After 16 years, audio partners Entec and d&b continue to raise the bar for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Now a staple of the Royal Albert Hall’s springtime calendar, the Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual festival of music and comedy shows has seen over 200 artists perform to nearly 500,000 fans, raising more than £22 million since its launch in 2000. Throughout the event’s 16-year history, Entec Sound & Light has been proud to remain its exclusive audio provider and, through its partnership with manufacturer d&b audiotechnik, has set new standards of excellence at the revered London venue this year with the latest versions of its Dante network package and d&b’s ArrayProcessing software.

It all began when Roger Daltrey encouraged The Who to play a show for the charity, and in doing so became the driving force for the events that followed, curating each year’s bill alongside show producer Des Murphy. This April’s week-long offering was typical of the range of talent to which audiences have become accustomed. Kicking off with a comedy night headlined by John Bishop, the week progressed with The Vaccines and Everything Everything, Simply Red, Bring Me The Horizon and New Order, ending with a classic performance by David Gilmour.

Middlesex-based Entec became involved from the outset, in no small part due to the company’s former head of sound, Dick Hayes, who managed TCT’s audio up until his retirement last year. He said: “I had worked for The Who since 1969 under Bob Pridden and, coincidentally, my first gig with them was at the Albert Hall. When I joined Entec in 1995, Bob was one of the first people I contacted because The Who were forever having monitoring problems. I presented our APW monitors as a solution, Daltrey and Townshend loved them, and when the first TCT show was announced, Entec was given the job.”

The production team for TCT has remained stable throughout the show’s existence with Steve Allen in residence as production manager since the first event. However, no one takes their role for granted, according to Matt Grounds who, after running monitors last year, became both Entec’s project manager and crew chief for 2016. “The consistency of the crew over the years has been key to maintaining a good working relationship with TCT production,” said Grounds. “We are very fortunate to have highly skilled people whose personalities are a very good fit.”

TAMING THE AUDITORIUM

Entec’s long experience of handling one of the world’s most notoriously challenging acoustic spaces carries considerable value. A d&b audiotechnik rental partner since 1995, the company originally deployed the C4 system, configuring it as a large centre cluster for the second year, before moving to the Q-Series. For TCT’s 2006 events, Entec débuted the J-Series – d&b’s entry into the large scale line array market – and it is a testimony to its design that it remains at the core of the TCT audio spec.

This April, Entec’s PA consisted of 14 J8s per side as the main hang with eight V-Series cabinets in each side hang, a balcony fill of four Y8s per side, a pair of Y7Ps with a Y10P per side, and a central hang of six J-SUBs, a front fill of two Y-SUBs, two Y7s and a pair of Y10s, two E8s for centre fill and four B22s underneath the stage. Everything was powered by d&b D80 amplifiers.

Liam Halpin, who has designed the TCT system for Entec for the last seven years, commented: “As systems and technology have improved, and we’ve become increasingly digital with greater access to DSP power, we’ve become more clued up about the things that affect sound in the venue and how best to deal with them for a better experience. We’re now having to do less EQ adjustment on a system that is mainly designed in advance and executed on the day with minimal tuning.”

Not surprisingly, a very healthy exchange of ideas and information exists between Entec and d&b. The ongoing support provided by the German manufacturer is “outstanding” and its beta versions of new products are regularly field-tested by the rental company – one of the most recent examples being the latest software update for its ArrayProcessing tool, demonstrated at TCT last year, ahead of its official launch at ProLight+Sound.

One of d&b’s most significant developments, ArrayProcessing (AP) allows each loudspeaker cabinet to be individually processed with FIR and IIR filtering to by-pass some of the limitations associated with line array cabinets, particularly the directionality and level distribution of the low-mid frequency range. “This prompted d&b to take a further step with the system processing that allows the low-mid to be distributed more evenly and you can really hear the difference,” claimed Jonny Clark, the successor to Dick Hayes in his newly appointed role of head of sound.

ArrayCalc, the simulation tool within d&b’s processing suite, is a crucial link in the chain – the function used to design an array based on a map of the venue, providing system performance prediction, time alignment, rigging and safety parameters.

NETWORKED SOLUTION

Last year’s introduction of Entec’s custom-packaged, highly scalable Dante networking system was another step forward for the TCT shows, prompted by the distribution of amplifiers in the gallery, underneath the stage and in the ‘rat run’ behind the stage, and the associated desire to reduce analogue cabling and gain more flexibility. For 2016, the system took in 28 managed network switches with eight Focusrite RedNet units located around the venue and Lake LM44s running Dante input and output.

As a result of also being fed into the network, crew communications on TCT have reached a new level of sophistication. Matt Grounds explained: “We are using MyMix personal monitor mixers for the crew shout system which is integrated into our Telex BTR 800 radio comms and Mikey Grove, our stage manager, has a radio pack that can switch between each department with more flexibility than he’s ever known.”

INTERPLAY

Advance dialogue with all artists informed the deployment of a DiGiCo SD7 as Entec’s house FOH console – manned by engineer Paul Ramsay – and an SD10 for monitor mixer Simon Higgs. Grounds: “For The Vaccines’ engineers Martin Hildred and Neil Heal we brought in a pair of Avid Profiles, which was one of the few special requests we received. We install what we believe is the best possible system configuration for the venue, but we are also here to serve the incoming artists so there are always a number of individually tailored items.”

Also at FOH, a Midas PRO1 was hooked up to the Dante network via a KT DN9650 network bridge to manage compère mic feeds, VT audio playback and matrixing for incoming consoles. Additionally, to service Matt Hey’s multitrack recording of every show in conjunction with FX Rentals, Entec supplied a system based around a 96-channel Avid D-Show Venue console running MADI to ProTools.

Nearly every year sees Entec working with other rental firms whose clients are in the line-up. In April, the company teamed up with SSE for Bring Me The Horizon and Britannia Row for Simply Red and David Gilmour. Said Jonny Clark: “Between SSE and ourselves, we came up with the idea of Bring Me The Horizon [BMTH] running their own line system via our network and then into our SD7 at FOH. Meanwhile, the support band, PVRIS, used our line system and Profiles at each end so that we had two completely independent set-ups. That was immensely helpful because BMTH decided to augment their set with a full choir and orchestra, obviously impacting greatly on the input count.”

“That’s one of the really impressive things about TCT,” added Grounds. “The artists love being part of it and often go the extra mile to treat it as a special one-off show, and so adding a choir and an orchestra onstage is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect. There’s a level of excitement that you don’t normally see elsewhere.

“With David Gilmour, it was a case of accommodating his production within our existing set-up, so we removed the stage extension to create space for his trademark circular screen and recalculated to bring the rear PA hangs forward. Brit Row brought in their line system and SD7 at FOH for engineer Colin Norfield, although it was still Entec’s PA.

“Maintaining good relationships with these other companies is important because at some point you are going to be working together on events like TCT and smooth interaction is what everyone wants.”

Entec’s crew also included technicians James Kerridge and Tom Olorenshaw. Of all the many special moments from the 2016 shows, one of the major highlights came when, three days after Prince’s tragic death, David Gilmour segued into ‘Purple Rain’ during his iconic ‘Comfortably Numb’ guitar solo – a fitting tribute at the climax of an emotionally charged week.