Salvation Army rings in Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall
UNITED KINGDOM: Each year, as the Salvation Army gears up for one of its busiest annual periods, the Christian charity puts on a special Christmas carol concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Although brass bands tend to feature heavily in the Salvation Army stereotype, the Christmas carol concert features a range of different performers. This year’s sold-out, multi-artist event took place on 24 November. The cast numbered over 150, including choirs, a contemporary praise band, readings and a guest performance by prominent supporter Shakin’ Stevens.
Sound provider b+h has worked with the Salvation Army for nearly 30 years; b+h is part of SFL Group, the in-house AV production partner at the Royal Albert Hall, so the company is ideally-placed to deliver the audio production for the annual carol concert. ‘It’s a traditional carol concert, but on a grand – and far more technically complex – scale,’ says Sam Lynam, business development and project manager at b+h. ‘As well as managing the live sound production, we assist the Salvation Army’s recording and broadcast partner, World of Sound, with a full multitrack recording, which is later transmitted on BBC Radio London and the charity’s web site.’
For this year’s event, b+h relying in part on Yamaha and Dante for mixing and signal distribution. The system was designed by Steve Hicks, who also manned a Yamaha CL5 digital console at front of house. ‘I had to look at a few factors. The first was that, with a brass band, two choirs, worship band, guest band, solo acts and multiple readers all on the stage at the same time, I needed a reasonable channel count,’ recalls Mr Hicks. ‘In addition, we were running a Yamaha QL1 as a separate monitor board and were routing the audio for the broadcast and recording, both of which were taking selected channels and submixes. I needed to easily route audio digitally from the FOH position to multiple locations, so for me the only logical choice was Yamaha and Dante.’
A pair of Yamaha Rio3224-D I/O units took the 60 stage inputs and routed them via the Dante network to the CL5, which provided a submix of certain channels to the QL1, manned by Keegan Curran. ‘With more channels coming from the stage than the QL1 has inputs,’ explains Mr Lynam, ‘the ability to easily route a submix to the QL1 meant we could provide a full monitor mix to 21 wedges and three sets of in-ears.’
Dante was also used to route the audio to the World of Sound OB van. There, a Yamaha DM2000 (fitted with MY8-AUD and MY16-AT cards) and an AD8HR remote head amp were used to mix the recording. ‘In previous years, this was all done via an analogue snake, with a lot of patching in. Being able to run fibre to the OB van meant that this time it was a lot more straightforward,’ adds Mr Lynam.
Working alongside Mr Hicks and Mr Curran, the audio production was managed by Julian ‘Stan’ Stanford, assisted by Mr Lynam and former b+h managing director Brian Hillson. Despite inevitable time constraints on the day, the combination of Yamaha consoles and Dante, plus everything having been set up and tested in the b+h warehouse beforehand, meant the event ran very smoothly.
‘Yamaha digital consoles just keep getting better. DCA Roll-outs and the multiband compressor are two of my favourite updates in the latest firmware release,’ says Mr Hicks. ‘They helped to make what can be quite a hectic event very simple and pleasant to mix.’
‘b+h has worked on these jobs for many years, as well as with other major church clients,’ adds Mr Hillson. ‘Sound technology has changed radically in those years, along with client expectations, and modern church events demand the same level of technical excellence as any major corporate conference or live music production. We believe that, with our experience and the latest Yamaha audio technology, we are uniquely placed to provide just that.’
Vivienne Whittaker, the charity’s marketing manager and organiser of the carol concert, was very pleased with the outcome. ‘This event is one of the most prestigious in our annual calendar, showcasing the mission and ministry of the Salvation Army, and we rely on b+h and SFL for their expertise in bringing together all of our A/V requirements,’ she says.
‘This year was particularly demanding because of the number of acts, the tight programme schedule and the fact that BBC Radio London will broadcast the event. But the b+h team rose yet again to the challenge and delivered a great event which ran smoothly from start to finish… and sounded great!’