Music

An Evening with Texas at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

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To celebrate the release of the band’s 10th studio album, Hi, and three decades since the release of their debut album, Southside, Texas and a rejuvenated touring crew traversed the length and breadth of UK, Ireland and Europe. TPi joined the camp eight dates deep into the mammoth campaign at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to unearth the crew’s stories, reveal the touring tech involved, and gauge a unique insight into life on road.

“Having a consistent three-month tour is a blessing after such a difficult few years,” Production Manager, Dan Woolfie began. Having earned his stripes touring the world with Blossoms, Woolfie was parachuted in to oversee Texas’ latest campaign.

On arrival, he met with Tour Managers, Derek Birrell and Mickey McElhone; FOH Engineer, Alex McNutt; and Guitar Technician, ‘Kato’, to assemble a team featuring Monitor Engineer, Mike Prosser; Playback and MIDI Technician, Joe Crouch; Lighting Designer, Edd Croft of Mangata Collective; Adlib Lighting Technician, Tom Kaye; freelancer, Harry Merrison; and Adlib System Technician, Max Taylor.

Woolfie’s suppliers of choice included Texas regulars in Adlib, Stagetruck, Beat The Street, and Bittersweet Catering. “All of our suppliers are fantastic and have worked with the band on several other campaigns. Getting the lighting and sound equipment from Adlib has been particularly helpful,” he stated. “We share a long history of working together and their support and technicians are great.”

The production – dubbed by Woolfie as something akin to “an evening with Texas” – saw the band support themselves with a show split in two parts. The first saw the band play the entirety of Southside with a stripped-back stage design interspersed with tales from the band. Following a brief intermission, the second half of the set was ramped up with three decades of deep cuts, hits and new material backed by increased production values.

The crew loaded into each venue at 9am, with lighting first, followed by staging, audio and backline. “There is no segregation between departments on this tour,” reported PM Woolfie, who doubled as a drum technician for Cat Myers. “Everyone pitches in to get the gig rolling and there’s a really good vibe on site. The entire crew is multiskilled, adaptable and can fill in if required.”

Operating with “common sense and caution” when it comes to mitigating the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crew were tested daily. According to the PM, the only real challenge was the economy of space at certain venues, particularly during the theatre dates.

“Thankfully, we’ve managed to make everything fit on oddly angled stages with the sightlines remaining unobstructed,” Woolfie remarked.

Edd Croft of Mangata Collective handled the lighting design, based on an original concept by Matthew Button. “This has been a different kind of challenge for me, taking a pre-existing design and shuffling it about a little, but the team has been welcoming and receptive to new ideas – particularly the addition of a new floor package,” he commented.

The rig boasted a backline of GLP impression X4 Bars, Ayrton Diablo and SGM P6 lighting fixtures situated on the floor and in the air, along with Martin by Harman MAC Aura units chosen for sidelight. A drape was erected halfway upstage during the first, acoustic section with the fresnels peaking over the top in addition to side light.
The dynamic backlighting fixtures were hidden until the second part of the set. For control, Croft harnessed an MA Lighting grandMA3 compact, as well as his personal grandMA2 command and fader wing operating on grandMA2 software.

“The band wanted the first section of the show to look more like a practice room, so I chose static, tungsten lighting, while the second section features dynamic backlight, bold reds to match the Hi album cover, with much more saturated and rockier looks,” he said, highlighting his use of GLP impression X4 Bars to create a “solid red wall of light”, which was particularly impactful.

Croft used wysiwyg to draw the lighting plot before importing his renderings into Syncronorm Depence²  to previsualise the show. “Depence² is great software – the renders are fantastic,” he remarked.

“This show is cue stacked, as opposed to timecode, given the timeframe we have, so the speed in which wysiwyg can import into Depence² as well as the high quality of rendering has been ideal.”

‘WE’VE BEEN WAITING TO GET BACK ON THE ROAD’

Alex McNutt inherited FOH engineer duties from Adlib Account Handler, Jay Petch. “I’ve been with the band since 2018, on and off; this tour was originally meant to be in 2020, but COVID-19 struck, so we’ve been waiting to get back on the road. Working with Jay Petch has panned out really well – he knows the band personally and what’s required of the gig, so he’s already 10 steps in front of us,” he stated.

Amid the lockdown, McNutt was involved in an online and broadcast-driven press campaign to promote the release of Hi. “It’s good to be back on the road,” he expressed. “The vibe is upbeat and everyone gets along, which has been aided by the fact that we’ve all been stuck inside for so long.”

Before this tour started, the production did some pre-production where McNutt changed consoles from another platform to an Allen & Heath dLive S7000, on the recommendation of Lewis Capaldi’s FOH Engineer, Andy Bush.

“I’ve mixed on the surface a few times as a visiting engineer at festivals or at PLASA, and I’ve been really impressed with it,” McNutt said, waxing lyrical about the console and dLive Director V1.21 software.

“The band covers a lot of musical ground on this tour and I’m still mixing on one scene, punching spot effects and riding the faders in an analogue way, which is how I prefer to mix, in an engaging and reactive manner – hitting the same cues night after night,” he detailed.

“Nothing on this tour requires multiple parameter changes anymore given the sonic nature of the console. It feels a lot closer to a studio approach to mixing.”

In terms of physical outboard gear, McNutt relied on a distressor for Sharleen Spiteri’s lead vocals and a Yamaha SPX 990 digital multi effects processor for a gated snare effect. The PA of choice was a combination of CODA AiRAY, ViRAY and HOPS. “We’ve been in a lot of less-than-optimum spaces with this sound system and it’s been really good at overcoming the challenges of the venues. Max Taylor, our system tech for this tour, has been fantastic in keeping a high level of consistency on the PA side of things,” McNutt said.

“We’ve had to tie into house systems on occasion and this sound system has always managed to overcome any acoustic drawbacks. Often when you get into these spaces and hit them hard it sounds dreadful, so we try and keep it at a reasonable volume and be mindful of SPL, especially at a two-hour-long seated gig – which is good because when you do these little pushes here and there, it has a real impact as opposed to how many hundred dB in your face for the entire time.”

Monitor Engineer, Mike Prosser underlined the band’s long-standing relationship with their lighting and audio provider. “Adlib has taken such good care of us on this gig. Adlib Managing Director, Andy Dockerty and Account Handler, Jay Petch have both toured with the band for years. They’ve put a wonderful package together for us, everything is really well thought-out, and we’ve had great support from them. There is certainly a genuine sense of ownership with this gig because Adlib have been a big part of the band’s live journey for such a long time,” Prosser explained.

“Texas are a major part of the development of the Adlib story and I appreciate their loyalty to us tremendously,” Adlib Managing Director, Andy Dockerty said. “As a company, we endeavour to ensure we look after them as best we can. Sharleen has an incredible vocal and the band was always a pleasure to mix,” he added, modestly attributing his success as an engineer to the fact the band were so gifted, he “hardly had to do anything” with the mix.

“I must confess, I have found it difficult to go to Texas shows since I ‘hung up my ears’ as it was never quite the same as when I did it. Now they have talented engineers who can mix properly, while I was getting away with it for over 20 years,” Dockerty revealed, jokingly. “It makes me realise how much I miss the whole excitement of gigging and touring. Alex is doing a fantastic job mixing the show and has created an exciting and powerful mix.”

Adlib Account Handler, Jay Petch added: “Andy [Dockerty] gave me my first chance at working with the band as an audio stage tech early in my career, for which I am still grateful today. The relationship that Andy and Adlib has with Texas meant that there was a trust there to be able to take a young tech and essentially let him learn on the job – sometimes the hard way – and through this amazing opportunity I ended up in a privileged position to take up positions mixing the band at FOH and monitors for some amazing tours and shows. These days as an account handler at Adlib, my close connection and experiences with the camp makes it that bit easier to support the incredible show that the band and the fantastic crew have put together.”

‘FROM A SHARPIE DRAWING ON THE BACK OF A PIZZA BOX…’

Back in monitor world, Prosser walked TPi through his setup – a DiGiCo SD12 for control, along with an SD-Rack and an eight-way Sennheiser 2000 series IEM rack – The wireless microphone(s) used by Sharleen is a two-way Shure Axient Digital system handheld system with Beta 58A heads (main and backup). “I’ve worked on a lot of different consoles but when I’m mixing monitors, however, being able to put my workflow tools together in a macro is fantastic. The DiGiCo SD12 is seamless and makes it easier for me to focus on the stage,” he said.

Prosser dubbed Playback and MIDI Technician, Joe Crouch as the “swiss army knife” of the camp, having slotted into monitor engineer duties while he took a brief leave of absence. “Having improved the Ableton setup, simplified the processes for pianist, Eddie Campbell on stage, and made positive changes – he’s also a safe pair of hands, a fantastic audio engineer to leave the show with when cover is needed, and he’s a familiar face with the band.”

Crouch was originally enlisted to focus on the scope of Ableton in line with Eddie Campbell, who triggers the start of each song. “Playback is a process which has been developing significantly over the past few years. There are only little bits of track which fill out the song – Eddie’s organ is connected to a sampler on the computer as well as a click for the drummer, so my main role is to ensure that all works, and then afterwards, it’s supervising that workflow,” Crouch disclosed. “The ideal situation in playback is the fact you don’t need to touch anything mid-gig, but you have to be ready to if needed.”

On stage, Prosser highlighted the sonic battle with venues featuring acoustics built for unmixed, unamplified orchestras to play and the sound to carry and fill the space. “These are beautiful acoustic qualities for orchestral performances but the complete opposite to what you require of a loud rock show with massive PA hangs, loud drums and musicians on stage when you want to keep it under control – so there’s a challenge posed in those spaces, particularly in keeping a clean IEM mix for the band with all the spill you get coming back,” Prosser pointed out.

He praised the recent arrival of an Adlib-supplied Rupert Neve Designs 5045 Primary Source Enhancer, which he put to the test on Sharleen’s main vocal channel, acting as, in his words, a ‘posh gate’.

“It does a good job of pulling her vocal into focus and clamping down on the ambient noise around it to clean the whole mix up massively, which has made a big difference particularly in theatres,” he observed. Like most of the crew, Prosser has spent the past few weeks in stitches, characterising Sharleen as a “wonderful and hilarious character with razor sharp Glaswegian wit”. He continued: “I sit in on her mix for a lot of the show with ambient mics while she’s interacting with the crowd so the back and forth with the crowd is very funny to listen to – it’s something different every day, which is a pleasure to be a part of.”

Evaluating the opening semicircle of band members on stools, acoustic guitars, a drape in the midpoint of the stage to recreate the feel of a rehearsal room, with Sharleen sharing stories of the creation of the album and where the band were at that point in their lives, Prosser revealed: “This was a loose concept that Woolfie and I devised by scribbling on a pizza box in a hotel bar following rehearsals, so it’s been great to see it come to life – from a sharpie drawing on the back of a pizza box over a pint of Guinness in Glasgow to putting it together in front of a live audience for the first time in Dundee.”

Following the transition from cosy, intimate storytelling to breakdown between intervals, the drape is quickly tucked away, production values increase and the band drill straight into a mixture of greatest hits and newer material, backed by impactful and delicately poised sound and lighting design.

“It has been a pleasure to see all the hard work and long days pay off,” Prosser concluded, looking back on the run. “The team and the support from our suppliers has been solid; we’ve all had a rough couple of years, so to be on our first collective, big and sustained touring campaign and hit the ground running with a great bunch of people at the top of their game is really nice and reaffirming.

“I’m sure that many of us, like I, have had a bit of a wobble over the lockdown period and assessed our career options, but when you come into an environment like this – it reminds you why you love your job.”

Cover photo by Lorraine Connor

This article originally appeared in issue #269 of TPi, which you can read here.

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