Excess Baggage Tour Diary Day 2

The Newcastle and Gateshead area is a place I get to like more and more. Thats partly due to the fact that it’s home to one of the best venues in the country to my mind, The Sage. To top it off there is an energy and atmosphere about the place that I quite like and the pace of life feels significantly more relaxed than it does in my home area of the south east. As we drive past The Sage Benji and I are instantly reminded of the times we worked in there on Bellowhead tours back in the day and we discuss how we’d like to get the Excess big enough to play the Sage 2 in the near future.

We are still very much in the early stages of building the Excess’s profile and popularity as a band and so for now we are playing Benji’s brand of roots/ folk rock music in as many grass roots venues up and down the country as we can. This is unfortunately known in the industry as a “Toilet Tour”. I would imagine that the derogatory title has been handed to these types of venues for 2 reasons.

  1. The snobbery of touring crews that have been used to working in high end venues suddenly having to “slum it” with the plebs of society in the belief that they are above working in such an establishment.

  2. Some of the venues on this circuit are actually converted public toilets ( I shit you not!)

Todays toilet is however not a toilet, it’s a pub. The Cumberland Arms. It’s a well known venue but not one I have been in been before, for I am of course a snob that has spent my career working in high end venues and am therefore above working in such establishments. This place is exactly what I would expect to see from a venue of this type with a mismatch of Yamaha tops and JBL subs, a simple but usable Allen and Heath analogue mixer setup and a severely lacking mic kit of 2 sm58’s and 3 sm57’s. Luckily I am ready for the challenges this venue presents as the house tech Ian has informed me via email of all the relevant information and although he won’t be here tonight has done a great job of prepping everything to make my job as easy as possible.

I plug my mixing desk into their system, cable up all the relevant bits ready for soundcheck and play my usual music that I use to E.Q. Jonny Langs Still Rainin'. It sounds bloody marvellous. The system is all working as it should and the mismatch of speakers for front of house isn’t an issue as they all work great together. The volume issues from the previous gig are not there. This isn’t a stone room and the stage plus one complete side wall are draped with thick curtain soaking up loads of the reflection that would happen if they were absent. The governing factor of volume tonight is the snare drum which I don’t need to put into the mix at all and instead can mix all the other instrumentation around it. Everything sits together nicely and with a smattering of reverb to taste we are almost set.

I decided this is the perfect time to start being a clever bastard. On the album Gold Has Worn Away (released on Westpark music in November or you can pick up a pre release copy on this tour) I used a mix trick known as the Haas Effect on the song A Classic Cut. Essentially I’m using the Haas Effect to create a stereo image from a mono source. In this case it was used on the main electric bouzouki riff. Benji loved it on the album and asked if it would be possible to do live when we were discussing tour arrangements weeks ago. At that point I had never tried it on a gig but with all the toys available in modern digital mixers its a fairly simple thing to sort out. By now however I have tried it live and with great success. During the summer I was fortunate enough to mix the sound on stage 2 of Rambling Man, a blues/classic rock festival. 2 of the artiste’s I did the sound for were Chantel McGregor and Richie Kotzen (I possibly used it for Kenny Wayne Sheperd too but I can’t remember). Both these shows are amazing and featured the same lineup of drums, bass, 1 guitar and a vocal. It was the perfect situation to give it a go so I used the Haas Effect to convert the mono guitar signals to a pseudo stereo image.

How it works is relatively simple. You take the original guitar signal from the microphone and split it into 2 channels on the mixing desk. You then delay one of these channels by a small amount, somewhere around 7 to 50 milliseconds. Then you pan one of the 2 channels of guitar hard left and the other hard right. The delay time will adjust how wide you perceive the stereo image and it also gives a feel of more depth in the sound overall. If you carry on increasing the time of the delay it eventually becomes very obvious so you have lots scope to play with the texture of the sound until you find something you like.

Its subtle the way I use it but It does exactly what I hope and makes the sound a little more exciting to me without being too obvious that it starts being a distraction from the music. If it continues to work in various different venues then it could become part of the sonic signature of the band for the next few tours at least. I will try my best to keep it as a feature of this tour at least so if you come to a show you can hear what I’m talking about. Otherwise you can pick up a copy of the album Gold Has Worn Away (released on Westpark music in November;)

I love the sound of this gig too regardless of the digital trickery. The JBL subs are spot on and the Yamaha tops which are from the latest range of their speakers are incredible things. I’ve been seeing them turn up on quite a few of the Faustus shows over the last year or so and they have blown me away every time. They respond to everything I ask them to do perfectly and are always smooth and clear.

I’m claiming it a win for clever bastards everywhere!

Tomorrow is a day off before moving on to the R.A.O.S hall in Ripon, which is a gig we love to play and are really looking forward to it.

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