Funktion-One founder John Newsham recently re-joined The Steve Hillage Band as FOH engineer for a short run of UK shows, shining fresh light on – amongst other things – the foundations of Funktion-One. Newsham first linked up with the band in 1976.
[Photos by Antonio Pagano]
“I was working as a technician in architecture at North East London Polytechnic,” he recalls. “My friend Steve Lewis from Virgin Management asked me to go on tour with the band, looking after their gear. The department head at the college told me to take a month off, he’d keep my job open, and if I liked the life then I should let him know. A month later I called him to say I did, and that was it.”
When the next tour came around, Newsham was installed as FOH engineer and has done every tour with the band since. It was around this time, while on tour in the States, that Newsham first met fellow Funktion-One founder Tony Andrews, who was in LA working with TFA Electrosound.
The pair were introduced by Hillage – their first encounter involving a conversation about how sound behaves underwater beside the pool at the Sunset Marquis in Hollywood. Before they parted, Andrews encouraged Newsham to pay him a visit when he got back to the UK, which he did. It was during this second meeting that Newsham heard Andrews’ loudspeaker technology for the first time and was blown away.
“When I met up with Tony, I had the experience of sound really coming to life,” recalled Newsham. “It seemed to project forward out of the speakers to form a dynamic presentation in the room.”
Until these recent shows, The Steve Hillage Band hadn’t toured since the mid-1980s, while Gong – the band Hillage was in previously – has continued with an evolving line-up. For the comeback shows, which took in Cambridge Junction, Manchester O2 Ritz, and London Shepherds Bush Empire – the current line-up of Gong played as Hillage’s backing band. dHouse systems were used in Manchester and London, but a Funktion-One Evo system – courtesy of Sound Services – was brought in for the Cambridge show. Sound Services was represented by founder Curt Gilmore, Flynn McBurney and Jesal Padia. As well as assisting with the system set-up in Cambridge, McBurney continued as monitor engineer.
“Steve’s playing was as fluid as ever and the band delivered the songs true to the originals,” said Newsham. “There were some fantastic comments about the sound, particularly in Cambridge.”
“To do these shows I really wanted to take an analogue console,” he explained. “With no production rehearsal and three different digital desks at the three venues I would struggle to work as fast and as naturally as I would need to and would also be starting from scratch each day rather than building the picture.
“The band and the desk would be the constants, the first gig would be on Funktion-One and I would then have a baseline to adapt to the other speaker systems. Sound Services had a well looked after Midas Verona which was light enough to travel in the tour bus trailer with the backline and projection gear, so we took that along with some basic analogue outboard.
“The great thing about analogue is that it’s totally in my comfort zone it’s all there in front of you and there’s no TV screen to distract from listening. No pages or software driven knobs to select of get confused over, analogue is massively faster and more intuitive. Reach over, grab a control and twist while listening to what it does, not looking at anything, in my view it’s the best way to mix.”
Gilmore said: “It was a pleasure working with John and the team on the Cambridge show. It was a great gig and it sounded amazing with our new Evo 6TH and Evo 7TL-215 combination. Nice to get our old Midas Verona 400 analogue desk out on a live show as well. Steve and the band were on top form.”
Following the success of these shows, The Steve Hillage Band with Newsham at FOH hits the road again for a 10-date tour in November.