DiGiCo SD8 Captures Sound of British Army Household Division’s Beating Retreat Ceremony

The annual British Army Household Division’s Beating Retreat ceremony is a spectacular pageant of music, military precision, horses, cannon and fireworks. Dating back to the 1690s, nowadays the most modern production technology is used on the event including, this year, a DiGiCo SD8.

DiGiCoThis year’s ceremony took place in London’s Horse Guards Parade on the evenings of June 11 and 12, featuring music from the Massed Bands and Corps of Drums of Her Majesty The Queen’s Household Division, combining 250 foot guards and mounted cavalry musicians with the gun carriages of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. Choral accompaniment was supplied by the Royal Choral Society, with guest appearances from The Troupe de Marine Band and Band of the Legion d’Etrangere (Foreign Legion) from France and Canada’s Vancouver Police Pipe Band.

The event’s guest of honour and salute taker was Colonel of the Irish Guards HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.

Sound designer Tom Shipman has been involved with British Army events and concerts for several years. He has designed and operated this show for the last three years, working closely with Coldstream Band Sergeant Major Adrian Beckett and assisted on site by Harry Spillett and Matt Bridgwater.

“I’ve known Adrian for almost 10 years, and have worked with him on all the events I have been involved with for the Army,” says Shipman. “Essentially, he is the Production Manager and likes to use a team that he knows, that can be trusted to help each other out and get the job done to a high standard with very little rehearsal time.”

Shipman chose a DiGiCo SD8 to mix the show, supplied by Dimension Audio, complementing a d&b Q10 PA supplied by Event Concept.

“The complexity of this year’s show compared with previous years screamed for it to be a DiGiCo mixing console,” he says. “In addition, I needed a console that would provide me with the flexibility and, most of all, reliability for the challenging conditions of an outdoor event in a dusty environment during a British summer. DiGiCo was the obvious choice because, should the worst have happened, I knew that between DiGiCo and Dimension a speedy solution could be found.”

Shipman configured the SD8 with 30 inputs, routed into a number of groups, then into a 12 output matrix, with a total of 20 outputs feeding the different elements of the system. He also used all 12 control groups to give him quick access to everything he needed during the production.

“With three sides of perimeter bleachers seating 6,500 people around a 14,500m2 performance area, reflections from the Admiralty, Army and Downing Street buildings surrounding Horse Guards Parade presented huge challenges in terms of providing an intelligible, even coverage for the audience,” he says.

“The trickiest element of the show itself was a section celebrating the music of the Second World War,” he continues. “A fully miked-up drum kit was hidden within the massed bands of the Household Division, playing along, and then revealed to the audience for a performance of Sing Sing Sing. There were Shure UR3 transmitters on each mic and timing the amplified drums and the clarinet solo back to the band was critical.”

A similar issue occurred for the opening and closing segments of the show which both used the choir, again miked up and using AKG414s with Shure UR3 transmitters.

“The SD8 was perfect for ensuring that timing all of the amplified elements was spot on. I made a lot of use of the recallable input channel, group and matrix delays in a number of snapshots to ensure that the sound could be changed instantly as the performers moved,” says Shipman.

Lt Col Hopla, Senior Director of Music for the Household Division, was very happy with the result, describing the show as “a huge success.”

Lt Col Hopla adds, “When involved in any show, I am always awestruck by witnessing so many moving parts coming together in such a limited time and the overriding professionalism of the people ‘on the ground’ making it work. My sincere gratitude goes to Tom and his team, it was a privilege working with them.”

Shipman concludes, “The way that the design of this event has developed over time  means that I definitely plan to use DiGiCo on it in the years to come.”

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