OK, it’s story time – you didn’t think I would write a piece without a story did you? Pretty certain you all know me better than that!
Picture this, it’s late 1997 or so, maybe early 1998, and I get in from a gig to find my dear ol’ Mum waiting up for me… As I walked in she stood up, looking slightly mad, and just said “You HAVE to watch this, it’s amazing!”. She pressed play on the VCR and there on the TV was Robbie Williams, on a program called TFI Friday, performing his latest single – “Let Me Entertain You”, completely live.
It was a truly stellar performance.
Many of you lovely lot over on the other side of the pond won’t know of Rob too much as he’s massive everywhere but there, so I’ll fill you in. He was part of the first boy band to really take off over here in the UK in the early nineties - left in truly spectacular fashion after a few years and has been somewhat of an interesting character ever since. A lot of it has been expanded by the media, but safe to say that Rob has spent the last 25 years bouncing through life, living it to the maximum, and telling many a good story along the way. When he ‘went solo’ the vast majority of us expected it to be a flash in the pan, his first single I heard was, well, 'not my cup of tea'. After that he released a stunning ballad (that has more than stood the test of time – this was what we were expecting him to do) so by the time this performance came around most of us had written him off.
Seeing him perform that song was quite a moment. Gone were the visions of him being a boy band member who was only releasing stuff to maximise on the teenage girl market, and here was someone who was prepared to unleash his potential on a largely unsuspecting general public. I’m not sure who was more surprised at the success he had back then, us or him. Since then he has grown to be the complete pop star in the truest sense of the world, massive albums, massive singles, massive tours. I’m pretty certain that right now, and for the last 10-15 years, there hasn’t been a bigger star in Europe than Robbie Williams.
OK, enough of the back story, let’s talk about Tom. About 5 years ago Rob parted company with his band and got a new one (as you do), and just as his album was about to be released there was a big gig televised here in the UK – you could say it was somewhat of a comeback after a couple of years off. I was blown away with the band that night, it was far more in your face than the previous band, the guitars were more much more prominent, great tone was everywhere and all in all it was just an incredible gig. I spent a good 10 seconds on Google looking up the new band members, tweeted the new lead guitarist (from the company twitter account) to compliment him on his great tone and how much I enjoyed the show. To my delight he quickly tweeted back with the now legendary comment of “Thanks, I use some of your stuff!” (he was using Plextortion and Ego Compressor)… BOOM! This to me is perfect, this is what I love to find out, someone is using our gear already, loving our tone so much they bought the gear – it took me about 5 seconds to offer an artist deal. Let’s face it, when you find someone who plays that well, has a perfect grasp of what is required to be in a band like this, rocks the pants off a stadium while being part of an outfit that tours the world (playing to literally millions of people) it is one hell of a relationship to make for the company… So many people STILL consider us to be a country brand, but it’s artists like Tom that show that we are so much more than that.
It was 6 months later when I first met up with Tom at Wembley Stadium, June 30th 2013, during the “Take The Crown” World Tour. Unfortunately, it was a 9 days after my Mother had passed unexpectedly (I feel that she is linked to all this as it was her who waited up that day to show me the live performance, which prompted me to buy this album the following day - she was so excited we were going to the show as well). I was a little wobbly, understandably, but in that day I was convinced that this new incarnation of the RW band with Tom was a force to be reckoned with. It was emotional, there are a couple of songs that hit me, but I was bowled over with the power of the band, and how well Tom made our gear sound. To this day I am still a little overwhelmed with the show I witnessed that day. It was great to hear Wampler tone flattening 90k people at the iconic Wembley Stadium!
Fast forward to the present day. Here we are; Cardiff, the Principality Stadium, 21st June 2017 – the hottest day of the year. It was exactly 4 years to the day since we lost my Mother and Mrs Wilding and I were once again in the boiling hot weather, (it was the same 4 years previously, absobloodylutely boiling and this causes issues in itself, my wife suffers from a condition called Fibromyalgia and the heat makes and already terrible condition, unbelievably worse) about to go in… At this point I’d like to say that we nearly didn’t go, the recent events in the UK where concert goers were targeted was playing on our minds, but bollocks to that, we won’t let them win. We won’t let them disrupt our life.
We rocked up to the Stadium early as I had arranged to meet Tom for some photos and general chat about his gear. Tom is a tone chaser, he loves his gear, so it’s always a pleasure to get an insight into what goes into driving the biggest stadium pop tour of the summer. We got through security and were met by the lovely Jaeki Hildisch, Rob’s long time tour manager, who led us through backstage while giving us all the do’s and don’ts. Security is tight, so you have to do as you are told (you know me, so you you’ll know that ain’t easy), but it’s always incredible to walk in behind something like that, the ‘show’ itself is huge, mind-blowingly huge, consider the biggest show you’ve ever seen in terms of set, gear, people… it’s that big. You’d need days to drink it all in properly.
We found Tom and his tech Adam in Adam’s tech area. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with Tom, he’s extremely personable, quiet, and there is no evidence of ego, so once we’d had a catch up chat the first thing I noticed was the rack of guitars…. Unfortunately for my desire to play the guitars personally owned by people I really dig, Tom is left handed, so I can’t pick them up and have a go… never mind!
Tom is more of a Gibson man than anything else, his main squeeze being a ’97 SG (loaded with Bare Knuckle Mules) that has been with him for years. I noticed some recent additions to his armoury, those being a ’01 335 (Bare Knuckle Stormy Mondays), an ’08 Les Paul ’58 reissue (also with Mules), a Bill Nash telecaster (Lollar pickups) and there is an ‘07 ’62 reissue Strat (Bare Knuckle Irish Tours) lurking. Also in there is a Nik Huber Krauster II. The infamous Ibanez LP copy that was his first real guitar is now retired from active duty, and is in the dressing room.
In the middle of Adam’s den are another new addition to Tom’s rig, Kemper profilers. They only use 1 patch, a profile of Tom’s beloved 1983 JCM 800 2204 - The last time I saw them they had 4x12”s under the stage in ISObooths so as you can expect, this is a considerably easier method for them to set up and control during a tour. And, let’s be honest, in a situation like this, it’s the perfect tool for the job.
After this we headed out on to the stage (now, this is where I must gently enter story mode again. Mrs Wilding comes to some artist visits, not many, but as she is a massive fan of Rob as a song writer/musician/performer, she comes with me to these. The look on her face as Tom leads us out on to Rob’s stage is always wonderful, her just face lights up. It’s a beautiful thing to see – probably the best part of the day for me, because she gets to live her dream while I live mine)… Anyway, back to the gear...
At the heart of everything is the impeccable GigRig G2. This controls everything. The cornerstone of Tom’s live tone is kinda clean, just sitting on the edge, and this is enabled by our dear old friend the Tumnus. Tom uses his volume control to balance his level of dirt and power, and uses the Tumnus perfectly to add extra dimension to what is already there. Tom told me afterwards that it was on for virtually the entire show – he just loves the way Tumnus brings everything to life - “The Tumnus is the latest addition to the board and is one of those ‘always’ on pedals! I’m using it a lot. Great mid range boost with amazing transparency.”
Right along the board sits the Velvet Fuzz, for those moments when you need to melt the faces. As we were talking about the Velvet, Tom grabbed the SG so we could get a feel for the power (he has a solitary 4x12” on stage that he brings in via a volume pedal to give feedback when required, and to also give Tom the ability to have the reaction that you just don’t get when purely playing with IEM’s). He uses the Velvet on tight mode so it’s sitting between fuzz and distortion and the sound with that SG was outrageously good, so much power and depth. As Tom says “The Velvet Fuzz is the best Fuzz pedal I’ve tried to date, and I’ve tried a few! I love the ‘tight’ setting to really punch through the mix.” Right there next to it is the old favourite, the Ego Compressor. Not used for much on this tour - but when Tom has to break out his slide in the set the Ego just gives it the sustain, control, depth and consistency you need. I’m telling you, that guitar was just sustaining for ever. “The Ego Comp is a big part of my sound when playing slide. I love the blend feature, as it allows you to retain your original tone and not get too mushy…” (I have to give a little mention to the look on Mrs Wilding’s face as we were on the stage and he played the solo lines of ‘Feel’, one of her (and mine) favourite songs, just for us, to show how he uses the Ego).
All too soon it was time for us to go, sound check time… Jaeki reappeared so we made our way out of the stadium. These are actually the times I enjoy the most, as you get to just talk to the people who are instrumental in making the show happen, you get to see all the backstage stuff, you also get a feel of what it is like to be part of the show. After we left the staging area, we were going through the area where the buses/trucks are and a black SUV pulled up and out poured the rest of the touring band. Tom instantly grabbed the other guitar player, the legend that is Gary Nuttall, for a picture. Realising that I didn't have a picture with Tom and myself, I gave Mrs Wilding my camera to get the shot. Now, she’s not used my camera before so as I was telling her how to do it, and while she was getting confused, Rob’s long time song writing partner and keyboard player Guy Chambers stood behind her… she is a keen piano player as well so she’s a fan of him… I said “Lis, Guy Chambers!” and pointed. Unfortunately, she didn’t hear and just took the pictures - as she handed me the camera she realized what I had said, turned around but he had gone… Such a shame, as she would have loved to meet him and he was right there, inches from her!
After we left, we met up with some old friends in town (we used to live just outside Cardiff and had not been back in 15 years), had a bite to eat, went to the box office to pick up our tickets, and generally soaked up the atmosphere. Safe to say that the people who wish to disrupt events like this did not win. Not at all. We then had to return to the hotel for Mrs Wilding to rest, that heat was killing her, but fortunately we had a hotel that was 5 minutes walk from the stadium so we could make sure she was ready for the show and get properly rested - We hit the show in time for the support act, and then waited patiently for the show to start...
And yes, the show – and that’s what these events are, a show in the truest sense of the world, was incredible. I won't post a review of the show, as that is another story, also there are literally thousands of reviews, videos, comments and everything else you can imagine online to give you a feel of how these events go... Attendance to a show like this should be mandatory for all musicians - I find things like an education on how to play for the song, play for the band, play for the audience.
Walking away, here’s the main thing that struck me after the show. As I was talking to Tom and when I was watching him demo how he uses the Wampler’s, it’s plain to see that guys like Tom are no different than you and me. We are all chasing tone, all the time. We all balance what we want to do in a song with what is required in the song. We are all looking to make sure our tone works perfectly, within every given situation, every night. We just want great tone. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that we can produce gear that “a massive pop tour in Europe” isn’t considered in the design stage, but fits in so perfectly with a show like this.
In regard to the disruption that is in the back of our minds at the moment, I’d like to leave you with the words of Rob who amended the lyrics of one of his biggest hits to send a message to those who think killing innocent people to send a message is acceptable, those who want to stop our way of life. “You know that we’re strong, we’re strong, we’re strong. We’re still singing our songs, our songs, our songs”. To hear the entire stadium singing that back, only a few weeks after the Manchester attack, was incredible.
I’d like thank Tom, Adam, Jaeki and the rest of the crew for a truly amazing show and their hospitality. You all rock, in the best possible way.