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Skan PA supplies audio solutions for PJ Harvey’s first UK/Euro tour in six years
Playing live in support of her tenth studio album, “I Inside the Old Year Dying”, avant-rock artist PJ Harvey played a string of sold-out dates at carefully chosen venues. Her engineers required audio solutions from supplier Skan PA Hire.
Monitor Engineer Magali Couturier has been with PJ Harvey for some years now, and has exact expectations from her vendor. “I first met (Skan Director) Chris Fitch at Glastonbury in the ‘90s, it was the first time I’d seen a ‘boss’ that was so ‘hands-on’”, she says. “He understands what we go through as engineers, which is why I think he also understands the type of audio tech we need for PJ’s tours.” Couturier also acknowledges the help she received from Skan’s Finlay Watt.
In terms of her mix, Couturier defines her work as creating a “delicate balance”, that is as close to the recordings as possible. “Polly has a lot of effects that change from song to song, so it can be very complex to mix”, she says. “It’s not like you make a sound, and that works for the whole show. It can go from atmospheric to something very rocky or folky.”
“And that balance may change from venue to venue too, where a small detail may bring a song to life or to sleep”, continues Couturier. “This gig is extremely rewarding as a monitor engineer, you really become a part of the performance and the creative, live process. Working with musicians like those we have in her band is why I do this job.”
Couturier has been working on some major changes since the previous tour; Harvey and her band now use Sennheiser 2000 Series IEMs, with Ultimate Ears UE11s. “The 10-piece band used to be on wedges and has now switched to in-ear monitors”, she explains. “The reason for this is that the stage would look better, there wouldn’t be black boxes scattered around and the musicians would be freer to move around.”
“The transition was an interesting journey, given the type of music they play and that none of them had used IEMs before”, she adds. “It’s quite unorthodox - none of them use in-ears in the same way. Polly wants to hear the record, so my aim with her mix is to make it as close to her records as possible.” She does so via a Yamaha PM7 with an RPIO Stage Rack, another new equipment choice for this campaign.
Engineer Rik Dowding was caretaking for long-time FOH Mixer Howard “Head” Bullivant, who has worked with PJ since her early demo days. “Head very kindly asked me to fill in on this tour, which is an absolute honour”, he says. Dowding was originally going to mix these shows on an analogue classic, the Midas H3000, as per Bullivant’s rider. “Gradually, I was getting reports from Magali about the channel count, which was rising. Eventually, we had 48 channels, and I couldn’t do that on an analogue desk and put all my effects in there too, so we made the decision to go with a DiGiCo console.”
From Skan’s inventory, Dowding has opted for an SD10 with 32 Bit SD Rack on stage and an SD Mini at FOH to connect the outboard. The band were initially worried about losing warmth with the switch from an analogue console, so Dowding specified some tube-based outboard. For outboard, he employed a Transient Designer TD4, Tube-Tech LCA-2B, Summit DCL-200, Summit TLA-100, Rupert Neve Portico II Master Buss Compressor and an Empirical Labs EL8-X Distressor from Skan, along with FX including an Eventide H3000, Bricasti M7 Reverb, Yamaha SPX2000 and Lake LM 44 for system EQ. He also utilises some of his own favourite units such as the Rupert Neve 5045 Primary Source Enhancer 5045, a Roland RE-20 Space Echo Pedal and an Empirical Labs EL7 Fatso Jr.
He furthers: “Guitarist John Parrish utilises a very particular set of sounds that not many people tend to use, so for his guitars, I use the Tube-Tech LCA-2B stereo tube compressor. The drums are going through amplifiers and are sent to a buss where the Fatso is applied, adding a harmonic saturation, and fattening up the sound.”
According to Dowding, PJ Harvey is very involved in the live mix process, sending notes on reverbs and delays that are specific to each song. He continues: “Polly’s microphone of choice is a Sennheiser MD 431. She uses that with the Rupert Neve 5045 ‘feedback destroyer’. The 5045 goes into the EL8-X Distressor.”
Harvey’s 26-date theatrical masterpiece played to audiences in venues across eleven countries. The tour was led by Production Manager Tecwyn Beint, who says he is looking forward to working with Chris Fitch and his team again very soon.
Pictured: Skan Tech Finlay Watt (left) with Production Manager Tecwyn Beint; Monitor Engineer Magali Couturier; FOH Engineer Rik Dowding. (Photos: Skan PA Hire)
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