Now a staple of the Royal Albert Hall’s springtime calendar, the Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual festival of music and comedy shows has seen over 200 artists perform to nearly 500,000 fans, raising more than £22 million since its launch in 2000.
Throughout the event’s 16-year history, Entec Sound & Light has been proud to remain its exclusive audio provider and, through its partnership with manufacturer d&b audiotechnik, has set high standards at the revered London venue. This year, with the deployment of the latest version of a Dante network package and d&b’s ArrayProcessing software, the partnership reached a new peak.
The event grew out of Roger Daltrey encouraging The Who to play a show for the charity, and in doing so, becoming the driving force for the events that followed, curating each year’s bill alongside show producer Des Murphy.
The event kicked off with a comedy night headlined by John Bishop, the week progressed with The Vaccines and Everything Everything, Simply Red, Bring Me The Horizon and New Order, ending with a classic performance by David Gilmour.
Middlesex-based Entec became involved from the outset, in no small part due to the company’s former head of sound, Dick Hayes, who managed TCT’s audio up until his retirement last year. He says: “I had worked for The Who since 1969 under Bob Pridden and, coincidentally, my first gig with them was at the Albert Hall. When I joined Entec in 1995, Bob was one of the first people I contacted because The Who were forever having monitoring problems. I presented our APW monitors as a solution: Daltrey and Townshend loved them, and when the first TCT show was announced, Entec was given the job.”
The production team for TCT has remained stable throughout the show’s existence with Steve Allen in residence as production manager since the first event.
However, no one takes their role for granted, according to Matt Grounds who, after running monitors last year, became both Entec’s project manager and crew chief for 2016. “The consistency of the crew over the years has been key to maintaining a good working relationship with TCT production,” says Grounds. “We are very fortunate to have highly skilled people whose personalities are a very good fit.”
Taming the auditorium
Entec’s long experience of handling one of the world’s most notoriously challenging acoustic spaces carries considerable value. A d&b audiotechnik rental partner since 1995, the company originally deployed the C4 system, configuring it as a large centre cluster for the array cabinets, particularly the directionality and level distribution of the low-mid frequency range. “This prompted d&b to take a further step with the system processing that allows the low-mid to be distributed more evenly and you can really hear the difference,” claims Jonny Clark, the successor to Dick Hayes in his newly appointed role of head of sound.
(ArrayCalc, the simulation tool within d&b’s processing suite, is a crucial link here – the function used to design an array based on a map of the venue, providing system performance prediction, time alignment, rigging and safety parameters.)
Last year’s introduction of Entec’s custom-packaged, highly scalable Dante networking system was another step forward for the TCT shows, prompted by the distribution of amplifiers in the gallery, underneath the stage and in the ‘rat run’ behind the stage, and the associated desire to reduce analogue cabling and gain more flexibility. For 2016, the system took in 28 managed network switches with eight Focusrite RedNet units located around the venue and Lake LM44s running Dante input and output.
As a result of also being fed into the network, crew communications on TCT have reached a new level of sophistication. Matt Grounds explains: “We are using MyMix personal monitor mixers for the crew shout system which is integrated into our Telex BTR 800 radio comms and Mikey Grove, our stage manager, has a radio pack that can switch between each department with more flexibility than he’s ever known.”
Advance dialogue with all artists informed the deployment of a DiGiCo SD7 as Entec’s house FOH console – manned by engineer Paul Ramsay – and an SD10 for monitor mixer Simon Higgs. Grounds: “For The Vaccines’ engineers Martin Hildred and Neil Heal we brought in a pair of Avid Profiles, which was one of the few special requests we received. We install what we believe is the best possible system configuration for the venue, but we are also here to serve the incoming artists so there are always a number of individually tailored items.”
Also at FOH, a Midas PRO1 was hooked up to the Dante network via a KT DN9650 network bridge to manage compère mic feeds, VT audio playback and matrixing for incoming consoles. Additionally, to service Matt Hey’s multitrack recording of every show in conjunction with FX Rentals, Entec supplied a system based around a 96-channel Avid D-Show VENUE console running MADI to Pro Tools.
Nearly every year sees Entec working with other rental firms whose clients are in the line-up. For TCT, the company teamed up with SSE for Bring Me The Horizon and Britannia Row for Simply Red and David Gilmour. Says Jonny Clark: “Between SSE and ourselves, we came up with the idea off Bring Me The Horizon [BMTH] running their own line system via our network and then into our SD7 at FOH. Meanwhile, the support band, PVRIS, used our line system and Profiles at each end so that we had two completely independent set-ups. That was immensely helpful because BMTH decided to augment their set with a full choir and orchestra, obviously impacting greatly on the input count.”
“That’s one of the really impressive things about TCT,” added Grounds. “The artists love being part of it and often go the extra mile to treat it as a special one-off show, and so adding 60 choir singers onstage is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect. There’s a level of excitement that you don’t normally see elsewhere.
“With David Gilmour, it was a case of accommodating his production within our existing set-up, so we removed the stage extension to create space for his trademark circular screen and recalculated to bring the rear PA hangs forward.” Brit Row brought in their line system and SD7 at FOH for engineer Colin Norfield, although it was still Entec’s PA.
“Maintaining good relationships with these other companies is important because at some point you are going to be working together on events like TCT and smooth interaction is what everyone wants,” says Grounds.
Entec’s crew also included technicians James Kerridge and Tom Olorenshaw. Of all the many special moments from the 2016 shows, one of the major highlights came when, three days after Prince’s tragic death, David Gilmour segued into Purple Rain during his iconic Comfortably Numb guitar solo – a fitting tribute at the climax of an emotionally charged week.
Top pic: Comedy headliner John Bishop. Second pic: The d&b PA hang during soundcheck. Third pic: L-R FOH engineer Paul Ramsay and system designer Liam Halpin. Last pic: Entec's Dante network.