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View from the top: The PA company boss (Bryan Grant)

Thirty-five years with Britannia Row Productions, “and probably still be here in another 35”....

Thirty-five years with Britannia Row Productions, “and probably still be here in another 35”…

Who are you?

This morning I was Bryan Grant.

What do you do?

I’m managing director of Britannia Row Productions. We rent out people and equipment to the live entertainment industry. That covers gigs, tours, events, sporting events… anything that makes a noise, we do.

What is your biggest success to date?

Still being here, I think [laughs]. Waking up every morning with most things working, coming into work and the business is still here – and we’re having fun. I’m serious about that, I suppose.

As I said to Derrick Zieba just before he died, we’ve been to places, seen things, and done things that most people wouldn’t even begin to dream of. We’re very lucky in that respect. There are people who live their whole lives in boredom. I’ve never considered what we do as work. I’ve always considered “work” to be something that you don’t want to do, but you have to get up in the morning and do it to put money on the table. I think people in our industry are lucky in that what they do affords them a living. So what they do first is what they want to do, and secondly they can make a living at it. That’s as good as it gets, isn’t it?

What is the biggest challenge coming up for you?

Still being here! Every morning’s a challenge [laughs]. There are different sorts of challenges. It could be the next big gig we have to do. That could be the Foo Fighters; I hope Dave Grohl is going to get better and play. I think the Rugby World Cup is going to be a real challenge; we’re doing 13 stadiums there. But we have lots of people around us who rise to the challenge far better than what I can.

The challenge as Mike (Lowe, financial director) and I get older is to have a business that can carry on. It’s not that we’re tired of it? To respond to those challenges, we’ve got a great team of people in our middle management. I can see them looking at me sometimes thinking, “Poor old sod… go and sit in the corner somewhere!” It’s fine, it’s what should happen.

Could you ever retire?

I don’t know. Is retirement stopping? I have too much fun. The way this business works, your work is your life and your life is your work. There will come a time I guess: someone will say, “For God’s sake, piss off!”

What about the business, if anything, do you really dislike?

I think being dictated to by people who don’t understand or respect what it is we do, and what we contribute to the business. The people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It’s an old cliché, but the lowest price isn’t necessarily the best price.

I dislike being put into situations where I can’t deliver what I regard to be the best possible audio. I dislike being compromised in that way, and sometimes we are. I dislike people who don’t have respect for other people.

What is the one issue that never seems to go away?

There is a lack of respect for audio. You can have everything else spot on; if the sound isn’t working, you don’t have a concert. It’s the most fundamental thing about performing in front of more than a few hundred people. It’s so fundamental it’s been forgotten.

I wouldn’t say I want us to be sanctified or put on a pedestal, but let’s just all respect what each other does, give each other credit for that and help each other achieve the best we can.

How do we achieve that?

It’s just education, I suppose. We in the audio industry have been our own worst enemy. Sound engineers tend to be very laid back people. Lighting designers and set designers and choreographers tend to be people that stand up and shout and get what they want. We inflict out own wounds.

Time for engineers to stand up and be more assertive?

It’s more about other people not thinking. What would you say to a crowd of 20,000 people if there was no sound? In fact, you couldn’t say anything. It’s funny isn’t it? We built this whole industry up on amplified sound. The fact that you can even play to 100,000 people isn’t because the lights are so bright, is it? It’s because they can hear you.

What adventures are you looking forward to next?

I tell you what I always look forward to: going to a gig. It may not be the hippest thing in the world, the biggest band, or the one with the most artistic merit. But what I occasionally get is a reminder of why I got into the business: when you see 100, 1,000, 100,000 people having the greatest time. Or somebody playing an instrument you’ve never heard before and you think, “Wow, what is that noise? How did that happen?” When somebody sings a song that brings you to the edge of tears. That is why I keep at it.

This is #3 of 10 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive2015, PSNEurope‘s 10th annual analysis of the European live sound industry. This year, we quizzed incumbents of key industry roles on the ups and downs of the business. The result is a range of insights (views from the top, no less) from a diverse group of individuals, all of whose careers are inextricably linked to the fabric of live sound.