Production profiles Coldplay: A Head Full Of Dreams
1st September 2016
On their second leg of the world tour, Coldplay brought A Head Full Of Dreams to stadiums across Europe.
In between headlining Glastonbury festival and playing four consecutive nights at London’s Wembley Stadium, it’s fair to say Coldplay have had a busy summer. TPi’s Stew Hume travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the last date of the British rock band’s European tour to meet the team that make Coldplay’s multi-coloured dream a reality.
With a bassist from Scotland, a guitarist from Wales and a singer and drummer from England it’s hard not to feel a warm sense of British pride while watching Coldplay present their awe-inspiring A Head Full of Dreams tour. After a successful South American leg Coldplay set themselves up for a summer playing in some of the biggest outdoor venues across Europe. With their ever-growing popularity, Coldplay has often been the victim of criticism from those who dismiss their mainstream accessibility. However, whether you love them or shun them, one thing the band can never be faulted on is their ability to deliver an incredible live show, and as hundreds of thousands of fans have shown, this latest tour was no exception.
The Production Pyramid
Heading up the production for the tour is Production Manager Bill Leabody and Production Coordinator Nicole Massey. With 109 universal crew, 32 truck and nine bus drivers, they lead something akin to a small army. Speaking to Massey on the stage floor of Copenhagen’s Telia Parken, she talked about the importance of keeping morale high: “Both myself and Bill try to keep everyone as happy as possible no matter how hard the days are. This tour has been really busy; for example a lot of our production are flying out to the US after tonight’s show to make preparations for the North American run. However we always want to make sure we’re pushing forward and everyone’s spirits are up. It’s busy but it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show, we have to remember that!”
With the European leg of A Head Full of Dreams coming to a close Massey gave a summary of how the tour had gone. “It’s been really great. The European crowds have been wonderful as always. Since our first show in France we have received such positive feedback from promoters and the fans. It’s just amazing how many people we have played to night after night. Take Wembley for example; after four days you realise that you’ve just played to over 300,000 people. It’s moments like that which allow you to appreciate the magnitude of this production. This whole show has a really positive vibe and if you stand by the barricade when the crowd see the reel which welcomes them to the show, and the signature wristbands light up the audience you can feel the excitement. That’s why all of us on the crew do this. We love it.”
Tour Manager, and past TPi Award winner Marguerite Nguyen agrees. Starting with the band back in 2008 as Production Assistant, Nguyen explained why, like her, so many crew members keep returning year after year: “With every tour the mood always comes from the top; the guys in the band are so generous and nice to work for. I remember when I first started, they wouldn’t let me hold doors open for them! And, of course, that trickles down with our great production team of Bill and Nicole. There are people on this tour that have been with the band since they were in a van and there is a reason they keep coming back. When you’re lucky enough to find a tour that feels like home you always want to stay!”
The Drawing Board
Fans haven’t seen a Coldplay show of this scale since 2012’s Mylo Xyloto tour, in support of their fifth album of the same name. For their follow-up album, Ghost Stories the band opted for an intimate tour and only played a few dates. Fast-forward to last year and Coldplay released their seventh studio album, A Head Full of Dreams, announced their plans to again take up residence in stadiums across the globe.
To put this tour together, the band enlisted their trusted creative team; Creative Director Phil Harvey; Production/Lighting Designer Paul Normandale; Set Designer Misty Buckley and Video Director Ben Miles. This visionary group of creatives charged with the task of bringing the band’s vision to life were supported by several long-term vendors including Lite Alternative and Brilliant Stages, as well as newcomers, VER.
Many of the themes created for the Mylo Xyloto tour made a welcome return for the band’s latest outing, including a multitude of lasers and confetti blasts. A Head Full of Dreams also sees the welcome return of LED wristbands provided by Xylobands which invited every member of the audience to be a part of the show design. According to Lighting Designer Paul Normandale, this was one of the goals in the initial design: “The aim on all Coldplay tours is always the same; to involve every audience member whether they are upfront, by the barricade or at the back of the stadium.”
With the European tour coming to an end, both the band and the crew set its sights on their North American run.
Although this latest stadium tour had the production rolling out some old tricks from the Mylo Xyloto run, many of the creative team were keen to bring in new elements. Ben Miles, Video Director for the tour explained: “The few Ghost Stories shows were very different visually. It was all about projection and being in a space where the band could get close to the audience. During those shows we got to experiment with some really cool ideas that were simply not possible on such a large stage. But when we put our heads together for A Head Full of Dreams we wanted to think of a way that incorporates the best parts from Mylo Xyloto and Ghost Stories. We utilised the lower B stage to allow frontman Chris Martin closer contact with the audience and made sure the video elements showed as much of the band as possible.”
Raise The Roof
In 2012 the band performed without a roof for their stadium tour. During early production conversations regarding A Head Full of Dreams it was decided that this would remain the same.
“It’s completely open to the elements,” commented Leabody. “The band likes to have a close connection with the audience and if it rains and the crowd gets wet, so do they!” Lighting Director Graham Feast chipped in: “When we were presented with the idea of playing without a roof, the first task involved where to hang the lighting fixtures.” Paul Normandale’s solution came in the form of two towers on stage that house a lot of the fixtures and the PA. The remaining fixtures are hung on the upstage wall. Having already toured stadiums roofless, the crew had picked up a great deal of experience. “Without the roof you have an added problem of weather-proofing, which can be challenging but we learned from those mistakes on the Mylo Xyloto tour,” explained Feast. “Coming into this we knew which areas needed to be addressed in terms of cable management; each fixture has it’s own bespoke rain cover.” Normandale believes the input of lighting vendor, Lite Alternative was vital in tackling this operation, crediting them with “extensive knowledge on waterproofing lighting fixtures.”
The stage was supplied by Stageco. The company built a sub-structure for the 65 by 25 metre-deep main stage, as well as the 30 metre long B stage runway and a C stage on which the band played a short, intimate set amongst the audience. Stageco was also responsible for the steel structure that supports the central video wall and side screens, the rigging points, PA along with the spot towers, FOH risers and camera platforms.
Stageco President, Hedwig De Meyer, discussed the creation period for the tour: “My first meeting about the production was in June 2015 and because the band are involved in many creative decisions, a lot of options were left open for a significant amount of time. As a result, aspects of the design were still being finalised just weeks before the tour. I guess you could say it’s been a long process but our experience and flexibility enables us to respond well under pressure.”
Providing the top deck for the tour was Brilliant Stages. The company has worked with the band for several years and was delighted to be invited back on board.
Ben Brooks, Director of Brilliant Stages explained the company’s involvement: “The system we took out on the European run was one of three that we provided for this world tour. It consisted of an upper deck on the main stage that was designed to replicate the flower shape of the logo from their album artwork. We provided the top deck for the runways to the B stage and for the C stage out in the audience.” Brilliant also constructed the framing for the stage left and right video screen to again replicate the latest album’s logo.
Matthew Kaye, Project Manager from Brilliant explained the technical elements of the staging: “All the elements were treated with a non-slip finish which was essential, as the band are very active on stage. The whole stage, including the runway and video floor on the B stage, was sprung and mounted on rubber blocks to absorb the shock when Chris runs around the stage.”
The stage surface was also absorbed into the set aesthetic with a painted on design created by Misty Buckly. As the stage was open to the elements it could be exposed to high temperatures one day and heavy rain the next. “Brilliant supplied a team of artists headed up Hannah Whitfield from Perry Scenic to ensure the paint work always looked its best,” said Kaye. Finally, from an aesthetic point of view another vital part of the set design was a large flower curtain that hung in front of the main LED screen. The curtain was supplied by UK draping specialist Blackout which produced the colourful backdrop to the stage, by creating a bespoke netting system with built-in webbing straps.
Taking on the role of Stage Manager was Craig ‘Fin’ Finly. Fin has been with the band under different guises since 2008 when he was the Production Manager. After taking some time away from the band, Fin jumped at the opportunity to return to the road with Coldplay as Stage Manger: “This tour is really great to work on,” he began. “It’s about 20 percent bigger than their 2012 tour but it is still very manageable. There’s a great vibe, especially with so many returning crewmembers – and not just the key production but many of the vendor crew too.”
Fin has a strong work ethic which he tries to instill in his team, “Everyone has to be safe for this show, during long day of heavy lifting, but you try and do everything with a smile on your face.”
Responsible for overseeing the build of the stage is Head Carpenter, Jack Deitering. Along with the 10-strong carpentry crew, Deitering discussed some of the issues he faces with the open air conditions: “There are no real places to hide from the elements during the tour unless you’re one of the techs in the bunkers. It’s always important to keep your rain gear handy and to keep a positive attitude throughout.”
Head Carpenter, Jack Deitering.
The rigging supplier for the European run was Actus Industries. The rigging team of five was Head Rigger, Russell Glen. “On the whole rig there are 127 points,” Glen began. “The centre four towers are all connected and support the back video wall which alone weighs 80,000 tonnes.” Actus Industries supplied the production with a range of CM motors. “We have quite a variety on this tour including one, two and half tonnes,” explained Glen. “It’s my go-to motor. It’s recognised throughout the world and if you have any problems there is always somewhere that can replace them.”
Glen was keen to highlight the inclusion of the Limpet Hight Safety system. “We brought it out for the first time in this tour. Essentially it’s a lifting system for each one of our downstage spot operators so they don’t have to climb to the positions and can simply hoist themselves. It’s an added safety measure we were keen to implement. In the last two months they have become a staple of our production.”
Providing several infrastructural and services elements for the European tour was eps. The company not only supplied the tour with a GIGs Stage Barriers package along with several GIGS Special Elements, it also saw that the tour was provided with 30,000 sq metres of black drapes that were used behind the stage area.
To ensure that each venue had enough power, the band’s production once again hired the services of Forth Generation. The company has worked with Coldplay since 2009 and was delighted to be asked back once again. Managing Director of Forth Generation, Tweed Hurlocker stated: “The band and their management – namely Dave Holmes and Bill Leabody – have been amazingly loyal to Fourth Generation on these last two outings and we are highly appreciative. The production team is great to work with.
“For the A Head Full of Dreams tour we supplied 2.2 mW of power. It’s enough to keep a small city running! The mains cable totaled around six km alone. This year the tour required us to load in on the day of the show, a challenge to which our crew rose to admirably. We had a team of five, headed up by Paul Traynor our Crew Chief.”
Hurlocker explained that every single department relies on your company to do their job; pressure which, at times, can be both stressful and challenging. He was pleased to report however that all his crew took it in their stride: “It’s imperative that all of our equipment is built to exacting specifications and is rigorously maintained. We love what we do though and have great crew. We are delighted to be back out on the road with Coldplay again. They always put on a great show for the audience and have a reputation for creativity. We love being part of that process and seeing the audience’s enjoyment of each new stadium tour.
“Also I have to give a special congratulations to Paul and Susanne Howell, Operations Manager of Eat To The Beat the tours caterers, who even managed to squeeze getting married into the tour itinerary!” concluded Hurlocker.
Time For Your Close Up, Mr. Martin
During the tour the FOH positions were split in two; audio was placed to the left of the stadium floor and the visual department to the right. Meeting TPi at the visual FOH was Coldplay’s acclaimed live-show Video Director Ben Miles. It would be out of the ordinary to find a video department set up at FOH on most tours, but not Miles, who told TPi how much he wants to be part of the action. “Nothing can ever match the naked eye. If you rely on watching a show through monitors you’re trusting the colour collaboration to be correct. I want to see my work on the big screen first hand, especially in this show with the open roof and the effect of the changing natural light.”
Settling down at his control station, Miles outlined his initial goals from the outset of the world tour. “I want everything you see on the screen to be part of the overall look. In this show the delay screen doesn’t simply produce content for people who can’t see. It’s all part of the same look in collaboration with all the other departments.”
Coldplay’s Production brought in first-time supplier VER. Miles elaborated: “We really needed a big company for this tour due to the sheer size of the show. We created a complicated control system which we have wanted to build for several years, but to create it we needed a company that could produce all the pieces of the puzzle. This is the first time we have worked with VER and it has been great.”
Video Programmer Leo Flint and Video Director Ben Miles.
Starting from the stage, Miles deployed three screens of VER RS5 with a large 23.4 by 12 metres back stage screen with two smaller 8.4 by 9.6 wide IMAGs flanking the stage. “During the South American run we used VER’s nine mm product but were really keen to use the five mm for the European run. A lot of the looks we produce for the screens are live camera images. If we shoot any of the band members, the upstage LED screen acts as a backdrop for the footage streamed on the side IMAG screens. So having a screen like the RS5 which has a very high resolution creates a much sharper look.”
Providing all the footage for Miles through the show was a sizable 14 camera package. “Starting off we have two cameras in the pit area mounted on Vinten Ospreys using a curved track, as I wanted to get a way from straight line shots. We also have two FOH cameras, which I use for my long shots, as well as some B and C stage footage. I also have another long lens on an Vinten Osprey down on the B stage which I use for footage of Chris running down the runway. There are also two handheld cameras with one on stage to create action shots of Chris and Will [Champion, Drummer]. We also have Robo cameras on trusses that get interesting angles as well as footage of the fans and capture looks created by the LED Xylobands.”
One of Miles’ other aims for the tour was to focus on aerial shots to show off the painted stage and the Viss Lighting NX7 LED floor on the B stage. “Before this tour I had never really worked with an LED floor but it lends itself to being shot from above. We drew a lot of inspiration from the band’s performance at the Super Bowl halftime show and began working on ways to produce the best aerial shot.” Miles and the visual team settled on a Spidercam to showcase the stage adequately. Brought in initially for the four Wembley dates, the Spidercam, which requires an additional three crew members, impressed Miles and the rest of production so much so it was implemented in the rest of the European tour. The free moving camera, often seen during sporting events in stadiums, has lent itself incredibly well to the live touring world according to Miles. “Since bringing it on the tour I have been able to produce the most beautiful areal shots.” The camera tracks itself along four cable wires, which are winched from each corner of the stadium. The smooth tracking of the camera meant that the Miles could produce close shots of the band before flying out to show the wider stage to create spanning cinematic looks all of which were achieved without affecting the sight lines of the audience on the stadium floor.
Miles also had a Robo camera on the downstage tower which could track up and down. “Just like the Spidercam, the Robo camera served two purposes: getting close to the band while being able to track up the tower to showcase the artwork on the main stage. That is what has really excited me on this tour.” Miles continued, “With the different angle I can really play with the perspective of what is shown on the screen.
“I am very lucky with the camera crew I have got on this tour,” said Miles. “They’re all talented video and LED techs but also great cameramen. I have worked with them all before in one way or another. Video Crew Chief Phil Johnston and I have worked together since Viva La Vida. He has always run his camera position and knows exactly what works – it is the same for my other operators. Honestly, they make my life easy as they continue to deliver great images.”
The demands from the video department required a robust control package. “We need a system capable of routing any of our cameras and effects in any direction so that we can build compositions, as well as take camera images and put them onto a pre-built effect, feed in animations and send them to the screen of our choosing,” explained Miles. To create his ideal video system Miles brought in British manufacture Avolites along with Avolites’ Ai media server distributor and technical specialist, RES (Realtime Enviroment Systems). The system consisted of eight Ai R6 media servers, which were manned by the, as Miles put it, “highly talented,” Video Programmer Leo Flint. Miles selected the Avolites product because he had previously deployed them on Ghost Stories. “We started working with Avolites media servers over two years ago, on the previous tour. We’d already developed a lot of ideas based on aspects of the server that I really liked as well as some new things I really wanted from a media server that didn’t exist yet. I was lucky enough to get involved in the development process with the software team from Avolites for the last couple of software upgrades: version 8 and version 9. A lot of my input was to do with the frame delay between capturing and output as my big thing with media servers is live capture and using effects on everything I do. The programming environment behind Ai is Salvation, which gives us the ability to customise effects using a node-based engine. This means we can connect up lots of modules. Pretty much any effect I dream up can be realised.”
Dave Green of Avolites said: “I got involved very early on in the project to help Ben design an overall system. It consisted of eight R6 media servers, four of which are used for front-end media playback. One does a big 4k screen.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time full native 4k has been used on a stage show like this. The other servers take care of the side screens. Then there is the back up for each of those, so it’s a fairly standard set up for a large-scale show, apart from the 4k playback.
“We put in a set of downstream video servers purely for the purpose of processing effects with minimal latency. So we took the outputs of what we call the ‘effects servers’ and routed them to the Encore 2, which is the final control system for the video walls. Alternatively we can route them through the other Ai media servers further downstream of that. That whole high level system design was unique to this project.”
Working directly with Coldplay, RES also produced some of the more psychedelic graphics for the show. Green also aided in designing the real-time generative effects used in the open sequence – also based on the tour’s logo and band latest album cover. Further to that, Miles commissioned him to produce around 20 effects including a realistic prism style kaleidoscope, and another that turned live footage into laser beams.
One of the biggest challenges on the project for the Avolites, RES and Miles’ team was the integration of the live FX system ‘Notch’ – formerly known as ‘Demolition’. “The Notch tool runs as a plug-in inside Ai and allows designers to create real-time content and video effects,” explained Green. “It’s designed to utilise the very latest software techniques, squeezing every drop of performance out of the graphics hardware, which ultimately enabled us to deliver Ben and the band’s full visual wish list.”
The final aspect of the video package – beautifully decorated with fairy lights and images of Johnny Cash and Iggy Pop – was Miles’ video switcher of choice, the Grass Valley Karrera. “I produce two different cuts; one for the main screen and the other for the two side IMAGs,” explained Miles. “We also have a third ME (mix effect) that is used for things like TV content. For this project we really needed a three ME desk and this is always my choice.”
In praise of this mammoth orchestration, Miles stated: “I was lucky enough to pick my dream video team. Everyone involved has been vital in realising this complex setup. I consider myself very lucky to work with so many skilled technical and creative people.”
“Let Me See Them Graham”
Coldplay’s Lighting Director Graham ‘Feasty’ Feast, a six-year veteran with the band, was first brought on by Lighting Designer Paul Normandale to complete the tail end of the Viva La Vida tour. He described the creative inception of this tour’s light show. With a band that has been around for so many years it is understandable the fans come to expect certain things visually with some of the older tracks: “During the early stages of preproduction the older songs such as Yellow and The Scientist are locked in early. In the case of newer songs, Paul looks at the overall picture and Ben often has a great deal of input on the visual side of what they are looking to create. We sit down and come up with a dynamic for the track, discussing colour schemes for both the lighting and video.” Feasty also noted how involved the band is during these early stages of the creative process, chipping in what they like and don’t like.
Long-time lighting vendors for Coldplay, Lite Alternative, provided a complete fixture and control package including two High End System Hog 4’s (one main, one back up). “I always see consoles as cars,” explained Feasty. “They all get you from A to B and the only difference is the ride. For this tour though, the Hog 4 has been rock solid.” The LD went on to describe that this current tour is very much a live show. He elaborated: “This project really can’t rely on time code, it’s very much an organic process in terms of operation.” This was seen throughout the show when lead singer Chris directly addressed Feasty, asking the LD to put up the house lights to see the sea of fans more clearly. For networking the tour opted for a Luminex RDM system which, according to Feasty, had been “fantastic.”
Making a welcome return to this tour was Xylobands. The technology allowed the whole audience to become an integral part of the light show.
Normandale described some of the workhorse fixtures on the rig. “In total we have 16 Martin by Harman MAC Vipers along with 45 MAC Auras, 14 MAC Quantum washes, 18 MAC Viper AirFX and 12 MAC Axiom.” Feasty added: “We took delivery of the new Axioms only three weeks ago and they have been fantastic. They are incredibly punchy fixtures.” Also on the rig was an abundance of Clay Paky Sharpys (74 in total) as well as 60 Ayrton Magic Dots. “The Magic Dots are on the rig behind the band and are pixel mapped through the Hog 4,” explained Feasty.
Lite Alternative also provided the tour with a selection of ProLight LED fixtures from A.C. Entertainment Technologies (AC-ET). Normandale expanded: “I needed an IP-rated wash fixture – as well as a blinder – that would be reliable and crew friendly. In a stadium the equipment is exposed to some challenging elements and this tour was no exception, being open to the elements. So we also needed fixtures that were robust, durable and weather proof. Thankfully the ProLights AreanaCOB4 fit these requirements.” Altogether 60 ArenaCOB4’s provided top and side lighting for the band along with a further 25 AreanaCOB4-Halos replacing the traditional 4-lite DWE blinders. “The two fixture have definitely become a mainstay in Lite Alternative’s rental stock,” stated Feasty.
Another ProLights product utilised on the tour was the LUMIPIX 16H LED battens which were placed under the risers. Normandale also deployed ProLights StudioCOB UV LED PARs. With a variety of lens options, plenty of punch and none of the fragile nature of traditional UV guns, the StudioCOB UVs offered the production a rugged, tourable stadium-scale UV solution. Also on the rig were 18 Philips Vari-Lites and 29 TMB Solaris Flares.
All followspots came courtesy of Robert Juliat with eight altogether, using both the 4k Lancelots 2.5K Cyrano spots. Feasty commented, “Optically both the fixtures are very good.”
Strictly (FX) Business
Coldplay have become synonymous with special effects, from giant confetti to integrated laser shows. A Head Full of Dreams was no exception. The production once again brought in Special Effects designer David Kennedy and long-time vendor Strictly FX to help create the colourful visual landscape, for the largest Coldplay set-up yet. “We first crossed paths with Coldplay back in 2008 on the Viva tour so we have got to know the band and the creative team really well,” began Kennedy. “As soon as the initial plans for this current world tour were put in place we were brought in by Paul Normandale and Phil Harvey to walk through our ideas and begin fixing the mould for the special effects package.”
The lasers have benefitted from one of the biggest expansions to the special effects department on this run. “During Mylo Xyloto tour we started the run with a six fixture package which was bumped up to eight half way thought the tour. This time we have 40!” Handling the army of fixtures on the road was Laser Operator Mike Hartle who talked TPi through the laser rig. “We have 12 straight RGB beam output systems which have diffraction gradients on them. Those are our proprietary system, which we have built in conjunction with a company called Lightline. On top of that we have 10 6.5W scanning systems which we built in collaboration with Arctos Lasertechnik which also have diffraction gradients, although we use them for more traditional scanning animations. We also have four 15W RGB and four 30W systems, again from Acrtose.
Hartle outlined some of the challenges the laser department had to overcome. “The first challenge we faced was playing in the open air exposing us to rain and other natural elements. Arctose’s experience with creating weather proof fixtures was invaluable to us.” Hartle went on to describe other health and safety measures that had to be taken at every stop on the tour. “For the European run we are not doing any audience scans but we are doing diffraction gradients which present a few challenges. Within Europe there are certain legal limitations and we have to keep an incredibly close eye on the readings. As we have no roof on this tour, in each city we had to consult with local aviation authorities to grant us permission to shoot out of the arena and if our request was rejected, figure out a point to terminate the beams. It certainly keeps you on your toes with the European minefield of regulations.” Kennedy chipped in: “When it comes to lasers we are incredibly safety conscious. For this tour we have a really robust laser system which reassures those who come to inspect the shows. They can find the reading very easily and check everything is above board.”
Strictly FX also provided two types of confetti shots for the show. The first saw Stadium Confetti canons produce a unique blast that resembled Indian throwing paint – reflecting Coldplay’s video for Hymn For the Weekend. “We have been talking about doing more colour-separation effects for some time,” stated Kennedy. “I think we nailed it on this one. It really kicks off the show and looks fantastic.” A total of 20 Strictly FX Confetti Cobras were also used. “Our Cobra’s are CO2 blowers and the lift on them is incredible with the ability to fill whole stadiums.” During those two full stadium shots it truly was a sight to behold how quickly the Cobras were able to fill the stadium although, while searching for the exit at the end of the show, it was had not to spare a thought for those who would be cracking out the dustpan and brush in a couple of hours to attempt to clean up after the show.
A new addition to Strictly’s special effects rig was a selection of pyrotechnic products. “For the majority of the tour we have placed all pyro elements on the roof,” explained Crew Chief Brook Blomquist. However, due to heavy rainfall in Copenhagen the night before the show, a decision was made to close the roof of the arena. “Due to the size of the pyro effects you cannot simply bring them down from the roof and put them on the stage, so we have to evolve the show slightly and bring the effects down to ground level.” While speaking to Blomquist before doors, the other eight SFX crew were hard at work recalibrating the fixtures to ensuring that the pyrotechnic elements were not lost for the show to give the Danes in Copenhagen the complete Coldplay show.
Kennedy gave TPi his final thoughts: “It’s been fantastic to work with these guys again. They really listen to us when we have ideas and create a really comfortable work environment. During the creative process, as well as going through colour schemes to ensure everything is cohesive, each department gives space for one another. For example, certain moments are really laser heavy so Graham will pull back the light show to give each department its chance to shine!”
Bands For The Band
Back in 2012, during the Mylo Xyloto tour, Coldplay and their creative team were desperate to offer something new and innovative for their stadium show. This eventually led to the band crossing paths with Xylobands inventor, Jason Regler who had the idea of creating interactive LED wristbands allowing the whole audience to become united as one and act as an extension of the main show design. The interactive LED wristbands were deployed during that run which soon attracted the interest of the live music industry not to mention incredibly well received by fans; so naturally the creative team were keen to roll them out again.
TPi talked to Wristband Operator, Antony Burry about the logistical effort of lighting up each audience member: “For each show on this tour we use around 47,500 bands with each audience member receive when they enter the stadium. Obviously everyone is free to take them home but we do promote recycling providing bins at the end of the night.” The bands themselves had an upgrade from the last time they were used on a Coldplay tour now contained a loop of full RGB LEDs as well as a new zoning system offering more creative options. All the LED lighting within the wristbands is operated by Xylobands proprietary software which was launched, via laptop, to a transmitter box situated at FOH. Xylobands transmitter box has an impressive range of 800 metres giving a radial coverage of 1600 metres. “The range on the transition box is really good and we have no problem covering all the seats in a stadium,” commented Burry who added, “The other advantage is that we use radio frequencies to control our side of the show which means they are not effected by adverse weather conditions, which is handy when we are playing open to the elements.”
The future is looking bright for Xylobands as Regler has hinted at a revolutionary new transmitter system which will expand the already generous amount of effects available, as well as better and brighter Xylobands products; so watch this space.
Fulfilling the audio requirements is Wigwam Acoustics. Standing at FOH with Coldplay’s Audio Crew Chief and System Designer, Tony Smith, TPi learned about his time with the band and their history with Wigwam. “I have been with the band since the ‘02 Rush of Blood tour. We started working with Wigwam on that same tour when they topped us up with some speakers. If memory serves correctly, they became our sole supplier on the X and Y tour because they give us everything and more. We have quite a complicated set up now and they have really helped us out.”
For the current tour Wigwam has supplied a d&b audiotecnik PA consisting of a main hang of 14 J8’s and four J12’s with nine flown J subs. The side hangs were made up of 16 J8’s and a 270° hang of 18 J8’s with a ground sub array of 16 J Subs and 16 INFRA Subs along with a front fill of eight YP. There were also four delay towers consisting of 16 J8’s on each suported by several J12’s. Smith also designed a ring delay system consisting of eight hangs of eight V8’s and two hangs of eight V12’s. All arrays running ArrayProcessing.
Smith stated that d&b’s ArrayProcessing had been an invaluable tool on this tour. It was used with the 146 D80’s which were deployed on the rig. “For our main hang on the downstage towers the two J-hangs are incredibly close together. Without d&b’s array processing I would not have attempted that.” This was the first time Smith had used array processing on a Coldplay tour, having test run the system on a few shows on the Ghost Stories tour. “It really adds another dimension not just for us at FOH but for the audience. It gives democracy for the listeners which has always been d&b’s catchphrase. It doesn’t just offer better coverage but a better spectral range for those seated and offers a continuity between the main hangs and the side fills.”
Having completed the sound design, Wigwam’s Digital Design Specialist Alex Hadjigeorgiou and Account Manager, Chris Hill took the technical lead to create the fibre infrastructure of the band’s latest tour. Smith had already incorporated a number of Optocore devices into the DiGiCo SD7 console, but on this tour the audio team has boosted its set up with the addition of the new Route66 AutoRouter from technology partner BroaMan.
“The main objective was to design a system that would allow a d&b audiotechnik array processed system to be built in modular fashion and be scalable – as some shows require extra ring delays,” explained Hadjigeorgiou.
The new Route66 AutoRouter provides a more elegant solution to the ring design. “I discussed the idea and after successfully demonstrating the unit, I based my initial design around it,” the designer continued.
Powered by Optocore, the Route66 AutoRouter is compatible with both Optocore and DiGiCo fibre loops, enabling a redundant ‘star’ to be created from the advanced ring topology. Route66 automatically finds mobile and remote devices, closes the Optocore loop and switches the links automatically to establish redundancy. “Put simply, Route66 does the ‘thinking’ for (the sound team) when it comes to correct cable connection – and the speed of prepping a show – which allows them to work on the main system without the delays connected as part of the fibre optic ring,” he continued.
Smith commented on how positive the working relationship had been: “After understanding our needs, Alex evolved a suitable solution, not only for the signals but also the durability, support and ‘plug and play’ quality that is required on the road.” Jack Murphy, Systems Engineer, has also enjoyed the flexibility of the new system: “The Route66 is great. Every day we connect the system up in a different order and this device just sorts it all out without affecting the audio.”
In The Trenches
Hidden away in the depths of stage left was Monitor Engineer, Chris Wood. A 16-year veteran with the band, Wood first started out as a PA rigger for Coldplay. A year later, the monitor engineer as the time had to step away and Wood jumped at the chance to get behind the console.
For monitor control, Wigwam supplied the tour with a DiGiCo SD7 and as Wood states, “It’s one of the few consoles that can provide me with the channel count I need. Currently I have 140 channels assigned with five spare.”
The IEMs of choice were Sennheiser SR2000’s. Altogether there were 14 wireless in-ear channels; four for the band and the rest for the crew. Despite the band reliance on IEM, they still had a few speakers for on stage sound primarily for bassist, Guy Berryman. “We have one pair of d&b audiotchnik M2 wedges and we also have some shakers bolted onto the underside of the stage,” stated Wood.
The microphone package used on the tour was mainly made out of Shure, utilising the UHF-R wireless system. “For Chris’ vocals we are using a Shure SM58,” stated Wood, adding “We have four out for him on the main stage with a couple also on the B and C stages. At any one time we only have one active. My main focus through the shows is riding the vocals. But with Chris having so many microphones, along with all the other band members, I am definitely kept busy.”
Providing transport for the European tour was supplied by Stagetruck with Beat The Street providing crew busses. Will Johns, Operations Manager at Stagetruck discussed the company’s involvement with the tour: “We supplied 32 Megacube trucks and trailers on the main production, along with one Megacube for Live Nation’s merchandise and a double deck trailer on each of the two advances. They needed over 45ft of space but not enough to warrant two trucks, so having two decks gives almost 90ft of floor space.” Stagetruck have worked with Coldplay for many years first supplying the services on the Viva La Vida tour. “It’s always a pleasure as they have a great team around them, from the Production Manager Bill Leabody, Production Coordinator Nichole Massey and Stage Manager Fin. They are all great to work with. The tour had some challenging drives which needed double drivers that all went smoothly.”
Beat The Street provided crew busses for the tour.
Since the early ‘00s Beat The Street has worked with Coldplay and, according to the company’s Owner and Managing Director, Jörg Philipp, it’s a relationship they are very proud of. He furthered: “We have been with the band for almost 16 years but we have worked with Bill since the mid ‘90s. The whole team behind Coldplay are lovely people. It proves that you can do a big rock tour without the politics. They were on a tight schedule and they pushed the limits by going back and fourth from the UK and mainland Europe. At one stage of the tour they played Glasgow, then Zürich then back to London then to Amsterdam then on to Glastonbury. It was back and forth many times with many miles on the road and the tour permanently required two drivers per vehicle. But we pulled it off for yet another great tour. Even though it was hard work all of our drivers reported that they loved it.”
The final piece of the transport puzzle was completed by Global Motion who providing freighting. Global Motion’s Adam Hatton explained: “With a tour this size we have to involved from the very beginning. The amounts of equipment being moved (which was in excess of 200 tonnes) means that physically getting the equipment between shows is a limiting factor for booking dates and we need to be involved alongside the booking agent.” Global Motion handled all tour moves plus equipment resupply including all of the wristbands. “South America was a touch tricky in that we had on average 20 hours to get 100 tonnes of equipment from door to door. We flew a team of four out to handle the build and break and everything worked. Between Santiago and Lima we had an aircraft go technical on us but managed to source a spare aircraft and load in before nine am on show day!” Hatton gave his final thoughts on the tour: “Generally the tour was a joy to work on. It’s big and has the problems associated with that, however most of the crew have been with the band for years and it’s a lovely working environment.”
During the start of the day while sorting out production passes for the tour, TPi chatted with Head of Venue Security, Jackie Jackson. Working on and off with the band for the best part of a decade, Jackson’s entry into the world of touring security is one that has its origins in wanting to break gender-boundaries: “My background was originally working in education and doing some security work in my spare time. But while doing this for some time I began to hear that security was not a ‘woman’s world’. I was not having that! So I set out to pass all the relevant exams and started my new life in touring security. For a long time I was the only women I knew in my world then, we found Kim-Maree Penn who works in the band’s personal security team. It’s great to have two females working in security, let alone on the same tour!”
After spending 10 years with the band Jackson has really seen the changing nature of security measures: “The band and the production certainly has a relaxed vibe but the way the world has changed, we have had to become a lot tighter with the way our security works. All credentials have to be in place and we now have to add in other measures such as bringing in sniffer dogs. However, it’s all about striking a balance. The last thing we want to do is appear heavy-handed. Having said that though, we want everyone to feel very safe. It’s a balance I think we do well.”
Keeping the crew nourished throughout the tour is Eat to the Beat (ETTB). Susanne Traynor, ETTB’s Operations Manager, who oversees support of the Coldplay gigs, has been coordinating the logistics of the mammoth tour from ETTB’s head office in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, as well as being on site for several of the European dates. “A Head Full of Dreams is a really great show and a big logistical challenge. Coldplay have a large crew out on the road including the production team, vendor’s crews and drivers who all need to be fed at each location. In Europe we have been catering for around 180 crew at each show plus a further 50 people in the band party,” she said.
A typical day on the tour sees ETTB cook and serve lunch and dinner for the entire crew and artists, providing high quality restaurant-style menus to suit every palate including vegetarian, gluten free and many other dietary requirements. Traynor said: “If the band is playing consecutive nights our team will rest in a hotel. When the band moves, ETTB stock the Coldplay crew buses with drinks, sandwiches and snacks as the tour heads to its next destination. We also load up our own truck with the help of local crew, shower and bed-down on the bus in readiness to do it all over again at the next stop.
“It’s pretty full on and there’s certainly never a dull moment. Life on the road can be hard but it is fun working alongside a great production, their crews and the artists. They all work really long hours in a high-octane environment, so having good food available throughout the day is vital to keep them refreshed and energised.”
Although the Copenhagan marked then end of Coldplay’s European tour, the journey for the band and crew was far from over with many of the production preparing for an early morning flight to New York. Such a grueling schedule could strike fear in the heart of the most hardy road warriors, but one thing TPi took away from the time spent on Coldplay’s tour is that each crewmember clearly possesses commitment to the job and a genuine love for the live production industry. To anyone reading this in US, get yourself a ticket!
It was a very long article but so interesting. No wonder why the concerts are amazing. The thing that caught my attention was the catering, I always thought food on those kind of events was tasteless but whoever is in charge of that (perhaps the band) takes care of this details and even cook food for vegetarians and gluten free.
After reading it I felt like they are like a huge family because no one said they hated being on tour.