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Yamaha Is Back on the Yellow Brick Road with Elton John


High profile Yamaha artist Elton John is once again out on the road, supported by his full band and, this time, additional musicians. But his links with Yamaha go much further than his piano, with the company’s mixing consoles a long-term fixture on his live shows. And this time there’s cellos too…

The Rocket Man’s 2011 touring schedule is taking in the UK, Europe, Asia, Canada and the US, before settling in Las Vegas for a month-long residency, after which it’s off to Russia, the Ukraine, Australia, New Zealand and Asia again.

The shows feature Elton’s five piece backing band (drummer Nigel Olsson, percussionist John Mahon, bassist Bob Birch, guitarist Davey Johnstone and keyboard player Kim Bullard), plus backing vocalists Lisa Banks, Jean Witherspoon, Tata Vega and the Grammy-winning Rose Stone. In addition, a pair of cellists - Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser - have been added for the current run of dates and percussionist Ray Cooper joins the ensemble for the Vegas shows.

One thing that has not changed from previous tours is the Yamaha mixing consoles at the front of house and monitor positions, a PM5000 and PM1D, manned by Matt Herr and Alan Richardson respectively

“Elton’s longtime front of house engineer Clive Franks retired last year, but I had been working with him for about eight years and already had plenty of experience in mixing the shows, so I was happy to step into his shoes,” says Matt. “It made for a seamless transition when Clive decided to ‘come off the road’.”

The tour’s audio equipment is being supplied by Clair Bros - as it has since 1972 - and Matt was content for the tried and tested Yamaha combination to remain.

“Alan has been using the PM1D since it came out and Clive used the PM5000 with Elton for a long time. I did think about moving to the PM1D, but in the end I thought ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’,” says Matt. “I like the PM5000 and Elton’s shows are all about a real bands playing real instruments, so I think the shows deserve an analogue sound.”

The monitor setup combines wedges and in-ears, with Alan using only the PM1D’s onboard effects, while at FOH Matt uses a limited amount of outboard. “It’s basically a Lexicon 480, a couple of harmonisers to spread the sound of the backing vocals and a couple of delays on Elton’s vocals,” he notes.

One challenge of mixing the shows presented itself early on, but Yamaha came up with an immediate solution.

“Elton has four wedges, two with vocals and two with a full band mix, which he likes to have at around 120-122dB A-weighted at the ears. It’s not the sort of place that most people want to be during a show,” Matt smiles. “When the cellists came in, we started off by miking their acoustic cellos, but the onstage levels were causing problems with drowning them out. So we approached Yamaha, who provided a pair of SVC110 Silent Cellos™. The cellists were sceptical at first, but they were won over as soon as they tried them.

“Incorporating the cellos into the mix has added a new dimension to what is a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Before we’ve done string parts from keyboards, so live strings brings something extra and has made me go back to basics with how I mix the show. It’s been a good experience.”

With a CFIIIS Concert Grand series piano centre-stage, Yamaha is a truly integral part of the tour and Matt is more than happy for that to be the case.

“What you need on a tour like this is gear that works reliably and truly global support,” he says. “It’s like having a warm blanket. We all know that the equipment is extremely reliable and the technical backup is second to none. Yamaha looks after us really well.”


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