Trio at Crown

At the start of May, we played in the River Room at Crown at a dinner for Deloitte Private to welcome their new partners. We started playing out in the foyer for canapes, and then moved into the River Room proper to play some swinging music behind the networking dinner. It’s not clear in the video, but we were accompanied by the fireballs along the Yarra as we struck up our first tune, which made Ed’s solo even more fiery than usual ….

Ed Fairlie: Trumpet
Myles White: Guitar
Dan Gordon: Double Bass

Quintet in the Sky

Telstra in Melbourne enters a team each year in the One Ride fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and for several years now we’ve provided music for an auction before the ride, where members of the Telstra community come together to add some extra support for the cause. This year we took the quintet to the 31st floor of the Telstra building in Melbourne CBD, where the view provided a magnificent backdrop to the music and the mouth-watering cycling gear which was donated for the auction!

Jazz and Riverboats for Michelle and Jason in Echuca

On a lovely warm Saturday at the start of May, Peter and Gianni joined me in an acoustic trio to travel up to Echuca and play for Michelle and Jason’s wedding. We performed some era-appropriate music on the wharf as guests arrived and mingled, and then we sat on the stern of the historic paddle steamer Pevensey for another few hours and entertained the guests as they (and we) enjoyed an idyllic cruise up and down the Murray River. The steamer didn’t make it into the video, unfortunately, but you can hear it docking behind us during the last tune.

20160507_164855

One of the great things about having live music in an outdoor setting like this is that the spirit of celebration gets shared not just with the guests but with anyone else who happens to be nearby. It was great to see kids fishing on the riverbank, people relaxing on houseboats or walking their dogs getting a nice surprise and giving us a wave as our floating performance chugged by!

Thanks to Michelle and Jason for having us, and best wishes for your life together!

Peter and Colleen’s upmarket bucks-hens in Flinders

On Easter Monday our quintet made the trip down the Mornington Peninsula, where Genevieve was hosting a bucks-hens night for her friends Peter and Colleen at her beautiful house in Flinders. I always love bringing live music into people’s backyards and living rooms, and it was a special treat to have the whole quintet onboard this time. Our thanks to Genevieve for having us, and best wishes to Peter and Colleen for your future together.

Two Guitars at Persimmon for Sophie and Guy

On the evening of March 19, we were asked by Sophie and Guy to play for their wedding reception at the National Gallery of Victoria. We played our first set outside in the beautiful sculpture garden, and then moved into the equally lovely Persimmon Restaurant and played two more sets over dinner, before a DJ took over for the later part of the evening. The bridal couple particularly wanted a guitar-based ensemble, so I bought in the amazing Judd Niemann to join Myles and I for a total of seventeen hard-swinging strings.

If you’d like my thoughts about the importance of live music for outdoor-indoor events like this, and the logistics involved, please read on!

During the warmer months, it’s great to start an event outdoors, especially when the surroundings are as beautiful as they are at NGV. Having music playing as guests arrive in that situation is important, particularly from the perspective of the guests who arrive first. Walking into silence and waiting for other people to arrive can feel a little awkward, so to have live music playing is to break that silence with some musical energy, and also provide a smile and a greeting and a little interaction. Then as other guests arrive, they have something to chat about with people they don’t know, or something to stand and watch and listen to if they’re a bit shy and their friends haven’t arrived yet. As more and more people fill the space, the music switches gears a little to create the appropriate ambience for high-energy congratulations and catching up.

At the point where guests are ready to move inside, we can quickly pack up and move with them. In this instance, we were to provide instrumental music inside a fairly small room, so we opted to use the same three small amplifiers as we were using outside. In other venues, I might have a PA system set up inside the venue ready for us to plug into, but it wasn’t really necessary here, particularly since there was a DJ already set up with a PA of his own, who could put on some background music while the guests found their seats and we moved our stuff, and who could provide a microphone for speeches later on. Keeping the amplification fairly minimal also enabled each of us to do a fairly straightforward one-trip load in through the loading dock and security at the gallery (which is very beneficial at venues where access for equipment is slightly non-trivial), and to get the gear out of the restaurant fairly straightforwardly when it was time for the DJ to take over.

Having things run smoothly in these situations is the result of a lot of small decisions. Decisions about instrumentation, about amplification, about timings and shelter and power supplies and stairs and ramps and all sorts of other things which might not seem as if they’d have a big impact. In the context of an event where you’re looking for a seamless transition from one location to another, there’s quite a lot to consider, and there’s value in hiring people who have made enough mistakes to have learned how to avoid them. Things can fall over remarkably quickly if, for example, nobody remembers to check where the power supply is for the outdoor set, or someone doesn’t realise that it’s common to be delayed going through security at a large venue like this, so it’s important to leave extra time. I’m pleased to say that we avoided all those potential pitfalls and had a great time entertaining Sophie and Guy and all their very appreciative guests.

We extend all our best wishes to Sophie and Guy, and our thanks to Emmett and the staff from Peter Rowland at Persimmon.

Trolley Trio at the Races

On the Saturday after St Patricks Day, the Geelong Racing Club held a special meeting and I was asked by Peter Hooper from SpiderJazz to bring along my newly-assembled battery-powered rolling PA rig and provide music inside the gates as punters arrived, then wheel up to the trackside corporate area and play between races. There were lots of people dressed for the occasion, including a bucks party of matched Luigis in Irish green, who I had to include in the video. Thanks to the GRC and SpiderJazz for a great day. Read on if you’d like to check out my extended discussion of battery-powered music.

The new mobile PA setup provides me with quite a few more options when I’m asked to provide music for outdoor events. Previously, if power wasn’t available at a particular site, then I was limited to playing acoustically, perhaps supplemented by a small battery amp for the guitar. There are lots of situations where that works really well, and in many instances it’s the best way to go – after all, there’s something special about music made without electricity. But playing acoustically imposes some constraints, unless the surroundings are very quiet. Wind and percussion instruments can produce plenty of volume even without a microphone, but string instruments not so much, and vocals even less. I can put together a nice acoustic trio with, say, double bass, acoustic guitar and clarinet, and if you’re standing fairly close by, it will sound beautiful. Even unamplified vocals will be (just) audible at that range. But as you move further away, you’ll find the guitar disappears from the mix after about twenty steps, and the bass after another twenty. If the ambient background noise is significant (and it usually is), you might not hear either in the first place. I can play tuba instead of double bass, and I can get a banjo player instead of a guitarist. That instrumentation provides a much greater dynamic range (those instruments can play just as softly, but also much more loudly), and creates the option of playing and walking at the same time if necessary. Still, those instruments tend to stylistically anchor the music in the 1920s and 30s, which might be ideal, or it might not. So the mobile PA gives me the option of more stylistic variation, even in situations where there’s no power and/or there’s a bit of mobility requires. But it can also be a serious problem-solver when tricky logistics come along.

Let’s imagine you’re getting married (not unlikely, if you’re a visitor to this site). You’re holding your wedding in a reception venue with big gardens, and you’ve picked out a lovely spot under some big shady trees for the ceremony. You’d like live music to be played before and during the ceremony, including a song which is particularly special to you and your partner. Then you’re having canapes nearby, and you’d like some music during that time, as well as indoors for dinner later on. That’s a very common and very reasonable list of requirements, but to make it all work smoothly is a little non-trivial. The special ceremony song will always work best if it’s sung by a singer. We can play it instrumentally, and if the song is both well known and melodically strong that might be effective, but many otherwise good songs don’t tick both those boxes, and even if yours does, it will probably mean more to you and your guests if there are audible lyrics. So to use a singer generally means using PA, and using PA means using power, which may or may not be accessible under that particular tree. In the past, I’ve run improbably long power cables from suspiciously crusty outdoor power points, taped them across doorways, draped them in trees and gone through all sorts of contortions to solve that problem. So the battery, in and of itself, prevents a lot of awkward and unsightly wrangling of dangerously high voltages. But the trolley helps solve another problem, too.

If I set up a traditional PA for your ceremony, then when your ceremony is finished, I might be able to point the speakers in the direction of your canapes and create a reasonable sound in that area. But depending on the location, it might not be possible, or the sound might not be ideal, or the guests might spontaneously assemble in a spot where nobody expected them to. Band members conducting a military exercise of speaker lugging and cord rolling don’t provide an ideal backdrop to the champagne and rose petals and hugs and kisses which are happening in that moment, so it’s a godsend to be able to quickly wheel the sound into place without even having to turn it off, and start playing again with a minimum of fuss. Then when it’s dinner time and everyone moves inside, I can have a second PA system set up and waiting, and I’ll be able to quickly wheel the outdoor system to a safe and convenient spot to be packed up later, and get on with making music. In the past, I’ve had to PAs set up, but I’ve always had to choose: Do I spend time in the middle of the gig packing up the outdoor system, moving equipment and getting in the way of guests when I should be playing indoors, or do I leave it where it is and hope it doesn’t get rained on or stolen and hope I can find it again in the dark at the end of the event?

That’s just one example of a situation where a PA system which is both mobile and independent of mains power can solve a whole range of problems. At the races on Saturday, it allowed us to play in two different locations quite straightforwardly, and opt for an instrumentation, including Brian’s vocals, which is a little unusual at a race meeting (they tend to make good use of roving acoustic music). I can think of dozens of past gigs where I wish I’d had the capacity to do something similar, so I suspect the battery and the trolley will get plenty of outings in the future.

Trio at The Alto

On a warm Tuesday night, we provided the musical backdrop to this function of about 300 delegates from the Australian Universities International Directors’ Forum at the lovely Alto Event Space on top of the old Melbourne GPO.

Playing background music for big networking functions like this can be tricky. On the one hand, we need to add plenty of energy to the room to create a sense of occasion and keep everyone relaxed and happy and ready to meet people and exchange ideas. On the other hand, 300 people in the same room being relaxed and happy and meeting and exchanging ideas make rather a lot of sound in their own right. It takes some experience, some equipment and some finesse to create the mood that the event needs without entering into a volume arms race with the crowd you’re supposed to be entertaining. When the room starts to fill up, it’s too easy to keep nudging the band’s volume up, which in turn forces people to speak louder, and before long it becomes impossible to hear either the music or the fellow delegate who is being forced to yell into your ear from an inch away.

So what’s the solution? It’s a little hard to see in the video, but I’m using six speakers for this function. There’s a subwoofer on the floor behind me on bass, four speakers on two stands to either side of the band, and a monitor wedge on the floor in front of us. The four speakers on stands are placed high, set at low volume (very important) and angled to cover the whole area. No matter where you’re standing in this L-shaped space, or outside on the balcony, you’re hearing from one of these speakers directly (because it’s pointing towards you and it’s over the head of the people between you and it), but quietly, such that it doesn’t intrude on the conversation you’re having. The subwoofer is putting out a carpet of rhythmic low-end sound which is loud enough to fill the room, but deliberately tuned to emphasise those nice warm parts of the bass spectrum which sit below even the deepest speaking voice, so it’s not competing with conversation. I tend not to use singing in this context, for a similar reason – at a networking event, the audio space used for voices is best reserved for that networking to happen. The monitor wedge is an important part of the equation too – it’s deliberately set a little louder than the four front-facing speakers, and the trio clusters around it so that we’re listening from fairly close range. That allows us to maintain an accurate perspective on the mix even when the conversation volume gets quite high, so we can keep playing in tune and in time and without the deterioration in sound quality that tends to happen when musicians are struggling to hear themselves.

The repertoire we choose is another piece in the puzzle. As guests are arriving, and the general sound level in the room is quite low, we keep things fairly bright, so that we can add to that little frisson of excitement which you get when the lift opens and you walk into this unique space where everything looks lovely and attractive people keep offering you food and wine. Then as the room fills and delegates get down to business, we shift into a slightly mellower gear, present enough to provide a warm and friendly backdrop to proceedings, or to enjoy if you stop and have a listen between chats, but deliberately making way for the central business of the evening. I’m always watching the guests to make sure they’re not having to lean in to each other to make themselves heard.

Thanks to AUIDF and The Alto for creating a great event!