‘It gets better every year’: Inside Rolling Stones Hyde Park shows with Martin Audio

A cheer ripples through a heaving Hyde Park as footage of the late Charlie Watts plays out on the vast video screen – expanded this year – that serves as the backdrop for the Rolling Stones’ second London show in seven days (July 3). As the video, showing clips of Watts from his six decades as the rocksteady backbone to the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band, fades to black and the impossibly sprightly figure of Mick Jagger skips from side stage to the customary catwalk, the crowd are in full, roaring voice. A quick hello and they launch straight into a barnstorming Get Off Of My Cloud, inspiring the first of a great many singalongs over the next two hours, as they rip through Stones staples such as Gimme Shelter, Miss You, Start Me Up, Sympathy For The Devil, Paint It Black and more, as well as an unexpected cover of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and the first outing of Angie on this current tour. By the time the set closer (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction rings out over the capital, the chanting crowd can still be heard outside of Hyde Park long after Mick, ‘Keef’, Ronnie and co. have vacated the stage.

One week previous (June 25), the band made their first appearance as part of this year’s American Express presents British Summer Time concert series, which in addition to the two Stones shows, sees a typically stellar line-up of headliners perform throughout June and July, including Elton John, Eagles, Adele, Pearl Jam and Duran Duran.

While the calibre of performers this year was in keeping with previous editions of the series, there were, however, some notable changes on the production front, with an expanded stage setting and a larger PA than seen in previous years.

Anyone who has attended BST Hyde Park shows in the past will have noticed that stage dressing, notably the two oak trees that frame the stage, has been altered to make for a larger spectacle. Now, just one tree remains, with the removal of the other enabling the production crew to incorporate even larger screens. In turn, an even larger audio component has been integrated.

As ever, the PA was a Martin Audio system supplied by Capital Sound, which is now owned by Solotech. To meet the new demands, a higher box count was deployed to both the front system and outfills. This provides more energy and SPL level at the front end, while offsite noise can still be controlled. As such, Martin Audio says that the feedback received this year is that this is the best the BST concert series has ever sounded.

Meanwhile, this year also saw Capital Sound invest in both Martin Audio WPC and WPL Wavefront Precision systems to add to their overall inventory, along with companion SXH218 subwoofers, which are used on some of the delay towers.

“There is a load more PA this year, partly because production has spent a lot of money making the stage a lot taller, which looks fantastic,” Martin Audio managing director Dom Harter tells Headliner as we find him out in the field prior to the Stones’ stage time. “The main arrays have got longer and our hangs have got a little bit longer as well. This is to try to get better coverage and also to make sure that it looks right.

“The other change is that the first and second run of delays are the same but they have moved a bit. It’s all MLA on the front three rows as usual, and then as you go back it all changes this year. Capital Sound Solotech have invested in a load of Wavefront Precision so the next run of delays is all WPL, then the final two towers are WPC.”

The full system for the Great Oak Stage this year is made up of 19 MLA and one MLD (downfill) for each main hang; 15 MLA and one MLD for each side hang; and 32 MLX (subs) in broadside/cardioid arrangement; and six sets of two MLA-Compact front fills.

Delay towers one, two, four, five and six feature seven MLA and one MLD on each, while delays three, seven, eight and nine feature 10 WPL and three SXH218 (subs) in a cardioid stack on each. Delays 10 and 11 are made up of eight WPC on each. All Wavefront Precision arrays are in one box resolution for maximum control.

According to Harter, the new look staging has had a positive impact on the sound at the shows this year.

“If anything the new setup means the sound has probably got a little bit better, because we have a few more modules in the array and a little bit of extra length, which means we can control the low-mid a little bit better than we normally would. It’s always been a great PA here and it still is.”

For each of the shows that have taken place at the time of Headliner’s conversation with Harter, feedback across the board has been overwhelmingly positive, he tells us.

“The response has been pretty damn good,” he states. “Since AEG took the site on with Capital Sound, it’s always been a great sounding rig, and they’ve always been able to get a decent level here. And that has remained true this year. We’ve had great reports from engineers at the park through Capital Sound, and similarly with the other gigs on at the moment. It keeps getting a little bit better every year and we’re really chuffed with what’s been achieved. And it’s just great to be out in a big park with a great sounding system.”

And who could argue with that?