Britannia Row Productions Holds a Mirror to the Brits

Story: Kate Lyon

Photo Credits: John Marshall @ JM Enternational Ltd

ITV Studio One has just hosted its biggest ever production, announcing for the first time the nomination shortlist for February’s Brit Awards show at the O2 London. As well as being broadcast live - a considerable coup by ITV and one good way to avoid premature leakage of the announcements -  the Brits Launch (Sat 14th Jan) featured, amongst the many popstars, over four hundred moving lights from PRG and a unique audio set-up provided by Britannia Row Productions.

“From a sound point of view the PA we put in was simple, three hangs of L-Acoustics Kara which was more than big enough for Studio One,” explained Colin Pink who provided that critical interface between the broadcaster and Britrow’s live sound team.

“But it was in the control room where things were a little out of the ordinary. With the exception of Rag & Bone Man, we put all the performers on the Digico SD11 ‘Presenters’ board and doubled up the live vocals and tracks to a second SD11 in mirror-mode for redundancy. Obviously with a live broadcast the focus on ensuring the show keeps running is a priority.  For Rag & Bone Man we supplied two Midas Pro 2s engineers for band mix and monitors.”

This compact approach was partly possible simply because of the small number of channels required with most vocalists singing to track but it also saw live broadcast mix engineer Toby Alington re-assess the needs of such a show.

“I have been doing the main Brits show for 23 years now, the launch show I did for the first time last year. This year with investment and up-scaling of the show by both the Brits organisation and ITV, in some ways it now resembles the actual Awards event. Logically my approach was the same as I do for the bigger shows, whether that’s the Brits, the MTV EMAs, or Children in Need. What we do is split responsibility – at any one time they have the presenter aspect in the studio, at another it’s just the music which I mix the in the truck, but it goes back through the Presenter desk out to broadcast. So, while the presenters are talking, I will be out in the truck preparing for the next performance; likewise when I’m mixing the performance they have the opportunity at the studio desk to prepare for the next presenter section.”

“The second SD11 is the safety net,” Alington continued. “FoH gets the broadcast mix minus the audience, in the same way the PA output is also split and sent to the sound control room in the studio. If anything went down the swap would be almost instant, a viewer at home might detect a crackle at most. Is that hard to do? Well twenty years ago to do something like this would take three or four production meetings to work through. Now, especially working with Britrow, with whom I’ve been doing this calibre of show for more than two decades, we have developed a short-hand.’

‘That’s a legacy of what we achieved with Derrick Zieba. There’s an unwritten rule book which we all know. That’s no better illustrated than by what has happened since Derrick’s sad demise. Colin Pink stepped in and was immediately immersed in the network of knowledge that exists between myself and Britrow. So when something comes up Colin might say, ‘how is this normally done’ rather than ‘how do we do this’. That’s because he knows somewhere between us we will already have developed a solution for dealing with whatever has just popped up. It would not be easy for another team to step in and do this for the first time from scratch. The technical framework has been developed and refined over 25 years, and Colin’s expertise has only added to that.”

As it happened even the choice of SD11 was not without drama. “We did originally spec’ an SD10 for FoH,” explained Pink. “But when an additional tracking camera was proposed - the ideal placement being immediately behind FoH - it had to go. This was first mooted at a production meeting just four days before the show. That proved ample time to consider how to reduce our footprint FoH and determine a plan using an SD11 for exactly the reasons Toby has outlined.”

“As we all know, if the room doesn’t get the performance then you don’t have a show on the telly, because the atmosphere comes from the room,” concluded Alington. “From my point of view I always get a smile on my face when productions say ‘Britrow will be doing this show’ because I know we will get that atmosphere. We get so wonderfully looked after.”