After its Covid-19 break last year, the Henley Festival returned for 2021 with a Martin Audio sound system from regular partner RG Jones Sound Engineering – an association that now approaches 40 years – and a full-service complex comms from Surfhire.

Henley FestivalThe site on the bank of the Thames is not without its challenges when it comes to audio, a factor highlighted by the main Floating Stage on the river itself. The auditorium here is only 40m from front to back, but more than 100m wide. Obtaining even coverage without hotspots for audiences, both inside and outside the main sound field, was met by a combination of the service providers’ technical expertise, led by designer Simon Honywill, and their deployment of Martin Audio’s MLA.

The festival production team had previously acknowledged that MLA’s control technology had enabled them to dial in exactly the required coverage area to ensure compliance with the licence conditions. Once again, the system tech responsible was highly experienced MLA technician, Mark Edwards. With his use of Hard Avoid in the Display optimisation software, RG Jones comfortably maintained offsite noise limits at 65dB(A) over 15 minutes while achieving appropriate levels within the defined coverage areas.

While this year’s five-day festival saw headliners Madness, James Blunt and Sophie Ellis-Bextor supported by Sara Cox alongside Sounds of the 80s, Disco Classical Featuring Kathy Sledge, and Don’t Stop Me Now rock symphony revue shows, RG Jones also provided Martin Audio solutions for a number of support and specialist club stages – largely using MLA Mini. The one exception was Pure Heaven, combining two major clubbing brands. And this saw the deployment of the new Martin Audio Torus advanced constant curvature system.

RG Jones Project Manager Jack Bowcher – who is also responsible for maintaining their cutting-edge rental inventory – had been keen to audition Torus and immediately earmarked Pure Heaven as a likely destination. ‘I contacted Ben [Tucker] at Martin Audio and asked if I could try it out in the 25m big top,’ he says.

Three Torus enclosures were on top of three MLX subs for the occasion, and Bowcher delivered an unequivocal verdict. ‘As a 12-inch box it sits neatly on top of the sub – the rigging was solid and straightforward.

‘We ran the Torus in portrait mode. They easily covered the space and provided the 20m-30m of coverage as promised. The constant curvature array allowed perfect coverage. ‘In addition, situated behind each of three VIP seating areas in Pure Heaven were a pair of Martin Audio’s popular white DD6 (differential dispersion) speakers to mitigate slapback,

Bowcher project managed the audio for the whole site in tandem with Production Manager, John Harris. As with 2019, a seven-elements-a-side MLA Compact flown PA rig provided coverage on the Floating Stage, with a further nine elements per side of MLA Compact providing out fill and four-a-side MLA Mini for fill. Providing LF extension were two stacks of three MLX subwoofers, designed in cardioid pattern to prevent bleed back onto the stage, while DD12 delays ensured intelligibility was maintained at the back of the grandstand, where the roof obscures the top of the main system.

Henley FestivalSurfhire deployed a full-service complex comms package for the festival site, including six stages and roaming theatre. In order to keep the event running as smoothly as possible – despite some of the site’s idiosyncrasies – Harris brought Surfhire (part of Britannia Row Productions) back once again to provide radios, internet backhaul, and site-wide network services for the festival.

‘Surfhire has been involved for 12 years, but the role has expanded and contracted as time has gone on,’ explains Surfhire’s Simon Hodge. ‘The festival size was slightly reduced following the pandemic, but the site still remains a very difficult one for us to implement the necessary technology.’

The Surfhire team deployed new Gigabeam links at 60GHz to achieve 2Gbps internet backhaul across the river then ongoing microwave, fibre and copper links to distribute on site. As well as production internet, Surfhire provided catering POS terminal services and box office machines along with a bespoke VoIP phone system.

‘The fibre backhaul terminates over the river, so we use 60GHz microwave to link across and then more microwave to get around the site,’ says Hodge. ‘All told, it’s a mile long so there are also a lot of access restrictions as well as a compressed load-in, so the whole process can be a bit of a challenge.’

The company had four engineers on site for three days, who installed, terminated, and certified all of the cable runs. They also used high-grade spectrum analysis to keep the links running throughout the festival.

‘More and more, I think that Internet provision is becoming essential for live productions,’ adds Hodge. ‘As they become more elaborate and offer higher values, solid voice comms is more essential for the event smooth running and safety, and I think this growth will continue – particularly with the concept of converged network where a backbone and backhaul become common among all production elements for a show or event.

‘Watching the festival’s varied shows was fantastic; it was so fulfilling to be back in the saddle and we’re already looking forward to next year.’

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