Derek Smalls goes large with Yamaha
Tuesday, 3 December 2019
dereksmallscreditrobshanahanDerek Smalls at Lukewarm Water Live (photo: Rob Shanahan)
USA - Famed for his struggles with stage props, attempts to smuggle vegetables through airport security and a Big Bottom, former Spinal Tap bass guitarist Derek Smalls recently delighted fans by inviting them to ‘rock til you sit’ at Lukewarm Water Live, a one date tour of the US West Coast. Increasing age may have brought Derek a subtle change of hair colour but, with a Yamaha PM7 digital mixing system on monitors, he delivered the full majesty of rock.
Playing songs from his 2018 solo album Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) alongside classics by his former band (formerly known as Spinal Tap), Smalls - known to some as comedian Harry Shearer - invited a star-studded line-up to perform alongside him and a full symphony orchestra.
“This was the first time I mixed a show on Rivage PM7,” says monitor engineer Gabriele Nicotra, who has also worked with Ed Sheeran, Mark Ronson, John Grant, Lorde, Siouxsie Sioux and Judith Owen. “My friend Jon Sword had a PM7 system at FoH with Bush and, when I saw it, I had the usual feeling when a new Yamaha digital mixer comes out. It improves on the things we all like, without radically changing the surface and screen layouts.
“Rivage PM7 is instantly familiar enough to not need a course to learn how to use it. My first day on it was the first day of production rehearsals with the band. It was so comfortable that nobody was aware that I was learning a new control surface.”
As a show with comedy at its heart, some of the production elements made life a little more complicated for Gabriele than a ‘straight’ rock’n’roll tour. But the Rivage PM7 system played its part in making things as smooth as possible.
“The live orchestra was mainly for the ‘wow factor’, as we had a recorded orchestra on playback that we mixed with the live one. We did feature the live orchestra more on quieter numbers, as they were really tight, they had great intonation and the bleed was not too noticeable on those songs,” says Gabriele.”
With Derek coming from a band whose lead guitarist famously demanded ‘one more’ from his amplifiers, it’s no surprise that just one - or even one live and one recorded - orchestra was not enough. There was also a ‘live satellite linkup’ with the Hungarian Studio Orchestra to contend with.
“It was a challenge to keep track of the special guests who did appear live, like Steve Lukather from Toto, Dweezil Zappa and Waddy Wachtel, who all had very limited rehearsal time. They were used to a lot of personal attention, so I had to make sure I could make them feel comfortable while still focusing on Derek, the band and the orchestra.”
Naturally the show’s climax was the Spinal Tap classic Big Bottom, featuring an unprecedented number of bass guitars on stage at the same time.
(Jim Evans)

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