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Glastonbury Festival and RG Jones - soaked in history

As our engineers return from the excitement, grit and sheer determination required to battle against the elements at this years’ Glastonbury Festival, we reflect on how the relationship between the two organisations has evolved over the decades.

  • Glastonbury Festival and RG Jones - soaked in history
  • Glastonbury Festival and RG Jones - soaked in history
  • Glastonbury Festival and RG Jones - soaked in history

As our engineers return from the excitement, grit and sheer determination required to battle against the elements at this years’ Glastonbury Festival, we reflect on how the relationship between the two organisations has evolved.

With RG’s celebrating its 90th this year, we know that our founder, Ronald Geoffrey Jones, would be so proud to see his name in the credits for not just one, but three of the major stages this year. 

Of course this kind of accomplishment comes at a price and our engineers pull out all the stops, digging even deeper in the kind of conditions seen on site this year.  “Each year it seems it just seems to get better” is the cry, and as hard as that seems, it’s true, despite knee deep mud and extreme difficulty getting around. 

“The team is a key element here”.  Explains Director John Carroll.  “We are quite unique to other sound companies working in this field, in that we will not compromise our level of expertise on site.  There are many engineers capable of pushing a fader, but it’s the ability to cope with the unexpected with confidence that makes this team exceptional”.

But let’s get back to the history.  Glastonbury Festival moved to the time of the Summer Solstice and was known as the "Glastonbury Fair". It had been planned by Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill who felt all other festivals at the time were over-commercialised. It was paid for by the few who supported the ideal so the entrance was free and took a medieval tradition of music, dance, poetry, theatre, lights and spontaneous entertainment. It was in this year that the first "pyramid" stage was constructed out of scaffolding and expanded metal covered with plastic sheeting, built on a site above the Glastonbury-Stonehenge ley line. The musicians who performed recorded a now very rare album. The Festival is also captured "a la Woodstock" by a 1972 film crew that included Nick Roeg and David Puttnam. This film was called "Glastonbury Fayre".  Acts included: Hawkwind, Traffic, Melanie, David Bowie, Joan Baez, Fairport Convention and Quintessence.  Attendance: estimated at 12,000.  Price: free.  Passage from http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/history

Now a five-day festival of contemporary performing arts the festival hosts contemporary music, dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret, and pretty much anything you might imagine. Now attended by around 175,000 people the event has grown into the most iconic in the world, requiring extensive infrastructure in terms of security, transport, water, and electricity supply. Essentially, it is every modern musicians dream to play Glastonbury, something conformed this year by none other than the newly crowned queen of Glastonbury, Adele.

RG’s first stepped onto Pilton soil in 2007, providing control and monitors for The Pyramid Stage. This gave the company an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of what makes a high pressure event such as this tick.  Hand in hand with their flagship system – Martin Audio W8L, the company provided the complete sound solution in 2008, and has been the sound company of choice ever since, a feat so far unprecedented with audio suppliers at the festival.

The W8L system served the Pyramid Stage proud until 2014, when the hyper-hi-tech MLA system made its Pyramid debut.  With its unique abilities to be programmed to cover an audience incredibly evenly, and equally importantly control what goes on beyond the audience, it has made a notable difference to the Pyramid experience, raising levels to the low 100dB’s whilst still managing to not upset the neighbours.  2016 has been a vintage year on Pyramid, with a line up that included Muse, Adele, Coldplay, Beck, Foals, Madness and Damon Albarn’s Syrian Orchestra – the level of expertise and professionalism from the crew, led by Ben Milton, was exemplary.  RG Jones thanks the entire team for giving it their all.  Hero’s indeed.

Festival production have recognized what this system brings to the show, and as a result this year saw RG’s supplying West Holts and Block 9 Genosys with MLA Compact systems.  In the case of West Holts, a stage renowned for staging the weird and wacky as well as a wide range of world music, it was a matter of containment within the festival itself.  West Holts is surrounded by many traders and is close to both Greenpeace and the Glade Stage, who have suffered in previous years from overspill from the action on stage. The remit was to try and maintain the levels in the West Holts arena whilst keeping the levels down in the surrounding stages and markets.  Matt Sussex, assisted by Sam Lydiard and some West Holts veterans from past years, armed with 40 MLA Compact and 16 MLX subs, set out to a far flung field and nailed it!  Mud lakes, both out front and backstage, mad, naked avant-garde jazz from Japan, the return of Underworld and the legacy of Earth, Wind and Fire, all were handled with the quiet professionalism the festival has come to expect.

In an even further flung field, beyond the fields of Avalon could be found Block 9, one of the most popular of the extraordinary choice of late night dance venues the festival now curates.  Once the bands have finished on the main performance stages, thousands flock to the South East corner to lose themselves in Shangri-La and Block 9.  These stages run through the night until 6am, and the punters naturally want it pumping.  The neighbours, however, do not.  The license regulations state that no one sound system should be heard off site after 23:30.  Genosys is out in the open air, and has suffered in the past from being reduced to a mere 88 dBA, which is not conducive to shaking it about.  When you enter Block 9, the scale of the structures created to generate an atmosphere of urban decay and edgy industrial angst is mind-blowing.  Crashed tube trains are smashed into concrete tower blocks, a decrepit New York meat packing factory smokes gently following a fire, and Genosys stands tall over them all, 65 feet of organic brutalist container mountain forming the backdrop for some faceless blokes spinning electronic dance music.

Genosys this year was adorned with two flown arrays of MLA Compact, optimized to keep the sound in and keep the neighbours sleeping on, blissfully unaware of the debauchery and flagrant abuse of normal human biorhythms going on in the biggest festival site in the world.   Not only did it sound incredible, but despite the apocalyptic amounts of mud there was a great deal of dancing, which was in no small way down to the massive increase in levels achieved with RG’s MLA Compact system.  The system ran at around 98 – 99dBA all night, without so much as a squeak from the neighbours.  A proper result if ever there was one.

At Glastonbury 2016, RG Jones’ crews and systems not only provided a world class service, they did it in conditions that would have been considered difficult for pig farming, let alone deploying massive amounts of high tech audio equipment, faultlessly throughout a grueling schedule that consisted of complex turn-rounds, very long hours and every conceivable variation of stage set-up.  The festival scene in the UK and Europe is now huge, and there are crews doing their jobs out in parks and fields every weekend throughout the summer, in all weathers.  Glastonbury Festival manages to present its own specific set of challenges however, and is often enough to break the most stoic of crew.  Not so for the amazing people who every year go beyond the call of duty to make this monster happen.  For RG Jones Sound Engineering, it means the world and our thanks go out to all of you involved this year.  You are the best.

“Unique to other sound companies working in this field, we will not compromise our level of expertise on site.  Many engineers are capable of pushing a fader, but we pick the best in the industry, highly skilled in their particular position within the crew - it’s the ability and confidence to cope with the unexpected that really makes this team exceptional”.

John Carroll