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Lee Evans Goes Big with Martin Audio Longbow
Three years ago Lee Evans' XL Tour 2005 established the artist not only as a supreme stand-up comedian but a consummate performer that could command the attention of arena sized audiences (the 13,000 who attended MEN in Manchester at the time set a UK record for the most people attending a comedy show).
This placed enormous pressure on the tour sound production company Capital Sound Hire, and their Martin Audio line array rig, which had to create transparent speech intelligibility and intimacy to fans sitting in every one of those seats. In addition, they had to contend with additional FX play-ins (Bohemian Rhapsody), Evans' mandolin on one track - and the exigencies of a camera crew.
Three years on and fundamentally little appeared to have changed. Promoters, Off The Kerb Productions, and production manager Mark Harris were pleased to keep the faith with Cap Sound, and other than Evans swopping his mandolin for a ukulele and piano - and greater emphasis being placed on the big screen reinforcement - it was business as usual ... apart from the PA!
As Cap Sound's account manager Paul Timmins says, "We were looking at tools that were not available three years ago, notably the Mini Line Array and Longbow." Hence Big proved to be an apt name for this tour in every respect.
The audio integrity for the five nights at London's O2 Arena was in the safe hands of Cap's system tech/crew chief Matt Harman-Trick, who knows the venue intimately after working long stints here with both Take That and Kylie Minogue - and has the added advantage of having stood in on the last Evans tour.
It was useful to have maintained some continuity, believes Timmins, noting that around 50% of their crew worked on the last tour." This includes PA tech Finbar Neenan, with Tom Boothby babysitting at FOH - where Phil Tame was again behind the mixing desk (a vintage Midas XL3). Meanwhile, stage manager Neil McDonald had migrated from the Stereophonics, another Capital Sound account, and Capital tech, Dan Kent, was mixing monitors.
For this tour the production company preps three separate rig configurations - for large arenas, small arenas - and one exclusively for the O2, in view of its steeply raked bowl (and consequent width).
In 2005 Cap had fielded W8LC (compact line array) as the main hangs and W8C's for delays (with a few of their then brand new Mini Line Arrays providing boosted stage sidefills).
This time, although the W8LC options was again considered, the commanding throw of the main W8L Longbow was a decisive factor - obviating the need for some of the delayed sound.
The change to Longbow had been predicated by Phil Tame, who had used a system in Europe. "Phil wanted the dynamics of Longbow for certain parts of the show to create a ‘wow' factor, and although the LC's would have been adequate, this solution places less pressure on delays."
Knowing that the spoken word needed to be in as close proximity to the audience as possible, Matt Harman-Trick and Paul Timmins considered the options. "We had spent a lot of time discussing how we would do this when we were here with Kylie and Take That," they report.
At the O2 Arena the distance from the front edge of the stage to the furthest seat is 115m and the top row of seats is surprisingly 30m above the floor. "A lot of people get caught out by this place which is deceptively big," believes Timmins. To put this into perspective, in terms of high altitude, the top seat is still four metres above the top of the PA!
Spanning the rear were four truss mounted delays comprising eight W8LM's - designed to spread the sound laterally and upwards into the upper bowl. This was one of the most significant changes in the design that had toured in 2005.
Unlike other venues on the tour, midpoint delays were deemed unnecessary at the 02, and besides it would have interfered with the audience lighting trusses. "Instead of using three rows of delays having the LM's means we can achieve the same effect from a single spine," says Timmins.
While the core tour rig comprises 10 x W8L Longbow (and two W8LD Downfills) per side, at the 02 Arena Cap Sound rigged 16-box hangs (plus the two Downfills) - and the fact that they were trimmed so high they say is a testimony to the potency of Longbow. Side fills were provided by 16 x W8LC's (and two W8LCD's) per side, while a centre cluster of four W8LM's and four EM15's were added to bring the image right down to the front row and add further intimacy. A line of eight Martin Audio WS218X subs along the front of the stage apron were reinforced with four Martin Audio W2's, stacked on top as front fills.
The entire system is controlled from 11 XTA DP226 processors, running AudioCore software, while a further advantage of this tour is that the amplifiers (predominantly Martin Audio MA4.2s) are on the floor, making them easily serviceable.
With his experience of the 02 Arena, Matt Harman-Trick is happy that he has achieved his objective - by placing the vocal image right in front of every seat in the house - at the same time justifying the suggestion of Lee Evans' long-time sound engineer, Phil Tame, that Longbow would provide the best solution.
In picture: the stage set at the 02 Arena showing the W8L Longbow hangs and the FOH crew of Matt Harman-Trick, Tom Boothby and Phil Tame.
15th October 2008
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