Christophe Willem – Coffee Tour and Festivals

So it was back in May when I got a email from Miss Sarah DeCourcey MD for the last couple of Kylie Minogue Tours her latest project was as Musical Director for French pop sensation Christophe Willem who first appeared in Nouvelle Star in 2006. Sarah was working with Steve Anderson on Christophe’s Coffee Tour, this was intended to be the biggest tour Christophe had undertaken to date encompassing lights sound and video in a fantastic live show. However he and the team had been let down both on the hardware that had been implemented and the people who were there to operate it. Sarah got my details from Kevin Hopgood, Jeff Waynes’The War of the Worlds Production Manager and Kylie Minogue Production Manger where Sarah has been Musical director for the last couple of tours. So I was asked to get involved with the Christope Willem show as the present tech had decided to leave and there had been a number of problems with the tracks not starting on time finishing early and there been problems with the lip sync of the video.
So after a few phone calls and a number of emails I was on a early morning flight from Gatwick to Montpellier to be honest not really knowing what I was letting my self in for or what I was going to encounter at the other end oh and becoming acutely reminded of my poor communication skills as far as speaking French was concerend. If you could just bare in mind my less than poor ability to communicate in French. First off lets talk about the video lip sync it wasn’t really lip sync it was more along the lines of being hidiously out of time because previous to my arrival the video was been triggered by the stage manager watching the ABS time on the front of the play back machines and calling a ‘GO’ into his comms the video operator was then pressing ‘Play’ on the video system, not in sync inconsistent. Oh my word right then, talk about Time Code 101! So thanks to Mr Nick Whitehouse stepping onboard just ahead of me and already pointing out the error of their ways, a sort piece of XLR had been added between the audio play back machines and the video system and the video system was put into ‘chase incoming LTC’ and would you believe it, it was in sync.

Well sort of there was a bit more work to be done at our end, the Playback machines being used were the Alesis HD2424 now I’m sure these machines were revolutionary and feature packed when the were released but Oh My WORD life has moved on in some dramatic ways since. Top of my list of failings is their ability to clock to anything other than 30fps yes we could rework all the video to accommodate this but my french still isn’t that good also all the audio tracks were created to 25fps. So this the fact that the hard drives will fall out of the front of the machine if you look at in the right way and their inability to chaise incoming code. Fundamentally make them a hugely inappropriate piece of equipment for this use. The work around was to create a LTC track in Logic and then simply send this straight to video world. Having the LTC printed on a audio track is nothing new but it is frustrating that the ABS time of the machine has no correlation what so ever to that of the LTC. On to their inability to clock to anything, so in order to layback the Logic sessions to the Alesis it’s like making a mix cassette years ago, with Logic lined up at the top of the song hit record on the Alesis then play in logic as quickly as possible. Oh and you have to lay the show back in show order as you cannot insert a song project only create one at the end. So reordering the set list is not possible unless the gap between songs is sufficient to navigate all the way up and down the set list.

So with the audio laid back for the show Sarah has a button that has been bodged into the remotes for the Alesis machines “Chough (MMC)” anyone? at the end of the song I have to stop both machines navigate to the next song in the set list then give a thumbs up to Sarah showing she is clear to start the song. In hindsight it is amusing to know that what six months ago I was describing how we achieved the playback on the Nolans with a much less error prone system is this progression or just a matter of doing it differently?

So system fudged and my second day on the project we did the first show where the video was in sync throughout and there was as little waiting for the playback to start as possible. Now the road has gone on and on from there, I continued the rest of the Coffee Tour and then onto a summer season of festivals, I had to dep two of the shows out to a good friend of mine PJ his first time on a playback show for me. Unfortunately it was by far one of the hottest now if you get the Alesis HD2424 too hot it just stops outputting audio the gig was so hot the machines were too hot to touch. One of the few positive things about this rack from Future Acoustics france’s premier supplier of playback packages so I’m told is the large amount of ventilation meaning it was a fairly simple fix to just get a couple of pedal fans and point them at the kit.
Summer season finished, we’ve now just finished a week of Band Rehearsals for the fourth coming Autumn / Fall Theatre tour. Unfortunately we are still on the Alesis machines not a package supplied by Production Audio Solutions mainly because Sarah and I have made it work so frustratingly production do not see it as a problem also I’ve noticed all of the pricing for this project seems to be on a per performance price from rental of equipment through to wages, I think this is not uncommon in France, all of my other touring and any other work for that matter has been based on number of days or weeks. Future Acoustics hired the play back package for 15 shows, the fact that this was across best part of 3 months doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Ludicrous but i’m the guest so how ever you normally do it.

Rant over, Christophe Willem is a fantastic artist he is really passionate about his work and works very hard for it. Sarah, Steve and the Band are a fantastic bunch of musicians and it is a real honour to be working along side them. I have also made some good friends and am working on my french thanks to the high level of english speaking amongst the french people on the team. Now headed back into the UK on the Eurostar, I so wish I’d been able to collect the points for all the train journeys I’ve completed. Special thanks to PJ for the summer festivals and to Mr Tim Speight who started this weeks rehearsals off in my absence and who is poised to look after the end half of the tour as I am already committed with The War of the Worlds.

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