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All hail Mikhail at 80

Stars from around the globe gathered to celebrate the life of ex-Russian leader Gorbachev in an extravaganza put on by LarMac Live and Britannia Row, writes Dave Robinson

Great leaders have always had a penchant for prolix, and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is no exception. Opening the Royal Albert Hall concert celebration of a life that – literally – changed the world, Gorbachev’s scripted oratory stretched from three minutes to twenty-five; not a measure of how it felt, but how it was. 
 Timing presents its own peculiar challenges; not least for a one-off spectacular that saw the likes of Dame Shirley Bassey rub shoulders with Bryan Ferry, Katherine Jenkins, Paul Anka, and The Scorpions. “It was a most bizarre collision of cultural styles,” says Britannia Row’s Bryan Grant with accustomed understatement, “but curiously, on the night, it all came together and worked exceedingly well. The fact the show succeeded at all is in large measure down to Ian ‘Lar’ Greenway and Jo MacKay of LarMac Live. Their production skills brought sense and organisation to a project which was, it would be fair to say, akin to platting fog.”
 The story began in a rush and never relented. “I was contacted by Irina Gulyaeva, production director for the Gorbachev Foundation, exactly four weeks before the show,” says Mackay. “I made the usual checks and then arranged to meet her the next day. The main challenge was time; the RAH was already booked up to midnight the preceding night but at least Irina had already negotiated the artists.” This was to be no simple revolving door of soloists, most would be accompanied by the Krutoi Turetsky Choir and/or the 92-piece London Symphony Orchestra. “That was the sting in the tail,” said MacKay, “and it meant some form of off-site rehearsal was essential.”MacKay and Grant contrived a two-crew system, whereby Britannia Row’s show crew loaded a complete front-end control system, house and monitor mixers, with a small rehearsal PA, into Walthamstow Assembly Halls, while a second crew installed the L-Acoustics V-DOSC PA into the RAH at midnight.
 “But it wasn’t that straightforward,” explains Grant. “The LSO were on tour and only returned from Paris the afternoon before the show, arriving in Walthamstow at 4pm; so rehearsals were very tight.” The Britrow boss had corralled a renowned specialist in Richard Sharratt to mix orchestra using a Midas XL8, while Tom Howat handled the performers on a PRO6. “We also supplied an H3000 for the Scorps at their request,” adds Grant. “With the three desks linked over an AES50 network – the H3000 patched via a DL451 I/O – we could route any input anywhere. With the show being recorded by a 17-camera crew from Russian TV the virtually infinite routing and audio management flexibility afforded by the Midas platform was invaluable.” Oh those Russians A second XL8 provided onstage monitor duties, and broadcast feeds were also provided as the event was being recorded for Russian TV.
 “The Midas consoles worked brilliantly, and there were none of the occasional problems that one can come across with networking; it really came into its own and the network worked a treat,” comments Howat.
 “Bryan Ferry’s engineer, Nick Warren, had just discovered the PRO6 and was extremely pleased to see it there,” he continues. “Paul Anka’s engineer from the US was also delighted to see it and I gave him a quick lesson on rehearsal day and he picked it up very quickly. A couple of the Russian engineers who weren’t used to driving it also learned fast. As an engineer it’s great to show someone how quick it is to get to know. Because I handled all the scene processing they didn’t even have to think about that, they let me get on with the tech side of it and they got on with mixing their numbers.” Britannia Row’s show crew struck the rehearsal kit early evening and the set-up crew took over for load-in at RAH in the wee small hours, for sound run-throughs at 8am.
 “When the doors finally opened at 5.30pm for the champagne reception – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Simon Peres, Lech Walesa were among the guests – all was calm in the sound department, which tells you everything you need to know about the benefit of experience,” smiles Bryan Grant. All proceeds from the event will be shared between the Gorbachev Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support.