Getting ready for Katie Melua tour, – and more.

Published on March 6th, 2011

Katie Melua Tour

So here I am writing my blog about the last few weeks of getting Katie ready for the big European tour that had had to be cancelled because of her illness, six months ago. Of course there have been lots of other things going on at Dramatico and in my life generally, but I’ll “top-load” this blog towards the tour, because I get the feeling that’s what you’ll find the most interesting.

From the early planning stages – back when “The House” album was released last year, Katie was pretty sure she wanted to tour with a small band, just a tight nucleus of four, and not have a fifth (or even a sixth player) doing violin/flute, extra percussion, etc. My feeling was that – of all tours, this one might need that 5th player, because of so many songs from the House having weird noises and twinkly bits provided by William Orbit who produced it – whereas the first three albums had a more “organic” feel and didn’t need augmentation. But it’s Katie’s tour, and it was her decision, (the right one as it turns out)- because Jim Watson, our great keyboard player is not only a terrific piano player but can trigger all sorts of samples and stuff from his Keyboard rig. So the band line-up was decided as Jim, plus Henry Spinetti on drums. Tim Harries on Bass and Luke Potashnick on guitars, – all of whom are Katie’s treasured “core” band.

Katie always leaves the design of the stage to me, (after discussion) but I take it as a brief that she has to approve, as if I were a freelance designer. This time we needed a set that could play Arenas in continental Europe and theatres in the UK. (Katie prefers more intimate shows in the UK, around 2,000 seaters). The way we’ve achieved this is by flying three trusses with projectors on the downstage truss, hanging tabs – or drapes, on the mid-stage truss and a full width/height screen on the upstage truss. There are steps up through the band so that Katie can get from her normal position in front of them, up through Henry and Tim, onto a higher level just behind the band.

We are lucky to have Chris Lambourne, our usual Lighting Director on this tour. He and I work well together. He just does what I tell him to do! (Just kidding) I couldn’t light my way out of a paper bag – but projection and stagecraft I do have a specialist interest in. Sorry that last sentence ended with a preposition, I’ll try not to let it happen again. I don’t know what I was thinking of.

Because the band and Katie had already played many of these songs at summer gigs last year, we tacked on only ONE week of “refresher” musical rehearsal at a big place we usually go to, near Tower Bridge in London. By the time we got to the musical rehearsals (a couple of weeks ago) I already had my main ideas for the projection designs, and was working with John Gosler (our Art Director at Dramatico). John had painted the house and mountains, balloons etc that we featured on the “House” CD cover and campaign materials, and we decided to use that house as a basic theme to several of the visual treatments of the songs. I won’t give much away – but there are some pretty stunning backgrounds. John’s work (on Ergo –the movie we are making about a slug) can be seen at http://www.ergotheslug.com

The rest of our “studio” team at Dramatico are Michael Dunne, -our video editor, who always manages to juggle the editing of “pop videos” with all the other edit suite jobs that come up, like TV commercials or EPK edits, – with things like this big Katie tour; then there’s Steve Sale, our chief sound engineer, who engineered all of Katie’s first three albums, here in my house. Funnily enough, the fourth album “The House” was the only one not recorded at the house! It was recorded at Air Lyndhurst Studios. Then we bring in Stuart Fortune, an absolutely BRULLIANT Sco’ash COMPOSITOR whenever we need this kind of work done. His job is to take our images and either animate them or make them into 3D landscapes using software called After Effects. He then places virtual cameras and lights and makes it all come to life. He’s done some great ones this time. Tiny Alien is one to look out for. No more clues!

We started work some weeks ago, and weren’t finished by the sound rehearsals, so on sound rehearsal week I was driving every day from mornings down here in Surrey with the visual guys and afternoons and evenings with Katie and the band at Tower Bridge. It was quite exhausting for an old git, but we managed to get it done in time. I hired an additional compositor, Chris, for the last week or so, because the workload on Stuart was just too great. When John, Stuart, Michael and I are doing a big job like this, they usually stay at the house, and it’s a bit like running a hotel, but very relaxed and sociable. We work very long hours so it’s good for them not to have to travel home in the early hours of the morning. We do this when we record here too – the band always stay over. It makes the house a very creative and busy social and business “hub” and gives me access to both audio and edit suites at the same time.

So this week – having liaised by e mail with Steve Croxford, our tour manager and Roland Beckerle, our producton manager – about all the practical things like the load-bearing capabilities of trusses or the power of certain projectors compared to others, (things that Roland deals with before overseeing the construction) we all convened at a brand new rehearsal space in Acton, North London. This place is a massive warehouse style building, purpose-built for rehearsing big tours like Take That and War Of The Worlds. You can build a full sized arena set in there. So last Wednesday we decamped to there and have been working on combining the visual aspects (lights/projection/drapes etc) with the musical and sound elements.

All went really well, – except the guys whose job it was to synchronise the visuals with the music had a lot of trouble, and we spent days trying to make it work using different combinations of time codes and midi codes. It was a nightmare but we solved it eventually. That was the one thing that slowed us down, – and thankfully Katie and the band were not only patient and relaxed, but on fantastic form. After her enforced break, Katie is singing the crap out of this material. We record everything we do in rehearsal, on multitrack – and I think I could release most of it after a very rough mix if I wanted to. (NO, I’m NOT going to, so don’t ask!!!) If anything, her vocals are better than on The House album, because she is so much more familiar with the songs.

We interrupted production rehearsals to go to Broadcasting House near Oxford Circus to record a one-hour special for Radio 2, with special guests William Orbit- (on guitar), plus Beth Rowley and Jack Savoretti. It went out on Thursday last – and I was sitting in the production rehearsals with the visual team, programming, when we listened to it. Those who heard it, – I hope you agree it sounded fantastic. It made a good “dummy run” for the tour. We also did a gig at The Guildhall on the evening of one of the music rehearsals – for the Lord Mayor, with Bond, Chris Difford and Bryan Adams. That was a charity thing organised by the City, called “City Rocks” and was a great evening, with a posh dinner afterwards.

So after four days of production rehearsals, yesterday (Saturday) we ran the show from top to bottom, twice. I’m reasonably confident it will all run smoothly in Dresden on Wednesday (our first gig), subject to a couple of things that need tightening up on the projection cues, but one thing’s for sure, the music will be great – and it will all look fantastic. It’s just little things that I notice at this stage, and I am sure they’ll be nailed by then.

Other things that have been SIMULTANEOUSLY been happening have been things like the acquisition of a wider range of rights on The Wombles – about which an announcement will be made soon, and a very exciting production we are doing in conjunction with English National Ballet and others for a Royal reception – about which I can’t say much yet – but it’s lots of fun and lots of work, including planning.

The record label keeps on keeping on, with Marianne Faithful getting great reviews and LOTS of column inches – funny, “column inches” takes on a new meaning in the context of Marianne’s recent press quotes! We’re proud to have her on the label, – and I sadly had to miss a fantastic night when Andrew Bowles, our MD took her and her manager out for dinner. I had to bunk out at the last minute, partly because the production rehearsals were still going on, and partly because I wasn’t feeling well – probably the stress of all this stuff at the same time! (I’m fine now).

Caro Emerald (who is already, -as I’m sure you know) MASSIVE in Holland, is doing well here on Dramatico, and Radio seem to love her. Check out the album “Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor”. http://tinyurl.com/4b5ptoz We are holding back the absolute killer single until just the right moment, when hopefully she can come over and promote it.
We’ve also got a great new album out by TD Lind “The Outskirts Of Prosper”. Go to http://www.dramatico.com/ to see his EPK.

Better not prattle on about all our Dramatico music stuff, or the one artist I don’t mention will get miffed! Suffice to say we are a VERY busy little company at the moment and this bright spring Sunday morning is a welcome respite from the excitement and pressure that always seem to go together! A cup of coffee, and a blog to write. TIME to write a blog, -I never see it as a chore, and you will have noticed that this one is way too long! Anyway. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of it.

I’ve had time to spend some weekends with my daughters (Robin and Sam) from my first marriage, -and their kids. So I haven’t COMPLETELY workaholicked my way through the last few months. My grandchildren are growing up fast – and are a great delight (two 5 year olds) – except I guess I don’t see them often enough, which is my own fault. I don’t go into family matters much in blogs – I’m not sure it’s healthy. Some things are private, so I’ll leave it at that.

There’s also been lots of stuff going on with Government and copyright, – which I get involved with in my role as Deputy Chairman of the BPI., but my last blog covered a lot of that.

Have a good next few weeks. Maybe see you along the tour route somewhere.

All the best,

Mike

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