Live Sound

Horror stories

If you’ve been gigging for a while, you’re bound to have a collection of horror stories, whether they are tales of the transit van, dressing room or stage. As this is a blog on live sound, here are a few of my PA horror stories. Feel free to add your own!

The ever louder monitor
From the first number to the last, my monitor speaker gradually got louder and louder. No-one at the desk seemed to be aware of this, possibly because they weren’t there. By the final number, coincidentally one I was required to windmill a huge power chord on, it was so loud and distorted that I felt like Marty McFly.
Marty McFly

The radio mic
No-one who’s ever seen Spinal Tap ever believes this one, but at a gig in Nottingham my radio mic seemed to be on the same frequency as the local taxi company’s radio. Periodically, I would be interrupted by calls for a pickup on Lenton Boulevard.
(incidentally, this very same gig was the location of another horror story. Upon arrival, we found that the owners dog had left a rather large deposit in the middle of the floor. The owner was called, and after berating the dog he fetched a chair, placed it over the turd… and left)

The pro setup.
Having been assured that the venue had a PA numerous times, upon arrival it became clear that it was a karaoke system (and a small, portable one at that). The tech-spec request for Shure SM58s had gone unnoticed, instead we were provided with the plastic mics that had been supplied with the system. I got a red one.

We weren’t expecting those
At a pub that, it became clear, had little experience of live music, we arrived with our small PA. There didn’t seem to be anywhere obvious to set up, and when we asked, we were told “I wasn’t expecting you to bring those big boxes”. “Pardon?”, says us, “without them we’re not going to be heard at all in here” (it was a large, busy, chatty bar). “We thought you might wander around the place and play” was the response.

New Years Eve. Duo booked for entertainment. Upon arrival, we ask where to set up. We are told our entire performance space is currently occupied by glass-fronted fridge, which would be moved for us after the diners had finished. Not only was this space woefully inadequate for two people and a PA, the fridge still contained the same solitary piece of cheesecake that was there when we arrived, 5 minutes before out scheduled kick-off time.

I mentioned this one before, but on more than one occasion the supplied PA has been a pile of stands, cables, speakers and flight cases piled up in a corner, with no-one at the venue with a single clue as to who will arrive to set it up nor how it works.

XL what?
Upon setting up my mic, plugging it in, and handing the other end of the XLR cable (industry standard mic cable) to the ‘sound man’, I received a puzzled look. “Never seen anything like that before!”, he said cheerily.

What does this button do?
Small gig, nice little PA set up for us on arrival. A very quick plug in and line check, and off we go. Then the PA operator spots the digital effects on the desk. Wow, it really had a lot of them. He tried them all, all the way through the gig.

A bicycle made for 2Kw
Not a horror story at all, but worth a mention. A festival stage powered by bicycles, which as a very sound and fun idea. People pedal, and the sound system keeps running. Worth a mention due to my musical partner Ian Emmerson, in the middle of a particularly loud version of ‘Ace of Spades’ during which the PA could be heard to be struggling a bit, screaming (still in his best Lemmy voice) at a bunch of terrified children, “PEDAL! PEDAL FASTER!”


2 thoughts on “Horror stories

  1. My horror stories are less about sound than lights. Back in the ’80s, I used to run this venue in Central London, two main stages, with temporary stages available on demand in two more rooms: sizes ran from ~1,000 capacity down to ~250. My predecessor in the post had really gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that as much care had been taken over the lighting as the sound systems. Naïvely, I imagined that other venues in the London area with similar capacities would have lighting systems to similar standard.
    Imagine my surprise then, when I was asked to join, Irish band, Aslan’s first UK tour, when arriving at the Camden Palace (now KoKo), I discovered first that the lighting deck was not in view of the stage (sound deck, front & centre, naturally; but the lighting deck was away to the side – all you could see standing beside was the speaker stack stage left). And when I say ‘lighting deck’, I am using the term advisedly. What it was, was a ‘pin matrix’ deck. Essentially it looked like a 6*2 array of cribbage boards with tiny plug-in diodes for markers. You changed the lighting state by moving diodes around the deck, physically unplugging and plugging one at a time, like a toytown telephone operator from the 1950s.
    The next gig was at the Rock Garden, Covent Garden (swept away by the Apple Superstore redevelopment). There the lighting deck was on a gantry above the audience: to see anything you had to adopt a pose like a gibbon swinging from a tree, except your hand was gripping a fader rather than a branch. You peered through a slit in the side of the gantry covers, not unlike looking through the front window of a WWII armoured car.
    There was another gig where we warned that if we put all the lights up at once it would blow the fuses. Needless to say, that wasn’t true at all. The fuses blew anyway – in the middle of the final number promoting the new single.
    It’s hard to say which was the most bizarre set-up of all. Was it the Cricketers, Oval (also long gone & sadly missed), where we (Aslan) supported Wilko Johnson, and the lighting controls (no deck) were in the next room? Or was it the old Dingwalls (next door and at right angles to the new)? Probably yes, Dingwall’s – it did have pretensions to be a proper rock venue after all – there the lighting deck was behind the stage, facing away from the stage. Admittedly, there was a window at the back with a view of the stage. The problem was, you’d need the neck vertebrae of an owl to make use of it. To be fair to the management, they’d obviously appreciated this wasn’t the ideal set-up. So they’d rigged up a CCTV monitor above the desk for the more ornithologically challenged lighting designers among us: a black & white monitor, displaying images from a security camera pointed at the only bright source of light in a darkened venue. Happy days.
    Aslan are still gigging btw. At the time, they were tipped to be the next U2. I know it’s illogical, but I still feel somehow at least partly responsible for the ruin of their dreams.


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