On Tour With Elbow: Another Sunrise With My Sad Captains
Jay Beard
Head of Live Sound
Last Update: 19.06.15
On Tour With Elbow: Another Sunrise With My Sad Captains
SSR Manchester - Jay Beard, Head of Live Sound

POSTED ON – 19.06.15

On Tour With Elbow: Another Sunrise With My Sad Captains

Another sunrise with my sad captains
With who I choose to lose my mind
And if it's so we only pass this way but once
What a perfect waste of time

Lyrics from Elbow’s Sad Captains; a song which reminds me of the many late nights/early mornings that we had on our first journeys together around the world. And I feel that the words bring to mind a happy time, enjoyed by a few friends that if it were for the last time it wouldn’t really matter because it was fine the way it was.

That’s why I hesitated for a moment when I opened an email from Tom, Elbow’s Tour Manager asking me if I could cover stage monitors for them at a couple of European festivals this summer. Should I go back? What if those lovely memories are shattered? What if I mess it up? My life is so different now, will I be able to fit it in?

These are all thoughts that went through my mind in that moment.

I had to ask a few questions; Will we rehearse? Are we taking our own consoles to these festivals? Does Julian (the Monitor Engineer who I was covering for) still use a D-Show? Do we know what the set list will be yet? Can I have his last show file? Could I get a Pro Tools recording of a show so I can practise on SSR’s equipment?

The answer to all these questions was of course yes, so that also became my response. Once I had agreed to it I think I had 4 weeks to prepare before the rehearsal on 11th June.

The Tour Bus

The first thing I had to do was buy the latest album because I was too embarrassed to say I hadn’t got around to listening to it yet. The next was to arrange a playlist of the songs that were to be on the set list and put myself on a strict Elbow only listening diet.

I met with Julian who is an old friend of mine, and he took me through his show file and the recordings. He also prepared a seven page document of instructions and information regarding the set up and running of the show. That was the first time I thought to myself, “what have I let myself in for?

Just to give you an idea of the vastness of the undertaking, it’s a 56 input show and that is not including FX returns; the 56 inputs are all from the stage. Those are processed and mixed and sent on separate mixes to 5 band members, 3 string players, 2 brass players, 2 stage techs and 1 monitor engineer (that’s me) who are all on In Ear Monitors (IEMs), 1 wedge mix, 1 Thumper and one output for comms with FoH. That’s a lot to get your head around!

I did my homework on the D-show at SSR and read through Julian’s documents a few times and before I knew it we were in a full rehearsal in the big room at Blueprint Studios in Salford. I have to say I was really nervous that first day and felt a little rusty. As the day progressed it all came flooding back and I started to enjoy myself, being at the controls for such a big show.

We packed up that night, loaded the truck and jumped on the sleeper bus to travel through the night to Holland via the Dover-Calais ferry. We arrived on the festival site about 13:30 and received our backstage passes and catering tickets and were shown our dressing rooms/port-a-cabins. Our scheduled equipment load-in was 15:00, so there was just enough time for a quick shower and something to eat before all the crew went together to meet and greet the stage manager. We were given our risers, but there wasn’t enough space for me to put my console and stuff side stage until George Ezra’s Monitor Engineer moved his equipment after his set. So we set up backstage and ratchet-strapped it all together so we could wheel it on stage later.

Backstage setup

Because we were self-contained (i.e. we had brought all our own mics, consoles, stands, cables and line system), we were able to line check in the backstage area. This meant we could check every input was working correctly and iron out any problems well before we got to the stage at 19:15. Also because Elbow use wireless mics and IEMs we needed to co-ordinate our UHF frequency usage with the festival to ensure there were no overlaps with any other acts. Once this was done I could switch on my wireless equipment and check it for interference. This mainly involves me wandering around the backstage area with a radio mic in one hand and some IEMs in the other, shouting into the mic doing my one twos and shaking the IEM receiver to mimic the movement of the artists. It could look quite strange to the uninitiated.

So by 18:15, an hour before our stage changeover, we were set, locked and loaded and had time for some more food. The artist catering was excellent and I chose the lobster. (Ooh very posh!)

So now onto the gig...

By the time our changeover began all my nerves had subsided because this was it! No going back now Beardo! The point of no return had passed long ago. There are 65,000 punters out there!

Don't mess up now Beardo!

We line checked again this time between stage, FoH and broadcast (yes it was being broadcast live too…no pressure) and we had all our inputs and no issues. We were ready to go 15 minutes before the scheduled stage time so we had a chance for a few extra double checks. And then…well it went in a flash. Everything went swimmingly well. I had a couple of little requests for a bit more of this and a little less of that; for instance I had two requests from Guy: one he asked for more vocal, two he gave me the “everything’s great” sign and that was it. At the end of the show Guy popped back on stage to give me a hug and throughout the rest of the night everyone congratulated me on some level.

Everyone involved, band, crew and festival staff worked to the upmost professional level at every step of the way and for this reason the whole thing was the greatest pleasure to be involved in. I still have one more show to do with them so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve proved to myself that I can still do it at this level but more importantly I’ve proved that pretty much anything, no matter how difficult it might seem, can be achieved if you work hard at it.

PS: no, it hasn’t given me the bug to go back on the road, but it is nice to dip a toe in every now and again!
SSR  - On Tour With Elbow: Another Sunrise With My Sad Captains

Jay Beard

POSTED ON – 19.06.15

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Jay is SSR’s Head of Live Sound and joined the school after 10 years on the road as a touring live sound engineer. He has travelled the world many times over, working for top bands such as Doves, Elbow and Snow Patrol, gaining a vast experience of live sound engineering, event production and touring.

Using his well-established connections and contacts within the industry, Jay is able to stay abreast of the technical advancements taking place in the industry and set up numerous guest lectures and site visits to major venues and festivals for our students. Previous production tours and sound check experiences have included Elbow, Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Kate Nash, Westlife and Girls Aloud at a variety of venues including the MEN Arena, Manchester Central and Manchester Academy.

Jay was one of the first people in the world to become an Avid Certified Venue Operator and Instructor, enabling him to deliver official Avid training on the D-Show live mixing console housed at SSR.

Jay brings his vast experience of live sound to SSR students, giving them a real world insight into the workings of this fast changing industry. He has brought some great guest lecturers into SSR and has helped many of our students get their first jobs in the industry.

Jay is still active within the live events industry, enjoying helping up-and-coming bands with their stage productions and helping local music festivals and community enterprises get off the ground.

If you require any advice on live sound or music for an event, feel free to get in touch!