Ireland's first family of pop, The Corrs, are living proof that talent often runs in the family; all four siblings (Andrea, Caroline, Sharon and Jim) play more than one instrument and contribute vocally to the band's recorded and live material. Mixing traditional Irish influences with chart-topping pop writing, The Corrs have built up a huge UK and European fan base since their first major tour in 1998, when they supported Celine Dion, and have set their sights on conquering the U.S. next year. Mix caught up with them on the sold-out UK leg of their current tour.
Mixing such a talented and tight-knit bunch of musicians might be intimidating, but FOH engineer Max Bisgrove remains unfazed after nearly four years. “My brief from the band was to make the show more rock 'n' roll, which is what I've tried to do all along,” he explains, justifying his reputation among his peers as a noise boy. Bisgrove's choice of a self-powered Meyer Sound loudspeaker system, supplied by London's Canegreen Ltd., may not seem the obvious choice for a louder-than-average, full-on rock production, but the engineer has remained loyal to the brand through three arena tours and countless other shows. “I love the self-powered idea for two reasons,” he enthuses. “First, the load on the amplifier is quite light — and it's always the same. Second, the very short distance between the amps and the drivers. As a result, the system has much more punch than a conventionally powered system.” Bisgrove notes that when The Corrs supported U2 at the start of their recent U.S. tour, speaker cable runs for the Clair Bros. P.A. system were 200 feet long.
Bisgrove is also unconvinced by the current trend toward line array systems — though he admits that his recent experience with the Meyer M3D at an open air show has revised his views somewhat. “Venues over here [in the UK] are not purpose-designed for P.A. systems, and a line array is not flexible enough for every room,” he explains. “Using a self-powered system, where every cabinet has an independent XLR input, means that we can hang the same system every day, but adjust its coverage to suit each venue.”
For the UK tour, Bisgrove's design is based on an array developed two years ago by the Meyer team for the same band, and comprises long-throw MSL-6 and medium-throw MSL-4 enclosures. Each cluster is topped by three giant MSL-6 boxes, which are tight-packed to give a horizontal coverage of 90°. Trimmed so that the dispersion “window” just reaches to the upper-rear bleachers, the original design used MSL-6s to fire all the way to the back of the UK's largest 15,000-seat rooms. A delay system made up of MSL-4s has now been added to maintain the direct-to-reflected ratio at the rear.
While MSL-4s comprise the bulk of the rest of the system, a row of DS4-P horn-loaded single 15-inch cabinets give Bisgrove the added mid-bass punch that has become his trademark sound — European audiences, it appears, favor having their chests kicked, rather than their trousers flapped. Groundstacked 650-P subs provided an ideal platform for MSL-2 and UPA-1C front fills (the only conventionally powered elements in the system). With so many self-powered cabinets in the system, Canegreen's technicians have designed their own remote power switching system — just in case the unthinkable happens while a cluster is in the air.
The twin L/R clusters are driven by three BSS Soundweb digital matrices, which Canegreen had supplied with a UHF wireless link to a palmtop computer, enabling system engineer Chris Peters to wander freely around each venue, tweaking any of the 21 independent system zones. Zones are arranged so that the same physical array design can be used for a variety of different venue shapes and sizes. Outer and inner columns of speakers are handled separately, for example, which means that the nominal coverage pattern of the arrays can be widened, narrowed or even offset as needed. The entire system is delayed, zone by zone, to the acoustic sound of the drum kit in order to project a completely coherent image to as many parts of each arena as possible. At present, all three Soundweb units are housed in the FOH drive rack, though Peters says this may change in the near future. “I'm looking at using the Soundweb's networking facility to remote two of the units to the stage and feed them with digital audio from here,” he explained at the FOH position. “There should be significant advantages over an analog multi-core, especially on larger shows.”
The Corrs endorse Shure microphones and use UHF and wired Beta 87C and 87A models for vocals. The wide assortment of instrumental mics includes an AKG C-308 mini-mic fitted inside the Irish bodhran drum. Bisgrove employs a form of dynamic control normally only seen on heavy metal stages; each part of Caroline Corr's impressive drum kit has, in addition to a microphone, a d-drum trigger, which is used to open gates on each drum channel. “This works well and has really tightened up the drum sound,” he explained. To reinforce the natural kick drum sound, an ancient Wendel Jr. analog drum sampler is used for those songs that need a tightly controlled, predictable sound.
As with most modern bands, The Corrs use a hard disk playback system for elements that are too complex to reproduce live — drum loops or keyboard parts, plus some backing vocals to give the more choral numbers extra weight. The Akai HD system runs in parallel with an identical backup unit, both being fed through a changeover box supplied by Technical Earth.
To keep Andrea Corr's voice lightly in check, her vocal channel is routed through a BSS DPR-901 dynamic equalizer and one half of a dbx 160S dual compressor; Sharon Corr's electric blue violin is fed into the other 160S channel. Before returning to the console, the vocal and violin signals are also patched through a Meyer CP-10 parametric equalizer; this manual analog device is, says Bisgrove, as good as anything on the market for sweetening tricky sources. Further dbx 160S units, which seem to be becoming ever more popular, are inserted across the guitar and bass, as well as across drum and backing vocal subgroups.
Subgrouping, however, is a technique that Bisgrove employs purely for processing purposes; for mixing, he primarily uses the VCAs on his Midas XL4 console and few of the console's automation capabilities. Bisgrove prefers to set up a simple starting point scene for each song in the set, relying on his own skill to handle the sometimes complex mixes. (Outboard equipment is all MIDI-controlled via Digital Performer 2.41 software running on a Mac Power- book via a MIDI Timepiece.) “I feel more comfortable if the desk operates independently, even though it might seem odd to have to press two buttons for the start of each song,” he explains. To replicate the sounds created in the studio, Bisgrove uses a variety of effects units, including Roland SDE-330 and SDE-300A delays, Yamaha SPX990 and Lexicon 480L reverbs, and an Eventide H300/S Ultra-Harmonizer.
One of the few true Irishmen on the crew, monitor mixer Paul “Mini” Moore, has been with The Corrs' family act since before their rise to fame in Europe. The band has experimented continuously on the road with monitor systems and is currently using a Shure PSM700 in-ear rig. To supplement these, Moore uses two quartets of Meyer MSL-4s as sidefills, flown using Meyer's L-track hardware. As well as wearing her PSM700 system, Caroline Corr, whose powerful and energetic drumming style belies her petite build, receives a kick-ass monitor sound — literally, thanks to a Clark Tact- ile Sound Transducer NEO 329-F driver fitted to her drum stool. This 8-inch diameter device has a tactile frequency response that extends from 5 to 800 Hz, and is capable of handling 200-watt peaks, delivering a maximum “transduction force” of 240 pounds — some kick!
Moore is also an proponent of the d-drum trigger system, using them on five of the drum feeds to his XL4 monitor board. Gating is precise, and along with a smattering of dbx 160S and 160A compressors, helps keep excessive dynamics firmly under control, enabling Moore to generate accurate and repeatable IEM mixes. Effects are sparse, consisting mainly of a handful of Yamaha SPX990s for vocal and instrumental reverbs.
While The Corrs' tours to date have concentrated solely on the music, the current outing has seen several developments on the visual front. An integrated video and lighting concept has been designed by Willie Williams, one of the UK's foremost rock 'n' roll LDs, with the help of The Corrs' regular LD and board op Liam McCathy. Faced with an arena-sized stage but limited video budget, Williams specified an unusual LED video wall — leaving out every second panel to produce a characteristic checkerboard effect and creating a wall of twice the size for the same expense. This 32-panel Megascreen wall (supplied by Screenco) would be unusable for conventional source material, but in collaboration with video director Craig Tinnetti, Williams has merged a series of abstract video clips with his own lighting projections. One stunning example of this is a combined starcloth and video sequence depicting a space flight — and because the LED screen is kept hidden behind a projection gauze, the audience is never fully aware of the “cheat.” Other lighting features (supplied by Lighting & Sound Design) include nearly 80 LSD Icons and Studiocolors, and no less that 12 follow spots, all driven from Icon and Wholehog II consoles.
Video engineer Chris Burford, whose job it is to run the visual show, spends his free time on tour at the keyboard of his shiny new Mac G4 laptop — his copy of FinalCut Pro has, he says, taken the place of a full-scale edit suite for this type of application. “We could never do this sort of thing before, but when you can edit on tour, you can let the visuals grow with the show,” notes Burford. “I think we'll see a lot more of this type of system as bands realize that they can modify set lists and songs without being left with useless bits of video. Apple is gradually doing to video what they did with DTP.”
The Corrs 2001 tour is now heading for Australia and the Pacific Rim, following delays due to Andrea Corr developing an ear infection. So who forgot to wipe those IEM molds?
Mike Mann is a freelance writer living in England.