The first ever two-day Chilfest event, staged in picturesque Tring in Hertfordshire, UK started off – like many inspirational moments – in the pub!
Aided by a flow of alcohol and animated discussion, real lively social interaction continued to liberate a gazillion thoughts, ideas and dreams … many of which stay right there!
Steve Butcher of Universal Event Productions (UEP) – a technical solutions provider working primarily on high end corporate and live events – was enjoying an evening with some of his regular crew and friends, reflecting on a busy year at the end of 2012, and looking forward to the company’s 15th anniversary year in 2013.
Butcher, a keen music fan, wanted to do something special, different and unique to celebrate this landmark and lobbed into the conversation that he’d always fancied actually staging a festival. It was met with unanimous agreement that this would be a very cool thing to do.
A couple of days later, the conversation cropped up again, this time while completely sober and in the office. The seed was planted!
Over Christmas, Butcher discussed the concept more seriously with his wife Gina, and particularly the fact that to do it properly, he’d have to commit and risk around 250K of his own / UEP’s money! That’s a big deal!
By 2 January the decision was made. Chilfest – the first music festival in the UK ever to be promoted by an industry technical production company – was to be a reality.
“From that moment on I never doubted myself or looked back at all,’ he comments. “It was heads down and let’s make this work!’
Six months of serious graft began – finding the venue – Pendley Activity Meadow, adjacent to the luxury Pendley Manor country hotel; applying for the license, analysing the demographic of the area, being realistic about the acts they wanted, could afford and were likely to be popular; scouting the available talent; creating a brand from scratch; establishing social media and advertising outlets; dealing with the press; setting up ticketing infrastructures getting concessions on-board; forging a relationship with the local police, and so on. All things that Butcher – not being a regular concert promoter – had never had to deal with before.
“It was an absolutely massive learning curve,’ says Butcher, “But that was also part of the entire experience.’ He adds that some things were a lot more straightforward than others!
The one thing that presented absolutely no challenges at all was the full technical production, because that’s what UEP does.
However because of this, Butcher set his own dizzily high personal goals of delivering production values and an overall design that would be the best and to the highest standards. The whole “tech production scenario’ galvanized into a fantastic showcase for the creative skills and technical services that UEP could achieve.
All the people he worked with on the production side he had known for several years and most of them are also close friends. This meant a large amount of mutual respect and a dream team already used to working seamlessly on large shows and events together.
Formatting the programme, he decided on a pop night on the Friday as there are a lot of families with pre – and early teen children in the area.
Being in his mid-forties, an eighties night on the Saturday was a bit of a no-brainer for the adults to remember the heady – and as they like to say “not so distant’ – days of their yoof! With an excellent array of top level artists from the era available a very strong line up was soon assembled.
The pop themed night was headlined by Little Mix who were joined by The Lovable Rogues, Heather Small, Tich and others. On Saturday, some of the best of the eighties was reincarnated by Tony Hadley, Rick Astley, Howard Jones, Midge Ure, Hazel O’Connor and Carol Decker.
Negotiating and booking all of these required a degree of brinkmanship, especially as it was a new event with no track record – a characteristic that Butcher doesn’t lack as a seasoned industry professional – and something he soon learned to lay on the table!
On the first weekend of July, glorious weather – the start of an unprecedented run of sunny and warm summer weather unseen in the UK for many years – a line-up which included some world class musicians, the novelty of it being the first event of its kind in the area and a fantastic atmosphere … helped attract nearly 5 000 people the first day, and fully sold out the Pendley Activity Meadow venue to its 7 000 capacity on the second night.
This was all enjoyed with the scrupulously high production values so close to UEP’s hearts – with technical and design standards rarely seen in festivals of this size, let alone an event in its infancy.
Butcher was “completely blown away’ with the response and the outcome.
The personal feedback was incredible and the social media channels were bursting with positive comments and messages.
“I sat at the back of the stage on Saturday with everyone, it was well into Tony Hadley’s set,’ (which closed the event) he recalls: “The field was rammed with people all jumping up and down and having fun .. and I thought we created this – it was the most incredible feeling, and I felt very, very emotional,’ admits the usually unfazed Butcher.
He expands: “I have always known my crew are fantastic, I am really lucky, but they all absolutely excelled themselves in every way, and although I should not be surprised, I was truly humbled by what we did as a company and as a team.’
The low rise 15-metre wide Orbit stage supplied by Trust Events tucked neatly into the corner of the Pendley Activity Meadow site inconspicuously hugging the tree line. Blending sympathetically into the surrounding countryside was always fundamental to the site design.
UEP supplied all lighting equipment and visuals – LED screen, cameras and IMAG mix – and asked HPSS from Hull on-board to look after the PA system.
Ben Cash and Dave Amos of Flare Lighting – a London based visual design duo – were commissioned by Butcher to create an overall adaptable and dynamic production design that could cover the range of acts playing and accommodate any last minute requests.
They sub hung two trusses from the Orbit which were shaped to the roof curvature to maximise all the available height and ensured it looked super neat, while a further upstage truss was installed to fly five columns of UEP’s Glux 12 LED screen.
Cash ran the lighting. The moving lights were primarily Robe products including 12 brand new Robe ROBIN Pointe fixtures just purchased by UEP and doing their first gig.
Robe ROBIN LEDBeam 100s were arranged in vertical columns at the back between the strips of LED screen, looking highly effective, together with Robe LEDWash 600s and 300s which were dotted all over the stage together with a few ColorSpot 1200E ATs.
In addition to these, six Clay Paky Shot Lights were used on the floor as fillers down both sides of the stage; 24 x Showtech Sunstrips framed the LED columns and outlined the front truss; and two Novalight High Grounds were placed at the downstage edges for big bold effects shooting right into the audience. A couple of six lamp PAR bars were used for basic stage washes from the front truss.
Four Robert Juliat Korrigan follow spots were stationed at FOH.
Flare lighting provided the control package. A grandMA full size ran the lighting and a grandMA light triggered their Catalyst media server storing and playing back all the video content, which was specially compiled for the show by Dave Amos. This appeared on the onstage column screens, making a vibrant backdrop for all the acts, most of which took to the stage in daylight. It was a smart move by Butcher to get Flare involved and they brought a great sense of visual harmony to the picture.
Two Glux 12 side screens were supplied by UEP together with six cameras – five Sonys – two at FOH, a hand-held onstage, one in the pit on track and one locked off side-stage – and a GoPro remote behind the drum position for reverse shots.
These were directed by another regular UEP face, Mike Kane, who worked with Jay Martinez on the IMAG side of the video.
The sound system was designed and specified by a combination of stage manager Andy Nurse, who is one of UEP’s regular sound engineers, Steve Bull who looked after FOH for the event and Steve Butcher.
It was an L-ACOUSTICs system which filled the gently raked auditorium perfectly. The main hangs were 12 boxes of dv-DOSC, a side complete with seven SB28 and four dv subs a side, with four ARCS for in-fills.
The FOH Yamaha PM5D console was spec’d by Saturday’s house band, Blueprint, who backed up all the main performers and spent several days rehearsing with them before the gig.
Some bands brought in their own engineers and those who didn’t were mixed by Steve Bull. Howard Jones played with his own band plus their full monitor system and video package.
At the stage end of the action the monitors were L-ACOUSTICS Hi-Q wedges with ARCS/SB28 side fills and a couple of SB18 drum subs – all powered by LA8 amps together with the main stacks. The monitor console was a Yamaha M7 with two external cards boosting the outputs to 32 channels.
Shure and Sennheiser wireless systems were supplied, plus a full mics-and-stands package, primarily comprising these two brands.
Andy Nurse shared stage managing duties with Mike Lindsey, James Fickling was the overall site manager and Charlotte Jackson took care of all the health and safety and dealt with the concessions.
The backline was supplied by John Henry and the generators from Charles Wilson – two 350 KVA synched sets behind the stage and another at the back of the arena to power all the site lighting and concessions. Power distribution and infrastructure was sorted out by UEP with some kit from DPL Lighting.
The excellent security by London-based EMS, with whom UEP works on many high profile corporate, impressed everyone with their discreet presence and attentive attitude that cut a note with the whole Chilfest vibe.
Steve adds: “Thanks also to Rob Merrilees at Dry High Lighting for providing the six Clay Paky Shot Lights and some additional Robe LEDWash 600s and big thanks also to my old mate Darren Parker at DPL for supplying 12 Robe ColorSpot 1200E ATs along with the four follow spots, mains distro and dimming.’
With 12 000 Chilfest fans flooding into Tring to enjoy a show stopping weekend and not a single crime reported, the police were also extremely impressed with the results.
Butcher has also been inundated with complements from the artists on how well organised everything was and what a good time they had.
So …. Looking to the future, the pressure is now well and truly on for him to make it an annual event!
Although one part of Butcher wants to go for it, he had to do some hard thinking about it while he was on holiday in August.
He needs to also assess the impact – if any – it had on UEPs core business. The company is very busy anyway and Chilfest consumed copious extra amounts of his energy in the first six months of the year.
There’s also the fact that it was a “special’ event to mark an important landmark – their 15th anniversary. It was a resounding success and in some ways to leave it there retains the magic and truly exclusive nature of what he set out to do!
Many things are buzzing around Butcher’s brain right now – including the fact that he feels he’s established a brand, with the possibility of attracting sponsorship.
“My heart says “yes’, continue and do it every year,’ he says, however this month, he’ll be engaging in some straight discussions before making any hasty decisions!