Access All Areas: On the road with U2
Heading to a music festival this summer? While you're out front enjoying the plentiful supply of live music thrills, spare a thought for the hard-working, gear-laden tech crews who will be oiling the wheels of your favourite band's festival performance.
From in-ear monitor catastrophes, slippery drum risers and over-stretched stage managers, to impossible 20-minute changeovers, tuning-warping humidity, and dressing rooms the size of toilet cubicles, these incredible techs are practised in the fine art of getting the job done.
Professionals who have honed their trade with some of the biggest, hottest, and most influential acts in the world, these drum, guitar, bass and keys techs, plus backline wonders, tour managers, production managers, stage managers, lighting engineers, production directors and sound directors have decades of experience between them.
In an exclusive new series on MusicRadar, Access All Areas brings you an invaluable insight into what it takes to tech at festivals, how to survive one of the toughest days of your working life, and when to stand back and say, 'job well done'.
Kicking things off, here are the men behind the scenes who will be making sure that U2's headline slot at Glastonbury on Friday 24 June goes swimmingly, and that's not just a reference to the mercurial Somerset weather...
Jake Berry, production director
Sam O'Sullivan, U2 back line chief
Joe O'Herlihy, U2 sound director
Without question the biggest touring band in the world, U2's festival performances have gone down in the annuls of rock history. With some of the largest touring productions ever designed, it's no surprise that U2 have a world-class tech crew to bring their creations to life.
We have been lucky enough to get a round table interview with three of U2's primary tech members. Jake Berry, U2's production director ("I'm in charge of all production logistics and set-up"), Sam O' Sullivan ("I'm U2's back line crew chief and drum tech"), and Joe O'Herlihy ("U2 sound director, front of house mix engineer, U2360 tour show sound designer and U2 soundman. I mix the front of house live sound for U2 when they perform at a concert") give us a few minutes of their time to talk tech-ing and the great outdoors...
Sam O'Sullivan and Larry Mullen Jr at Wembley, 2009
How long have you been tech-ing for, and who else have you worked for besides U2?
Jake Berry: "I have worked with U2 since 2002 as the production director. Before that I have worked for numerous bands in this position, including Rolling Stones, Metallica, AC/DC, Cher, Tina Turner, Mötley Crüe, and I am also the technical director for the new Batman Live show, and the Walking With Dinosaurs arena show."
Sam O'Sullivan: "I've been with Larry [Mullen Jr] for many, many years. I first worked with U2 as their lighting designer pre-Boy, in the years 1978-79. I started working for Larry full time in 1986, and the Joshua Tree tour was my first major tour. I've been with U2 ever since then. I've worked with many bands between 1980 and 1986, and did many festivals across Europe."
Joe O'Herlihy: "I have been working with U2 as their soundman for 33 years, since 25 September 1978. I have also worked with Rory Gallagher, REM, Counting Crows, The Cranberries and a whole galaxy of Irish artists through the years."
In your opinion, what are the main differences when tech-ing at a festival compared to tech-ing at a normal gig?
Jake Berry: "The weather. Also, on your tour, you are the only band that matters. On a festival, you are one of many."
Joe O'Herlihy: "Ah, festivals and the great outdoors. This can be the best time of your touring life or it can nail you to the cross instantly, essentially you are at the mercy of the weather gods. Good weather leads to a happy crew, which in turn leads to a very happy artist or band, which usually leads to a great gig. That is when festivals are really great."
Jake Berry beneath 'The Claw'
For the majority of festivals, there is no chance of soundcheck. What problems can this cause?
Jake Berry: "Sometimes its good and other times it can be bad. You really have to just get on with it, and rely on your crew."
Sam O'Sullivan: "It can be difficult when you don't have a soundcheck, so you do your best to get the sounds right using your in-ear system."
Joe O'Herlithy: "These days, particularly with the readily available technology in the audio domain, not having a soundcheck is no longer as big a problem as it used to be.
"With Digital audio consoles now an industry standard, audio preparation and pre-production with the artist or band at rehearsals is very much essential prior to any artist or band embarking on a season of festivals. You will find that digital consoles are now the console of choice used for most festival applications."
When heading out on a string of festival dates, what essential items do you stock in your tech kit bag?
Jake Berry: "Dry clothes."
Joe O'Herlithy: "My Captain Birdseye yellow oil skins, my wellies and a plentiful supply of bog roll."
What does your day involve when tech-ing for the U2 band member you support at a festival – before, during, and after the performance?
Joe O'Herlithy: "Hopefully I will have the best line check ever because that's all you're going to get. Then, I prepare the seat of my trousers for the best flight possible, enjoy my gig and have a sherry with the lads afterwards."
Finally, what advice would you give to a new tech working their festival this summer?
Jake Berry: "Bring dry clothes and a good attitude."
Sam O'Sullivan: "I would say listen and learn, and enjoy the moment."
Joe O'Herlihy: "It will be the hardest day's work you will ever experience, and possibly the most rewarding if you are willing to take it all in. 'Fail to prepare properly, then prepare to fail'. Oh, and don't forget the bog roll."