While Westlife are a well-voiced, but ultimately plastic facsimile of pop stardom (see feature this issue), Craig David has it all. Last time I made such an assertion was for Baby Bird, who promptly migrated South, so I’ll temper my predictions for David. He is a skilled songwriter - consecutive hits have established that - and he has a rich, round voice, but it was seeing him live that convinced me. He prowls the stage with the leonine grace of a caged animal. He’s compelling, urging the crowd like a Gladiator holding his sword to the neck of his vanquished foe: Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Who cares, this man is dangerous. He may not be playing as many arena shows as Westlife, but they’re sell-outs, and get this - the audience he attracts is, at a rough guess, two years older than theirs, and they scream at 116dB A weighted, according to sound engineer Carl ‘Snake’ Newton - 6dB over Westlife . . . that’s 200% more powerful.
Newton uses a V-dosc system supplied by Wigwam, which is 15 cabinets per side, with three of the near-fill dV-dosc below. As with Westlife, this is the biggest hang of this type I’ve heard. In light of the supersonic screaming of both bands’ audiences, it would be wrong to draw comparisons: there again, the comparison is perfectly made. Walking the room, there’s nothing to choose between them, though I still prefer the low end of the d&b to the 2 x 18" Auras. But vocal intelligibility is acute when conditions permit. Of course, most coverage issues are a different matter with the V-dosc system, so instead of ultra-multiple zone control, the BSS Soundweb module sitting in Mr Newton’s house rack is inserted on the desk. "Mainly I’m using it as an expander on his voice. There’s a kind of a 901-type affair in there I’m using. The point is, when I did the Pet Shop Boys last year, I took out rackfuls of stuff to give myself solution options - with this I have a wide selection of tools in one box, and I can try stuff as I need." And he sees one other great advantage: "Because the connections and devices are all virtual, I can configure things so that I can compress away without affecting the expander." An Amek Recall almost full of Neve modules is Newton’s control surface.
John James on monitors has the new M2 wedges from d&b. "I told Wigwam I needed something decent and they gave me these. They’re bloody good for a 2 x 12, in fact they’d be bloody good for 2 x 15." The only band member not using the M2s is David himself, "though I have a pair front stage centre just in case." He’s on the AKG in-ear system instead. James operates a Midas Heritage board: "It’s what you use these days," he says - a comment that gives a clear indication of what’s important to his manipulation of the black arts. Simple mixing, David takes BVs, keyboards for pitching, and loops or whatever’s appropriate for time.
The lighting design is by Jeff Buckley, formerly the force behind DBN lighting. He’s now taken the unusual step of semi-retiring by selling his company and going back to his LD roots. Neg Earth has supplied the system here, Buckley taking the ‘easy rig’ approach to his design. It’s big but simple, forcing scale to the relatively bare stage by hanging metre-wide white cloth strips each side of the main stage cyc.
Buckley has a no nonsense way of underselling himself: "The brief they gave was easy, ‘not to look like a boy band,’ and ‘make it a bit arty’. I just chose what I like, which is a dozen Clay Paky Stage Scans because I can point them at the cyc and do lots of nice things. I especially like the six-lens wheel - you can make some very big images. I’ve also got 34 Studio Colors: point ‘em at the band, the cyc’, and you know what they can do." He’s equally self-effacing about his Diamond 3: "When you’ve no production rehearsals to speak of, you can bosh a show