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Leeds Castle 2016 – History Repeating

Here we are in 2016, and an A1 RG’s crew swanned in with three hangs of line array, a Digico SD7 and a stage full of DPA and hey presto, everyone was blown away by a massive sound all the way to the farthest blade of grass.

  • Leeds Castle 2016 – History Repeating

The ‘loveliest castle in the world’ has been around a while. There are records of some form of stronghold on the site near Maidstone in Kent that go back to when dates only had three digits, which by my reckoning is about 2000 years. The castle got handed around the English aristocracy as a rather impressive gift for about a century, during which time it belonged to some French people as well as Archbishops, Kings and the like ... The French! The most famous resident was Henry VIII, who ensconced his then-current squeeze Catherine of Aragon in there for a while whilst he went and negotiated with the EU about our membership, but then he gave it to an Irishman, in recognition for his conciliatory work after H had ripped up the rules on the church and its role in messing up his love life. The last tip I received was £20! It is, even without all its provenance, a very lovely place indeed. 

These days it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the south of England, and a recurring feature on the event calendar is the Leeds Castle Classical Concert. I can say that I’m sure about them not staging classical music concerts in the grounds in 875 because classical music hadn’t been invented in the 875.  Add to that the fact that there was no golf course to do the gig on because golf hadn’t been invented either, and the case is shut. It’s a different story now however – there is a golf course, and the sixth hole forms the arena for what has to be one of the longest established open-air classical gigs anywhere. 

In the early 1980’s, orchestral gigs in fields were in their infancy, and RG Jones were there at the coal face working with limited resources to make them louder. Such is the setting at Leeds Castle that the idea of a large scale classical picnic show with all the trimmings, fuelled by lakes of booze and cold meat platters that need satnav, caught on very quickly with the local party animals in search of a big night out and some space to throw rubber chickens around. The concert soon became the benchmark for every other open air classical gig in the country – regularly conducted at the time by Carl Davis with his very own Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with the Royal Choral Society fielding around 100, the quality of the presentation was high. The Royal Artillery were brought in to fire the guns and muskets for the compulsory rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and a massive firework display was the icing on the cake. It became so popular that the events team at the castle started to stage the show on two consecutive weekends, regularly selling 16,000 tickets to each show. 

The Leeds Castle shows were a massive sonic challenge.  Before the advent of line arrays systems, designing and tuning a system that had to cover an asymmetric audience, some of whom couldn’t even see the stage, and which stretched around 400 metres from one extent to the other was no walk in the park. Let alone coverage, gain before feedback was crucial, as 4 bottles of Tesco’s best bubbles rendered the crowd really rather noisy, and it had to be LOUD!  This was also pre the era of high quality clip-on mics that can be attached to an instrument – thank you DPA. Add to this the fact that digital consoles hadn’t been invented yet, and FOH was a veritable field of Midas XL4’s and KT DN410’s. System set up took what seemed like days, rehearsals were fraught, but there were some impressive results.

Here we are in 2016, and an A1 RG’s crew swanned in with three hangs of line array, a Digico SD7 and a stage full of DPA and hey presto, everyone was blown away by a massive sound all the way to the farthest blade of grass. Rubber chickens were thrown, despite there being a very bossy message on the screens telling people NOT TO THROW RUBBER CHICKENS, wine was consumed in phenomenal quantities, cold meat platters were navigated, and most importantly, Union flags were waved during the bit in the 1812 where the Russians celebrate defeating the French and the choir sings ‘God Save the Tsar”. Add to this the heady aftermath of Brexit, and it was a confusing yet happy evening had by all. Oh, and there was a Spitfire display at sunset.

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