Diary of a tour hand - Part 2

Blog by School of Sound Recording under Live, Music Training & Careers, Recording & Production

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Peter Fergie graduated from SSR’s Live Sound course and landed his first job with progressive rockers Anathema on their recent European tour in support of new album “Weather Systems”. Part one of this blog can be viewed here. In part 2 of his blog, we rejoin Peter and the band in Antwerp, Belgium…
Gig number 6: Trix in Antwerp, Belgium

My side of stage view throughout the tour
This is the point of no return, with 7 straight gigs coming up in 7 days in 7 different countries, ending in London for the final gig of the tour. Nice big spacious stage today. Myself and Arjan aren’t quite sure what to do with it all as we’ve been so used to squeezing in where we can. This is the first show where side fills have been spotted by the band on stage, and due to the lack of any bass amp (using SansAmp bass driver DIs) or wedges, they understandably want some drums and bass in the speakers to fire across the stage. This isn’t much of a problem for me, although when Danny starts asking for guitar and vocal in there during the band’s set I have to be quick with the graphic EQ - note to self, prepare for this for the rest of the gigs. Oh one other thing, from this gig on I will be gaffer taping our drummer John’s mixer for his IEMS to every available surface.....lesson well and truly learned after it went flying mid-gig and he lost the click. Oops.
Mike’s WiFi rating: 9/10 about 5 different hotspots in this dedicated live music venue makes Mike a happy Canadian!
Gig number 7: Paradiso in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Packed house in Amsterdam!
The biggest concert of this particular tour - sold out 1,500 capacity 'Paradiso' venue in the Dutch capital, and one hell of a gig! The soundcheck here is a bit shaky, with the room sounding pretty strange with no crowd in to dampen it. But get some people in there (and they certainly did) and everything just comes together. One of my roles during the changeover before Anathema’s set all tour has been line-checking the drums through the PA for Paul. So yes. I played drums for 1,500 people (over 10,000 in the 2 week tour). And I can barely keep a straight beat in time haha. Post-gig drinks over at Skrillex’s party in Melkweg down the road. Might as well not have bothered, he was pretty rubbish, but it was nice to just get out of the dressing room/bus for the night. Dinner here was a buyout - where you essentially get given some cash by the promoter to go and find some food. As it happens I quite like wandering around Amsterdam, there’s always plenty to be seen, so I had a nice hour off while the venue was filling out.
Mike’s WiFi rating: a fairly ordinary 6/10
Gig number 8: Rockfabrik in Ludwigsburg, Germany

Anathema on stage in Ludwigsburg
Quirky little place on the outskirts of Stuttgart which had a very 'Satan’s Hollow' (Manchester rock/metal club) feel about it (although a bit bigger) and was a strange room to mix in. Despite what you might expect, IEMs and close mics change a huge amount depending on the room - this one wasn’t my favourite. Judging by the amount of time Paul spent playing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (his room voicing song of choice, and our “get your arse in gear, it’s soundcheck time” warning) I think he found similar issues. However, the crowd were fantastic and the band really stepped it up again to make a great night of it. The whole operation was starting to get very slick with our set ups for Anathema, myself controlling the patching for Amplifier, and then our changeovers and packdowns. 
Mike’s WiFi rating here was a pretty poor 2/10 - nothing available backstage!
Gig number 9: Alcatraz in Milan, Italy

Soundchecking in Milan
This appeared to be a very well specced set up with some amazing food (it is Italy after all) and friendly house techs. Although the in-house Monitor Engineer was struggling to get his head around why I was moving his console out the way for our little touring Yamaha desk. He also looked particularly upset when I told him both bands were going through my console and everyone had IEMs. The decision to keep going on the touring desk was vindicated when the band thanked the road crew as a whole and Danny announced it was the best sound he’d ever had on stage! True or not, I wasn’t going to take any more jokes from the house techs! 
Something only really found in Italy on this tour was bootlegging before the gig. Everyone’s seen the guys selling knock off shirts outside gigs at the end of the night in the UK. Apparently there’s a sort of deal/agreement in place (I won’t go into details now) but they can’t sell any of their gear before gigs here. In Milan, they had proper market stalls - loads of them - covered in knock-off Anathema shirts etc. Very bizarre. Oh, and the crowd gave up asking myself and Arjan for setlists and started asking for guitars, microphones and the hi-hat?! And they wanted photos with us haha!! Loved it. 
Mike’s Wi-Fi rating 3/10 - you pretty much had to be stood by the router (are you getting bored of these yet?).
Gig number 10: Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland

The “Z7” venue in Pratteln, Switzerland
From the outside this place looks like a barn you might find in a field somewhere. Inside the PA looks like something you might find at a rave also in a field somewhere. However, this is no mickey mouse operation! The in-house engineers here don’t mess around and they had it sounding particularly sweet despite the low volume limit. Even Rui’s mix for Amplifier sounded great at what was much much lower than you would expect for a heavy rocky sounding band. No surprises there to be honest, I spent pretty much every gig out front enjoying Amplifier’s set whilst changing the batteries in the wireless packs for Anathema. Unfortunately, as a monitor engineer, you never get a chance to watch the band you’re working with. Not that it stopped me from doing myself a headphone mix to enjoy when not checking the band’s mixes/riding vocals/fixing fallen mic stands etc. Special mention here for Barbara (I think I’ve got the name right - so many people, so many names) as the food was insanely good. I’d recommend trying to get a gig here even just for that! 
The inevitable Mike WiFi rating was another poor 4/10. 
Gig number 11: Le Bataclan in Paris, France

Venue marquee in Paris
Stepped out of the bus to see the marquee with Anathema and Amplifier above the door. This place looked very smart inside, and the house techs and stage hands made me feel old for the first time this tour. So any young engineers looking for in house work (if you can speak French) head to Paris! It was great to see a venue put such great faith in younger crew, just like Anathema and Paul had with me. There were some serious problems in here during soundcheck due to the shape and surfaces in the structure causing a world of problems out front and as a result some interesting sounds coming back onstage into the microphones. However the in-house FOH engineer said it always sounded like that in soundcheck and calmed down enormously with a crowd. He was spot on showing again how differently a room can behave with and without people inside. Throughout these gigs the band had the crowds in the palms of their hands with simple things like speaking the local languages, something which is always nice to see. This was no different, and the band played an absolute blinder of a set which the crowd lapped up song after song. A really fun gig to do, with not a lot of stress as everything seemed to just work well.
Oh, Mike’s Wi-Fi was a solid 7/10
Gig number 12: Koko in Camden, London, UK

Emotional end to the tour in Camden, London!
Our sleep was interrupted halfway to the final gig as we hit UK Border Control and the ferry crossing. Still a couple more hours sleeping later and we arrived at the final venue of the tour. Another very smooth operation, with soundcheck finishing early enough for me to take a detour on my break to grab a buyout dinner. 
I realised SSR London (SSR’s new campus in the Capital) was based in Camden, not too far from the venue, so I popped in for a look around. Things seem to be coming together well in there! 
The gig was a great end to an amazing tour with Anathema enjoying a fantastic reception from the home (sort of - the band are from Liverpool) crowd. Another unexpected thank you towards the end for the whole road crew! The band seem to be genuinely impressed with the level at which we’ve all worked together, which is something not often expressed in the middle of a gig!! It really is a massive effort from everyone involved with both bands to keep a show like this up and running to a standard that the fans deserve. No WiFi rating from Mike here (sorry to disappoint) as I didn’t ask because my phone was working again!! As this was the final gig, and the band and crew were all heading off back to their various countries of residence afterwards, the bus left us after load-in, and all the gear had to be properly split up and labelled for all the places it must return to on the load out. Not the ideal way to end the whole we didn’t. Amplifier still had their bus back to Manchester and very kindly let us UK-dwellers hitch a ride up north, partying all the way! Hope those guys continue to build on their successes, I’ll certainly be at their next Manchester gig.
That seems as good a place to finish as any. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself all tour, been challenged at times, but never felt out of my depth. Thanks so much to Anathema, Paul and STS, the rest of our road crew/touring party, and of course SSR, in particular Jay Beard the live sound tutor - it’s amazing how much that guy taught me over the short time with him. All that’s left to do now is get back to my other bands and see if I can help their shows improve to those levels. Unless of course I get another phone call to pack my bags.........
Find out more about Peter, the bands and SSR and STS Touring via these links:



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