SPITFIRE TRIBUTE FOR ROB LINGFIELD.
Friends and professional colleagues of Rob Lingfield joined family members in paying their last respects to Martin Audio's former sales and marketing director on July 12th.
The funeral service was held at St. Michael's Church, Smarden, Kent, where every seat in the 250-capacity church was occupied. The congregation included associates such as Peter Twartz and Rob Hofkamp, who had flown in from Australia and North America respectively.
Aside from his professional duties in the industry Rob also held the Regional chair of PLASA (Professional Lighting & Sound Association), who also sent a delegation led by CEO Matthew Griffiths and vice chair Ed Pagett. Aside from the pro audio industry, which Rob bestrode like a colossus for three decades, there were also many attendees from the lighting community; they joined sound engineers, PA companies, European distributors and members of the media at a wake in Rob's honour, sharing pints of his favourite Spitfire ale at the local Bell Inn following the church service.
I well remember my first contact with Rob Lingfield, back in 1991. I was editing LIVE! Magazine, which had just launched into the teeth of an uncertain political and economic climate that Spring, with Saddam's Gulf War all but immobilising international touring.
In an attempt to establish our credentials (and gain immediate industry approbation) we set the bar probably way too high and commissioned the mother of all amplifier bench tests from a renowned audio consultant - which included a submission from Kent based Hill Audio. The criteria set were always going to open up controversy - and I was quickly aware that I was swimming way out of my depth.
Soon I was a phone call away from Hill Audio founder Robert Lingfield, and as we tiptoed through this minefield of evaluative reasoning it struck me right away what a thoroughly decent cove he was … a diplomat with a positive, rounded and equivocal perspective. I don't think I fully realised at the time the industry royalty he had been rubbing shoulders with over the previous decade, or the fact that his wealth of experience included building the PA (and then crewing) for momentous extravaganzas like Live Aid and Monsters of Rock.
In many ways our massive publishing project turned on this one phone call, after which Rob disappeared out of my life (as did Hill Audio).
It was a further seven years before I finally met the man in person - by which time I had crossed from journalism to the dark side of PR, working with a number of technology providers including Martin Audio. A change in the company's marketing department saw the arrival of Rob Lingfield - who in the meantime had been working with Renkus Heinz - to provide an experienced hand on the tiller, lending gravitas exactly when it was needed and helping chaperone enormous growth for the company in the years leading up to the new millennium.
Change can be the enemy of stability, and with this management reshuffle I was nervous about my future role. But fortunately there was no evidence of a 'new broom' approach from Rob … just the metaphorical stubble of years of road tales which we generally exchanged - not so much in late night bars or in crew catering as the slightly more sterile environment of a Dartford graphic design house while producing The Edge, Martin Audio's in-house journal, which ran successfully for a number of years.
Those visits to Dartford I found myself increasingly looking forward to, where the conversation would usually kick off around that day's Daily Telegraph Cryptic Crossword (a passion we both shared).
A member of the self-styled industry 'Kent Mafia' Rob Lingfield was the kind of person everyone wanted a piece of. He was a true mensch who spoke as he found, with disarming candour and honesty. His vista was always upbeat, his demeanour unflappable - and his network of contacts, built across time and across continents, was unbelievable.
Rob had both style and swagger aplenty. Both qualities were demonstrably on view each year at NAMM, where he was rarely seen inside the show. This bon viveur preferred to hold back-to-back meetings with the company's global customers around the Marriott Hotel Pool Bar - under the Californian sun - leaving dead battalions of fine wine bottles in his wake.
Inside the belly of closer-to-home exhibitions (such as PLASA and Frankfurt Prolight+Sound) he was affectionately known as 'Boomer' in view of his steadfast refusal to use a microphone when addressing the assembled press.
All of which were perfect attributes for his next role - the chair of PLASA. From 2007 when he presided over the Association's National Rigging Certificate up to 2010 when he was instrumental in the successful merger with ESTA he continued to lend energy, counsel and wisdom.
Back in his own company he saved his greatest achievement until last. Taking on a consultancy role following the take over of Martin Audio by Loud Technologies he oversaw the strategic development project which would give birth to the revolutionary Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA) system. Ironically, when it rightfully won the PLASA Award for Innovation gong at last year's show, Rob had been too ill to attend the ceremony, with deputy chair Ed Pagett standing in.
I had never seen Rob so happy as during the last year of his life - first hosting a celebratory dinner for MLA in a restaurant off Antwerp's Groenplaats following a free festival in the Square itself in which the system's performance had astounded audiophiles and environmental officers alike. Then again, months before his death over a pub lunch in the chocolate box Kent village of Smarden where he resided - bearing his illness (and its gloomy prognosis) with typical fortitude.
Rob Lingfield has left a legacy which is genuinely nonpareil. His imprint is all across our industry,
If he had been fitted with a distance tracker it would probably have placed him in the Guinness Book of Records. As such, many of us had been hugely relieved when Rob was finally able to take up his consultancy position from home. For aside from calling time on a five-hour round trip to work, from deepest Kent to Martin Audio's High Wycombe base, it also put the brakes on his international travel schedule. For it had not been unusual to learn that if he was visiting a North America expo he would take the opportunity to 'pop down to Mexico and come back via a South American distributor' while he was in the 'hood!
The last time I saw Rob was at Frankfurt on April 6th. It was touch and go whether he would be well enough to make the journey. His friends were delighted that he did, as he once again delivered an entertaining monologue to the press from the platform … although for the first time in living memory, he did so with the aid of a microphone!