Roger Waters has history with Hyde Park, as a founder of/principal songwriter for Pink Floyd and as a solo artist, but it was Barclaycard presents British Summer Time (BST)’s unique capacity to stretch its production that brought his extraordinary Us + Them turn to town this summer.
Waters’ two and a half hour set is built around Pink Floyd’s celebrated mid-1970s/early 80s material and contemporises the band’s big production performances through video and graphics, Donald Trump in the firing line, lights, lasers, pyros, bespoke architecture and surround sound.
Politics has played a big part in Waters’ songwriting, since Dark Side of the Moon if not before, and Us + Them highlights the nuances in songs like Time, Dogs and Pigs (Three Different Ones), it’s opinion rather than reportage and on this kind of scale makes for a captivating ‘big screen’ experience. Even British Summer Time Hyde Park, which has hosted The Stones, Black Sabbath, Blur, Taylor Swift, Kylie and Take That, none of which travel light in terms of production, hadn’t seen anything quite like it.
Jim King, BST’s Festival Director, caught Us + Them in embryo at Desert Trip 2016, inking it onto his wants list, confident that his team/his suppliers could stretch the Hyde Park canvas to fit.
“We pushed really hard to get it,” King tells Event Industry News on site the day before the show, which opens BST season 2018. “We needed to make some compromises but, in truth, it’s not really a compromise to say, ‘yes we’ll deliver Roger Waters’ production’.”
Making the changes
Star Events joined the AEG Presents/team Waters conversation early in the booking process to broker a solution to fitting the Great Oak Stage around Us + Them before switching back to a more traditional format overnight.
It meant redesigning the entire sub-structure and super-structure, making the Great Oak greater still, by over 30m, flattening out the performance box for a 1,100m2 LED screen backdrop, incorporating a 1m deep void in the deck to provide a bunker for the Waters’ backline and, with traditional monitor positions literally screened off, creating roofed bunkers in the stage floor by way of alternative.
Es Devlin’s ‘great oaks’ had to be cut from three to two on the stage edge while the leaf cover was enhanced to hide some of the weight of production in the VerTech roof. Four Battersea Power Station-style chimneys were rigged to lift into view in synch with the building’s image coming up from the bottom of the screen, which began the second half of the show, a tribute to Pink Floyd’s 1977 opus Animals. There were pigs too, one out over the audience bearing the slogan ‘Stay human’ on one side ‘or die’ on the other.
Sightlines are sacred at BST Hyde Park and so the roof grid had to be capable of supporting the extended screen without interfering with the action audience-side and, despite those odds, there were zero structural issues lifting and lowering the roof, which incorporated a massive 60 tons of ‘infrastructure’ and 110 tons of production.
“This is a bespoke structure to accommodate Roger Waters’ production,” Jim King says, gesturing at the Great Oak Stage from front of house. “We’re not touring his stage so ours needed to be adapted and Star Events has done an incredible job.”
“To achieve what Roger Waters needed while still enabling the other five major BST Hyde Park shows was challenging to say the least,” Roger Barrett, Special Projects Director at Star Events says. “It showed the flexibility of the VerTech system though, we only had to make a small handful of special components.
“The show was absolutely stunning,” Barrett, who’s been in the events business for more than 45 years, says. “The best I’ve seen.”
“[In terms of suppliers] We believe in relationships,” King adds. “I don’t like chopping and changing for the sake of it, it’s important we reflect and understand the value in the way we contract and not just the price. That said, we expect people to be cost-efficient and allow us to invest more so we can deliver this kind of show.”
The sound at British Summer Time Hyde Park is the best in the festival business, Martin Audio’s Multi-Cellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA) famously winning an exacting battle of the brands at Hatfield House ahead of the festival’s launch six summers ago.
Capital Audio has supplied BST with the MLA ever since, delivering a winsome 100dB for the audience while keeping the level offsite well within agreed limits.
However, in step with Us + Them’s palette of visual effects, AEG had to lend an ear/a park to Waters’ sonic wants, Capital supplying an additional 12 hangs of MLA/MLA Compact to surround the 65,000-strong audience at British Summer Time.
The auxiliary towers added a further 112 cabinets to the existing total, making it the largest deployment of MLA at a festival anywhere in the world. Sound hangs from existing structures where possible, but the remaining MLA supplements, and their Optocore converters, were supported by eight Star Events’ T Towers, class leading structures designed with a narrow gauge/small base to have minimum impact on sightlines, all of which had to come out overnight.
“We did a huge amount of work with [Loudsound Head of Operations] Dan Craig to get the extra delays in position along the boundaries of the arena. You hardly noticed they were there but they produced a stunning effect,” Barrett says after the event. “It was a perfect use of technology.”
The surround sound set-up required Capital Sound’s Project Manager, Robin Conway, to design a new Optocore multi-node system to accommodate the AES (Audio Engineering Society) signal distribution.
“Optocore is so good it just runs and runs,” Conway says. “Once we had synchronised issues such as fibre speed, sampling rate and had assigned IDs to the various devices, everything just fell into place and worked fantastically well.”
“We’ve never built a surround sound system on that scale and we were not only firing low-level FX but high level sources around the site, which needed to be contained,” Paul Timmins,Capital’s General Manager, adds. “But with everyone working to a common goal we were able to meet all sound level challenges.”
While Star Events and company reset the stage for The Cure, headlining BST night two, Waters’ legacy, the bigger platform and the even broader sweep of screens, maintained its impact across the festival’s two weeks.
“Video technology/content has moved forward so massively in live music over the last six years. When they go to a festival or an outdoor event of this nature, I think most artists are expecting to have big screens,” King says.
“We have to be mindful that younger [performers and those] playing early don’t necessarily have their own production budgets. We’ve got to make sure we can embrace what they need and help them deliver the very best [show] utilising this huge space, not just chuck them the keys and say ‘get on with it’.”
Waters winds a Palestinian keffiyeh around his neck as he addresses his audience at the end of the show. “We’re all faced with a choice,” he says. “That choice is whether or not we believe in the contents of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration states that all of us here in this beautiful park, all of us in this country, all our brothers and sisters all over the world, deserve equal and civil rights. And these rights are irrespective of ethnicity or religion so they would extend to my brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
The eight-piece band strikes up Comfortably Numb, Jonathan Wilson, the ‘resident hippie’ according the frontman, handling Dave Gilmour’s vocal and Dave Kilminster his languorous guitar solo. Having teed the song up, Waters crosses the stage with arms either aloft or waving at the crowd as the production effort goes through its extensive paces one last time in Hyde Park, lasers sweeping across the stage front, images on the chimneys, from projectors on the stage roof and from front of house, and pyros as the song finally finishes.
Us and them, but this promoter, this production team and these suppliers are no ordinary men/women…