SMSMS... Man of many hats says “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.”
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
CODA cracks Cardiff as Frank gets his message across...
In the course of my musical pursuits, it’s not often I get to sit comfortably in somewhere as well-appointed as St David’s Hall in Cardiff. The shadows in which I operate are customarily altogether less salubrious, although a recent flexing of the larynx in the Victorian splendour of Kidderminster Town Hall did allow me one of those most welcome evenings in the metaphorical sun. Tonight I’m here to see Frank Turner, an artist I’m not that familiar with but one who has been highly recommended and one who, interestingly enough for this scribe, is touring with a CODA Audio PA in the hands of masters of sound and all round grand fellows, Adlib.
In the way of the man with many hats, my entry to the auditorium is made wearing the audio writer’s trilby rather than the punter’s topper or casual flat cap and I start by counting the boxes in the arrays. Squinting at the hangs, even with my glasses on, I’m having trouble. Is that AiRAY and ViRAY? Bloody boxes are small aren’t they? Well, yes, that’s kind of the point isn’t it. I place the trilby under my seat and replace it with my bush hat in recognition of support act Emily Barker, who hails from South Western Australia. I’ve worn her hat so many times, I can feel the slight quickening of her heart as she takes her place centre stage. Beginners, they call you in a theatre. More often than not, the folks who occupy these 45-minute sets are far from beginners in the other sense. I remember walking on to the stage of The Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury a few years ago and wondering how they managed to get so much airspace in there, admiring the wooden panelling and marvelling at the curious slope of the seating rake. You note these things as an old beginner. Then 45 minutes fly by and you're off. Pronto.
Emily’s good but this isn’t my cup of tea. I put my busman’s hat on. She wrote the theme tune to Wallander and I can’t match that. She plays it and it’s fine. Her guitar playing is tidy (we are in St David’s Hall) and she paces her set well, even including a very brave a cappella tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe but there are tones for certain ears and horses for courses and whilst it’s professional and tight, it’s not jabbing a finger at me. The noticeably diverse audience digests the set with warm enough enthusiasm until she takes a bow and skips to the wings, before doubtlessly legging it at high speed to the merch desk. That’s what you do when you’re an experienced beginner.
Frank Turner will be playing two sets. The first will be a solo affair before he returns with his band, The Sleeping Souls. My own schedule demands that I forgo the latter, since a potentially foggy drive to Buckinghamshire awaits.
Now, the ballgame and the gravy, to yoke metaphors, has changed. Frank (we’re already on first name terms) grabs things by the scruff of the neck, starts hammering away on his acoustic and we’re straight into the guts of his narrative world. He’s fully engaged and he’s propelling everything before him with the sort of dynamism that doesn’t allow anyone in the room to take their eyes off him. The ability to transcend the space and create the impression of everything being in close-up, is the skill of the troubadour-turned-professional-artist. The slickness and artful delivery isn’t contrived...it just IS. It’s a well-conceived forty-five minutes that spills into fifty-five as Frank spares no details throughout his engaging inter-song chat.
He will return in ten minutes, by which time I’ll be walking down the Newport Road to my car. There and then, something occurs to me. As the house lights break the spell, questions surface that I should have been asking myself about the sound. I quickly throw my fan hat to the ground and flip on the trilby, admonishing myself for this schoolboy error. I cast around in my short term memory but all I can think of is Frank’s song about a burial ground in Southwark for fallen women or the one about the Egyptian feminist who he called a lioness. Damn. What’s wrong with me?
And there, dear readers, is a blindingly obvious audio truth. I forgot. I forgot to do anything other than listen to the artist. If a system is to have great qualities, this must be its greatest. Hang it up there, place a good engineer at the desk and if 2000 people remain completely focused, on the edge of their seats, eating out of Frank Turner’s hands, then it’s fulfilled its remit. I started writing about CODA Audio’s AiRAY system some years ago, when it was new and I dared it to impress me in the soulless void of an empty Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. That afternoon, I wandered around the concrete bowl, trying to find its weakness, trying to find the places it couldn’t reach. And I failed. I asked the most excellent engineer how he’d achieved this and he smiled and said - “that’s just flat...that’s just the system...” That night I immersed myself in Placebo’s gig and just enjoyed it.
Back here in the land of Sound Marketing, I feel compelled to record my thoughts because as our client, CODA Audio is close to my rock and roll heart. On Sunday in Leicester, I will take the stage and doubtless mention Frank Turner and how much I enjoyed his show and then we’ll play some tunes and I’ll hope that the engineer is listening and nobody notices the ‘sound’.