By Cat Strom
Photos: David Youdell
Checking your Facebook feed through March seemed like every other friend was at an Ed Sheeran concert. Over one million people snapped up tickets to the singer’s stadium trek through Australia and New Zealand, breaking Dire Straits’ 1986 record for most tickets sold on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
After touring the world for several months in support of his latest album ÷ (Divide), Ed Sheeran’s Divide World Tour finally reached the Stadium stage with its debut in Australia. Lighting Designer Mark Cunniffe joined Lighting Director Matt Jones on the tour in order to refine the looks. The show is all about video, with lighting to reinforce the concept and compliment the content. Mark Cunniffe designed a goblet-shaped set, fondly named ‘the chalice’, working closely with Production Manager Chris Marsh and Jeremy Lloyd from international technical production practice Wonder Works.
The chalice comprises five curved video screens (crowns); four lighting crowns which sit in between each video screen and five video screens dubbed ‘the ceiling’ which sit horizontally above the stage that have triangular lighting ‘pods’ filling the gaps. Additionally there are five video screens making up a back wall and giving a continuous ‘flow’ of video surface from the top header, through the ‘ceiling’ and down the back finishing at stage level where the video angles back on to the stage.
The structure was engineered by Tait Industries who custom-built the 63 foot wide main stage. Colonel Tom Touring provided the 5mm Roe Carbon tiles which go together with Tait touring standard and custom frames for the curved portions of the set. The unusual semi-circular structure had several high point loads which were transferred across the grid throughout the build sequence, and used chain hoists that travelled within the truss.
The fan shaped mothergrid is lifted by thirty two ton LoadGuard hoists. Rigged within the mothergrid are fifty one ton motors from which fly the lighting trusses and AV screens including four moving lighting pods which drop down on Electric Hoists on Kinesys control during the show.
Unusually, the one ton motors remain pre-rigged within the mothergrid in transit between shows.
Moment Factory created ten pieces of video content that use 3D architectural illusion to completely transform the mushroom-cloud shaped stage design. Cunniffe’s brief was to move away from traditional IMAG and wherever possible immerse the artist within the visuals created. No small task considering that Sheeran was the only person present on stage.
Throughout the concert, live close-up shots of Sheeran layer into the video, giving fans a front-row view from anywhere in the arena. The aim is to bring Sheeran and his music closer to fans without overwhelming his solitary presence on the monumental stage.
Video Director Phil Mead ran two active disguise servers, triggered by ArtNet from MAs. He did have a small MIDI controller for fine controls over the dry/wet for some of the notch effects. A Blackmagic ATEM 2ME switcher feeds two MEs and two auxiliaries to the servers.
For this tour, Cunniffe’s brief was to make the stage space really dynamic, so he created an elaborate video set and a highly versatile lighting rig which includes:
134 x Claypaky Mythos 2
16 x Claypaky Scenius Unico Spots
12 x Martin Atomic LED
5 x TMB Solaris Flares
24 x SGM P-10 Floods
56 x SGM G-4 Beams
2 x MA Lighting grandMA 2 Full Size
1 x grandMA2 Light
2 x MA Lighting NPUs
6 x Luminex DMX 8 nodes
4 x Luminex GigaCore 16 Xt switches
4 x MDG theOne stadium hazers
4 x Robert Juliet 4K Lancelot follow spots.
There is also 10 kilometres of DMX-controlled RGB LED tape that lights the set very effectively.
The four aforementioned moving light pods are on three variable speed motors, which are controlled by a Kinesys Vector system. Each pod holds ten Claypaky Mythos 2 with the rest of the Mythos in the crown, the base and in front of Ed’s riser.
Claypaky Scenius Unicos are hidden in the mother gird in four trusses of four; when the lighting pods come in, upstage of that are four linear trusses with the sixteen Unicos that shine through the holes. However, you can’t see the source as it is rigged eighteen metres high; just the beams.
The Stadium show sees an extra sixteen Claypaky Mythos 2 across the top section referred to as the crown. SGM P-10 washes were added around the walls of the roof to light up the divide scrim that is wrapping the stage. Two delay towers were also added and they accommodate twenty-eight SGM G4 on each.
“It’s the same look and structure, although the video panels have gone up an extra panel length of 1.2 metres,” said Matt. Matt commented that the stage and lighting goes in surprisingly quickly, with a rhythm and routine followed. Towards the end of the arena tour they were getting it done in four hours.
At FOH Matt had a networked grandMA2 system to control lighting and playback video. This is not a timecoded show as there is no way to run this show on timecode due to the dynamics of Ed’s performance.
“The running of the show is like Ed – very dynamic,” stated Matt. “He’s inherently a very fluid performer and obviously strings will break and that needs to be factored into running the show. You can’t just let timecode run and carry on, I can’t keep doing my cues – I need to wait until he’s got himself into a position where he can continue on building the track up on hisloop pedals.”
Matt further remarked that running the show is very live and that he uses stab buttons, although he predominantly runs it on a cue stack for every song. “Every song has its own page and cue stack as I like to be able to step to a new page knowing there’s nothing running in the background, a clean fresh start for every song,” added Matt.
“It’s easier that way, as I have a set list that is very structured which in some ways isn’t how Ed runs but is necessary for the video content. The video content is in sections and is cued on a timeline basis so it’s important to have a fairly structured cueing system and I prefer to run that on a cue stack with the stab buttons to add in punches or colour / intensity flashes.”
Chris Marsh is not only Ed’s Production Manager, he runs FOH and monitors too.“Sometimes I cook as well and I’ve been known to clean the trucks,” he quipped. “Whatever people need me to do!” When Ed took 2016 off from touring, Chris began planning this show with Mark Cunniffe with input from Ed himself. Knowing there would be a stadium run after the arena tour, they actually designed a stadium show that could be scaled down to fit arenas.
“It’s the first time in the seven years that I have been with Ed that he has taken an active interest in what is going on around him and behind him!” said Chris. “We wanted a show that would be different, would be scalable and would somehow highlight Ed as a solo performer in the centre of the stage. As the rooms get bigger and bigger, this gets harder to achieve as people are further away. Consequently IMAG and video become a much bigger part of the design.”
As with previous tours, a Meyer Sound system is deployed with Leo main and side hangs, and 1100-LFC sub woofers flown behind the Leo and on the floor. “Consistency is absolutely key with Ed, and with the Meyer system I am entirely confident it will sound the same everywhere,” explained Chris. “It really does sound good from the farthest nosebleed seat to the front row. We have Lina as front fills and Leopard as outfills, plus Milo as delays.
“In Australia, Norwest Productions supplied ring delays of Milo and Mica for the hard to get to places at the top of the stadium and they did a brilliant job.”
Chris remarked that the stadiums in Australia had all been very different with a variety of roof shapes which come into play with buildup of various frequencies as you get up to the higher stands.“That buildup of course resounds back around the whole stadium, this becomes part of the overall mix and we have to adapt accordingly,” commented Chris.
“The biggest difference to the stadium shows versus arena shows is that we can be very happy with the audio as we walk around in the afternoon and really get quite intricately tuned, but it changes drastically in the evening with temperature changes, humidity changes and the people really make a huge difference.”
System engineer Charlie Albin tunes with a Meyer SIM 3 audio analyser system to try get the EQ the same throughout the stadium and he time aligns as he goes through that process. Chris then gets a little wild by using actual music to tune the system. “It’s crazy I know, but we use music to tune the system and we walk and use our ears!” he revealed. “It’s a radical idea.” A DiGiCo SD7 is Chris’ console of choice saying that it has everything he needs on the surface so he can make changes on the fly with ease.
“With the redundant engine if anything goes wrong, the other engine will take over and we’ll still have a show,” added Chris, noting that this has never actually happened.
“There are less than twenty channels coming from the stage which only derive from Ed’s vocal and guitar. I break up channels; for example Ed’s guitar comes to me as a single channel but I break it into three parts of low, mid and high sections. That way I can control the sound of the guitar to a much better effect. I end up with over forty input busses on the console from twenty inputs.”
Within the console Chris utilises pretty much everything it can throw at him; dynamic EQ, multiband compression, and a few of the onboard effects, especially delays. However there are still a few outboard favourites such as an Avalon 737 on Ed’s vocal, an Eventide Eclipse harmoniser for harmonising vocal loops and two Bricasti M7s, which Chris describes as the most natural and wonderful sounding reverb available.
Ed’s monitoring is very simple; a long time ago Chris preset some monitor states for different songs and Ed’s criteria is that he doesn’t want it to change.
“He doesn’t want anyone to mix it,” added Chris. “If he makes a mistake or he plays quieter, it’s because he wants to hear it quieter. He’s very dynamic in what he’s doing. He builds the mix himself by his method of playing and the last thing he wants is someone to correct him, he needs to hear it as it is. As a FOH guy I find that an easy thing to do and unless there’s a major problem I don’t touch the monitoring during the show.”
Ed has two Meyer MJF-212 self-powered monitor wedges for when he takes his Sennheiser 2050 IEMs out to hear the audience and a pair of Meyer 900-LFC sub woofers onstage for a great feel.
Ed has been using Sennheiser microphones from the very start and switched to Digital 9000 during his 2014 US tour for his vocal, loop vocal and guitar packs.
“For the loop vocal I use an MMD 945 super-cardioid capsule,” says Chris. “As this vocal gets looped and repeated throughout the songs I can’t risk there being too much background noise, so the tight pickup of the 945 is perfect. Ed’s main vocal is a cardioid MD 9235 dynamic capsule which captures a lot of detail. Importantly, it copes very well with being handled heavily and cupped a lot, which is Ed’s style.”
Ed’s live act is synonymous with his customised super loop pedal, and the Chewie Monsta II Looper is the latest version. This custom pedalboard is the hardware side of a dynamic, Ableton Live–based looping system. It allows Ed and Chris to have eight separate tracks of loops dedicated to guitar, vocals, and percussion, which can be treated with different effects like reverb and a harmoniser.
With the board at his feet, Ed has complete control over recording, playback, and even undoing a loop if need be. Chewie II also has screens to monitor the program’s record/overdub/playback functions as well as showing the time frame of the loop itself. The Chewie II also allows Ed to mute tracks, giving him better control over song structure.