The beginning of June saw Robbie Williams kick off his Heavy Entertainment Show tour at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium. The tour has since continued throughout the summer, in stadia, fields and arenas across the UK and Europe, with audio requirements met by Robbie’s long-term supplier, Britannia Row Productions.

Robbie Williams' Heavy Entertainment ShowBoth FOH and monitors have been using DiGiCo’s flagship SD7 console: ‘The show is complicated, so both SD7s are running to time code,’ explains Brit Row’s Josh Lloyd. ‘There are 18 people on stage, as well as the techs all being provided with monitors. The time code enables multiple Snapshot sequences to be fired for mix changes within a song, or to allow musical segues to happen seamlessly, so that Jonathan can focus on mixing the show for Robbie.

‘At FOH, much the same time code removes the need to hit various critical cues between musical transitions and allows Simon to focus on the creative side of mixing and making sure Robbie’s vocal is always heard. This is something not many other desks can do so easily.’

Simon Hodge, Robbie’s FOH engineer, has been using an SD7 for the past six years and continues to rely on it to handle this complex show. Jonathan Digby takes care of monitors, keeping the seat warm for long-standing monitor engineer, Pete Mc Glynn, who is recovering from an accident he had shortly before the tour took off. Digby is also deploying a SD7 which, he says, is used to its capacity.

Both SD7s use Gain Tracking and are on an optical loop, with two SD-Racks handling all the inputs from stage, an SD-Mini Rack handles all the Sennheiser Digital 6000 wireless microphones, which are fed in via AES/EBU, and a second SD-Mini Rack handles inserts and PA outputs at FOH. The optical loop is used not only to gain share, but to distribute comms and the comprehensive talkback system between FOH and the stage.

‘Around 96 inputs come from the stage, plus a large amount of inputs for band talkback and comms, which allow the band to communicate with the techs and Jonathan at monitors,’ Lloyd says. ‘On top of this, we have triggers on the drums just to key the Gates on the console. Before you know it, the racks are all full.’

For outputs, there are 24 channels of Sennheiser 2050 wireless in-ear monitors, an Aviom personal mixing system for the drummer, a couple of hardwired mixes, various tech mixes and routing, which mean the monitor desk is also fully loaded. Erasure, who are supporting Robbie throughout the tour, are also using a DiGiCo SD11, which handles both their FOH and monitor requirements.

Having used a Sennheiser SKM 5200 wireless microphone for Robbie since 2013, the continuing reduction in RF spectrum prompted Hodge to look at Sennheiser’s new Digital 6000 system, which offers the same audio quality as the company’s flagship Digital 9000 series microphones in a two-channel receiver.

‘It seemed a very good idea to look at Sennheiser’s digital option as it helps with reducing spectrum usage which, with a show that has so much RF, really helps us,’ Lloyd confirms. ‘And once we auditioned them, the sonic benefits were very clear; the vocal sounds a lot more open and natural and the bleed from other sources down the mics is far cleaner and less problematic for us.’

‘The process of arranging the initial demo was quite challenging, as the 6000 series was still in the final stages of production and not yet released,’ explains Sennheiser Artist Relations Manager, Jack Drury. ‘But we were really keen for Brit Row to try the system with Robbie, as we believed it would be a great fit for the tour.’

A coordinated effort between Sennheiser’s Kevin Gwyther-Brown and Jack Drury, alongside Chris Lamb from Brit Row meant Sennheiser was able to provide a demo solution to Robbie’s team, just in time for the tour. ‘We use it in conjunction with a custom 9235-J capsule that Sennheiser kindly custom-made for us for this tour,’ Lloyd says.

‘The 9235-J capsule design was based on the 5235-J, originally intended for the Japanese market, and features a slight notch in the low-mid response of the capsule,’ Drury says. ‘The 9000 Series version was custom-built by Heinz Epping at Sennheiser’s small0scale production facility in Germany especially for the Robbie tour.’

The PA system

Brit Row has been deploying L-Acoustics K1 for Robbie for the past five years, with each tour seeing progressive developments in the system the company carries. In 2014, K2 elements were added for rear hangs and down fill, while 2017 sees amplification updated to the latest LA12X model.

‘Updating to running the whole system on the new LA12X amplifiers is our big step forward this year,’ says Lloyd. ‘Not only have we seen an improvement in how the system sounds, but the LA12X also provides the incredibly helpful Load Checker feature that measures the attached loudspeakers to help us make sure that everything is working correctly. We have also been using KS28 subwoofers since the end of Robbie’s promo run in 2016. We are now carrying 42 on this tour and are blown away by how musical they are, as well as how low they go. They have added another dimension to the show.’

Robbie Williams' Heavy Entertainment Show

The tour’s system was designed during the pre-production phase, with each venue mapped out in L-Acoustics 3D acoustical simulation programme, Soundvision. The team took time to configure the box count and mechanics of the system on a per venue basis before carrying out final gain, delay and EQ adjustments in Soundvision closer to the show date.

The overall system comprises main hangs of 14 K1, two K2 and four K1-SB, with 14 K1 and between four and six K2 for side hangs. Sub hangs of K1-SB are flown behind the side hangs to help with low end coverage out to the side of the stadia and rear hangs of up to 12 K2 help with the furthest upstage seats and also stop the possibility of over shooting the side hangs. The tour also carries two delay towers with up to 16 K2 cabinets per tower.

‘In the UK, we carried a ring delay for the larger stadiums such as Manchester, Dublin and London,’ Lloyd says. ‘This was comprised of up to 12 hangs of K2 flown from the stadium roof to cover the upper levels of the stadium. The variable horizontal coverage of the K2 was invaluable in being able to optimize coverage and keep energy away from unwanted parts of the stadiums.

‘In Europe, we carry a smaller compliment of K2 to help with extra delay duties in stadiums there, flying up to four additional hangs to help in the hard to cover areas. We also had shows on various large greenfield sites which allowed us to have up to six delay towers to cover the field.’

Additionally, the low end is augmented by a sub arc of 24 KS28 under the stage, with two end fire arrays on the extreme outside of the stage comprising nine KS28 per side. Frontfill duties are handled by four Kara cabinets on the front edge of the stage with 14 ARCSII on the wings.

‘The L-Acoustics system is working perfectly,’ Lloyd concludes. ‘Simon is very happy with how it’s performing and we’ve had a lot of compliments on the sound quality.’

The tour concluded in Europe at the beginning of September, with an additional Australasian leg announced for February and March 2018.

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