Unearthing Hozier

Steve Moles reports from Glasgow's OVO Hydro arena on Hozier's Unreal Unearth tour as it channels Dante's Inferno to take the artist's live offering to the next level...
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This article originally appeared in issue #436 of LSi, which you can read here.

As I said to show designer Steven Douglas when I arrived at Glasgow’s OVO Hydro, it’s not so much that I didn’t think Hozier could make the transition to an arena audience, it was rather he seemed totally unsuited to such an environment. Hozier is at once committed, passionate, intimate; he doesn’t grandstand his beliefs the way some might, but he certainly doesn’t shy away from important social issues. It would be nice to have more like him, performers brave enough to stick their heads over the parapet.

But how wrong was my initial assumption. Hozier not only inhabits the arena space comfortably - he owns it.

As you will learn, this is largely by virtue of the evolution of his songwriting and his ability to nurture and grow his prior output into bigger beasts. That the finer elements of our concert production world facilitate and support that growth is to be expected. Better than that, exceeding those expectations is what this show is all about.

“The third album wasn’t released until August 2023,” begins show designer Steven Douglas when asked to unfold Hozier’s pathway to arena scale shows. “The first single from it, Eat Your Young, came a bit earlier in the spring. To that point, he hadn’t done a lot of shows post-COVID. In April we started out with five nights at the Dublin Academy, followed by a stretch in clubs around Europe, shifting to America in May. It was a gentle build, then we returned to Europe for festival season in June/July.”

Readers might recall the artist’s game-changing appearance on what we all know as the John Peel stage at Glastonbury. “Followed by a headline homecoming gig at Malahide Castle (near Dublin). Full production as you see it here began back in the States in September as we moved up to arenas.”

The Hozier band has changed a bit since it was last featured in these pages (LSi November 2019) and grown to nine people on stage, including two backing vocalists (BVs). BVs in this band are very much part of the musical whole, not just the occasional shake of the maracas or a tambourine; they also provide important instrumental contributions. This is very much a nine piece - how often do you see that? It sets the tone for the presentation, and while Hozier might take centre stage, all band members receive equal attention in terms of light, sound and video.


Douglas, having featured in LSi previously, reminds me now of a younger ‘Phamous’ Phay MacMahon when he was turning into an establishment LD. ‘Famous Steven’ may not have quite the same ring to it, but they have much in common, particularly making it look easy while achieving great results; designing thoughtfully; thinking laterally, especially when encountering problems, and most of all, engendering a strong team spirit. He’s motivational - that’s like having another pair of hands on the crew.

As with Hozier’s COVID-influenced long stretch into album number three, Douglas’ ideas about the show were revisited through time.
“Initially I wanted to pick up from the last tour where the back wall had two large windows framing video. I wanted to go through those windows and place the band within the house. But then I saw The 1975 had a similar concept already in action, so we looked elsewhere - though as it turned out, the concept wouldn’t have fit the aesthetic of the new album anyway.”

It’s important to note that the new album, Unreal Unearth, has structure inasmuch as Hozier uses the nine circles of torment from Dante’s Inferno as a loose template for the passage of his song cycle.

“Like I did with the window frames on the last tour, I took the artwork of this album - where he is buried below ground, just his mouth visible through the soil, a daisy between his teeth - to set the stage. The world inverted is the key; upside down rocks, grass and trees emerge from above the stage which was something that came from the very first conversation with Andrew [Hozier-Byrne] at the start of the process.”

As a visual map, Douglas’ inverted staging accompanies Hozier’s songs through those nine levels and as with the music, rises back up again.

“We had the grassy earth surface, a 3D truss border, made by So What in LA; Jonathan Perry back in the UK made the trees for us. To use the trees effectively we had to be able to conceal them, so 20ft of clear trim height is required above the main rig, and we hang a 20ft black serge teaser in front of them.” Inevitably the odd arena doesn’t have the height, but Douglas does have accompanying video content to impose the same image, if not quite so impactful.

“I use content for about half the show. Originally we wanted to do it all with projection, but in the US we played a fair few sheds, and being late summer, the daylight levels made that impractical. So we have a curved LED back wall. To conceal the LED, I conceived a front dressing of fine metal mesh that the screen can project through when in use. Scrunched up and with some careful lighting, the screen can disappear completely behind it.”

As you’ll see in the photos, the lit mesh presents as a rocky terrain, a theme Douglas continues across the front of the four LED-fronted band risers, and on the custom-printed carpet across stage.

“I love the mesh, it has its own stiffness and comes out the box looking different every day. The important thing for me was the stage had to look natural, I didn’t want a large block of LED wall upstage - even when not in use, it’s too strong a presence.”

“The content is all produced by Dublin’s Lightscape. Myself and Duchess Iredale [tour director] brought in Brian Kenny [Lightscape MD] and his team to produce some pieces for the Malahide show, something they did well and very quickly. So we invited them to produce everything for the tour.”
In a slight deviation from the touring norm, although Universal Pixels (UP) provides all the LED, IMAG screens and projectors, and the nine camera PPU (portable production unit), production manager Nick Lawrie brought in disguise programmer Jackson Warner.

“Jackson fits the role perfectly,” says Douglas. “We used Switch, Nick Jackson’s new company for video in the US, they cooperate with Universal Pixels here. Aided by Jackson, it’s been a very comfortable transition back and forth.”

“I’d worked with Nick Lawrie on Lewis Capaldi earlier this year, so we had that relationship built already,” begins Warner.

“I’d not worked with the content team at Lightscape before. Brian [Kenny] came out to Nashville for about 10 days while we went through the sequencing and revisions process and was great to work with. For what we needed to achieve, I think that 10 days was a good amount of time.” Nice to hear when timeframes aren’t compressed, especially in the run up to what is a lengthy tour.

“Brian has visited the tour whilst in the US two or three times since,” continues Warner. “Just for those inevitable tweaks, and it was great to have that support throughout the run. There is nothing exceptionally technical about our setup: two disguise GX 3 machines taking five HD/SDI feeds and outputting to LED via a single 4K HDMI output, and projection via two HD/SDI.

“What’s nice is that simplicity is felt in the end result; nothing is a distraction. Brian has a definite connection with each song; that makes it easier for me to know what needs to be achieved while programming,” says Warner. “And with clear direction from Steven, it was a very fluid experience from start to finish. The show is a combination of content playback which complements - but doesn’t detract - from the staging and band, and Notch-based camera effects to bring the scale of the band to screen.

“The server system supplied by UP for both the US and European run has been rock solid, clearly well maintained and delivered to an exceptionally high standard,” he adds.

Shortly after the show, I had a quick word with UP’s Phil Mercer. “Steven’s idea for the mesh is a good demonstration of what you can do if you’re creative,” he says. “That and the trees have great impact. The fact so little changed from when they went into full production rehearsals says it all. For UP it’s really exciting to work with an artist who is clearly on the way up. The 17.2 by 7.2m ROE CB5 screen across the back is not an insignificant rig. Steven is very good at taking that and making it look huge. That mesh surface adds dimension.”


Citizen of the US, Colleen Wittenberg is one of the few non-European members of the core touring crew. She manages the video director role, delivering an intimate, documentary-style exposition of live musicianship. “We had worked well together previously on the Aerosmith Las Vegas residency pre-COVID,” says Douglas. Watching the two of them discussing a show point later, it was obvious the creative communication was fluid.

“Camera wise, there are two Sony HDC-3500 in the pit,” Wittenberg begins, “another with a 90x long-lens out front, four Panasonic UE150s robocams, and two fixed Marshall CV344s for POVs. I’m driving the show on a Blackmagic Constellation 2M/E. In terms of the whole system, Phil [Mercer] at UP has been great and very responsive. To improve this leg of the tour, I swapped out the Blackmagic URSAs to Sonys, because I wanted three chip cameras to properly capture the full range of colour and the subtlety of the more moody elements of the show.

“What I really enjoy about this gig is that it is a truly live show, there is no click track. Not having rigid, scripted shots allows for more flexible creativity. So for me, although it follows a familiar path, it’s not absolute, you’re never sure what will happen, especially with a rather organic performer.

I’m given a lot of free rein, even though Steven and I agree on the main direction of travel - that’s the beauty of it for me.”

She continues: “There is an evolution between the first and last show. The IMAG on the side screens is constant, and for nine of the songs it’s added to the upstage LED wall. With the side screens being in portrait mode and the LED in landscape, it can make the framing tricky, but we just make sure not to neglect the background.

The output to the IMAGs is mainly in black and white, or simple colour. The back wall camera shots get lifted slightly to blend to content or what Steven is doing with the lights. Frankly, there is little need for effects generation on this show. It has a natural breath of its own.” Nicely put and technically well realised.


“Adlib provided the lights for the last tour, and they did the floor package for our festival run in the summer,” says Douglas. “Bringing them onboard for the arenas was a natural progression.”

Last time LSi visited Hozier, at the London Palladium, Douglas had just discovered the MAC Encore, courtesy of the house rig he used. He declared them his new front light of choice. This time, he has moved up to the latest Martin fixture, the MAC Ultra Performance. “I like them, the Ultras are really bright,” he enthuses.

“I used them last year for some stadium shows with The Killers. Even in daylight, with the addition of a little haze, you could clearly make out the gobos. Indoors, you don’t need a crazy amount of them to fill a room, the colour field is good and flat, they’re a great front light.” One of Douglas’ key skills is doing a lot with very little.

“Lighting the show this time, it was interesting to see how it would transition into the arenas and maintain the intimacy of the songs. For example, Would That I has now become a big sing-along for the audience. Even a quiet ballad like Cherry Wine now raises the arena roof. His audience has grown because his songs reach out to younger audiences, while retaining those who’ve been with him since 2013. It’s quite amazing, when we loaded into Hamburg it was snowing, with temperatures below zero, yet at 8am there were already 40-50 fans waiting outside. It’s intense, Amsterdam saw Andrew have to stop the show four times in one song because audience members were fainting.”

The contrast between all day outdoors in the cold, probably not eating or drinking properly, then coming into a warm arena and the ensuing emotional excitement of the show can prove too much. There were indeed 40-odd fans outside the Glasgow Hydro at 8am, a couple of hundred by noon, though thankfully the weather was kinder and no interruptions ensued this night.

Douglas continues: “My other new lighting instrument is the Claypaky’s Volero Wave, an eight cell linear beam light with individual control over each beam across one axis of tilt, so you can ripple a beam wave through them. I have 22 of them; mount each one on a Claypaky Panify and you have 176 rotating tilting beams.”

It’s a powerful tool, and as with much of Douglas’ thinking, it’s a progression from the last tour where he shone a lot of gobos through the band; the Voleros taking this role for a new look.

“I’m running the show off an MA3 console but, like a lot of us, I’m using the MA2 software. It’s a time thing, I’ve done the course, and I’ve just bought myself a Command Wing. I’ll sit down with the Visualiser in January and get to grips with the software again. I just need the repetition so it becomes second nature.” Douglas is one of those rarities these days, a show designer who likes to programme his own desk. “We had just five days of full production rehearsals, so by the time you’re up and ready, you get maybe three long overnighters to programme - that’s not the time to be getting to grips with a transition like this, it was too tight to take that jump.” Douglas has support on the road from Madison Adams, who is an MA trainer with ACT and also operates shows when he has had to disappear for a few days to cover shows by The Killers.

Of the programming/operating aspect, Douglas says: “I just like doing shows, it’s what I’ve been doing since I left college in Dublin. I was 17/18 then, I’m 44 now, so I’ve been doing it for over 20 years. I’m not one for submitting drawings, directing a programmer, putting a board op in place and then moving on . . .”

Asked for an example of how the show developed during the programming process, Douglas says: “The Volero Wave thing was for a specific song, but they also fill a gap. I had the octagon truss overhead centre stage to be able to isolate Andrew for those more intimately rendered songs like Unknown and Cherry Wine. Bringing the Voleros in to enclose him was an obvious choice. Up top at the rear I had GLP impression FR10 battens to light the mesh drape, but I then decided I wanted a different effect out of them. I discovered you can’t do a dimmer chase across the pixels with them in the DMX mode I’d chosen initially, so instead of changing all the modes of the units, I quickly put together a colour chase sending some colours to black to give me the dimmer effect I was seeking.”

As good a reason for doing your own programming as you’ll find. I saw many clever, thoughtful touches. During Francesca, with the trees lowered in, live images of the band were placed figuratively above the terrain at the precise scale to match the trees. Though direct from the camera feeds, it’s not all about IMAG, this was a surreal image, artfully achieved.

Another song, To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuarithe) was given more visceral meaning by the simple addition of frost-like fragments cascading through the air. I could go on naming these deft little touches that add so much.

It’s not Dante, but it gives context.


Head carpenter Michael ‘Shivers’ McGuire is one of those affable characters instantly able to connect. He made the facets to his role sound remarkably easy. “The four inverted trees from Perry Scenic hang from a truss controlled with Kinesys. They come in and out of view along with the grass/rocky border. Metal framed, the trees are sturdy but the surface structure is fragile, so care is needed when fitting and demounting. They travel in three big dollies - the tree trunks in one, then sections of branches in the others.

“The pea lights at the branch tips are all individually controllable. The scenic border is actually fabric with added grass and fake rock attached with Velcro. The mesh in front of the LED screen is a little tricky, it’s metal and odd strands do snap, so you need to wear gloves to handle it.

Like a stiff fabric, it’s not something you can fold away, it takes six to eight stagehands to manhandle it into its open four by eight container.”

He continues: “We’re helped by being able to attach and demount it to the truss from the floor below stage. Once up, its bottom edge is raised above stage deck height and we add in a run of decks to partially in-fill the gap.”

By dint of the random nature of its packing and transport, and the stiffness of the gauze, it presents Douglas with a new look every day, though as it takes light, it always resembles a random piece of sandy, rocky ground. “Sandy is right,” adds McGuire. “It is coated with a fire retardant, which leaves a residue of yellowish dust in the travel container.”

He continues: The custom carpet is pretty simple, the risers from All Access have it permanently attached to the decks. Last thing is the big black wool serge to conceal the trees when flown out.”


FOH engineer Steve ‘Pato’ Pattison has selected an L-Acoustics K1-based system; Hunter Scoggins is on monitors, and Jethro Hall is system tech for Adlib on this tour. I begin by querying why Pato wasn’t using a Coda system, having previously extolled its virtues last time we met.

“There are no bad professional audio systems these days,” he says. “And this wasn’t about availability, I just like a change.” It’s a theme with Pato, as you’ll see. He certainly keeps himself fresh by exploring new technologies and is also keen to listen to the input and ideas of the system techs on the tour.

“I’ve used K1 multiple times, it’s an industry standard. I liked the Coda system for its flexibility; last tour we visited quite a variety of venues. This is a straightforward arena run, we can do pretty much the same thing every day. Yes, each PA has its own tonal characteristics, but so long as you listen to it first you can always colour the final EQ to suit the PA once you’ve tuned it to the room.”

He continues: “There are a lot of open mics on stage, especially on this show where all nine band members sing, so you EQ to what comes through to them from the PA in the room.

“In the US we used a d&b GSL/KSL system, that system’s rejection off the back is fantastic, almost its raison d’etre and given space to do its thing, it can help clean up noise around the stage but don’t forget that the PA systems’ main job is to fire sound out of the front of the boxes, and as soon as you’re in a venue, it’s going to bounce around and make its way back to stage, no matter how good the cancellation technology is.”

“On stage I work with Jethro to keep everything clean for all those mics. It’s not uncommon for Jethro to be on stage next to our cellist in soundcheck, as some stages can be more resonant in the lower frequencies. This will obviously affect acoustic instruments, and he can help tune the lower frequencies to mitigate any effects of the stage. I’ll happily sacrifice some sub if I need to if it helps the band perform better!”

“We do this in the States too where we use a cardioid d&b system as pretty much every stage and riser will resonate, and the energy has to go somewhere! I could do a drum screen, but aesthetically it’s not a good look and kills the vibe and interaction between the band.” Not a typical consideration from a FOH mixer. “I also like to let the instrument breathe, even something less intrusive like those Perspex discs to shield cymbals end up splashing sound back into the mics, so I prefer things not to be screened. I have the Neve Portico 5045 plug-in on the desk to help reduce ambient noise on some of the vocal mics. It’s the small things you do that together make the difference; turn an effect or plug-in off and it will usually be a subtle change, but you’ll notice it’s not quite as nice as it was a moment ago. Many small gains to achieve your goal offers you more flexibility.”

“The key is not to overdo it, aim to keep things consistent within the room. If I feel the need to EQ for something room-specific, I’ll first ask Jethro what he’s done in the system already. Is what I’m hearing actually the room? Has the length of the line array changed since the last show?”

Hall picks up: “The tools available in the L-Acoustics ecosystem really help maintain that consistency day-to-day. We are using the full suite of auto solvers and auto filters which - along with the mechanical design of the array - ensures tonal consistency throughout the venue. I’m using the M1-P1 measurement platform for system calibration and verification as well as atmospheric adjustments. The system is being driven via AVB, with console matrixing being handled by an Outline Newton.”

“Carrying additional flown KARA gives us great flexibility in some of the quirkier venues,” adds Hall. “The Forest National in Brussels is a good example. Normally we fly a conventional side hang of K2 covering the whole side audience profile. In Brussels, we ‘split’ the side hang, using our auxiliary hang of KARA (normally used to cover seats sold past the 180 line) to cover the lower bowl and a small hang of K2 to cover the upper - this helped reduce HF/MF reflections that can be generated by flying a single side hang low overshooting and pointing at the roof, this really helped us with intelligibility in what can be a tricky acoustic space.”

Pato takes audience coverage very seriously. “I still insist on a centre hang down-fill because I don’t care how good the dispersion of the box is according to the manufacturer’s spec sheet, there will still be an unfortunate group of punters at the front and centre who don’t get the coverage they deserve.”

Pato has switched from an Allen & Heath dLive console at FOH for a Yamaha Rivage PM7. “Again, I like a change, and as with the PA choice, in the pro world there are no bad desks, though each have their own characteristics. The PM7 is a well made desk - it has all the functionality I need, and I know it will be durable because it says Yamaha on the label. This board will probably outlive me.”

He continues: “Andrew’s songs often feature complex choral arrangements and there’s no tracks to fall back, on so the band and BVs need to be cleanly articulated. Mic wise, all the vocals are on Beta 58A except a Beta 56A for the drummer. Andrew is different, last tour we had him on the Shure KSM8. To start with we tried him on the KSM11 which he liked; he found it smoother but he still favoured the more mid-forward sound of the KSM8.

By total chance, we were getting some equipment swapped out mid-tour and I was offered a prototype vocal mic capsule to try. As it turned out it had the mid push of the KSM8, and a smoother dynamic range, like the jump from 16 to 32-bit if you like. It’s much more linear in how it handles changes in level, so it feels smoother yet punchy.”

Pato was not at liberty to reveal the model of mic, but it’s still being used for Hozier’s vocal three months later. “I believe it’s due for release in February, so keep your eyes open.” You heard about it here first . . .

Having seen the show, I can say with authority that Hozier’s songwriting has evolved. And as far as the live show is concerned, the new arrangements he and MD Alex Ryan have done for old songs are amazing in their arena-spanning power.

How has Pato responded? “My approach, when any artist presents a new song, is to mix it first before I even think about listening to the original recording. Don’t be influenced in how you handle the live rendition, listen to what they are actually playing - you can always add reference points later if needed.

Some of the keyboard parts can sound more electronic these days, so I might add some distortion to the kit to suit. Maybe overdrive the snare. There’s a lot happening up there.”

Indeed there is. “The 16 new songs were recorded across time.

The pandemic saw Andrew return to individual songs maybe two or three times. Alex the bass player also contributed to the writing. There is a real flow to this new material.”


Hunter Scoggins stepped into the role of monitor engineer in February 2023. All nine of the band members are on IEMs and sing, and everybody, at some point at least, plays an instrument.

“You do get that tension between the two demands,” he begins.

“The musicians want to hear their instrument - the bass set within the rhythm section, for example - then they all need to hear their voices within the context of the song. Not everyone needs the full choral effect, usually just the person they are harmonising with, but it’s an added level to the number of mixes that require consistent attention throughout the show.” I’ll bet it is. Fortunately, Scoggins knew the music already. “Take Me to Church was massive in the US back in 2013, and I’ve liked the band ever since.”

He’s using an Avid S6L. “It’s my desk of choice,” he says.

“Spectrum provided one for the US leg and Adlib offered me the same console. The IEM system is all PSM1000; all are on Ultimate Ears - me, Alex and Andrew have UE Live buds. The rest of the band are either on 7s or 11s.”

“As is typical, Andrew’s mix is closest to what you hear FOH, not that you’d want that in all nine ears. For the rest of them, besides the obvious, I look to what adds most to each individual mix, not tonal but more subtle things that add colour. For the female voices, because of their range I aim to keep them forward more than the males. My best friend is to pan appropriately - that enables me to quickly identify the voices that may stand out and find space for those elements between the ears. Andrew is always singing and has a big dynamic range. I can’t have him suddenly jumping out at the other voices, so I do compress him for them.”

“For Pato and me, this show is very active in terms of mixing demand, which I enjoy because it keeps me sharp and engaged throughout the show. These are great musicians and eventually you get comfortable with their needs, and they with your techniques. That gives me freedom, it means I can be bolder with my mix choices and our rapport allows me to more easily respond to whatever they ask for. That’s better for me and better for them.” And then as a final note, he adds: “That new mic Pato told you about has that in-your-face sound. For me it’s certainly easier to work the band around it.”

As an aside, one of the Adlib PA crew, Max Taylor, introduced me to fellow PA crew member and Women In Live Music (WILM) award-winner, Rae Horton. I asked Horton briefly about her experiences touring and the obstacles therein from what is generally a very masculine environment. “I’ve been doing this with Adlib for about six years now, a couple of years before that with a smaller company. This tour is particularly nice because there are a lot of women involved - from production, through support act to the crew.

What I notice is that it changes the energy in a very positive way, it’s more balanced and for me, more enjoyable.”

Horton is an integral part of the PA crew on this tour and also takes up the monitor faders for a few other acts. A well-deserved winner.

Another well-deserved winner of a WILM award in 2023 was Hozier production co-ordinator Sinead Madden, who won the production assistant award for her previous work with Def Leppard.

Playing for two hours, Hozier’s scaled-up show proved that the artist is perfectly at home in an arena setting. If I was to try and characterise the performance, I’d offer the Phil Spector Wall of Sound as a comparative. That’s a facet of what is a big band and the brilliant live arrangements constructed by Hozier and Ryan, plus the fact that Pato is very skilled at finding space for them all. He suggested to me once that Coda PA amps use witchcraft to drive their system. Personally, I think there’s a touch of witchcraft to his mixing.

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