As superheroes go, Super Sound Man isn’t quite up there with Superman, Spiderman, Batman or even Robin. In fact, he’s pretty low down on the list, sharing the bottom rung with the likes of Turn-over Tabloid Journalist, Most Promising Politician and Smarmy Solicitor.
It’s not a job for the feint-hearted. No human with a sound mind should agree to mix sound. It’s a thankless task, arriving at the crack of dawn before anyone else to manhandle huge speakers onto a stage and then leave at midnight, packing the van when everyone else has gone home.
But sometimes there comes a knock on the door which is hard to turn down.
It’s a bit like this:
Knock: “You’re in a band/disco and have a sound system, don’t you?”
Super Sound Man: “Er, yes.”
Knock: “Would you mind helping me out with a little show? We’ll make sure you get plenty of cups of tea.”
Super Sound Man: “Of course.”
So that, in a nutshell, is why I spent Sunday at Herne Bay Bandstand perched on the side of the stage and twiddling knobs for Bay crooner Martin Farbrother’s Seaside Special.
“He can twiddle knobs with both hands,” Mr Farbrother announced to the incredulous crowd which was silently shifting into Canterbury City Council deckchairs.
Mr Farbrother, a sort of jovial, singing Fat Controller, was factually correct. I CAN twiddle knobs with both hands. Unfortunately, neither hand knows what the other is doing.
Mixing is hardly rocket science. The knack is to adjust sound levels so the audience can hear the singer above the backing track or, in the case of a band, everyone else over the drummer.
It should not be above the wit of most people, especially those like me who have A-levels. But it is far more complicated than that, which is why I do it so rarely. There are strange dials and sockets on most mixing desks these days which point to mythical outposts such as Compression Gate, Aux Send, LED clip and the sinister-sounding Sub Group.
Performers are also far too knowledgeable for their own good.
“Can I have bit more top in my bottom monitor?” they demand.
It was half-way through the sound-check that I discovered a most brilliant trick.
“It’s a bit boomy. Can you give me less bottom?” suggested a singer.
I made out I was twiddling one of the many knobs facing me and then looked up from the mixer and gave her my best “Is that OK?” stare.
She smiled back. “Thanks. Perfect!”
Mr Farbrother had provided me with his laptop, a nice-looking model but ruined by Windows 8 (don’t get me started on THAT). Each song was in order. All I had to do was punch the “enter” key on cue. What could go wrong?
Well, during rehearsals a strange ethereal voice came over the PA when each track stopped. We had a conference and then disengaged a part of i-Tunes which had secretly installed itself while none of us was looking.
Despite this, the performance on stage was perfect. I only played the wrong track twice, which I thought was pretty good going.
The four-hour entertainment was a throw-back to the end-of-the-pier shows of yesteryear although Herne Bay no longer has a pier, more a little stump. The show opened with the three Panini Sisters gyrating through the audience from the back of Makari’s coffee shop to the tune Let’s Dance.
The Crooner opened with Beyond The Sea and then introduced the powerfully voiced Thelma Manville to sing Get The Party Started before she handed over to her pint-sized young daughter Grace, who instantly won the crowd over with her version of Fame.
Baritone Gary Cordes blasted out songs from the shows such as Oh What A Beautiful Morning, Ol’ Man River and You’ll Never Walk Along before the Crooner and the Panini Sisters closed the first half.
Mrs Crooner brought me a cup of tea.
The second half started with the Crooner and his new singing partner Lisa Barrett-Smith bashing out the duet Let’s Face The Music And Dance along with the Panini Sisters. Lisa went on to sing Makin’ Whoopee, I Get A Kick Out Of You and That Old Devil Called Love in a solo spot in a tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.
The Crooner rejoined her to sing the Frank and Nancy Sinatra song Something Stupid before blonde singing duo The Blondelles bounced onto the stage with 50s and 60s hits like Dream Lover, Ob La Di, I Like It and Blue Suede Shows.
There was just time for the Crooner to return with the rest of the cast to close the show with New York, New York. When the crowd called for more, they gave them the old Morecambe and Wise classic Bring Me Sunshine as an encore.
During the proceedings I managed to navigate various comments such as: “turn it up/down”; “the vocals are too loud/soft” and ”can we have more/less of the backing music.” Somehow I survived.
But I also learned that, unlike other Super Heroes, Super Sound Man can never win. If I ever get a knock on my door again, I’m going to be out. And fade…
Photos: Madeleine Cordes and Pete Revell