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On the road with Simon Honywill: From the Old City to Old Trafford

The FOH engineer kept track of his summer exploits exclusively for PSNE. Glastonbury lies ahead, but there's plenty to think about before that...

Simon Honywill writes…

As I write this initial instalment of ‘Simon’s Sonic Summer’ it’s set fair for a corking Glasto and hopefully everything that follows. My role at Somerset’s global village fete has become one of ‘overseer’ rather than full-blooded festivaleering, having recommended a change of PA system for the Pyramid Stage this year – I’m fortunate enough to be able to ask my friends to rig and operate it so I can swan in and say ‘a bit more on delay four’, and grease a few egos at FOH. More of this later…

A regular customer for me is Wales’s principal export, Katherine Jenkins. Working for her is akin to being a heli-vet – gigs come in all shapes and sizes in all kinds of places, anything from a vocal to track for a corporate in front of a privileged few to a full symphony orchestra in a stadium. My summer started with a trip to Istanbul at the end of May for such a ‘corporate’, hosted by our government, there to schmooze the Turks with all things bright and British with a view to increasing our exports. In a series of events staged by Jack Morton Worldwide under the moniker ‘GREAT Britain’ (‘Britain’ tiny in comparison on the marketing materials), the influential of Istanbul were treated to a display of cutting edge British technology and design – and that was just the canapés.

To kick the evening off, Katherine performed three songs to track on a postage stamp of a stage that featured the Bosphorus for a backdrop – a more stunning location would be hard to find, but this one was quite hard to see, blocked as it was by two inappropriately huge stacks of Adamson that had been sourced locally. My heart sank when I saw it, as I’m a fan of a tidy system that fits a space visually as well as sonically. But, alas, I have only myself to blame. Due to a slight misinterpretation of an email on my part, I ended up with the Adamson system when I could have had a much more suitably proportioned d&b Q system, and the punters would have got to see the Bosphurus, but that’s not the point.

About a quarter of a century ago, I used to do a great deal of work in the corporate sector, and among the good friends I made was a certain Geoff Eaton, an extremely competent audio engineer. As is the way of these things, our careers careered off in different direction…

Then I go on this job, and who is there to look after me but Geoff, 25 years on and EXACTLY the same, whereas I am wider and greyer. Best thing to do? Get the gig out of the way and find a restaurant sharpish to catch up on old times. Three songs to track – easy – until the playback machine won’t play WAVs and my instant access software, recently installed on my shiny new Mac decided it wasn’t interested either.

It was one of those situations you could never have envisaged. (I downloaded a highly-recommended instant playback utility on my Windows laptop, and it worked beautifully. But I hate that laptop, so I bought a Mac. Downloaded the Mac version, used it once and it crashed, forever. KJ’s spec asks for a Tascam HD playback machine, which won’t play TIFF files or something, and what did the record company send me…?) Needless to say the show happened, thanks to my old mate Geoff who rode to the rescue like a s***e in shining armour. KJ was of course charming, and after Geoff and I scarpered as quick as you like for beer. We both decided that it was better in the old days… no surprises there.

Now I know a thing or two about mosques, having done my time at the Baital Futuh mosque in Morden designing and installing their not insignificant systems (most recently a Martin Audio Omniline system) around the complex and also for the Amaddihya community’s annual gathering in Sussex. Istanbul’s Blue Mosque (main picture – RT around eight seconds, audio installation suitably appalling), and its neighbour Hagia Sophia, are incredible examples of the genre and mankind’s resource, creativity and artisanal skill. In this industry, it is so often the case where we get to visit extraordinary places and never see them. I have left some of the most beautiful cities in the world with a feeling of real disappointment, hoping that some day I will get the opportunity to come back and discover what all the fuss is about. Not so in Istanbul, an incredible mélange of East and West, Christianity and Islam, Asia and Europe. I am fortunate indeed.

Back in the UK on 8 June, and I was next due to look after KJ again for her appearance for Soccer Aid at Old Trafford (pictured right) singing Abide With Me before the kick-off. We do a few of these kind of events every year – last year it was the American football at Wembley, a surreal experience if ever there was one – but this was more familiar.

These days, football for me is pretty cursory, but Old Trafford has always been a special place, and here I was, not only being paid to go there for the first time, but also positioned pitch-side. The show was live vocal to track, very simple, and all over in moments, but that was not what made it for me. The pre-match kick about was a chance for players and player/celebs to loosen up and get a feel for the pretty electric atmosphere of a 65,000 crowd.

So, there I was checking out the talent when out of the sky came a stray football, like an inconvenient meteorite. What was a man to do under the circumstances? I trapped deftly, took aim at the nearest celeb and caught it on the half-volley to send the ball at chest height screaming across the pitch into Gordon Ramsey’s mid-riff. The crowd cheered, I bowed and tried to not to look smug. This was no dream. This was real. Forty-eight years later than expected, this was my Old Trafford debut. If only Sir Matt had been there.

More on Monday!