AAA Tech Diaries – July 2019

Band Walking…”

Camera Rehearsals for The Graham Norton, Show UK Tour, January 2019

Hi everyone,

With the UK tour underway things started moving along nicely. The first night of the tour in Belfast was a big success. The reaction was a good one. Revealing the huge production to the public for the first time was really exciting. Looking back now on the opening night just before the band walked on stage I remember the atmosphere in the room being electric – one of the moments over the last eight months I will remember forever. It was time, the stage was set and we were ready. Three months of preparation, pre production rehearsals and promo were done and it was show time.

Just behind the video wall I was ready and waiting, sat with my drum rack and tool box. “Band Walking”, is the call over comms to all crew from the tour manager. The boys came up the ramp to the stage just behind me wearing the sharp suits from the “Give Yourself A Try” video. They all had a spring in their step and you could sense a level of excitement. I could also tell there may have been a few nerves – totally normally on an occasion like this – it was the first BIG one! I mean, even I was nervous!

Had I done everything in my power to make sure this show would be flawless for George?! In a moment like that sitting there I ran though a mini checklist in my head – in-ear pack on – check, fan on – check, buttkicker receiving signal – check. Then suddenly the countdown had reached zero and the tracks were rolling. Everything goes black – the arena is in total darkness and the screams are like something I’ve never heard before. The intro starts and they’re off!

View from the throne, UK Tour January 2019

After the first eight bars of the drum intro to “Give Yourself A Try” their opening song I can start to relax – everything works, everything sounds great. Phew! I’ll be honest, I remember becoming slightly emotional at that point, I think it was just the relief. The build up to that first tour was so full on for me, yet so special. It was the biggest opportunity I had ever been given and I wanted everything to be perfect. When you take into account the amount of rehearsals, the long days, the late nights, the promo and just the pure scale of everything – when all that is done and they’re on stage – there’s not much more you can do. I just think at that point finally seeing the boys performing in front of an audience of that size and hearing the reaction I could take a little moment to myself with nobody else around and feel proud. 

I learnt so much in the first few days of that tour mainly from the people around me. A lot of the crew including the rest of the backline team had been on the previous touring cycle together and knew how it all worked, and more importantly how each other worked! I had to do my best to fit in on tour where possible especially in my own department.

First up was loading the truck. Due to the scale of the production, we (backline) had to be off stage as soon as possible to allow the rest of the crew to get in and start packing down the video wall, lighting and risers etc. and get out in a reasonable time. We would be appointed one member of local crew to help assist with our load out. I would practically be throwing pieces of the kit at some of the crew sometimes, it just had to be that quick! Cymbals away, drums in the vault, hardware in the case, electronic looms coiled back and lids on! Everything was sent to the truck as quick as possible and the truck pack would begin.

Checking everything is okay with George – UK Tour, January 2019

This is the physical side of the job. Getting in the back of the truck, getting a bit dirty, getting a sweat on and lifting flight cases. We would all get involved to help get our gear on and as soon as it was done after a long day we can grab a well deserved cold beer, get in the shower, head back to the bus and have some food. 

The UK tour in January now seems like a lifetime ago. It went so quickly. But I guess that’s because I’ve done a fair amount of shows with The 1975 now. The UK tour was only a short run of around 11 dates and since then we have done around 50+ shows including three and a half weeks in South America and eight weeks in North America! It’s always a privilege to see such beautiful places whilst working especially places you would never normally visit – it’s one of the better perks in our industry. I think that on the UK tour the highlight for me was the two nights at London’s O2 arena. What an iconic venue that is and in my home city! Half way through the tour and on a “day off” we visited The Graham Norton show and the boys performed “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”. It was my first time working on television and a great experience for me.

Once the UK tour was finished we enjoyed a little bit of time off in February. Some of us had been full on since the end of October. During that time off there was some promo was booked into our schedule that included some more TV performances including the Brit Awards – The 1975 picked up two awards on the night for “Best British Band” and “Album Of The Year” and performed the single “Sincerity Is Scary”. That was another one to tick off the list! Live TV!

Work stations with my tool box, electronic rack and camera monitor, UK Tour January 2019

I’d have to say the Brit Awards was another special one, that was a great couple of days. On occasions like that I love seeing everything behind the scenes. There’s so much going on and so many people! Lots of acts were performing and it’s always nice to bump into familiar faces too. I managed to catch up with my pal Kodi who was working for George Ezra and go out for a dinner. I love that you can be anywhere in the world and still bump into your mates!

As I write this down and think back on some of the highlights over the last year it reminds me of something I wanted to mention on here in an earlier feature. About a week before I started talks with The 1975 production and things were a little bit quiet work wise and I was put forward for a job for a small band on a support tour in a splitter van. We had a few emails back and forth and I was waiting for it to be confirmed until I got an email back saying they decided to go for someone else. Naturally I was disappointed, but I honestly think that everything happens for a reason and it’s all down to fate at the end the end of the day.

As I mentioned at the end of last months feature I would do a rig run down of George’s kit and I’ve had a few messages over on instagram about certain aspects of his set up. After all as this is the Mike Dolbear website so here we go! A lot of the gear we were using on this cycle was previously used on the last world tour. The majority of it had to stay the same due to how heavily visual based the show is and, lets be honest, the clear acrylic kit looks great. Some of you might be familiar with George’s set up but for those who aren’t he has a custom made Yamaha clear acrylic kit consisting of 10”, 12”,14” toms and a Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple 22” bass drum which is chrome wrapped to fit in with the whole look of the kit (a beautiful job done by Gary Noonan). I personally think the chrome wrap finish looks awesome and the reason for this is when George originally had the acrylic kick drum and tried it out a number of times he didn’t feel as though he was getting enough bottom end. He was having trouble feeling the punch beneath him, especially as we were using grated risers, and and boy does the Absolute Hybrid kick pack a punch! We were using Remo drumheads for the whole kit which for me are the best heads on the market, but that’s just my opinion. Clear pinstripes on the top and clear ambassador’s on the bottom gives the acrylic kit much more of an open tone which I could then control if required with a Moongel or two but once again I would try to avoid this for the look. Theres nothing worse than having a nice kit with fresh heads on covered in Moongel! You might get rid of those overtones but in the end you can make the drums sound dead.

Finished Chrome Bass Drum by Gary Noonan, February tour prep 2019

George likes having his 14” floor tom low tuned for what it was and it can be difficult making a 14” drum sound like a 16” without getting uncontrollable growl, so for this I added a snare weight M80 which did the trick. All the drums were taken out of the vault daily and cleaned, polished and then tuned up before being set up on the kit. To allow the most constancy with tuning I would use the Tune Bot Studio daily – on a gig like this consistency is key, especially when everything is being mic’d up! It has to be the same every night.

Whilst I’m on the subject of consistency I would change the top tom heads around every 3 – 4 shows, the batter kick every 10 and the snare head every 2. Yes, that’s a lot of drum heads…Talking of snares – I may get into a bit of trouble for this but we were using a 14”x6.5” Ludwig Copper Phonic (not my doing as they were using this prior to me, but it does sound amazing!) And as a back up ‘B’ snare we had a Yamaha 14”x5.5” aluminium Recording Custom. 

George has been using a Yamaha Hexrack for a number of years now and when this new album cycle came round and I inspected the gear during the prep I noticed that all of the hardware including the rack was completely battered! It had done a world tour prior to this one and had seen better days! But that’s completely normal when it’s being used every night and freighted around the world in a flight case. I got in contact with the good guys at Yamaha they organised two brand new Hexrack’s and hardware including all cymbal arms and mounts we needed across both A & B rigs – legends!

View of the kit with the grated riser, April 2019

With regards to electronics I touched on that in last months feature but let me quickly reiterate what is being used. We were running a Roland SPD-SX as a midi controller into the Roland TD-50 module which was in my rack off stage. All drums had triggers on them and they were also being used as gates for monitors. Not every trigger would be firing a sample on every song except for maybe the kick and snare triggers. When you think of The 1975 songs the snare and kick sounds on the records are so important for not only George’s drum sound but to the records themselves! 

Cymbal-wise George is a Zildjian endorsee and has been for as long as I can remember. The wonderful Tina from Zildjian sorted us out a brand new shiny set of pies for the Brit awards which have been taken out on the road for the world tour. On each show day I would get them out and give them a little wipe down and every few shows I would give them a proper polish with Paiste cymbal cleaner. George is also a Vic Firth endorser and uses his signature extreme 5B’s as heavy as possible. 

As far as all the gear chat goes that’s about it and it also rounds up this months feature. I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll catch you all again next month!

See you on the road,


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By | 2019-07-05T09:00:43+00:00 July 1st, 2019|Categories: AAA Tech Diaries|Comments Off on AAA Tech Diaries – July 2019