Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Backstage at... Christmas With The Rat Pack

Tonight was the last show of our busiest time of year.  Christmas With The Rat Pack is a wonderful West End style show that features replica performances of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr.  Our Front Of House teams can now relax and enjoy a less manic couple of months ahead, before things start to pick up again at the end of February.
Rat Pack is a unique show in that it's one of the rare ocassions that you will see people smoking inside a building these days.  The show is incredibly authentic to the original performances of these playboys, and as such, cigarettes flow.  And flow.
To smoke on stage, or in fact anywhere indoors, is generally illegal.  However, we are able to apply for dispensation on artistic grounds, and this is the only show we generally do it for.  I saw the show last year, and the effect of the singer/actors lighting up does add to the authenticity of the characters.
However, for this years show, the Tour Manager from the shows producers didn't compile the paperwork in time, which means our audience tonight saw a different show to the rest of the country.  A smoke free one.  I'm looking forward to hearing whether this compromised the enjoyment of the 1500 people in the crowd, and therefore whether this last outpost of the indoors ciggie is doomed.
Thank you for reading.  I wish you a very merry Christmas!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Backstage at... One Night Of Queen

Setting up right now in the arena is one of the most fun shows of the year tonight: One Night of Queen. The show is fronted by Gary Mullen, who since winning the Stars in Their Eyes final in 2000, has carved out an excellent live career for himself as the mighty Freddie Mercury. One of the few regrets in my life is that I never made it to a Queen concert. I did however come to One Night of Queen last time they were here, and it blew me away. His performance is so astonishing and accurate that Brian May himself has written that Gary bears a remarkable likeness to Freddie, in more than just voice and appearance on stage.

I’m unfortunately unable to come tonight, which was already a shame. However, I’ve just learnt about something special for this evening, which is leaving me feeling gutted right now:

I know from conversations with Gary how much he genuinely enjoys his performances at Plymouth Pavilions. We’re the biggest venue he plays on his tour, and the crowd are always fantastic. As a way of making it a great night tonight for those of you coming for a Christmas night out, he has added something special for one night only: he will be joined on stage by opera star Ruth Kerr, to perform a special rendition of Barcelona, the song that Mercury had a massive hit with Montserrat CaballĂ« in 1987.

If you’re going to be here tonight, I’m extremely jealous – you’re in for a right royal treat!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The sound

The sound, or acoustics, is a fairly regular topic of conversation when people talk about The Pavilions. Plus with the amount of shows we have at the moment, it's a topic that has come up elsewhere on thisisplymouth. So let's talk about it: why is "the sound so bad at Plymouth Pavilions"?

The first of two points I want to make is that I don't agree with the above statement. You're probably thinking that you'd expect me to say that! Well until a year ago, before I joined the venue, I was probably one of those people that shared the view that the sound quality of the arena is rubbish. It was a view based upon the fact that we've all said it for years, and years ago, whenever I went it wasn't great.

My view today is that the arena CAN sound imperfect. And it CAN sound amazing.

So why was it historically "bad"? In essence, the shape of the room isn't great, and the finishes that were originally put into the space doubled the problem. There were loads of angles and corners for sound waves to ricochet off, which means you get unclean sound and echos all over the place. What's changed? Our technical teams have done their upmost to address this where possible. This hasn't been cheap, and has therefore been a long process. And as anything, there's more we can try. I had a conversation just last week about another investment we can make to dampen the sound from the walls, and it's something we should do, just as soon as finances allow.

To sum up the above, I guess the point is that yes the venue isn't perfect in acoustics, but we do try hard to mitigate that, and I believe we have got to a point where the sound CAN be great.

Which leads me on to my second point: why is it not consistent? I have talked before about the way in which the live arena business operates, in that I don't book the acts direct, but simply hire out the room to a "Promoter" who puts the show together, books the artist, sets the ticket price, and organises the supporting infrastructure, including the lighting, PA (sound), and the guy operating the sound. So every time you come to a gig, it's a completely different sound system, and a completely different person operating it. The speakers have probably never been in the venue before, and on one night shows there is simply no opportunity to play about with the sound and get it right. The roadie will try during the day, but that's when the huge room is empty, which in itself makes a room sound totally different. It's a problem that exists across all venues that host one night shows. We do work with the touring sound technicians to advise on the types of sound settings that work best, but we don't always get there, and they don't always listen.

Last weekend I went to Them Crooked Vultures, and Jools Holland. The first one, in my opinion could have been better sound wise. The second one, just one night later, in my opinion could not have been better sound wise. I believe that these days we get far more of the latter than we used to, and we strive to get to a point where our reputation is no longer based upon the past.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Silly Season

We're right in the middle of the busiest time of the year in the Arena. For reasons I still don't fully understand, tha majority of "Rock N Roll" tours all go out on the road for the six weeks or so before Christmas. What that means for our customers (and also for our PR), is that this is a good time of year: a great range of top flight shows to choose from. What this means for us is that our team are working on full steam. It also means that our financial model for the year is incredibly dependant upon these few weeks. For me and my fellow Directors, will we deliver on the targets that we set this time last year (before we even knew what the line up would be)?

What's fantastic about this time of year is the diverse range of work we can have in a short period of time. The versatility of the Pavilions' Arena means that it has to be a Jack Of All Trades. With that comes sacrifices, which the designers recognised. A wonderful setting like The Theatre Royal would never play host to Them Crooked Vultures. Or basketball. Or a banquet. So it's ironic that one of the things that is the Arena's biggest weaknesses is also one of it's biggest strengths.

By way of an example, here's last weeks diary:

Sunday: Lazytown - childrens theatre show
Monday: The Herald Sports Awards - gala banquet and presentation ceremony
Wednesday: Alice Cooper - Music, poison and death
Friday: Madness - 4000 people moshing
Saturday: Airwaves Plymouth Raiders
Sunday: Grumpy Old Women - Comedy with a Gin & Tonic

In my opinion, no other venue in the UK can provide such a range of shows back to back. If you're with us this season, enjoy!

PS - Talking of Them Crooked Vultures, we've been able to release a few extra tickets for this supergroup on Thursday night (by reducing the size of the stage a little). They will go very quickly, so don't say I didn't warn you...