Henley Festival is an annual, five-day boutique experience, celebrating the best of international and UK music, art, food and comedy in a quintessentially British location.
The Festival began as an idea, in 1983, to bring music and culture to the town of Henley-on-Thames — and sound production company RG Jones Audio Engineering has been involved in the five-day, black tie affair almost since the beginning — for much of that time fielding Martin Audio PA systems on the various stages.
In 2016, the Festival again brought high-calibre artists from all over the world, attracting crowds of more than 30,000 people to this unique riverside setting.
The formula has evolved along the way, as has the loudspeaker technology, and for the past few years RG Jones has been able to field Martin Audio’s flagship and award-winning MLA Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array technology.
Most interest is focused on the Floating Stage (positioned over the River Thames) where Elton John and Dame Shirley Bassey were headlining, while other feature areas include The Bedouin Stage, Pizza Express Stage — while a Spiegeltent structure was erected at the bottom of the site, to host Ronnie Scott’s All Stars Jazz Band, who played a residency over all five nights.
The Big Top itself not only hosted the Silent Disco but also many well-known names such as Natalie Williams, Jose Feliciano, along with Will Young, Mick Taylor and Ben Waters, and ‘80s legends, Shakatak.
Meanwhile, in the Comedy Tent (The Salon), such names as Al Murray and Nina Conti, Reginald D Hunter, Hal Cruttenden and Adam Kay appeared.
Martin Audio systems were out in force at all locations. Given the nature of the Floating Stage, RG Jones fielded four hangs of eight MLA Compact, with a further four elements on each side as infills, underpinned by six MLX subs on each side.
The design for The Big Top included L/C/R hangs of Martin Audio W8LM Mini Line Array.
Over in the Salon, there was a ground-stack of five further W8LM’s on a pair of WLX subs, while Ronnie Scotts Bar saw the deployment of four flown MLA Mini elements and MSX sub, with a further pole-mounted MLA Mini system on the Bedouin Stage.
Speaking of the value MLA brings to a quirky site such as this, RG Jones production manager Jim Lambert, stated: “This was the first year in the Festival’s history where the local council had imposed noise restrictions, written into the licence document. Although not particularly different to any other festival noise limits the closest residential dwelling was a matter of a few hundred metres from the main stage — and so careful design and control were necessary.
“It was vital that the sound stayed where it was wanted and we were more than able to meet the council’s limitations and yet still provide all the sound engineers with sufficient headroom. “Another Henley veteran, Simon Honywill, who is familiar with all the quirks of the site, added, “Floating Stage is a hard location to cover because it's only 40m deep but about 200m wide! Speaker positions are not ideal so MLA Compact is sufficiently flexible to provide great coverage, and achieve a great sound.”
Helping to maximise the sound was experienced system engineer, Mark Edwards. He reports that he produced a slightly stronger hard avoid optimisation than normal. “This was because the PA hangs a metre or so upstage, but that was more for the stage. It enables us to get a higher gain-before-feedback threshold. We also used cardioid subs to keep the sound on-site rather than spill across the river.”
He added that as the support stages weren’t in operation while the main acts were appearing, other thresholds weren’t relevant. “However I did use a couple of tricks we've developed for containing offsite levels at other events just to be sure,” he admits. “Controlling the throw of the outer hangs was particularly important.”
Jim Lambert also had other issues to contend with since increase of the ticket allocation (to include a general admission) meant that the audience could also view the Floating Stage concert from screens positioned in other venues along the riverfront. This meant audio was tasked with covering a much larger area, without affecting the newly-imposed offsite noise level.
Summing up, he said, “All sound technicians commented on how natural MLA sounded and what a joy it was to mix on.”
And Suzanne Yeates, the Festival’s Event & Artist Manager, added, “Once again RG Jones delivered a fantastic all round service — and as Jim says, with the added issue of prescribed noise limits this needed careful management. Mr Lambert and his team were as exemplary as ever.”
Aside from Lambert, other RG Jones sound specialists on duty included Jack Bowcher and Matt Sussex (Floating Stage), Clive Scott (Ronnie Scott’s Bar), Dan Languiage (Bedouin Stage), Phil Wright and Sam Lidyard (The Big Top). Oli Wickes provided additional engineering support across all stages, while Simon Hodge was FOH engineer for the classical shows.