Legendary British rock band Simple Minds is still thrilling crowds with its unique, larger-than-life sound. The band has been out on an epic world tour, selling out venues wherever it goes and supporting its latest album, Walk Between Worlds. The band’s FOH Engineer Oliver Gerard, and Monitor Engineer Mike Gibbard, have both chosen SSL Live consoles for the tour.
Even though Simple Minds is touring a new album, it would never neglect the classic songs, and this has probably been one of the biggest challenges for Gerard, Gibbard, and their gear. “I have to cope with music from the late 70s, through the 80s and the 90s rock and roll stadium thing, and on to now,” says Gerard. “I try to recreate the true sounds of those moments because everyone knows those songs in certain colours.”
Gerard has been working with the band for over ten years, so he has built an extensive range of bespoke effects – particularly reverbs – into a standard rack of outboard to sit alongside his SSL L200. On the other hand, Gibbard who started with the band this year, has recreated most of what he needs inside his SSL L500 console, using up to 11 reverbs at any one time to bring the multi-layered Simple Minds sound to IEMs and wedges.
For both, the sound of SSL Live was the deciding factor. Gerrard: “I have used pretty much all of the digital consoles with Simple Minds. When I had the first demo of the SSL I thought it looked complicated, but I got the opportunity to cover for a friend who was using an L200 with another band. I joined him for a gig to check out how he was mixing the show, and it sounded so good that I decided to give it a go.
“When I started with my own multitracks, the first thing I noticed was that I had the analogue feel back again – the elasticity. In the analogue era you could do your first three songs in sound check and when your balance was there, you can do the whole gig. That has never been possible with digital consoles until this one…”
Gibbard had unequivocal feedback directly from the band: “Jim came up to me after rehearsals and said, ‘I’ve got the Rolls Royce, haven’t I?’ and the band’s guitarist, Charlie Burchill, came up to me and said he hadn’t heard any of this coming through wedges before. So yes, the band’s minds have been blown!”
Structurally, both engineers have their own preferences. Gerard says he is quite traditional when it comes to console layout, and though he has been ‘seduced by the Stems’ he is using traditional auxes for all effects: “It is my first time out with the console, so I’ve kept the structure close to what I am used to.”
Gibbard, however, has made extensive use of Stem Groups to make sure that Jim Kerr’s mix is exceptional: “I’m mixing everyone except Jim in the traditional fashion, and with Jim I’m using the console’s Stems. With that I can use parallel processing and give him a much more refined, album-sounding mix, rather than a monitor mix… That’s probably my favourite thing about the desk – apart from the way it sounds, which is outrageous – but to be able to mix Stem Groups to auxes is unbelievable.”
For a band like Simple Minds, the sound is everything. The production on their records throughout their long career has been a large part of the band’s uniqueness. For Gerard, committing to a new console means committing to moving over 60 songs to the new technology, so he must be convinced: “Going back to another console that doesn’t have the features this desk has would be difficult,” he notes. “Even things like the multi-touch screens – now I’m used to it, it’s very natural. I don’t use the rotary controls any more.
“With the SSL I’ve never had any of the issues that I’ve had with other digital consoles. It’s stable, the EQ is responsive, it’s powerful, and it sounds great.”