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Exclusive: Roy Williams, ‘Big Mick’ Pilot Led Zeppelin Reunion

By Clive Young London (December 12, 2007)--"Phew, it's all over," said "Big Mick" Hughes, co-FOH engineer on Monday night's landmark Led Zeppelin reunion concert at the O2 Arena in London. Working in tandem with singer Robert Plant's longtime FOH engineer Roy Williams, the pair mixed the most anticipated concert of the year. As Big Mick told Pro Sound News afterwards, "The pressure for this gig was definitely on!"

London (December 12, 2007)–“Phew, it’s all over,” said “Big Mick” Hughes, co-FOH engineer on Monday night’s landmark Led Zeppelin reunion concert at the O2 Arena in London. Working in tandem with singer Robert Plant’s longtime FOH engineer Roy Williams, the pair mixed the most anticipated concert of the year. As Big Mick told Pro Sound News afterwards, “The pressure for this gig was definitely on!”

With that in mind, audio for the show was supplied by various UK-based sound rental companies, including Britannia Row and Major Tom Ltd., the latter of which brought an enormous Meyer Sound PA based around Milo and Mica loudspeakers. Meanwhile, Brit Row fielded a Midas XL8 digital mixing system for the FOH position, and set up monitor engineer Dee Miller with a Midas Heritage 3000 feeding mixes to a variety of Turbosound monitors. While Klark Teknik’s new DN9696 high resolution hard disk recorder was spotted in the racks onsite, it was used for virtual soundchecks during rehearsals, not recording the show as initially reported. Whether the concert was preserved for posterity remains to be seen.

“It is different mixing everything except one channel,” conceded Big Mick, “but I have known Roy for many years–which made it possible, I think.” Indeed, co-mixing a gig, much less one with such a high profile, was unusual for the two engineers. Williams kept tabs on Plant’s vocals, while his cohort brought years of experience mixing Metallica to bear, ensuring that Led Zeppelin sounded just as heavy as fans remembered.

Meyer Sound Milo and Mica loudspeakers brought the show to the masses.Bringing that brawn to the masses were 72 Milo high-power curvilinear loudspeakers, bookending a stage that had a center hang of a half-dozen Mica high power curvilinear loudspeakers flown above it. Adjacent to the 72 Milos were 10 flown 700-HP subwoofers per side. Ground stacks included nine 700-HPs per side, while four Micas per side provided outfill. Ensuring that the crowd directly in front of the band got rocked, too, front fill was handled with one Mica per side, along with eight UPA-1Ps strung across the stage lip. Rounding up all those loudspeakers were no less than three Galileo loudspeaker management systems, which handled 36 outputs in total, while Meyer Sound’s director of European Technical Support Luke Jenks was present, having used a SIM 3 audio analyzer to tune the system.

As the monitor engineer for the event, Miller used a Turbosound monitor system with a dozen Flashlight cabinets for sidefills, as well as TFM350s and 450s. Miller has used a Midas Heritage 3000 to mix Plant’s solo tours for the past few years, and remarked, “Robert really likes the analog sound of the Heritage 3000 and I didn’t feel the need to change anything for this concert. There were a total of 19 mixes, including effects, to try to get as close to the original sound of the band as possible. The band were very happy on the night, so I guess I made the right call!”

“People were paying so much for tickets,” observed Big Mick, explaining some of the added pressure on the gig. “It was astounding who was there.” Reports named Drew Barrymore, Paul McCartney, Oasis’ Noel and Liam Gallagher, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Kate Moss and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl among the revelers. But with only 18,000 seats available and reports varying between one- and 20-million ticket requests received for the show, it’s not too surprising that many in the audience were among the rich and famous–who else could afford the kind of secondary ticket market where reputedly one person paid $170,000 for a pair of ducats in a charity auction?

Speaking after the show, Bryan Grant, managing director of Britannia Row, noted, “I’d just like to thank all of our crew who have been working on this project since we got the call to provide a monitor system back in June for the first get-together. They gave Mick, Roy and Dee the backup they needed, and helped deliver a brilliant show for both Zeppelin and all of the artists performing the first half of the show.”

The show was definitely “an iconic event,” said Brogaard, head of Major Tom, Ltd. in a statement, adding that working on it was “an honor and a privilege.” No slouch behind the mixing desk himself, having manned consoles for Rod Stewart the last 23 years, Brogaard remarked, “There was a lot of pressure, but it’s always reassuring for us to know we’re working with the best sound equipment in the business. The entire crew, from the engineers to the guys running the PA, did a tremendous job.”

Not only that, but they got to see a gig that the rest of the world was dying to get into. For everyone else, fingers are crossed in hopes that the one-off show will blossom into a full-blown tour. Those hopes were raised a bit Tuesday, as the reviews rolled in; most critics were nothing less than ecstatic. To be fair, more than a few remarked on rough spots in the mix early on, but The Independent, Billboard and Uncut all conceded that the sound was on track by the time “Black Dog,” the evening’s third number, began–and fans quoted in The Telegraph went so far as to call the evening’s audio “fabulous.”

Whether Monday night’s concert will lead to more shows is anyone’s guess, although The Telegraph reported two nights at Wembley Stadium are reserved for next summer, and NME believes a three-night stand is in the works for New York’s Madison Square Garden. For now, however, at least one person is very content that after months of work, the event has finally come to pass. “It was like a rollercoaster ride,” Big Mick laughed. “You had better hold on tight!”

Watch this space for more additions as further news on the show comes in.

Britannia Row

Meyer Sound