LONGBOW: TAKING IT TO THE ULTIMATE
A spectacular two-stage configuration for Take That's The Ultimate Tour 2006 revival - conceived largely by show producer Kim Gavin and delivered by production designer Bill Laslett - required Capital Sound Hire to pull out a massive Martin Audio inventory.
With arenas varying in size up to the 14,000 MEN Arena in Manchester, different configurations of Martin Audio's three proprietary line array systems were prepped for use on Stages A and B.
The tour also marked the debut of Martin Audio's new W8L Longbow (*) - a quad-driver, high frequency system.
The Longbow was born out of a combination of advances in high frequency driver technology and evolutionary development of Martin Audio's proprietary wavefront shaping devices - enabling them to boost HF output capability by a massive 10dB and take the performance of the W8L Longbow to a new level.
The carefully controlled wavefront shape has given the Longbow the ability to live up to its name. The Take That tour has visited the biggest arenas in the UK and the Longbow has effortlessly covered right to the back seats, rendering delay speakers completely unnecessary.
Front to back consistency has noticeably improved too, due to the tightly controlled high frequency wavefront shape; this results in better inter-cabinet summation as well as a startling 'right in front of you' image over the whole depth of the arena.
A new ultra-long throw 15in low frequency drive unit has also been developed to keep the W8L Longbow at the forefront of line array technology.
Taking their first drive aboard the new set-up were an experienced trio of sound professionals - FOH sound engineer Gary Bradshaw, whose experience with Martin Audio systems stretches back to the days of the bulky F2, when he was also mixing Take That and bands such as Simple Minds. With him were system technicians Al Woods and Sam Kruger, who respectively look after stages A and B.
The arrival of the tour in London also marked the sound team's induction to the new Wembley Arena - replete with blue seats, as well as acoustically-treated walls, but with the same grid and the stage moved to the opposite (Empire Way) end.
The set and stage design incorporates a variable-length walkway from the main stage, above which hangs a large halo. The halo changes position on varispeed motors and the catwalk retracts into the ceiling when not in use, with all moving parts computer-synchronised.
The main PA comprised 10/14 x W8L Longbow and two wider dispersion W8LD downfill enclosures per side, with six W8LS subs in the air and six of the new front-loaded WS218X's groundstacked. Eight W8LC's performed sidefill duties, with another six pairs of W8LMs handling the nearfills.
On the B stage Cap Sound had four hangs of nine W8LC's and two W8LCD Downfills, providing 360° coverage - and three pairs of underhung W8LM's dead hung to the moving stage.
'Although we've used everything in the Line Array range this is only part of a much bigger touring package,' emphasises Sam.
On the tour, messrs Barlow, Owen, Orange and Donald perform three songs on the secondary stage, by the FOH mixing position - including a Beatles medley - returning to the acoustic guitar for How Deep Is Your Love.
'The issue we have is that the band are still playing on the main stage, and Take That and two acoustic guitars are on the B stage,' says Sam. 'So although they are all on in-ears, there's still the acoustic element of the drums and percussion coming off the stage. We use the W8LMs of the main system to pump the mix through, so at least there is a full mix coming off the main stage which overpowers the acoustic.'
Take That's vocals (and the mix) are thus delivered from the B stage PA - the four hangs of W8LC and underhung LMs. 'There are four hangs of the LCDs and there's usually four hangs of the LMs, but with the positioning of the stage being over people's heads, we've had to lose those here,' says Al. 'These new LCDs are quite wide dispersion at 120 degrees, so the bottom box helps a lot in that respect.'
The sound image flips between the two stages, not only when Take That perform but also when support act Beverly Knight moves to Stage B. The soul diva sings the intro to Relight My Fire from here - her voice coming out of the local PA with the backing emanating from the main stage PA. She then races back to Stage A to sing the original Lulu vocal part.
The vocal intelligibility of the Martin Audio system is also put to to the test during a mock pre-recorded 'interview' where all the cliched questions are asked and the interview descends into a cacophony.
On top of that Martin Audio have provided some monitoring in the shape of a pair of Wavefront W2's for stage fill duties and four LE700 floor wedges, which show their weatherproof capabilities by being forced to withstand a heavy shower! The halo changes position to become a water screen, as Robbie Williams is projected onto it singing the opening lines of Could It Be Magic.
With the system under XTA management, the Martin Audio Line Array has certainly impressed the sound crew.
'The coverage has been really good,' says Gary Bradshaw, who had cut his teeth on the system with Simply Red's stately homes shows last summer.
'This has been my first full tour with the Martin line array and it sounds really impressive. The high end I particularly liked when I used it with Simply Red - it sounded as smooth as anything I'd heard.'
The new Longbow throws right to the back of the big rectangular arenas, he says. 'Even into the farthest corners it's as clear as anything.
'As for the midrange it's really beefy; even going back to the days of their Philishaves Martin's midrange has always been dominant.' And with six subs per side in the air and six on the ground, he has no worries about lower-frequency coverage either.
Bradshaw has the system assigned to eight matrix channel outputs on the DiGiCo D5: Main Left/Right; Side Left/Right; Front fills; Sub/Lows; B Stage (Mono) and B stage (Downfills).
He says the most difficult aspect of the twin-stage configuration is the venue logistics. At The Point in Dublin, for example, they will not even be able to accommodate a B stage.
From Sam Kruger's perspective, the revamped Wembley Arena not only offers better load-in facilities, but the acoustic treatment of the walls has improved his lot considerably.
'It's now similar to the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, which is the deadest venue in Europe,' he says. 'But it's still a strange venue which needs careful alignment, although the lower octaves are more controllable. However you no longer get slapback from the rear as the bottom two metres of the back wall are now angled, which kills it completely.'
He and Al Woods have used ViewPoint to do the predictions for the A and B stages. ' We are switched into manual so we can do what we want - for instance if you have a VIP box intruding, it's nice to be able to open up the array a bit more, which ViewPoint can't take into consideration. But ViewPoint is highly realistic with the input of data and a lot easier to predict accurately whereas before it was all knowledge-based.'
The sound crew have two laptops at FOH and use no fewer than 23 separate XTA units which handle the delay, EQ etc and distribute to three racks in the system (the Left and Right hangs plus the B stage platforms). While one laptop runs the FOH drive and B stage - from a Fujitsu wireless tablet PC - a regulation PC runs the crossovers on the main stage.
Both Sam and Al are hugely impressed with the performance of the Longbow enclosures. The Longbow sounds lot smoother than its predecessor, believes Woods, but he needed a lot of experimentation to get the best out of it. 'We played with some of the shelving in the preset parameters and reduced that quite a lot and also did some basic system EQ since when we've been really happy with it. You have to be careful with the extra HF but the way the horns and components couple has resulted in a much tighter sound.' At Manchester, where it was really put to to the test, it sounded stunning, says Al, pointing out that it doesn't need to be driven as hard as its predecessor to reach the outer extremes.
Sam Kruger agrees. 'I stood right at the back in Manchester when the PA was delivering and the presence on the vocal was phenomenal. I have been in the MEN with most line arrays and the quality and presence of this was better than I had ever experienced. Most PA's sound as if they have travelled 85 metres to get to you but not this.'
He also notes that the low end has a tendency to build up in the bowl at MEN. 'But again I was very impressed with how the W8L Longbow dealt with that - apart from the mid section it contains entirely different components in the same enclosure.
'Of course, it helps having Gary mixing because he doesn't put a foot wrong.'
(*) To ensure that existing W8L owners can upgrade, Martin Audio offer a complete retro-fit kit which brings the W8L up to Longbow specification
Further information from:
Maureen Hayes, Martin Audio
Tel: +44 (0)1494 535312
Fax: +44 (0)1494 438669
Jerry Gilbert, JGP Public Relations
Tel: +44 (0)1707 258525
Fax: +44 (0)1707 267140