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Inaugural FOMfest takes place in Manchester

The first ever Friends of Mine festival (FOMfest) was held at the picturesque Capesthorne Hall site close to Manchester last month featuring headline performances by The Cribs, The Buzzcocks, and Badly Drawn Boy. Paul Watson reports...

Friends of Mine (FOM) was born in 2004 as a showcase for new bands and singer-songwriters in Manchester. By 2009, it had grown such a following that it opened residencies in London and Liverpool; and this year, FOM reached new heights with the launch of its first ever green field festival, FOMfest. Despite the rain and blustery winds, droves of punters turned up at the 10,000-capacity Capesthorne Hall site for a wet weekend of excellent live music across four stages on May 20th-22nd, where headliners included The Charlatans, The Cribs, and the ever-so-entertaining Badly Drawn Boy. All audio for the festival was organised by Red Square Audio’s Paul Nicholson, who was brought in just two months before the festival began by Stagecraft (who were to provide staging, lighting, and power). However, when Stagecraft unexpectedly pulled out just two weeks before the event, Nicholson’s workload went into overdrive. “We were already a long way down the road with what we wanted, and thankfully, the festival organisers helped us pick up the pieces very well,” he explains. “It did mean that we had to go and talk to three more companies to get everything together at the last minute though, and bearing in mind that we had 120 bands to deal with over four stages, it was a remarkably intense month.”

Nicholson (pictured) specified APG, Innovason, and Apex gear for the main stage – his three favoured manufacturers; and had a 30-strong audio crew working with him. The main stage was kitted out entirely with APG gear, comprising a L/R Uniline line array system with nine boxes per-side of UL210 cabinets supplemented by two UL210D downfill cabinets per-side and eight UL155B bass cabinets; and 16 TB218S 18” subwoofers – four boxes positioned each side of the stage, and eight across the front. Monitoring was also supplied by APG, comprising 16 SMX15 wedges; a pair of DX15 drum monitor speakers; two TB118S subs; and a pair of 3000Cs deployed for the sidefills. All DSP was handled by APG DMS26 digital loudspeaker processors. “If you’re doing a festival, you have to have a big wedge – something that will deliver serious impact – and that’s what the Uniline system gives us,” Nicholson explains. “On a sloping field it can be tough, and the weather’s been really difficult this weekend, but I have to say the Uniline seems pretty immune to windshift. With a lot of line arrays, it can feel like a giant phaser when the wind gets up, as it’s a thin line of sound and you get a 6dB shift, but we’ve had very little of that, which is great.” Two Innovason Eclipse consoles sat at FOH position flip-flopping between bands, and another was used on monitors. Nicholson says the reaction from all of the engineers was extremely positive. “You have to please the engineers – that’s the acid test really,” he reveals. “They walk up and say ‘what’s this?’ because it’s new, and then once you’ve shown them the basics and the EQ and FX, they’re mixing on it two minutes later. It’s an incredibly easy console to work with, and hopefully it will start appearing on more riders. “Bands were multi-tracking too, which is great. We have SATA drives so we can record the sets, keep them in the Eclipse console, and the next week we can put them onto our server so a band can download their set and remix it in Pro Tools or something similar; it’s a great tool to have.” Apex Audio completed the Red Square Audio chain, with two Intelli-X² 48 audio system management devices being deployed for use on the main stage. “We had a rack in the middle of the FOH consoles with the Apex units EQing the system; and one Intelli-X² was used on each of the two consoles, linking them out through Word Clock,” explains Nicholson. “We utilised AES and analogue connections; you can do three layers of linking, so if one fails, another takes over, which is a unique function of the unit.” Nicholson hopes that next year can be bigger and better, and says the whole thing has been a huge learning experience for FOMfest and himself. “We have been lucky enough to have a really great team for this festival,” he says. “The crew has been so good, in fact, that I have done very little running about; and hopefully we can take it all up another level next year.”
FOMfest had a definite family-friendly feel to it, and each of its stages catered for something a little different; as well as the main acts, there was some jazz, blues, rock & roll, comedy, and even the festival’s home-brewed real ale! The main (Satellite) stage was packed during performances by Manchester favourites The Buzzcocks (pictured at top) and The Cribs; and my personal highlight was an excellent acoustic set on the Lake stage by the notoriously unpredictable Damon Gough – AKA Badly Drawn Boy. Amidst the slinging of his blues harp into the audience after stopping mid-song due to the “f*cking noise” coming from the main stage (otherwise known as The Cribs) and several tirades of unprintable abuse hurled at audience members, he delivered some superb renditions of songs from a number of his albums. Quote of the night for me though came just after he finished playing a song from his latest record: “That one’s from my new album – you know, the one no-one bought.” Genius.