The new Boiler Shop has been created to provide Newcastle-upon-Tyne with a vibrant multidisciplinary arts and music centre. Part of an ambitious regeneration project carried out by the Clouston Group, it sits on the site that was originally home to the Robert Stephenson and Co. Locomotive Works, where the revolutionary Rocket was built in 1829.
Among the fine contemporary architecture, restored listed buildings, three acres of contemporary art and culture, restaurant and bars, it is fitting that the new 1000-capacity urban events space should occupy the original Grade II*-listed Boiler Shop itself, rich in engineering history. It is today able to host a wide range of corporate, cultural and arts events as well as live performance and exhibitions — thanks to the versatility of an integrated HARMAN sound reinforcement network featuring mission-critical JBL loudspeaker systems including the first UK install of the company’s flagship VTX line array.
Stephenson Works/Boiler Shop MD, Daveid Phillips, with whom HARMAN UK distributor Sound Technology Ltd had worked closely during the 10 years he spent as Head of Music at premier London venue KOKO, referred the project to Sound Technology’s Application Team. Working alongside Phillips is experienced production manager and FOH engineer, John Ashton.
Application Engineer, Stuart Strachan specified a Live Music system based around JBL VTX line array and associated premium brands from within the HARMAN portfolio, while his colleague, Hugo Burnard was responsible for designing the Corporate system around a BSS digital network hub and JBL CBT column arrays.
Taking care of the installation itself was Joss Lord Stevens of LS Acorn Ltd, and he, in turn, sub-contracted Jason Lee of PEL Ltd to handle technical detail.
The asymmetrical building, with pillars running down the middle of the room, presented a set of challenges for an installation in which one sound system for Live Music events would run lengthways down the room, while a second, but integrated system dedicated to conferencing would be set breadthways.
JBL VTX-V20 and CBT 70J were specified as the main enclosures for the respective purposes, although It was clear that due to the nature of the building, flying the VTX system would be a challenge. A meeting was held with the lighting provider, James Mounsey at TryLight, and rigging company, Alan McGregor at UK Rigging, to devise a solution to satisfy all production requirements.
Two new I-beams — using temporary fixings to the walls and pillars — were the ideal solution. Looking like a natural part of the building the I-beams allow the VTX-V20 elements to be flown without the appearance of specific rigging being installed.
The room is now equipped with a portable stage, which can be moved between its two main positions Live Music and Corporate), while the subs, frontfill, monitors and stageboxes are also portable, enabling them be positioned in keeping with the event.
The Live Music sound system comprises two hangs each of six JBL VTX-V20 line-array elements, powered by three Crown I-Tech 4x3500HD amplifiers. Subs consist of nine VTX-S25, ground stacked as three cardioid clusters of three, powered by five Crown I-Tech 12000HD. Front fill is provided by three stand-mounted JBL VTX F15s.
Choosing where to hang the arrays was a particular challenge due to the location of the stage, the asymmetric nature of the room and the restrictions on flying. However, the sound team was able to achieve excellent coverage throughout the room with main arrays supplemented by the front fills. VTX’s broad and predictable coverage helped achieve this goal, while the sub location along the front of the stage also delivered commendable LF coverage.
For stage monitoring, 11 JBL VTX-M20 wedge monitors running in passive mode have been deployed, along with two F18s for drum fill/DJ fill, powered by three I-Tech 4x3500HD (allowing an 11-way wedge mix).
For control, a new generation Soundcraft Vi3000 was specified for FOH and a Vi2000 for monitors, allowing the same amount of processing at either end, but with the smaller frame size of the Vi2000 purpose selected to fit on the stage. Each console connects to its own Vi Stagebox 64/32 via Cat5, allowing both operators control of their own high quality preamps.
The Vi3000 came with a Soundcraft Realtime Rack Ultimate, providing FOH engineers with studio quality UAD-2 plug-ins. The Apple Mac Mini computer and Dell touchscreen provided by LS Acorn allows not only control of the Realtime Rack, but also 64-channel record and playback directly from the Vi3000’s on-board Dante port.
As for the Corporate system this comprises 11 CBT 70J column arrays with the 70JE low frequency extension units, powered by three Crown DCi4|1250N. These are fitted to the steel pillars down the middle of the room using custom brackets, and to the brickwork pillars on the ‘glass wall’, facing the hotel. The tight narrow dispersion of the speakers helps avoid the reflective surfaces, with the horizontal dispersion wide enough to provide even coverage for seated events, dinners and other conference layouts.
Clouston Group CEO, Richard Clouston commented that not only were the CBTs aesthetically in keeping with the building, but that they actually enhanced the look of the pillars from where they are fixed. At either side of the Corporate stage, two JBL F15s can be added for extra reinforcement out front, as well as two M20s for monitoring.
In terms of control, a BSS Soundweb DSP back-end allows for the whole system to be switched between presets and managed by a common interface. This solution had also been recommended by Dave Cross of Midnight Electronics, Clouston Group’s environmental noise consultant because of its comprehensive sound limiting capabilities to satisfy off-site noise licensing requirements.
Presets can be changed using a simple EC-8BV wall controller located in the amp room. Preset switching allows the operator to choose between Live Music and Corporate modes, as well as access presets for DJs, and one so that bar staff can play background music from an MP3 player using a simple volume switch and input plate located behind the bar.
The BSS network is constructed from a BLU-806 and two BLU-160s – the 806’s Dante allowing for future expansion of the system, particularly relevant considering the rest of the upcoming regeneration projects planned for the Stephenson Quarter. The Soundweb also allows interfacing with the fire alarm system and provides the volume limiting to satisfy the conditions of the licence. In addition to this, the BSS system provides all I/O routing – while speaker presets, EQs and delays are assigned to the amplifiers.
A full suite of AKG mics was provided for both Live Music and Conferencing applications. Four channels of WMS4500 radio mics (with handheld and lapel mics) are also integrated via the Soundcraft consoles’ VM2 radio mic monitoring facility, which shows the battery life and RF level of the microphones on the screens of the Vi Series consoles.
In choosing a HARMAN solution and working with Sound Technology’s Application Team Daveid Phillips summarised, “I needed a company capable of providing a sound system suitable for this unique space and the various applications it would be used for.
“Apart from the challenges of creating even sound distribution across the entire space, it needed to be an elegant, and sympathetic installation due to the listing of the building and the significant history attached to the address.
“Both objectives have been achieved in fine style and we now have a sound system that is fit for purpose of both live, club events and corporate parties and one that also sits perfectly in its surroundings from an aesthetic point of view.”
The venue is fully supported by the global operator IHG and the team at the adjacent Crowne Plaza Hotel, also owned by the Clouston Group. The operators now see Boiler Shop as an opportunity to extend this important corporate offer further into the city.