George Ezra’s recent three city tour of South Africa with Seed Experiences saw Gearhouse support each leg from its various local operations. Three concerts taking place over three consecutive nights in cities separated by several hundred miles is a common occurrence for touring artists, but less so for local rental companies. However, this was the challenge that faced Gearhouse Group South Africa as it supported George Ezra for his performances in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The obvious first challenge with supporting a multi-city tour in such a vast country is logistics. To ship a touring system by road between the three cities could take up to two days for each leg. With back-to-back concerts making this an impossibility, Gearhouse turned to its local offices.

‘We have kitted out both Cape Town and Johannesburg with sufficient staging equipment to be self-sufficient for most touring artists, which minimises the expensive trucking of steel between the cities and allows promoters to book shows with a minimum turnaround time between venues,’ says Gearhouse business development manager, John McDermott. ‘The audio and lighting inventory is large enough to be able to support tours by replicating certain aspects and we are often touring only the monitor rig, consoles and backline.

‘Depending on the scale of the event, we will always exhaust the local stock first before resorting to touring any equipment,’ continues Mr McDermott. ‘We also tend to equip all of our branches with similar hire stock. However, ratios differ due to the size and type of the local market. Added to this we attempt to have team leaders of lighting, audio and A/V touring in order to achieve continuity between the various venues.’

This was the case for the George Ezra tour. There was a local project manager who handled each leg of the tour. Trevor Majola looked after Durban before passing the reins to Wikus Visser in Cape Town then finally Kenneth Mkefa in Johannesburg. Providing continuity for the tour was overall account handler, Donavan Calvert.

Despite coming from the same supplier for each leg, there were some major differences with the sound system for each venue. Key to ensuring this had as little impact on the concert as possible was ensuring that the core elements remained consistent.

‘From an audio perspective, due to the tight scheduling of the tour we had to ensure George Ezra’s crew received their preferred equipment which was a Soundcraft Vi6 with Lake processing at FOH and a DiGiCo SD9 with Sennheiser G3 IEMs at monitors in all three cities,’ says Gearhouse’s Simon Panos.

The differences came in the form of the main PA. ‘The most intensive setup was Durban, which was an outdoor festival stage where we supplied an L-Acoustics K1 with SB28 subs,’ recalls Mr Panos. ‘The control gear and line system then went to Johannesburg, while the tour moved to Cape Town. 

‘The Cape Town branch supplied a Meyer Sound Milo line array with Galileo control as the main PA and duplicated the desks and in-ears,’ continues Mr Panos. ‘George Ezra toured their own mic package, so their signal chain was constant from show to show, only the PA speakers varied. At Carnival City in Johannesburg, we were back onto the desks and control used in Durban, this time we were using Carnival City’s in-house L-Acoustics Kudo line array.’

While the control gear remained the same, the differing style of venue meant that each setup had to be installed and mixed differently. ‘Durban was an outdoor stage with height that allowed us to fly the K1 in the most optimal way, whereas Cape Town was inside a low ceilinged marquee, so flying wasn’t an option, only ground stacking was viable,’ says Mr Panos. ‘The Cape Town guys had a lot harder job getting the most out of the PA. Their solution was to provide lots of delays within the marquee to ensure the coverage was optimum. Carnival City is a bespoke arena, designed for shows of this nature with their own stage and an in-house PA, so technically provided less of a challenge. We supplemented the in-house PA with outhangs of more L-Acoustics Kudo to ensure optimum coverage.

‘Onstage, the band’s monitoring was the same as it’s been for them for the duration of the tour – the prevalence of digital boards and the ability to transfer settings between consoles, a toured mic package and the same make of IEMs every night ensures this,’ continues Mr Panos. ‘FOH too had the same ability to load show files so that the engineer’s mix was constant from show to show. The only difference being that the PA varied at each show, so once the engineer was happy with the system EQ, he could rest easy knowing his mix would be a faithful reproduction of previous shows.’

As this all suggests, there needed to be a huge amount of coordination between the Gearhouse project managers for each event. ‘The cooperation between the various PMs is vital in order to communicate all development of jobs as well as alerting subsequent venues of any onsite changes and requirements that may be made along the way,’ says Mr McDermott. ‘All tours have a central Project Tree link so that all personnel involved with the tour have access to the relevant information, drawings and scheduling at all times.’

Despite this level of preparation and coordination, there can still be logistical challenges that have a knock-on effect for the technical teams. ‘The international’s backline and backdrop made it one and a half hours later out of Durban than was expected due to available flights and scheduling, which had the effect of us still being busy with sound checking in Cape Town when doors opened,’ recalls Cape Town project manager Wikus Visser. ‘This is not something we have control over as a technical supplier, but we still need to deliver. This puts tremendous pressure on the on-site crew and requires a professional crew to expedite this properly, which we luckily have in Cape Town.’

In addition to this, as two of the venues were new to South Africa’s touring scene, a significant amount of work needed to be done to ensure that the tour would pass through smoothly. ‘There was a fair amount of creating new ground rules in order to ensure minimal environmental impact, access points and the such like,’ recalls Mr McDermott.

Despite these challenges, the Gearhouse team are happy with the way the concerts went. ‘All three shows were very well received by audiences across the country, which was a huge positive due to the varied nature of each show,’ says Mr Panos. ‘Technically and logistically, I don't think there is much we could have done differently.’

One thing which is abundantly clear is that Gearhouse would not have been able to support the tour as effectively without its structure of local offices. While making intensive tours like this possible, there are also a number business advantages which Gearhouse sees from having its local offices. ‘The overall pricing advantages in sourcing local crew and equipment with shorter turnarounds and the infrastructural support in each city makes having local branches a real advantage,’ says Mr McDermott. ‘Of course if it is a carbon footprint conscious event, the local support also assists enormously in minimising the carbon footprint.’

Added to this, it also creates a significant pool of local knowledge which can also be an advantage for the company getting the best out of particular venues. ‘Local experience of a venue can make the difference in terms of sound quality,’ says Mr McDermott. ‘Although in Gearhouse’s case we have been in business for 24 years now and most of our crew tours extensively and have a thorough knowledge of the sound challenges posed by each of the touring venues that are regularly used.’

This structure would certainly not work in every country or for every rental company. But the combination of the size of South Africa and the diverse range of both international and local artists that perform regularly across the country creates an environment where this business model can thrive.

Story reprinted courtesy Pro-Audio AME 

Nov 24, 2015

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