Flying Hans Free

Story: Kaye Lyon

Photo credit: Maria Zhytnikova

What started as a one-off presented by Harvey Goldsmith at London’s iconic Hammersmith Apollo in 2015 grew the following year to a seven-week tour through Europe. For 2017, it has been an emphatic trip through the arenas of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The Hans Zimmer show received huge plaudits at Coachella earlier this year “Zimmer turned out to be the king of Coachella — unexpectedly upstaging other Sunday acts like 20-year-old Lorde and 29-year-old Kendrick Lamar and attracting masses of millennials who practically openly wept and generally lost their minds over his performance,” said Lyndsey Parker for Yahoo Music, April 17th, 2017. When Goldsmith arranged for Zimmer to return to the US in July and August the reception was no less enthusiastic. “The audience response has just been amazing,” said FoH engineer Simon Sayer.

Sayer, a veteran of London’s West End theatre took over the reins from Colin Pink, another West End vet’ who has for the last few years been making a name for himself managing big multi-artist events for Britannia Row Productions (Brit Row). “Colin and I have history, and I was delighted when he and Lez Dwight at Brit Row asked me to take over for the European and US sections of the tour. It’s been a challenge and our common experience of the London musical stage has given us the essential skills to manage a show like Hans.”

In the world of concert presentations, the Hans Zimmer show is remarkable: an eighteen-piece orchestra, up to 32 voices in the choir and a core band of twenty-seven, most of whom are multi-instrumentalist. For good measure, the presentation is, wherever possible, made in 5:1 surround, just as it was when Zimmer wrote the scores for the movies. For Jim Baggott, who Production Manages the tour for Harvey Goldsmith, having the same sound provider throughout has proved a boon. “From that first one-off in Hammersmith to what we have today there have inevitably been lengthy breaks and that has forced crew changes as people’s schedules fill up. That’s a sensitive issue for a show with such a technically complex audio foundation. Despite all that, it seems to me that Brit Row crew are all interchangeable; this is still a really good crew. Things in the US have proved no different, Carlos Olavarria joined the touring crew for the US leg, brought in by Clair’s for his expertise with L-Acoustics systems. The recent acquisition of Brit Row by Clair Global has only made touring the US more comfortable.”

“We’re using the K1 system in the US,” added Sayer. “I prefer it for its natural top end and for the ultra-lows 30Hz elements so often found in Hans’ music. Many of the US venues have been sheds and we’ve been unable to implement a 5:1 system so that extended LF energy has helped evoke the more immersive sensation of a surround sound experience.”

Mix world is necessarily complex, input channel count fluctuates between 260 and 265 as Zimmer has guest performers at almost every show. “There is a Digico SD7 at each end of the snake,” explains Sayer. “Gavin Tempany on monitors also has a SD11 to mix down the choir and orchestra into stems for each of us. Gavin also takes stems from me, drums and perc’s for example, or Playback, because he needs the processing on his board for other things. With so many mixes to produce, 40 in total, he is limited to 170 inputs and there are the changing guest appearances to cater for as well. The mix development was all done for the last tour with Nathaniel Kunckel (Zimmer’s studio engineer): between us we devised the system approach; it’s all about getting Q-Labs to drive it all. It’s a theatre standard and this is very much run like a theatre style production. It made sense to use that cueing system.”

The show is in two sections, the first half features soundtracks from across Zimmer’s career, from Thelma & Louise to Gladiator, it is very diverse. Then for the second half the focus is on sound tracks for super hearo movies, a musical landscape far more engaging than you might imagine. “It’s huge,” said Baggott. “Here I am two years later and I never tire of it. It’s only now that I realize just how important a sound track is to the enjoyment of a film, and from that to its success.”