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SSE celebrates 40 years since first gig

The PA hire giant has come a long way since supplying high-school concerts from the back of a Ford Transit

SSE Audio Group recently celebrated 40 years since its first gig: supplying the PA for a high-school disco in Nottingham.

The PA hire giant explains:

It was on 12 December 1975 that a purple Ford Transit pulled up at a high school in Merseyside to provide the PA and disco for a sixth-form Christmas party and concert. This low-key concert was in fact the debut gig for a fledgling enterprise called Sigma Sound Enterprises, which would formally launch in early 1976.

Inside the purple Ford Transit were 21-year-old John Penn and his girlfriend, Heather (pictured). The two met at college in Nottingham, married in 1976 and 40 years later remain at the helm of the good ship SSE.

The PA comprised some reflex EV Eliminator bins, constructed in John’s garage, together with a Wem Audiomaster five-channel mixer. The wedge monitors placed on the stage carried the only clue to the new company, with SSE stencilled in white.

In 1976, the business slowly developed, acquiring premises and building a stock of PA that could service larger acts in larger venues. A breakthrough came in 1977, when John met a band of nine musicians who went by the name of [doo-wop revivalists] Darts. They were supporting Jerry Lee Lewis, and when they toured in their own right John provided the sound reinforcement.

The Darts first charted later that year with Daddy Cool/The Girl Can’t Help It, and this propelled them into larger venues around the country, requiring larger and larger PA systems. For John and Heather, it meant a growing overdraft as they invested everything in building (largely in house) a system to meet the needs of their client. So it was that SSE was able to grow rapidly in size and stature to become an established national PA hire company.

On Saturday 12 December 2015, 40 years on from that first high school gig, a reformed Darts coincidentally played at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo with another former SSE client, Chas and Dave. Hammersmith Odeon (as the venue used to be called) staged many a Darts gig back in the ’70s and ’80s with SSE, although this time they will be playing through the house system at the Apollo – supplied and installed by SSE in January of this year.