So, this weekend marked the annual country music festival in the UK, C2C - or to give it its full title, Country 2 Country. Country music is largely overlooked here in the UK, it's never on mainstream radio or in the 'charts' (but let's face it, there hasn't been much in the charts I like to listen to for years anyway) and most people don't have any country music in their collection, they can't see past Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and if you say Brent Mason to them they look blank. Sometimes though, in the defence of some UK pubs, you can often hear a Cash tune bouncing around if you are lucky.
This year had an interesting headline act for the first day (Friday), a certain Mr Paisley. Now, before I started to work for Wampler I was completely unaware of Brad - I was fanatical about Brent Mason at the time, but BP has passed me by. One of the first jobs for Brian was designing the logo for the "overdrive for Brad Paisley we've got coming out" (the rest is history, but safe to say my first venture into graphic design went rather well) so I took a punt on the "Play" album and from that moment, I was a fan. Mrs Wilding and I trudged up to London (us English don't like to spend more than an hour in the car so a trip to London is a big deal), checked into the hotel next door (show seat to bed, 10 minute walk, lovely) and went for a wonder around the arena.
Once we'd been around trying on Cowboy Hats and fringed jackets for a while (yes, all being sold there, so many clichés) we went in to get our seats, Chris Young was half way through his set (not heard him before, was good) and we got comfy. We were lucky, very lucky, we were sat stage left, about 10 rows from the font and about 30' up in the raised seats. I love positions like that because you can see the monitor desk, the tech area and slightly back/side stage. It does have to be said that it drives Mrs Wilding nuts as I'm often not watching the show but the tech work on the guitars etc.
OK, so all of that doesn't mean anything to you, but it sets you up for the position I was in for the show and being the second time I'd seen Brad at this festival (he was there a couple of years ago as well) we knew what to expect. The o2 in London is a fantastic venue, not much in the way of sound ‘bounce-around’ and there is unrestricted sight access for all, I did a quick DB check on my phone and they were banging out 95db, which made me chuckle as that is the maximum sound level permitted at Winter NAMM, which is generally only 2 or 3db above the ground floor level.
Bang on time, the lights went down (the band were already in place) and the place went nuts when we saw the famous white hat walk on stage. BP had arrived and was owning the stage! Before I get into the main point of this, I do want to say - being in a country that is famous for not liking this style of music means that when artists do come over, we are treated to a list of "greatest hits" within the set list - so, there is barely any new music to get through, you just hear the good stuff - yeah, I know, I'm shallow, but you know what it's like...
Right, so here we go. The first song was Crushin' It. And I don't know what happened, either a string broke or the strap failed, because towards the end of the first song he took his guitar off and held it as he carried on singing, the tech ran out and gave him a different guitar and by the time song two started, American Saturday Night, he was leading the band in usual BP fashion. Unfortunately for BP, this was the least of his woes for the night... As I said above, I was watching with interest the side/back stage action as much as I was watching I got the feeling that something was up extremely early on. Brad's tech was running around like a mentalist, there was frenetic action going on by the racks of wireless receivers and BP kept stopping playing almost every song. I think it was the second or third song (Water) that he first slightly put his hat down slightly and turned his head towards the monitor guy and started to gesture frantically, albeit quickly, to his belt pack. I don't know if this was intentional, but in putting his hat down slightly the cameras in his face (from afar) didn't see what he was saying so from what I can see, the majority of the crowd where blissfully unaware of there being any issue. The more he stopped playing at certain points the more I understood what was happening, it appeared that he had really inconsistent in ear monitors (IEM) throughout. I am guess that they dropped out about 10 times in total, as he motioned towards side stage each time, but the amazing thing was no one noticed. His vocal, considering he couldn't really hear himself, was outstanding - flawless in fact... he was sincerity personified, he told us it was the greatest night of his life, he loved coming over and all 20k people believed him. He did the entire show having a completely crap time yet everyone thought it was perfect. The only outward expression of his uncomfort was the heavily covered communications with the monitor guy, the often stopping of playing and his general demeanor once he had come off stage (from my place I could see how upset he was once he was out of the public eye).
The following day, after I got home, I realised I had seen a completely masterclass in professionalism. I had spoken to someone within team Paisley who confirmed that there was complete IEM loss, repeatedly, throughout the show for them all, it was "one of those nights". I remembered all the tantrums I had seen on stage, at a local level, even hearing one singer say "I'm a professional, I need more than 6 hours preparation for a gig" and this from a bass player "if I can't have the monitors there, I'm not going on" and thought about being stood in front of 20k people, in a foreign country, having to sing and not being able to hear yourself. I spoke to a few guys I know that were at the show and were at places around the arena that they couldn't see what I could, and they knew something was up but didn't know what. They told me that the people they were with had NO idea that there was any issues, although one guy was asked by his friend if he'd broken a string in the first song.
^ A video I took, although this was obviously part of the show where everything was working, you can see my view of the side of the stage and monitor desk.
So, Brad Paisley, I take my hat off to you. It was straight up one of the most professional displays I’ve ever seen, not just from him but everyone else also in the band as they all suffered, yet the show ran on time and without breakdown. I sincerely hope that you return back to the UK soon and it hasn’t put you off! Oh, and of course – both BP and his guitar player Gary Hooker are both big Wampler users and both had immaculate tone. Their tone was almost, almost, as outstanding as their professionalism!