Croydon Ambition Festival, 23-26 July 2015

I was approached by Croydon Council to be a live sound engineer for the Croydon Ambition Festival weekend slots following a recommendation from my work at Croydon’s South End Food Festival in June 2015.

The gig was to engineer six acts on day one, and eight on day two, on an open (unprotected) stage next to Croydon’s Fairfield Halls. This was an insane engineering challenge to undertake as it would require on the spot mixing and troubleshooting for a bands with complicated technical requirements.

It was clearly not a one-man job, and I was lucky enough to get Clyde Jones, MD of Glisten Music, to act as assistant engineer. We had just spent the last few months co-producing singer-songwriter Rivers’ new EP. Our musical rapport meant we were able to divide responsibilities and trust each other to take good swift decisions under pressure.

Clyde and I engineered for Akasha, a six piece Jazz band that have been Glastonbury veterans for ten years, Skip McDonald, the guitarist on Grandmaster Flash’s album The Message, and several other acts from live sequenced jungle to four piece blues bands.

The Event

EVENT INFORMATION: Mix of 160 acts giving indoor and outdoor performances in 30 locations throughout Croydon over four days

GIG: Live sound engineer, Fairfield Gardens ‘college stage’, set up and close down initially over two days

DESK: 32 Channel Yamaha MGP-32X Digital/Analog hybrid desk

Festival Poster

Ambition-Festival-Croydon-Poster

Official Trailer

Following the appointment of Croydon Council’s new festival director, John Bownas, Ambition Festival was a hotly anticipated and significant event for the area. It was an eclectic four-day mix of indoor and outdoor performances and installations.

Our roles as engineers

Clyde and I arrived a few days before the event to make sure all our equipment was prepped and in one place ready for running the College Stage. As the equipment list below shows, we had an exceptional amount of kit to organise and considering the complicated tech specs I had received, Clyde and I had a lot of planning to do.

On day one, we arrived at 8am, and moved our equipment on site. As we waited for power and other items such as amplifiers and the house drum kit to arrive, we set up the desk, amps, monitors and external power sources. Eventually power arrived, and by this time we had all the equipment that we had been provided with ready for the bands to arrive.

Working as a team we set the bands up with their specific requirements, routed it all through the desk as we had planned on Excel spreadsheets, and as we had run over due to a long wait for power we had no time to soundcheck every act. This required both of us to quickly mix the acts and organise monitors. This was the case throughout the day until we had cancellations, and as we caught up on time we were able to soundcheck for the bigger acts. A DJ had been provided to play in-between the bands and amongst all of the various channel strip organisation, which required sharp focus to keep on top of, we were able to stay level headed and work together to manage the stage, the desk and the bands.

Although it was a challenge to mix in an open air environment, we were approached by the lead engineer of Fairfield Halls, Croydon’s biggest live music and creative arts venue, and were complemented on the sound we had achieved with the equipment we had been provided. This was very rewarding to hear as it was my first major festival as lead engineer.

We ran the stage until 8pm, and had all equipment packed away and accounted for by 10pm.

Equipment check prior to the event, site reconnaissance and the first day at work

Gig Preparation

Equipment Checklist:

  • 2x Electro Voice ZLX-12P 12-Inch Two-Way Active Speakers
  • 1x Electro Voice Subwoofer
  • 4x Dynacord AXM12A Monitors
  • 1x Yamaha MGP-32X Desk
  • Main desk power source
  • 12x Kettle lead power cables
  • 1x 50m Multicore Snake
  • 8x 13A extension cables
  • 1x Marshall cab and speaker
  • 1x Peavey bass amp
  • 2x DI Box
  • 3x jack leads
  • 1x In house drum kit (Kick/Snare/Rack/Floor/Hi-Hat/Ride/Crash)
  • 7x Audiotechnika MB/DK7 drum mics (set)
  • 3x SM58
  • 1x SM57
  • 1x AKG 112 Drum Mic
  • 7x Mic stands
  • 24x xlr (short to long)
  • 3x jack to xlr (to male and female)

Technical Specifications/Stage Times:

“Max engineered our (Akasha) front of house and monitors at Croydon’s Ambition Festival 2015. We had a tight turnaround time and we are a sizeable band but Max was very helpful and did a great job on our mixes and set up under pressure.”

Charlie Casey of Akasha (Jazz Band) “Glastonbury Veterans”

“Working with Max at this years Ambition Festival was a new experience for me. A lot of planning went into the event which meant we were well organised when it came to setting up…Max managed the stage and the bands with confidence.

We worked well as a team and for such a sizeable task, with a lot of different bands covering many genres, the event was a success.”

Clyde Jones, MD Glisten Music

The Event: Day Two

Due to unforeseen weather changes on the day (it hammered it down) and band cancellations, Clyde and I were no longer required to run our stage. Instead, we spent the day onsite in case we were needed.

As directed later in the day, we set up for an intimate gig at a pop-up comedy venue, the Blunda Bus, a converted double decker bus situated next to the Croydon Council building. This travelling comedy venue has been involved for many years in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and regularly gives amateur and well known comedians the chance to test their new material in anticipation of the event. For our purposes, we were setting it up for a few comedy sets and one live band.

The Blunda Bus

Blunda Bus1

The bus was an unusual space for us to operate in. Accurate equipment checks meant we were able to solve any cabling issues (as it was a long vehicle) and set the top deck of the bus up with a PA at one end and the Allen and Heath mixer at the other, whilst not interfering with the audience seating.

The gig was sold out, and we soon found out why! Tony Wright and Milton Evans of 1990’s English rock band Terrorvision were performing an acoustic set of songs from Tony’s new album, interspersed with classic hits written by the band.

“My name is Tony Wright… Played in such bands as Terrorvision, LaikaDog and for the last year or so playing solo acoustic gigs around the country backed up by my mate Milly. We’ve played alsorts of venues, big and small but I think the strangest (and there’s been a few) was the double decker ‘Blundabus’ at Croydons Ambition Festival. Our stage had been cancelled due to weather but with all these circumstances and just 2 speakers and a small desk Max headed up the controls of the desk and did a great job at short notice. It wasn’t the most difficult P.A. in the world to use but he used what we had to its best and everyone left happy… Isn’t that what it’s all about eh? Cheers Max”
Tony Wright, Terrorvision