In the last of our series The Biz, Jonathan Bellamy attempts to get to grips with the current Christian PA scene.
When putting on an event, be it for a band or play, church hall, night club or mega marquee there are two pretty important questions that, sooner or later, you'll need to ask: 1) Will you be able to hear it?, and 2) Will you be able to see it? And thus you will find yourself at the creative threshold of those awesome gods of thunder and lightning - the sound and light companies.
Like all fears however, one simple step of faith often proves how foolishly misplaced your anxieties were and, nine times out of 10, you'll find yourself chatting to somebody who's only too keen to come down to your level and guide you along the narrow path of Boses, Mayers, Induction loops et al.
Along the way, particularly if you do a bit of flirting here and there, you will discover that there are several things virtually all of these gods have in common: 1) There is no way any of them want to be left holding the baby and so all are well insured; 2) With a little persuasion, namely paying for expenses, just about all will travel to your part of the nation; 3) Most are keen to offer a sympathetic ear to your Christian ventures and will generally contribute their services at discount rates; 4) A standard 30 day payment period is normally operated, (unless you're only buying batteries!), although most are friendly and willing to negotiate and understand difficulties; 5) All can provide you with persuasive letters of recommendation about the quality of their work should you wish; 6) And finally, whatever the size of the company, the phrase "we can get whatever you need" is fairly universal - and the truth is they can, by hiring it from somebody else. (Whether they're used to the same size operation you had in mind is quite another question.)
Apart from the technicalities though, one of the biggest draws towards a particular company is familiarity. As Aad Vermeyden, manager of Adrian Snell, pointed out, "(I look for) a company to build a relationship of trust with. One that can accommodate a balance between the Albert Hall and church hall gigs."
Surprisingly, one company that is keen to do the church hall type events happens to be the largest Christian sound company, and one of the top five companies in the UK with an annual turnover of over £2 million, Wigwam Acoustics Ltd. (Wigwam stands for Without Introduction God Welomes All Men.) Michael Spratt, the managing director, explained, "75% of our work is purely commercial (including Chris Rea, Michael Barrymore, Aspects Of Love, Barnum). However, we do small things to keep our feet on the ground. Our size gives us the opportunity to support local missions." Michael also believes it is the company's diversity that is surviving the recession: "No one company does the spread we do. God's been very good and by His grace we've survived when others haven't." Originally created in 1968 to support a young people's outreach it wasn't until 1978 that Wigwam became officially established, landing a large contract with Trusthouse Forte. Suddenly the company was able to provide tours for Brotherhood Of Man, Shirley Bassey and the like and hasn't looked back since. I asked Michael how Wigwam is perceived by the secular world. "We are known for our Christian values because we do pay our bills on time, because our word always holds strong."
Although he is keen to give a quality service however, Michael's heart is far more to see people meet with God, and to that end he would like to see and encourage better liaison between the Christian PA companies in the UK. For them to talk together and give training, encouragement and even pastoring when needed, and most of all to get their priorities right. As he declared, "We need to think about what we're doing and exactly why we're doing it."
Someone who can echo a lot of what Michael says is the chief in charge at Ibaadoe Sound And Light, Pete Blake. He suggests, "It would be good for PA companies to link up and support each other. It can be a very lonely business and we need to edify one another." Perhaps Pete's hopes to see a Christian Sound And Light magazine would be a step in that direction. Whatever, Pete does believe that there needs to be a development at grass roots level -those guys who handle the church PA! As he explains, "most are only hi-fi buffs with no training. There is a real naivety about what is needed for a gig, and a training conference would be good for them."
This desire for a greater degree of professionalism and quality amongst the Christian scene is undoubtedly the essence that has seen the rapid rise in Ibaadoe's reputation. Recognising that people in the music business were looking for top quality equipment at a price they can afford, Ibaadoe has put that into practice. So much so that within two years a 1.6K system and eight lights has transformed into enough hardware capable to put on both Cross Rhythms mainstage and the Rez band this year.
Be honest. The last time you went to a concert did you recognise the thankless task put on by the company that set up and took down all the gear that made your evening so good? It's so easy to assume "it's just their job" but the truth is a lot of the companies feel called to what they do by God. Pete Blake summed it up: "The companies who do this are serving the Lord just the same as the musicians. They are just as keen to see people have an encounter with Jesus as the people organising."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.