Interview with "Prof." Sparks 

The Sound behind Lindisfarne
by Chris Groom & Reinhard Groll
June 2002

Prof. Sparks is a witty, intelligent, caring person with great ears. His contribution to the Lindisfarne sound is equally as important as any other member of the band, and he also makes it louder.

His favourite colour is ginger and he is very fond of cake and garlic, which he devours in copious quantities, the resulting ambience tending to deter anyone with half a sense of smell from engaging him in conversation when he is busy.

Football is not one of his passions but he 'gets his round in' so he's fine by me.

Billy Mitchell



How did you become a sound engineer? Is it something you can train to be or just experience gained in the studio taken out on the road?

I became a sound engineer by accident. I was hanging round with a mate who plays keyboards in a band and was asked to do their sound as they had no-one else. I can still remember that first time on a mixing desk. Very interesting! You can train for it but nothing beats being there.

Did you work with other bands before LF? Either in the studio or as a musician?

I've worked with many bands both in studios and live, but I've never played an instrument on stage, unless you count the Tuba.

When and how did you start your work for Lindisfarne?

I first did Lindisfarne just after Alan died, when they got together as the acoustic lineup. It was very basic, small drumset, a couple of acoustic guitars, mandolins etc.

Has there ever been a time where you were involved in other projects when LF wanted to book you? (e.g. not available through holidays, etc).

Holidays? What's that? There have been a couple of times when Lindisfarne has clashed with other work, but if there's a way round I'll try to sort it out.

Do you have complete control over the sound at every venue, or do you have to work with their own engineers, especially in the larger venues?

Each venue will have a House Engineer who will know the room and the rig (if we're using the house rig), so the sound is a combination of us both.

If so, has this ever been a problem - you obviously know the requirements of the band, whereas they know the acoustics of the venue. 

It's not a problem if we can both put in the parts of the sound we know about.

As the band play so many different types of place - churches, barns, pub backrooms, concert halls - has any venue ever made it virtually impossible to get a good sound?

As far as I can remember, there have only been a few places where the sound has been a nightmare. Worst of all must have been Ripon Cathedral. First event so no-one knew how the space would sound with a 'lively' band. I'm sure there must be other horror stories but that one sticks in the mind.

How about festivals - is every band left to the mercy of a common soundman?

Festivals are a diferent box of frogs. They can be small halls run by local folk groups with a couple of bands, or they can be huge outdoor events with all the toys. It's the same setup as if we were the only band on, but you have to be flexible to the fact that although we're after what's right for us, we're only a part of a larger picture.

How long do you and the band spend at the soundcheck - or is it just as long as it takes to get it right?

Soundchecks usually take about 30-40mins, although it can be extended if there's a new tune for the set, or reduced if there's a match on.

When you do the soundcheck, what's the most important thing to watch or listen out for?

The most important thing is to get the band happy on stage, as once the gig's underway, there's only a limited amount of control I have for the stage sound. I can adjust the FoH without too much upset.

Allowing for the fact that nobody is perfect, which band member causes you the most problems? You can tell us!!

The most particular member has to be Paul. Never happy unless he's having a coffee and tab break.

During the soundcheck every instrument is being played as long as you raise your thumb giving your ok. What is it that is necessary for you to give your ok? Are there any adjustments you have to do - EQ settings for example, until the sound is ok to you?

As each instrument is played, we're checking that it sounds like it should, both in the monitors and out front. Sometimes tweaking is called for if the stage or room varies greatly from the 'standard' hall.

Apart from individual checking, the whole band play through various songs. Sometimes only a few beats and sometimes they play the whole number. Who decides what songs are necessary to go through?

The songs we check with are for the different combinations of instruments that are played together, so we can judge the on stage balance between them.

Can you tell us, as detailed as possible, what kind of PA, monitoring equipment, mikes etc. the group use?

The PA is a TOA system driven by a combination of C-Audio and Amcron amps, fed from an XTA226. Monitors are full range OHM, again driven by Amcron. Billy also uses Shure 'In Ear' monitoring so I can send him the football results. Most of the instruments are directly wired through internal pickups with AT4050's on the electric guitar amps. Drums are mostly Shure57A's with a Beta52 in the kick and AKG414's on underheads. Vocal mics are Beta58's exept Billy who uses a Beta87A.

Does the PA vary (smaller/bigger) depending on the size of the venue?

We usually take in the same rig to most venues when we're on tour, although it's not allways used at the same level. Festival rigs tend to vary wildly.

How much difference does an auditorium full of people make to the sound?

It can be quite suprising to hear the difference. Sometimes it sucks up the bottom end so the rig sounds like it's not switched on, sometimes it flattens off the top end so you can't hear anything but drums and bass. The Roses Theatre in Tweksbury has an incredible echo at the back which disappears completely when a crowd comes in.

Are there any special effects used during a show?

Apart from reverb, there's no special effects used at the moment. However, as the set list changes, other songs may find themselves the subject of attention. Depends how bored I get.

Are particular lighting effects ever tied in to the sound desk?

Not physicaly, although Jamie tries to keep up with whatever lighting desk is being used, it's sometimes impossible to do the show as he would like.

Have you ever left behind a vital piece of equipment at a gig? Or a vital band member?!!

Not yet (touch wood). All the gear is packed in such a way that if one piece goes astray it's easily spotted.

How was the Opera House recorded? I've seen three identical looking "boxes".

I don't know about the video, but the audio for the Opera House was recorded directly from the mic splits onto a 24track. I don't know what's planned for it.


A final word of praise - on the occasions when LF have a support act, I've noticed that you often take the time to give them a good sound too; it's not every soundman who does that!

Thanks, I try to give everyone a chance.