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Author Topic: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?  (Read 16390 times)

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REDD51

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Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« on: April 02, 2009, 02:40:53 AM »

Hi, new guy here.
I've done some searching to no avail (although I've not learned to squeeze everything out of the search engine yet) looking for any information on the chap or chaps that mixed the Beatles live shows.

It's actually the topic that brought me to the forum, although I see months of addiction here on one of my favorite topics :)

Was it Mal, Neil?.......or was it one of them just setting up the mixing console on the side of the stage and not doing any real mixing at all?

I've got "Recording the Beatles" and a few other Beatles tech books on the way to see if the information is contained within, but thought I'd drop a note here in the meantime.
I'm also hoping for details on the equipment used for their live shows.

To date, I've found very little information on the actual details of their live shows (other than where they were and what tunes they played).

I'm starting to wonder if the hired the gear locally in each town (in America, Britain, and Europe) and used whoever came with the gear to mix the show?
Cheers
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REDD51

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2009, 05:47:22 AM »

Being new here, is there a better place to post this question?

Or is it information that's possibly not in the general database?

Thanks.
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Penny Lane

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2009, 05:59:10 AM »

Hey, welcome to the board.  :)  

Sorry I can't help you out with this info, but maybe someone else knows.  I hope various books will be helpful to you too.
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Bobber

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2009, 10:27:53 AM »

I don't think they ever had a live sound engineer.
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fendertele

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2009, 10:38:38 AM »

Quote from: 63
I don't think they ever had a live sound engineer.

when they played the cavern and the likes of the small clubs they never miked up the drums and just played str8 from there amps ? leaving just vocals which where just easy to get levels without eqing or anything.

Bigger stadiums just str8 through the PA system quick check of levels but no Eqing or anything either ?

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Bobber

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2009, 02:36:42 PM »

Quote from: 758

when they played the cavern and the likes of the small clubs they never miked up the drums and just played str8 from there amps ? leaving just vocals which where just easy to get levels without eqing or anything.

Bigger stadiums just str8 through the PA system quick check of levels but no Eqing or anything either ?


They just used the sound system in the bigger stadiums that were used to announce the players. They didn't have monitor system to hear themselves sing. Ringo's drums were sometimes amplified with a single microphone hanging on top.
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REDD51

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2009, 03:24:33 PM »

That's what I've always believed as well.
But upon close investigation of photos from Shea Stadium and Crossley Field, it appears as if there is substantial additional PA located on the playing field.
It's enough PA that it would require (especially considering the year) somebody who really knew what they were doing in order for it's deployment.

All of this got me wondering if the hundreds of gigs they played that weren't in big stadiums would have been gigs in which there was even a basic public address system "in house", or if they would have contracted equipment into the venue.

I suspect it would be Mal who would make these arrangements, but haven't been able to locate any written material on the subject to date.

I'm now combing through old concert photos in order to attempt to identify what the Beatles basic microphone and PA set up might have been. I'm familiar with the type of audio equipment that would have been considered appropriate for live shows in the early sixties, but have yet to locate any reference or photo of anybody actually "mixing" a Beatles show.

This does tend to support the theory that the endless poor quality of their live sound was a huge contributing factor to their eventual, and total dislike for live performances. They appear not to have had anybody specific they could go to for support in dealing with any live sound issues.

(BTW, what a great forum......I've got months of reading ahead!)
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An Apple Beatle

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #7 on: April 04, 2009, 03:57:15 PM »

Welcome Redd. I imagine most venues would have an 'in-house' engineer. Also, Neil and Mal probably knew enough on how to wire up un-sophisticated systems. I heard that at Shea, it was also rallied through the tannoy system. This may have been something as simple as placing a microphone in front of the PA or just an extra line out of the P.A. I must admit I don't know much about old PA systems, although I have certainly seen some very old Vox 4input models but they may have not been made until the 70's.
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alexis

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #8 on: April 04, 2009, 05:18:59 PM »

Great thread REDD! Please keep us posted, and I'll snoop around the internet as well.

Thanks!
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Alexis

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #9 on: April 04, 2009, 05:51:47 PM »

From "Beatles Gear", Andy Babiuk:

"The Cavern had its own very basic PA system .. with a Vortexion amp and Reslo ribbon mics. But that was a Rolls Royce system compared to some of the PAs back then.

Epstein did some promotions of Queen's Hall in Widnes, a town just east of Liverpool, and he would hire a PA system from Alpha Sounds Service, run by Brian Kelly. It had a simple 25-watt amp, with bass and treble controls for the three mic inputs, and two 12-inch speakers. But this  25-watt PA was still adeuate to cut above the voume the groups were producing themselves with their amps, in a farily big place that held about 800 people. Quite astonishing these days". That was a quote from local promoter/DJ Chris Whorton.

Some further info from the same source, not really on their PA system and mixing boards (did they ever use mixing boards live?), but on their personal equipment:

"The equipment used during the Washington performance was the same as that used for their earlier Paris shows. There were two Vox AC-50 "small box"  amps with matching AC-50 speaker cabs on AC-30 amp stands (my comment here - one each for George and John), a Vox AC-100 bass head with 2x15 AC-100 bass speaker cab (my comment here - for Paul), the 2nd 20-inch bass Ludwig drum set with number-two Beatles logo, the Gretsch Country Gentleman, the '63 Hofner 500/1 bass, and Lennon's original '58 Rickenbacker 325. Harrison also had his Gretsch Tennesssean on hand as a spare. ... A mere 200 watts of power to fill a vast arena full of screaming fans!"

That blows my mind. We use probably close to 750 Watts of power for our gigs, which at most are in a room the size of a small gymnasium. And they played a full screaming stadium with 200W. Incredible.
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Alexis

REDD51

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #10 on: April 04, 2009, 07:06:57 PM »

Also amazing would be the fact that a large percentage of in-house PA systems would have likely been based on Dukane/Operadio style of equipment.
That would typically be a four channel, tube amplifier with no tone controls!!

Can you imagine?

With four channels live, that would be three vocal mics (although they often used only two) and a single drum overhead........just like a lot of the concert pix from this era.

Where I start to wonder though is with shows like Hollywood Bowl, which by many accounts was the first time the sonics of one of their live performances may have lived up to their recorded output.

At the time, the Hollywood Bowl actually had one of the most sophisticated PA's around as house equipment, and there is little doubt that the Beatles made use of it (there are numerous comments on the record that state just that)............but I personally think that somebody had to mix it, it was just too big and complex to "turn it on and forget about it".

I'm starting to suspect that the timeline that led into large scale, full range PA systems (of which of course we had the first "huge" example at Woodstock, although they were around for a few years before that) may have just missed the Beatles.
I'm left wondering if there are a number of "house" engineers who may have had a turn at the knobs of the greatest band of all time.........but for whom there would have been little or no formal acknowledgment at the time simply because the concept of a dedicated audio engineer who was actually part of the band just didn't exist yet??

I love the hunt for the information though..........that's 90% of the fun for me  :)

Thanks for that info from "Beatles Gear" Alexis, I've got "Recording the Beatles" on the way in the post and didn't think "Beatles Gear" would be required reading at the same time......but it looks like a trip to Amazon is called for now!

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REDD51

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2009, 05:26:01 PM »

A few more observations over the weekend.

Using the Australia tour as a template, I've looked at many pictures of the Beatles on stage during that tour. One thing that becomes apparent is that they used different microphones in all of the pictures taken at different venues.

This may tend to imply that the Beatles were hiring PA locally for each stop of the tour.

In one picture, John is singing into a Sennheiser 421 (also marketed as a Telefunken 421). The 421 was such a sophisticated microphone (first released in 1960) that it's still in use in major recording studios, and live performances to this day!)
The use of the 421 tends to imply that the PA they were using was probably somewhat advanced in design, or at least the peripheral equipment they hired to augment the venue PA was possibly state-of-the-art for its day.

A question:
There's a well known picture of the Beatles performing live, taken from directly overhead (looking straight down on the tops of their heads).
Does anybody know exactly where and/or when this picture was taken?

The reason I ask is because in this photo, there is a clear indication of at least 8, (posssibly up to 10) microphones visible on stage.
From a lifetime of mixing music live, I'd be of the opinion that 10 microphones would have to be mixed continuously throughout the performance by a human being.......and would tend to introduce far too many variables to just "set and forget" the venue PA system.
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An Apple Beatle

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2009, 05:31:51 PM »

I have seen that picture on this forum somewhere. When you mention the amount of mics, could it also be that they were set up to go direct to tape aswell as live PA? Possibly meaning no live mixing. Just throwing it into the pot. I also do a lot of local and sometimes abroad mixing work.
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REDD51

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2009, 06:04:21 PM »

Quote from: 15
When you mention the amount of mics, could it also be that they were set up to go direct to tape aswell as live PA?
Excellent point.
If it was extra mics for recording, it could still leave a minimum amount of "live" mics onstage.

(I even tried to follow each of the mic cables to see where they went........as might be surmised I gave up when I went cross-eyed).

I've actually found nothing solid to date at all that would imply that anybody other than the venue's sound guy handled the Beatles live mix......at any of their live concerts.

I honestly suspected that I'd turn up a name or two!!
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An Apple Beatle

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2009, 11:27:38 PM »

Thinking about it some more, without looking at the picture, I suppose if you were to mic the whole band up, you'd be looking at 3 mics for cabs, (2xguitar & 1 bass as i imagine D.I. out's had not yet been invented.) 2 or 3 for vocals (Ringo numbers aswell) and remainder for drums. My guess is they would have tried to perhaps get a live stereo recording of the gig. That also makes me think, they used to overdub vocals on some live recordings. Was this done at Shea? They would have had to leave at least 1track of a 4track free to attempt that.
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REDD51

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #15 on: April 07, 2009, 03:24:57 AM »

You mentioned Shea, in some of the wide shots of the concert (best one I've seen is in the Anthology book) you can clearly see at least a dozen portable PA columns set up on the field itself, set to be pointing up into the stands.
They are split up into two groups of 6, with each half dozen forming a rough semi-circle on each side of the stage......cheated slightly towards the front of the stage.

These towers look similar to Shure VocalMaster type boxes, and would have not only required a lot of extra cable, amplifier power, and additional outputs from the mixing console......but they also would have introduced the definite possibility of feedback (as they weren't part of the stadiums general, and presumably permanently EQ'd public address system). It's tempting to consider that somebody was making sure feedback wasn't an issue of concern.

It's still possible that the system was operated by the anonymous Shea Stadium technicians, but even today, deploying an identical system would be no small undertaking.

It still can look at times like there was an anonymous "somebody" mixing some of these shows..........it's amazing that no names can be located.........you'd think by 1972-75, somebody who'd mixed one of the Beatles live shows would have been bragging about it everywhere they could  :)
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Bobber

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #16 on: April 07, 2009, 06:34:35 AM »

Quote from: 2032
It still can look at times like there was an anonymous "somebody" mixing some of these shows..........it's amazing that no names can be located.........you'd think by 1972-75, somebody who'd mixed one of the Beatles live shows would have been bragging about it everywhere they could  :)

Maybe there wasn't much to be proud of...
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Joe

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #17 on: April 07, 2009, 01:10:20 PM »

I'm sure things changed somewhat as they got bigger, but I suspect they relied on in-house PA systems and fairly basic equipment, mixed by venue staff. During the earlier cinema/theatre shows there was probably even less sophistication, as this page suggests: http://www.beatlesbible.com/1964/01/16/residency-at-the-olympia-theatre-paris/

Quote
On the first night, we had a bit of trouble because we suddenly found out that there was a radio programme just sort of plugging into everything. They had overloaded all the amps, and they all went 'Bomf!' They like the wilder stuff over there, so we stuck in a wilder number to finish off with.


Here's that top-down pic. I'd also be interested in knowing where it was taken.



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Ged

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #18 on: April 07, 2009, 01:39:13 PM »

I know even their memories are fuzzy but Paul says on the Anthology film that they played through the Shea's own P.A. (When describing how bad it'd become playing live)
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pc31

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Re: Who was the Beatles live sound engineer?
« Reply #19 on: April 07, 2009, 07:52:38 PM »

i would imagine neil and mal would have been setting up as well but back then you probally had inhouse or promoters egineering....and using their page systems...i'm sure there had to be a mixing board of some sort and a lighting tech as well...they weren't cavemen after all...
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