9th July - 2nd August…
Please bear with me while I retrospectively try to make it look like I’m typing this from backstage for 2 months… Multiple factors were at fault here - I couldn’t do the HCF day-by-day as I’d wanted to do Just One Year as busyness & tiredness and other distractions came into play. Then came the usual post-festival slump as I had once again deluded myself into thinking that I could do this full-time. Then came all the little discos and other such diversions… So before you can stop me…
I appear to achieved something (with no effort) - adding another year of existence to my life but hopefully also to my portfolio of experience. So I decided to organise the proverbial in a distillery. Literally.
The Glen Ord Distillery, Muir of Ord. Whisky Barrels/Kegs.
Having timed my visit to the Distillery down period (no jokes please), I was still able to sample both some amazing Whisky (notice the lack of an “E” - a first for me) as well as the booming reverb from one of the mash tuns - albeit on my iPod - once some european tourists had shut up.
I also had the experience of Kool Runnings. Having watched too much Gordon Ramsay, I got bad vibes about the place due to the ageing decor and the chef who hovered in the doorway trying to entice people to come in, and putting them off doing so in the process. Those uneasy feelings were soon shot down by the amazing food - including the Goat Curry and Jerk Chicken. I don’t want to turn into a Foodie, posting pics of my meals, but…
Kool Runnings Inverness: fancy yummy pudding
It was so good a Seagull turned up on the other side of the glass at our window seat, and didn’t move until shooed away by the hovering chef. I hear Kool Runnings has been renamed The Caribbean Kitchen… let’s hope the Goat Curry remains on the menu…
I’ve never felt home-sick for my actual home, and yet I get it pretty bad for a lot of the places I do gigs in - Stornoway being no exception. Perhaps it’s the people, the music, the festival food, the banter, the fact I’m a total fanny magnet…
So as usual, I set up my speakers and lights in my digs, and after a trip to the shop had my temporary speaker stands for the week - until I got hungry at 3am. For once, I’d brought decent speakers and a cheap 80s Mosfet amplifier, which was more than adequate, even for the after-party on the Sunday. Until someone from the crew wanted to play Swedish House Mafia… But more on that later.
Stevie C making himself at home
As HebCelt Fest 2015 was upon us, we were to gather in Festival HQ for a “Sivilized Soiree” to meet, greet and see what we were in for.
On one hand, “what goes on tour…”, on the other this is a long way from the no-holds-barred expose book tour I’m planning for later in my career… Which will in all honesty be procrastinated away either by work, depression or the pub until I’m dead and buried in an old JBL SRX cab. You have nothing to fear, unless I post a pic of you trying to get a signal in Festival HQ, but make it look like you’re licking the window…
Getting a signal?
At which point I’m found dead in a skip…
Where absolutely everything involving me would go flawlessly.
I was instructed (along with about half of the crew) to go home for the Tuesday afternoon to save strength for later in the week. I went back to my digs to study the list of camera equipment that had been emailed over - as a couple of the usual AV guys were not there this year. I returned to the site later that evening just prior to the official welcome at the nearby Woodlands Centre. For someone who worries a lot about losing their Aspie-like ability of noticing small details in exchange for becoming marginally better (or less awkward) in social situations, I was able to come back on-site and notice that both groups of crew who were erecting the PA towers (magicTruss I think) had inserted a piece of truss the wrong way round - giving a structurally weak parallelogram. Having stuttered my way thru explaining this to both groups, it was fair to say I’d saved a bit of time redoing it again later. I felt really horrible for pointing it out.
Fortunately, lights make me happy. Luckily, HCF has lots of them.
HCF 2015 Tech Setup
HebCelt Fest 2015 Tech Set-Up
Once both the stages were set-up, the sound and lighting crew had to test the capacity of the on-site power distro - as because the BBC would not be on-site this year, there was no surplus generator. So cue the main FOH tech’s favourite sound check track: Never Mind by Infected Mushroom. The Islands Stage engineer opted for a mix of Afro Celt Sound System and Joe Cocker. From FOH, the bass punched me in the tummy, hard. More to the point, these tracks and the lampies’ improvised light show pushed the distro near full capacity - and we hadn’t set up the projectors yet. However, Kenny (one of the site sparkies) assured me that there was plenty of headroom, but also that if I held any of the phase cables, I would feel them warming up. He wasn’t wrong.
I wish I could do this every day, One Day…
It does feel really amazing to be able to say “I helped make this happen”.
I’ve come to realise that shifting stuff at gigs was the perfect way to exercise in a fun way. I can’t exercise just because it’s good for me. There needs to be a valid reason - such as being able to move stuff at gigs for example. So not only are gigs the perfect method for me to exercise, they are also the perfect reason to do so. So I was determined to help the lampies with as much as possible (both for this reason and because lampie-stuff is fun). On that subject, I’ve met The Australian Pink Floyd’s lighting engineer again!
In an ideal world, someone would select the AV gear we needed under the “we spared no expense” mantra. Back in the real world, Simon (a Tech similar to myself - except more confident, experienced and further into an industry career than me) and I set about pondering how the hell we would connect everything together.
One thing that got me was the SDI-BNC connectors on the projectors, converters and video switcher. I’d always associated them with analog signals (as with a CCTV install) - because although the BNC cable/connector is carrying an analog signal, it can just as easily carry a digital SDI signal. BNC is the connector, SDI is the format. Just as an RJ45 cable is referred to as an Ethernet cable, despite Ethernet being just one use of many uses for the cable itself - Digital Audio Consoles (such as the A&H QU-series), smoke machine controllers and guitar pedals being other examples.
Aside from the fact that all the cameras were different (and it would be a case of lots of small-systems working together) and that we weren’t supplied with the usual Roland V8, we eventually decided (and finally drilled into my head) a system: a small fixed camera zip-tied to the FOH island (the best I could do under the circumstances), a PTZ camera center-stage, and a high-spec TV grade camera and a not-so-TV-grade-but-still-decent camera on each front side of the stage respectively.
Backstage at the AV Island
All the cameras would spit out HDMI, which would then be converted to SDI via a BlackMagic interface, which would then send video down a BNC cable to the Panasonic mixer/switcher, which would also accept a laptop signal on DVI. This would then send video out to a HDD recorder at 1080i50 - which would also accept audio from FOH and 2 crowd mics via a Mackie mixer - as well as to 2 projectors via BNC/SDI, but not before being passed back thru an SDI to HDMI converter. As well as physical space, each camera needed 2 power outlets (one for itself and one for the converter) which meant bothering Mick, another on-site Sparky. My brain hurts.
It didn’t help that we turned up to begin AV prep, only to be told that the cable trench we were planning on using had already been filled in.
This was the only way to get the elevation needed for a FOH shot. I pre-emptively took this picture before someone else reported it to a certain Facebook page, but as TAPFS’s lighting engineer told me, “the point of [that page] is to report others’ dodgy work, not your own”… there was some wobble (especially when the lighting tech started dancing), but not so anyone would notice in the quickness of the mix. What was noticeable was the colour-balance difference when compared to the higher quality TV camera. But again, in the quickness of a mix, I was confident that no-one would notice, or care.
Thankfully, Iain (a telecoms engineer who has specialisms in camera and AV work) from previous years made an appearance and filled one of our cameraman positions - leaving Simon on the stage-left camera and myself on laptop/vision mixing duties.
Hebridean Celtic Festival 2015 vision mixing. Panasonic AV-HS410.
The Panasonic AV-HS410 required a trip to Tech Mobile just over the Bayhead Bridge for a Display Port to DVI adaptor for my MacBook - which then proceeded to have its Time Of The Month by forgetting all its localization settings and prefs. There was no fancy Beauty Shot camera to do snazzy Chroma & Luminance based effects over my graphics, but I was able to then concentrate on delivering (in my opinion) a more professional vision mix. In hindsight, the PTZ camera may have been better on the FOH island. Maybe they can get us 2 next year.
After sourcing crew for erecting screens, setting up headphone distribution amps and re-visiting camera framing/cue commands, we were good to go. It felt great to have more responsibility this year. It was a proper 13-hour day however, with short breaks in-between bands. It’s all Rock n Roll (sort of) and good fun at that. There was enough time to enjoy stone-baked Pizza and Churros and Chocolate, as usual.
Simon looking nervous? Pensive? Annoyed?
The only big issues were my mind freezing up during the last hour of the last band of the festival (due to the rapidly changing camera angles required in tandem with the performers’ rapid on-stage movements), an SDI converter being sent back to the wrong hirer (it still gives me nightmares), and the Dancing Santa effect…
This title is quite apt as on the Thursday (opening night) - as HebCelt Fest 2015 was in full swing - everything went dark and silent (other than a tangible “OOOHHHHH” from the audience), in an all-too-familiar manner. The power had gone out on 2 phases and several smaller circuits - which is bad news on a projector that must be manually soft-powered down and left to fan-cool before hard-powering it down (you run a very real risk of melting the lamp innards if you don’t give it time to cool). Someone had plugged in the Dancing Santa, and overloaded something. Actually, they had reversed over the cable ramp at an odd angle.
Cue the lampies rushing to restore power to the distro, and then us rushing to restore power to the projectors…
HebCelt Fest 2015
Not much to report here, other than no-one in the crew (other than myself) likes Morrissey.
I should probably add how grateful I am to have had Simon and Iain on the AV team, I don’t dare contemplate how rough it would have been without them.
HCF ’15 de-rig
It’s not no-holds-barred. This bit covers the post-teardown party. Suffice it to say we blew a horn on one of my speakers, made cocktails from Buckie & Cider, played impromptu-twister and turned up for the Monday site-clear very hungover. And I was a bit late… I’m confident that I didn’t drink out of a shoe this time.
Spray-paint Twister at HCF 2015
So, with the festival now over and the teardown complete, I was left with a little downtime (the rest of my working-holiday) on the island. McNeill’s is spookily empty post-festival…
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Naturally, I stopped in at McNeill’s for a few for the road (and sea) the following morning. ’Til next year…
As most of the regular Salty Dog crew were away at Rewind (the 80s festival), I was asked to DJ for the weekend. So I invented my own micro-fest: Fast-Forward. What were you expecting?
Stevie C at Fast-Forward Festival at The Salty Dog Dundee
I remember playing a song by Cliff Richard, only for a customer to complain about the track on the basis of what crimes he was alleged to have committed. So instead, I cut to an 808 State remix of a Rolf Harris track. I even used my iPod as a drum machine on another fader to play along. They loved it.
I had been asked by a friend to do a bit of my “light fairy magic” at Barry Mill as part of a summer gig fundraiser-type thing they were putting on. Yet again, having not learned from the past, I had agreed (albeit last-minute and from the Central Bar Arbroath - my office) to do another gig on the same day for another friend in the Reading Rooms.
Music at Barry Mill: Marquee before & after
While I was busy having a little pre-setup panic and starting to set things up, the Roadie turned up in his van to set the PA up. I mean a proper Roadie btw, as in I could totally see myself as him several years down the line. As I was kinda stressed as I often am, I didn’t get much of a chance to say Hi to him, but he seemed a really nice guy. I let him borrow a couple of my leads for mains power, but then had to borrow one of his for a festoon. Due to the lights not being taken away until the following day, I’m sure his lead is still at the Mill…
Music at Barry Mill: Grounds before & after
I once again bumped into someone from The Rep, who was also doing lights on-site. He had managed to acquire a massive festoon with 0.25 lamp spacings and some ShowTec LED light bars - I was well jealous - they are fantastic bits of kit… Mike took care of the LED uplighting while I was doing my usual Fairy String and Festoon Stuff.
Music at Barry Mill: inside the Mill & Outside with the crowd
Having set everything up, it was time to bus it thru to Dundee and to the Reading Rooms, feeling like Del Boy with his suitcase…
As I said before, I had prepped my stuff for Barry Mill, and had retreated to my office (Central Bar Arbroath). Not long into my 80/-, I received an email asking could I bring some lights to an event at The Reading Rooms Dundee… I didn’t get much in the way of pictures, so I shot some video instead…
With Roots… all set up, sound checked (not by me) and tested ready to go, I hopped on a bus back to Barry to help power-down and partially de-rig.
Music at Barry Mill: Inside the Marquee Tent with my colourful bulbs.
While the festoons, LED fairy strings, LED floods and on-stage PAR cans had all been amazing, the disco lights had developed a problem… In the case of the SoundLab Vite pods, the master DMX unit had blown its lamp, taking the fuse out with it. So while normally it would continue sending DMX to the other pods, they received nothing and stayed dark. The other problem was the Vorma had frayed one of its internal lamp wires and therefore tripped its GFI. Time to find a workshop and cue the music (The Smiths, most likely)…
For those wanting to like the Barry Mill page, you can do so here.
Quote of the month comes from a random lassie in a pub; speaking about sound engineering…
All you’re doing is pressing record!
— Some Random Drunk Lassie
I should probably point out that unlike my Last.fm profile, these Top 40 are just the songs I love the most at the moment - not necessarily what’s been played the most or been recently added.
Time to write Blog Part 2.