The founder of Autism Rocks, philanthropist Sanjay Shah’s inspiration for setting up the charity was very close to home. After his youngest son was diagnosed with autism, Shah set about staging high quality shows to generate funds for autism research, the first being an invitation-only performance in London by the late, great Prince in 2014. Offering further support, the artist played follow-up concerts at Koko in Camden Town and Pacha Dubai, with the promise of more to come.
“We were all set for another Prince fund-raiser this year and then came the tragic news that he had passed away,” commented Malcolm Giles, the operations manager at 117 Live, the Dubai-based company that manages live events for Al Ahli Holding Group and its brands. “The charity then decided to do this special tribute to Prince and spread more awareness of its goals. Many artists wanted to be involved but rather than gathering together a large bill of big names, it was really about presenting artists who were close to the roots of Prince, as determined by the charity.”
117 Live has enjoyed a fruitful, long-standing relationship with AEG Live, notably with production manager Allen Spriggs, with whom Entec worked on the multi-faceted Quadrophenia event earlier this year. According to Giles, it made perfect sense to join forces for this pair of Apollo concerts. “We know Allen very well and it’s a good partnership,” he said. “We gave Allen a brief and a production budget, and he made his choices based on his past experience. I’ve known Entec for years and have always heard positive comments about their work, so when Allen suggested them as our main supplier, I was more than happy to go with his decision.”
EMMERSON BEAMS IN
Working with Entec crew Peter ‘Pepper’ Schofield and Steve Major, Andy Emmerson was in the lighting hot seat as designer and operator. Discussing how he tackled the design, Emmerson said: “I designed everything around the LED video wall sourced by Entec. With three bands and a DJ on the bill, rather than give each performance its own look, I went with a festival approach to the lighting, especially as I knew that I would have little or no programming time.
“The only artist input came from Jamie Thompson, Cee-Lo Green’s LD, so I noted what he wanted and arranged the fixtures on the truss accordingly. In fact, Jamie’s wishes were quite key to certain choices. Knowing that he’s an Avolites user encouraged me to specify a pair of Avo Sapphire Touch desks as standard, rather than go through all the fuss of swapping around. He also informed my choice of eight Clay Paky Sharpys to provide some back light beams behind the bands from the floor.”
Twenty-six Sharpy Wash 330 fixtures also featured within Emmerson’s spec, along with 19 Martin MAC Viper Profiles and 14 Martin MAC Aura XB compact LED wash lights. “The Auras are very versatile,” claimed the LD, “and I chose them for key lighting on the front truss, side lighting on the floor and to give me some additional back light from the side towers.
“We had a bunch of SGM X-5 white LED strobes working in four-channel mode, giving key accents at a number of points. That choice was made more with the DJ sets in mind although Cee-Lo also made a feature of them.”
The party vibe was enhanced with much use of blinders: while 4-lite Molefays on the front truss beamed into the crowd, a line of 8-lites added contrast by silhouetting the musicians. “Another of Jamie’s requests was for a decent amount of PAR 64s,” informed Emmerson. “We had 60 of those to give him a range of looks throughout Cee-Lo’s set and I took advantage of them myself for chases, creating some nice waves and rolls. There’s still plenty to gain from old school technology!”
Emmerson particularly enjoyed the DJ side of each night. “Mark Ronson did a killer set. I like the amount of creative free rein you get when lighting DJs – you can have a greater amount of smoke and play with the audience a lot more. We had video for him on the first night but he abandoned it on the next show in favour of more lighting action, so I went to town with the big looks.”
A & B OF SOUND
At front of house, Matt Grounds presided over the Entec-supplied DiGiCo SD10 and Avid Venue Profile that were used as ‘A’ and ‘B’ consoles, depending on the requirements of each act. These desks were routed to a Midas Pro1 control surface from which all outputs were sent to the Apollo’s own Lake processors and, ultimately, to the house L-Acoustics system. The Pro1 also handled compère mics and incidental audio.
The shows’ demand for 28 channels of RF was divided into 10 in-ear monitoring channels and a further 18 for wireless instruments and microphones. In charge of all things RF was Peter Eltringham, who joined Entec earlier this year as Senior Sound Technician. “At first, it was a bit of a struggle to fit in all of the frequencies,” he said, “but the Shure Axient wireless management system – a fantastic piece of kit – gave us a very good result in the end by scanning the RF ranges and allocating the best frequencies based on strength and reliability in order to avoid any interference.”
On stage with Eltringham were patch technician Tom Olorenshaw and monitor engineer Emma Wood, who looked after another ‘flip flop’ arrangement of a Yamaha CL5 paired with an Avid Profile. Explained Wood: “The monitoring aspect of the shows turned out to be much, much simpler than we expected. Larry Graham’s set was mixed on the CL5, along with Mark Ronson, guest DJs and compères, while the Profile was used for Morris Day and Cee-Lo. We were able to save mixes on the Profile and just reuse them with different EQ settings. All the processing was done internally on both desks.
“We had two physical patching systems in monitor world and while one act was performing on the ‘A’ system, Tom did the patch for the next act on the ‘B system’. It was a very simple transition that required Veam connectors to be moved from one panel to another.”
“Although we supplied Shure PSM1000 in-ears there was very little use made of them, apart from four channels shared between Larry and Cee-Lo’s band, whose engineer had everything dialled in from his files. They mainly used their IEMs to sync to a partial backing track and otherwise, like everyone else, relied on Entec’s d&b M4 floor wedges with C7 tops and subs, all powered by d&b D12 digital amps.”
Shure UR2 hand-held wireless microphones were widely used. While DPA d:facto vocal capsules were employed for Larry Graham and Morris Day, Cee-Lo Green’s touring engineer preferred the standard SM58 head. Elsewhere, it was a standard Entec microphone package featuring models from Sennheiser, Shure and AKG as well as Radial J48 DIs.
Artist changeovers went like clockwork – the only major aesthetic difference being for Mark Ronson’s set, for which the stage crew rolled the side fills into the centre of the stage, either side of Ronson and his personal mixer, with FOH and monitors taking a basic left/right feed from his mixer.
Overall, the weekend went very smoothly for Entec’s sound team, with Emma Wood making mention of just one issue. “Morris Day arrived with a show file but no monitor engineer,” she said. “It was a little frustrating because some time was lost in trying to translate the file. Fortunately, we are all grown-ups who have dealt with much worse, so we just coped with the situation and it all worked out fine.”
With the Prince tribute wrapped, a number of the Entec crew stayed behind at the Apollo to work on the following evening’s 2016 China Britain Film Festival Awards – one of the most significant Chinese cultural events in the UK, attracting an impressive array of high profile guests.
“All of the lighting equipment remained in place and we just moved some of the elements around to suit the brief,” said Emmerson. “It was an interesting three days for the lighting crew, that’s for sure, and I was impressed with how the gear stood up. The Apollo is a very familiar venue to Entec so it’s no surprise that everything worked perfectly throughout the whole weekend and the crew were especially helpful.”
The shows came in the middle of a particularly busy period for Entec that has included work on Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tour, Cyndi Lauper, Buddy Guy and a major Christian worship event at London’s O2 Arena. Meanwhile, further Autism Rocks events are planned at the Apollo later this year including a Nile Rodgers show on December 23rd.
Photography by Mark Cunningham & Greg Allen