Cardiff Castle proved to be the perfect venue for Valleys lads The Stereophonics’ triumphal homecoming gig. I spent the day talking to the crew and avoiding the peacocks.
Published by Total Production, Summer ’98 issue
Cwmaman Feel The Noize
Live at Cardiff Castle
Suw Charman witnessed an heroic homecoming for one of Wales’ greatest contemporary rock acts.
It’s been over 20 years since the last gig at Cardiff Castle and for the Stereophonics this isn’t just their biggest ever headlining gig, it’s a homecoming. Kelly Jones (guitar and vocals), Richard Jones (bass) and Stuart Cable (drums) are the three lads from Cwmaman, here to entertain a 10,000 strong capacity crowd and, hopefully, drown out the 16 resident peacocks who are raucously unimpressed at no longer being at the centre of attention.
Being filmed by Avanti Television for broadcast on BBC Wales, the show was a career highlight for the man simply known as Abbiss, the Stereophonics’ Lighting Designer whose requirements were handled through Lee Frankham at Vari*Lite Production Services (VLPS). His rig was run through an Avolites Pearl 2000 with Strand GSX (supplied by Studio One Lighting).
Abbiss commented: “It’s all Vari*Lites — VL5 Arcs, VL6s, and VL5s — and a large conventional rig with 96 par cans for that rock look. We’ve got Silverslash drapes, because we wanted that cheesyness, back projection by Labyrinth, and some Megastar Strobes. Kelly gives a lot of input into what he wants. The Silverslash was their idea, but for future tours we’re going to try to incorporate a sleazy appearance to the show. This is probably the last time this design will get used.”
“It’s all big rock looks, to create strong differences between verse and chorus, and we’ve also added a few audience sweeps to help blend in with the TV look. It’s quite aggressive at times with lots of big Molefay audience blinders washing from the back and coming up behind the band.”
Despite the presence of TV cameras, Abbiss insisted he hadn’t made too many lighting compromises. “We put in two SuperTrouper followspots to fill in the faces. There’s a little more audience wash, a bit more blinder than usual and some backwash from odd places. The rest has been done just to highlight the castle and create a bit of an environment.”
Straight ahead rockin’
Dave Roden, owner of sound company, SoundStageAudio, was not in the least bit daunted by the size of the venue, happily riding the faders on a Yamaha PM4000.
“That isn’t my first choice,” he admits, “but it was a compromise with the engineer for tomorrow’s classical concert. I’d normally spec a Midas XL4, or an XL200.”
An AC/DC-inspired trio, the Stereophonics use little in the way of effects processing, either on stage or at front of house. “The only thing I use on Kelly’s voice is a BSS DPR-901,” says Roden, “just to take out some of the middle when he really goes for it, and that’s in line with a Summit Audio TLA-100A which is just a bit warmer than a normal compressor. Effects are very minimal, because they’re a straight-ahead rock band, most of the time. I use a Lexicon 480L and a Yamaha REV7 on the vocals. I like a bit of chorus on the vocals sometimes, but it’s more psycho-acoustic: you’d notice if it was taken away but you can’t actually hear it unless you listen for it. The idea is just to add a bit of thickness to Kelly’s voice without adding an effect, because he doesn’t need it.”
There are also a couple of Yamaha SPX990s, one is the drum chamber reverb for the kit and the other is the main vocal effect for ‘Looks Like Chaplin’ — a reverse gate reverb which is as close as Roden can get in a live situation to a studio reverse reverb. A Lexicon PCM-80 reverb is also inserted to add a bit of depth to the snare when it re-enters from a quiet middle eight.
Roden described his compressor set up as unorthodox. “I tend to compress over the audio groups for the main kit, the acoustic kit and [additional musician Marshall Bird’s] keyboard group as well, in case the Hammond took off at any point.” He was using BSS DPR-404s across the main and acoustic drum kits, a DPR-402 over the Hammond organ’s Leslie speaker, bass DI and mic, acoustic bass and acoustic guitar plus a DBX160 on electric guitar. Cable’s kit was gated with Drawmer DS-201s.
“I’m not a great exponent of using gates or compressors to a large degree,” he continued. “I know a lot of engineers compress everything really heavily, and then push the whole level up so that everything sounds really squashed and thick, but the Stereophonics’ sound has a 70s vibe — it’s much more open. I don’t compress things that get louder, because most of the time the dynamics of the song make it right that it gets louder. My compressors and gates are basically there in case anything goes drastically wrong.”
The PA was an Amcron-driven Martin Wavefront 8 system, supplied by Capital Sound Hire, and used for the first time in a large outdoor environment (with great satisfaction) by Roden. There was, he said, no need for delay stacks — “most of the rig is ‘point and shoot’”.
Monitoring was kept under control by Conor Parle, using a Midas XL3 with Martin LE700 wedges and Martin W8 side fills. “Kelly has two sets of wedges,” explained Parle, “one in front which we use for his vocals, and a set behind with a band mix, without the guitar because his amps are right next to him. With the wedges being delayed it’s not so directional. It’s all around him, and it means I can get more use out of the side fill. As for the others, they’re very aware of what’s going on around them. There’s no blagging involved, they know what they like!’
No real surprises with the microphones — a mostly Shure set-up with SM58s for vocals and a pair of SM57s on the Leslie. Added to which are SM98s, SM91s and Beta 57As sharing kit duties with AKG C414s and C300Bs, and Beyer M88 kick mick, plus Sennheiser MD241s and MD504s on the bass and guitar respectively.
The main set was followed by a three song acoustic segment for which it was decided to use an entirely separate drum kit, mainly so that Stuart could come down from his riser and be at the front of the stage with his colleagues. “It’s as if you’re mixing for two different bands,” says Roden. “The only thing that links them are the two vocal mics.” Parle agreed: “The amount of channels has increased by about 10 so there was no chance of sharing desks with the support bands.”
“We wanted to try and create a completely different look for the acoustic set,” commented the LD. “The stage shuts down completely, and we just have these back projections up, which look rather nice. The stills are ones that the band wanted — there’s one of the album cover and a special one for the end [the Welsh flag].
After the acoustic spot, it was back to the big looks for a storming finale. The stage was kept clear with just a simple Stereophonics backdrop and the Silverslash either side. Kelly, Richard and Stuart seemed to be dwarfed by the sheer expanse of the stage, but from the poignant ‘Billy Davey’s Daughter’ to the stomping ‘More Life In A Tramp’s Vest’ they effortlessly sweep the crowd up in and emotional frenzy with their tales of smalltown life. Whilst Cwmaman may have been a bit too far away to ‘feel the noize’, Cardiff certainly could.