.
“For Midi, I’m using an Akai APC40 Midi Ableton controller, which I can then map into my Resolume software, which allows you to control what the faders do whilst being able to add various different effects. Some of the videos play through from start to finish, but in some of them I do a bit more fiddling to give it more of a spontaneous quality. I’m working closely with Colin on lights so we interact with restraint on a track-by-track basis.”
10 time TPi Award winning video rental supplier, XL Video, is the vendor of choice for the Manics tour. “Working with XL, their kit is always very reliable,” continued Vogel, “We did arena shows in Leeds and Cardiff where we also rented larger IMAG screens from XL. We also had two cameras in the pit, and one long lens for distance shots, and then some film effects that I was running from here, which we would then overlay and project onto the central screen.”
Phoenix has been once again entrusted with the task of delivering the Manics in one piece around the UK and Europe, while Beat the Street are transporting the crew. Paul Hattin, Operations Manager for Phoenix, stated: “We’ve had a very good relationship with the band stretching back to last century and it’s always a pleasure to deal with Angus [Jenner, Production Manager] - that relationship goes back even further! The band had their usual driver, Phil Gurney and we also had two crew sleeper buses on for the duration of the tour. The tour goes into Europe for most of next month with their band bus and only one crew bus.”
Phil Gurney, self christened ‘personal relocation technician’ kindly showed us around the tour bus and even had time for a brief chat. “I’ve been with Phoenix for 15 years. I’ve known Angus for a long time; I used to tour with Texas, and Angus was the promoter for them at the time, and then one day, about 10 years ago, he asked me if I wanted to drive the Manics, and I accepted.”
He continued: “Driving is never plain sailing. You have to be considerate to the other road users and the people you’re carrying. Also there are a lot of stringent rules and regulations that us drivers now have to deal with.”
Fly By Nite are transporting the bands equipment. In an impromptu chat from his truck cab window, driver Paul Edwards stated: “I’ve worked with the band once before. I was pleased to be asked back for this tour, the vibe is great, and the band are really friendly.”
Media Travel has been providing travel management services to the band and Hall or Nothing Management since 1992. Fran Green, CEO for Media Travel, stated: “We are extremely proud to have enjoyed their trust, loyalty, support and, of course, the music, over the past 22 years. It has been exciting to experience their career evolving and life here at Media Travel is always exciting when the band are on the road long may it ‘stay beautiful’.”
Popcorn Catering are another company to have worked with the band for several years. “I’ve worked for Popcorn for five years, and this is my first tour with the Manics,” said Sam Letteri, Head Chef on the tour. “I was really pleased to be asked to do the tour, and I’m a great fan of the group - they’re exactly what I expected, really down to earth. It’s also a really nice, closeknit team. Everyone helps everyone. From the top, the band are so friendly, and it filters all the way down. There’s no pre-Madonna’s here.
“On the menu tonight we’ve got a traditional Mancunian dish (he joked): turkey Katsu curry, venison solaria and chili tiger prawns. For lunch, again, we had a traditional Mancunian selection of Moroccan and Indian foods.”
All in all, the Manics’ tour production crew made a great impression. The whole machine is extremely well-oiled, and the crew is extremely accommodating. Cally Harris, Production Coordinator, summed up: “Everyone is really nice. The team is really adapted to each other, and there’s generally a really nice vibe.”
Jenner affirmed that the great working atmosphere extended beyond the crew: “The suppliers have been with us for such a long time, and they do a great job. There’s a great relationship there with everybody.” He concluded: “We’ve all got a great feeling about the next record, so if all goes to plan, the next tour in the autumn will be taking in a few more arenas.”