Lindisfarne at Newcastle City Hall
Christmas 1986
photos taken by John Wilford at the front of house sound mixing console
Top level: Marty Craggs, Ray Laidlaw, Alan Hull, Steve Daggett
Stage level: Rod Clements, Ray Jackson, Simon Cowe

It was in 1969 when I started life in the music business doing the London clubs with artistes like Soft Machine, Renaissance, Elkie Brookes, Robert Palmer, Denny Lane and others, setting up equipment and mixing sound on what would now be considered very primitive sound mixers, with very basic controls designed for theatres, not for bands. Unhappy and frustrated with those basic facilities and not being unable to achieve the live sound I wanted, I approached Midas Audio in 1972 with a view to purchase a portable sound mixer fitted with extra switches, increased and selectable equalisation and more select signal routing that I wanted, soon after that, I started working for them building sound mixing consoles to order with those extra facilities that we thought should be included for bandís on the road. Those extra knobs and switches was the start of making live sound mixers what they are today. It was whilst I was at Midas that Pink Floydís engineer came in and asked us to build a mixing console for their quadraphonic system including some on his own ideas built in.

I left Midas in 1974 to tour Europe with Dr Hook using a Midas mixer and then Thin Lizzy (recording the ĎLive and DangerousĎ album), Journey, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and many others in clubs, halls, arenaís and stadiums around Europe, rigging sound systems and mixing front of house sound or on-stage monitors. 

My first encounter with Lindisfarne was a concert at Londonís Hammersmith Odeon on 4th August 1978, I was rigging the system for the show which turned out to be quite an eye opener. Ian Leak was mixing front of house sound that night and I helped him fine-tune the system. This was a sell-out special one-off concert for their ĎRun for homeí hit single. Little did I know that within two months I would be on my way to Norway with the band mixing their sound which would take me on a twelve year magical mystery tour.

After the Lindisfarne concerts in Oslo and Bergen in 1978 I returned to England to start a tour with Black Sabbath and Van Halen on their massive European tour returning in November 1978 for my first Lindisfarne Christmas tour with Chris Rea supporting. Over the next few years I was pleased and very happy to do Lindisfarneís FOH sound for their Christmas tours and some of their summer tours from 1978 right through to 1990, which involved 442 shows in all, 60 of them at Newcastleís City Hall, only missing out 1983 when I was on a world tour with Dr Hook and The Acoustic Guitar Trio.

I had worked with some folk acts before, in fact I toured with Rod Clements in 1975 when he was playing bass with Ralph McTell, and I worked with Richard & Linda Thompson, Steeleye Span, Billy Connelly and John Denver but nothing like Lindisfarne. There have been many moments throughout the 12 years that bring back memories like the day trip to New Zealand for a festival which was blown out by a cyclone, leaving us stranded there for a week. The European festivals and all the mud. The embarrassing live television shows which proved that TV engineers donít know how to mix live sound. But its the Newcastle City Hall concerts that have to be the highlight of any tour and indeed the highlight of my whole era with the band which is something I will never forget. It really was like a Christmas party on stage every night, Christmas at home has never been the same since.

Lindisfarne at one point was using 48 microphone/line input channels into an 8 sub-group stereo mix plus an additional 8 auxiliary mixes for effects, (all used). On stage would be a separate discrete 24 channel mixer for the on-stage monitor system. On tour we carried a 10,000 watts speaker system in the back of a 40 foot trailer, which also carried the lighting rig, stage set and back line equipment, but one of the hardest things was to ensure that everybody who bought a ticket got some sound, not those just in the middle, that included those on the sides, in the balconyís and even those behind the stage when those seats were sold, I thought everybody that bought a ticket was entitled to hear the show properly as well as see it. 

Photo taken by John Wilford, Christmas 1986

During those 12 years with Lindisfarne and even more so during the 25 years in the music business I saw a big change in the technical ability and quality of sound equipment available, Sound systems started in the 1960ís using a 2-way passive crossover, then went to a 3-way active crossover then to a 5-way digital signal processor, in 1960,s we didnít have noise gates, compressors, limiters, signal processors, graphic or parametric equalisers, active line drivers, pitch and phase shifters etc. Now you can do a separate mix for each song and store it on a pre-set memory bank, then sit back and watch the faders and rotary pots move all by themselves with the use of VCAĎs. I bet thatís not the end of the advances either.

After my last show with Lindisfarne in 1990 I toured with Joe Cocker, ZZ Top, Tom Jones, Mary J Blige, Meat Loaf, Eric Clapton and a few others before hanging up my suitcase and ear plugs and moving on to a quieter life in the electronics industry where I first started off. 
I still miss the buzz of the live show.

Best of luck to all Lindisfarne band memberís, road crewís and families, past and present.

ĎTHE MUSIC LIVES ONí

 
John Wilford ( ĎWilfí )
 
 
back row: Sven, Jimmy Moore, Rod, Jacka, Si, Ian Byron, Sue Brown
front row: John Wilford, Alan, Ray, Marty Craggs, Kim Brown

So far Wilf's short story which I suddenly found in my email not long before Christmas 2002. All in all it gave Chris Groom and myself enough ideas for going a bit more into deep. And without a question John was kindly enough to go a step further and agreed to an interview. Reinhard Groll


 

Interview with John Wilford 

442 Lindisfarne shows in 12 years
by Chris Groom & Reinhard Groll
February 2003

"you should ask the Geordies how they put up with a southerner for so long."

Amongst all the famous musicians you have worked with, what made Lindisfarne so different or unique for you to write this brief story especially focused on them?

Lindisfarne are different because the band is still going strong after so many years and they are also the band that I have worked with the most number of years, 442 shows in 12 years. Lindisfarne has the ability to evolve and re-invent themselves after many different changes of line-up. They have always maintained their folk roots even whilst going through a period of some pop chart success and surviving through different musical era's. The offshoot bands like 'Jack the Lad' and 'Dust on the Needle' as well as their solo projects have kept them all busy in-between the different Lindisfarne bands. Somehow the name 'Lindisfarne' always seems to re-emerge and I believe has now established itself as an institution.

How did you and the band first get together?


I wouldnít say we got together. I would say we kind of ended up being together by accident over a period of time. I was working for a sound company 'Coloseum Acoustics' (Colac), who supplied the sound system for their show at Hammersmith Odeon in 1978, I didnít have much contact with the band on that occasion as Ian Leak was mixing front of house sound, on that day I rigged the system, the stage, the speakers and the microphones and worked on stage during the show.

Did you develop any personal relationship or whose decision was it to go with the band to Norway? And then to continue doing their sound, for the Christmas tours?

I hadnít developed any personal relationship before Norway, I knew Rod of course from the Ralph McTell tour, their manager Barry McKay wanted a sound system from Coloseum Acoustics to take to Norway for their shows at Oslo and Bergen. I guess I was the one that got picked to do it. I donít know who decided I should go or who decided I should do the next Christmas tour, but after the Norway shows went well I was asked by management to do the Newcastle shows at Christmas in 1978 and I was happy to do it.

I assume you did not live in Newcastle at that time and are not a native Geordie, so what is the secret of staying with Lindisfarne for 12 years and 442 shows?

No, Iím not a native Geordie, I was born and bred in London for 30 years, and then I moved to Suffolk. In 1986 I moved to Northumberland for 5 years. I donít know what the secret is; perhaps you should ask the Geordies how they put up with a southerner for so long. Eventually I got home sick for the south for various personal reasons, so in 1991 I moved back south to Northamptonshire, where I went back to working with 'Concert Sound' who Id worked with in the past and who were the biggest sound company in the UK supplying equipment for all the big tours.

Didnít it become a bit boring, doing so many Christmas shows in a row at the Newcastle City Hall?

Boring? It was certainly not. In fact the more shows that were put on, the better I liked it. I would have been happy to spend a whole month at the City Hall in Newcastle. I love that city and the atmosphere in the City Hall was electric, every night was a Christmas party and I enjoyed every show. Because the hall is small and very personal, it creates an intimate atmosphere with the audience who are never more than a few feet away, even those on the balcony. The unique idea of selling the seats on the orchestra steps behind the band was a brilliant idea making it even more intimate and personal. Iíve never seen that done before or since or with any other band Iíve worked with. The most shows we ever did were 11 shows in 10 nights, one being an afternoon charity show. Iíve done many other shows in there with other artistes over the years but no other show seem's to capture the same atmosphere as a Lindisfarne concert.

The line-up has changed from a 5-piece up to a 7 or 8-piece, plus additional female singers during one tour. Does this present a special challenge for the sound engineer or just business as usual?

The first night of a new tour is always a challenge and exciting, as every tour is different, either the line-up of musicians are different, or the equipment, or their choice of instruments, or the stage set is different and of course the selection of songs. But I just get on and do it, in that sense, it is business as usual, like the musicians having to learn a new set, I have to get to know it as well. Finding space on the mixing desk for extra microphones can sometimes be a problem. It can also be disorientating when I am constantly jumping between one band and another and back again, but thats part of the fun of working with many artistes.

These days, it is easy to forget just how BIG a Lindisfarne tour used to be. Huge lorry-loads full of equipment outside sold-out venues like Hammersmith Odeon. How many people were involved in their road crew and how did this compare to bands like Thin Lizzy or Black Sabbath?

During their hay-day of big productions, the tours were comparable to bands like Thin Lizzy, Dr Hook, Steeleye Span, etc, but bands like Black Sabbath were in a different league when it came to putting on a big rock-show production. Sabbath had 4 trucks, Meat Loaf had 4 trucks, Van Halen had 7 trucks, which included their famously huge lighting rig. Lindisfarne had a road crew of around 12 people, each member would work on either The Stage set, Back line equipment, Lighting rig, Sound system, Merchandising or Catering, in addition to the road crew there would be another 8 local stage crew to assist with loading and unloading the trucks.

The PA and lighting rig used, did it belong to the band or was it completely rented?

The Sound system and Lighting rigs were always rented, although not always from the same supplier. I can remember using at least four different sound companies for tours with Lindisfarne. It is not practical these days for bands to own their own sound or lighting equipment because of the huge cost and investment required, unless your 'The Who' or 'The Pink Floyd' who actually own their own production companies, for the sole purpose of renting out sound and lighting rigs to other bands when they are not using them. Musicians usually own their own personal instruments and equipment like drums, guitars, amplifiers, etc, as that is considered personal to them. Other stuff can be rented-in as and when itís required. Although the band did own there own stage set and back drop, which was changed every year.

Since their beginning, Lindisfarne is well known for nipping across to Europe to play a handful of shows. What are your memories of "The European festivals and all the mud"?

Doing the European festivals is always a bit of a challenge, whether doing the huge stage at Roskilde Festival in Denmark or the smaller beer tents of Austria its a case of turn up and make the best of whatís available. 99% of the time you donít get what you ask for. The mixing desk is smaller than the band needs, the outboard effects are primitive or not working, the speakers on the system are either blown or out-of-phase and the microphone's get plugged into the wrong channels. But as long as you go with an open mind and accept that, what you have is what you have, you can have a good time. I am pleased to say that I know I can always get the best out of a sound system that it is capable of producing, no matter how bad it is.

With festivals, you're using a strange system you've never seen before and you donít get a sound-check, you just plug in and go, no second take, its live and its now. Equipment at the Isle Of Calf Festival in Norway has to be taken across a wooden bridge on to an island where the stage is; The Listoonvarna Festival in Ireland is down a narrow country lane, which is a one-way street in both directions, (that Irish logic).

As for the mud, thatís all part of doing the festivals, I did get a truck stuck in the mud at the Cambridge Folk Festival with one band many years ago and the Scandinavian mid-summer festivals where you have to do a show in midnight sunshine can be weird. Some of the German festivals on old military airfields are either very well run or very badly run depending on the local production. The food is usually the worst part of any festival, wherever you are..

Did the problem ever arise of being asked to tour with Lindisfarne and another band at the same time, and who won?

Yes, this problem did arise a few times, usually I had to pick one or the other, or the Sound Company would pick for me and organise the schedule to suit different engineers. During 1983 I was in America on a world tour with a Jazz-Rock guitar trio when I got the Lindisfarne tour dates. My tour went on for a few more months in which I also had to include a Dr Hook (see left) tour in the middle of it in-between Europe and Australia. That was a busy year, unfortunately I was not due back in England until Christmas, which was too late to start the Lindisfarne tour, sometimes it canít be helped. With Dr Hook I was also their Production Manager for 12 years having to organise Sound, Lights, Trucks, Buses, Stage equipment and Road crews. Luckily I didnt have to miss any Dr Hook tours. 

Interesting that you worked with Rod as part of Ralph's band. Can you expand a little on that tour?

Ralph McTell had just had a hit single with 'Streets Of London' and this was his promotional British tour, we did 32 dates all across Britain over 7 weeks, that was a fun tour, relaxing tour and a very enjoyable time. It was a very low-tech and a very low-cost production in one small truck with just a three-man crew, (Sound, Lights, Back line),so there was no stress involved. Ralph who was better known as a solo acoustic guitar / folk singer had actually put together an electric band to back him on this tour. The band included Rod Clements on bass, Mike Piggott on violin, Danny Lane from the USA on drums, Sammy Mitchell on slide guitar, Joy Askew and Sian Daniels on backing vocals as the McTellette's. The venues were mainly Universities, Town halls and Theatres. Ralph did the first half acoustic and the band played with him in the second half.

The late sixties must have been a wonderful time to get involved in the London music scene. In those days, did the club or the band employ you? Was it more or less booked on a one-off a basis? What was the process to book you for a tour?

During the 60's in London it was a case of 'make-it-up-as-you-go-along', the music scene was not organised like it is now. It was not until 1970 that I actually started doing what I call 'real tours' when 'Canned Heat' toured the UK and Europe, until then it was just a string of one-nighters sometimes joined together if your lucky. In the 60's there was no such thing as a 'Road Manager', nor was there such a thing as a 'Sound Engineer' except in studios and theatres. In the 60's I had my own 1.5-ton Transit van, which I hired out to bands to transport their equipment to studio's and local venues.

Although I started doing this part-time in 1966, it was 1969 when I went full-time self-employed and got all my work from small bands who needed someone to move and set-up their equipment, I saw a market for this when Soft Machine's manager called me to shift some equipment from their house to Ronnie Scottís Jazz Club, 'Soft Machine' had just returned from the USA supporting Jimi Hendrix on tour, they were in no mood to set their own equipment or drive a van.

As time went on, the work I got with different bands gradually took me further out of London until I was doing venues all over Britain, even as far as the clubs in Paris and Hamburg. Everything was done at short notice with very little planning. Sometimes work would come from management companies, promoters or from agents. There were so many clubs in London at that time you could do a different club every night for a month. The first band I could say I solely worked for on a permanent basis without taking work from any other bands was when Keith Relf and Jim McCarty left 'The Yardbirds' and formed 'Renaissance'. After the 'Canned Heat' tour in 1970 we went to America for 6 weeks. 

Up until then sound mixers in clubs and theatres were just 4 channels in with 4 volume controls. That was it. That is until Charlie Watkins came along with his WEM 5 channel, with volume, bass, treble and foldback to monitors. Renaissance had their own WEM sound system which I took to the USA, that's when I thought I could do better. I would link two mixers together and built a switching split box for the bands sound effects, added an extra pot for an echo machine. The rest is history.

Which favourite band(s) / musician(s) would you liked to have worked with, but never got the chance?

During the 80's my name was put forward for an Abba world tour, but I never got it, I would have liked to have done that one. Other bands, which I always wanted to mix a live show for, would have been Pink Floyd and ELO. Those bands with big technical productions would have been my ideal kind of shows.

What musician(s) would you say was the most difficult to work with?

The most difficult without question was Meat Loaf, luckily I was not mixing the sound on that tour, I was hired by the sound company to fly the arena speakers, rig the front of house mixers and then fine-tune the system for his own engineer which he brought over from America, he got through 4 different engineers in 3 years. David Lee Roth from Van Halen was also a difficult one; both men had the same kind of egos. Some of the nicest guys I remember were Tom Jones and John Denver.

And which one from a technical point of view?

Each tour would have different requirements, sometimes I would mix front of house sound, sometimes I would mix on-stage monitors, sometimes the artiste would carry both their own engineers so I would rig the system and run it for them, also wire the stage and get it ready for the show. Similarly if I went abroad I would have a system's engineer who would do the same thing for me.

From a technical point of view it was probably Shirley Bassey, having to place microphones for a 64-piece orchestra. It was a difficult stage to work on, as space was limited and so was the time in which to do it. Another one was Barry White and The Love Unlimited Orchestra in a football stadium. The most difficult band to mix technically was The Paco DeLucia Band, a Spanish flamenco group, all playing acoustic instruments, Paco having won the worlds best flamenco guitarist award for several years, and there's me trying to get his acoustic guitar to fill an arena over his band and a noisy crowd of 8000. His guitar was the hardest instrument to get sounding good, on a good night it was great.

One of the best shows I personally saw was John Denver in the early '80s. Now, JD with whom you worked is quite different from Black Sabbath or Van Halen. Can you say that you liked all the music you have mixed?

No, I cant say I've liked all the music I've mixed, nor all the bands I've worked with, at the end of the day, its a job, If you enjoy the music its a bonus, if you really hate the music, you just close your ears and mix on instinct. Iíve enjoyed different artiste's in different ways for different reasons. John Denver was a pleasure to listen to and a real gentleman to work with. Black Sabbath, Van Halen, AC/DC and Def Leppard were head-banging tours which I enjoyed as well but in a different way. Dr Hook was the craziest band on stage and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra was the best live sound I ever mixed and was the closest that I ever got to creating studio quality CD sound live. Thin Lizzy had the most dynamic show and the most exciting and electrifying audience atmosphere I ever experienced.

Thin Lizzy's Live & Dangerous LP is generally regarded as one of the best live albums ever released. Are any more of your live shows captured on vinyl?

With Thin Lizzy, I was not mixing the front of house sound, but mixing the on-stage monitor sound, which for a band like Thin Lizzy is a far more demanding job than mixing for the audience. Having 8 separate mixes to do and having to actively mix the show on stage for each song, it was a high-energy show and a high-energy job, loads of adrenalin. Yes, I did hear that the 'Live and Dangerous' album had won awards for the best sound on a live album and I was very pleased to have been involved with making that album. I was also very pleased that I was able to get the on-stage monitor sound as good as it was. Although I have been involved with working on a few other live albums, there arenít any others that I have been credited with or where I was mixing.

While touring with Eric Clapton, what was your impression of his relationship with his band? In the '90s Clapton was said to be proud to be in a band, can you tell whether this was true?

I didnít get to know Eric on a personal basis, my involvement with him was just on technical matters and the sound, he is a very deep and private person probably due to the problems in his past. I could however tell that he loved playing with his band and was very involved in his music in a deep way. Although Eric used a number of different engineer's over the years I was pleased to have mixed some of his shows between 1992 and 1994, Eric's new years eve show in 1994 being the last show I ever mixed for anybody before I retired.

Were you involved in Clapton's Royal Albert Hall concerts in the '90s? If yes, were these shows different from an ordinary tour, apart from being in one place?

At that time Eric had a series of different sound engineers working for him, I did work on some of the Royal Albert Hall shows between 1991 and 1994, but my involvement at the RAH was flying the overhead speaker systems around the hall, setting up the amplifiers and the front of house sound mixer's for his other engineers. The RAH is a very special venue, different from any other, it has a unique acoustic sound that can be a nightmare if not handled right, by correct speaker placement and angles every seat can get a good sound and without obstructing sightlines. It is also a nightmare to install a sound system in, which starts at midnight the day before.

Did you ever develop any personal relationship to any of the bands? Which maybe still exist?

Iíve lost contact with most of the people I worked with, I got on really well with Thin Lizzy, but the remaining members all went different ways after Phil died. Iím still in communication with Dennis Locorriere from Dr Hook and I visit him whenever he tours England. I was very close with the Dr Hook band and crew as well as doing their sound I was also their Production Manager for 12 years from their first ever European tour in 1974 through to their farewell tour in 1985, they even took me to do tours in Australia, Canada and the USA. I was disappointed when they split up. I would say that once youíre out of the music business for a while it is very easy to forget people and to be forgotten and of course I have a different life now.



What about studio work? Or did you only work with the bands named on tour?

I have done some studio work, but only small stuff and nothing much to show for it, I also worked with Mickey Sweeny at Tyne Tees Television for a few months doing the audience and on-stage sound for the 'The Tube' and later 'The Roxy' TV show's. Iíve also mixed some live radio shows and TV sound from studios, which is great, as you donít have to worry about acoustics so much, but I prefer live sound.

Do you play any instrument yourself?

Apart from piano lessons when I was 12 and playing cello in the school orchestra, NO! I definitely do NOT play an instrument. I much prefer the back-stage, audio and technical side of a show rather than the musical side.

As you still remember the exact date for your first LF concert (at Hammersmith), does it come purely from memory or do you have -by accident- a written list?

I have a list of every show I have ever worked on during my 26 years on the road between 1969 and 1994. I also have listed every artiste and every show Iíve ever done with that artiste. I also have a database of every venue around the world Ive been to and their technical facilities, layout, stage, acoustics etc and all the shows Iíve ever done in that venue, with who and when. Its just some notes that I made as I went along. Not a deliberate thing.

Do you still follow the Lindisfarne activities? When was the last time you saw them?

I heard by chance a Lindisfarne track on the Mike Harding radio show on Radio2 advertising their latest tour, so I checked the Lindisfarne website and came across all this wonderful information, I went to see them perform in Derby in March 2002 and again in Kettering in November 2002, must say it brought back some good memories hearing all them old songs again, and they are performing just as great as ever.

Final question. What is your personal favourite Lindisfarne song?

Thatís a difficult one, I have a few, Lady Eleanor, Meet me on the corner, Dingly Dell, Clear White Light, there are others but that would be my short list. I wouldnít know which to choose from those four, they are all good.


This photo shows the rear side of Pink Floyd's Umma Gumma double album from 1969. Back in the old days it was a huge, real huge number of amps and loudspeakers (mainly WEM and Marshall). To me it's still one of the best, if not THE best cover (rear side) of all time. [RG]