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Mark Knopfler gets the SW19 treatment
Production manager Kevin Hopgood has been working with Mark Knopfler since 2006 and has developed a strong relationship with Paul Crockford, Knopfler’s manager and his team. With Kevin’s recent move to SW19, it was a logical step for the newly formed production company to take on the logistics of Knopfler’s current tour.
“Most people on the tour, including Paul’s team of Lauren Sass and Bree Ishikawa have been working with Mark for many years; they’re great people to work with and Mark has such a good work ethic,” says Kevin. “We’re doing 71 shows over four months during this tour, which started in mid April and will finish at the end of July, with around five or six shows a week, most of which are back to backs. We do a residency at the RAH for six days, which normally falls in the middle of the run.”
The current tough economic climate means that the touring industry is becoming increasingly more cost conscious, but, says Kevin, Knopfler and his team have stuck to their original ethos. “Mark’s tours are about doing things properly, rather than the money, which is refreshing,” Kevin smiles. “He makes touring decisions quite early, so there’s plenty of lead time, which is also a big help, and we had sold out a lot of shows early on. We’ve been doing some big capacity venues across Europe and people really get value for money – it’s a two hour show, which includes Dire Straits numbers as well as Mark’s own material too.”
This tour has seen some changes of supplier; Entec, with whom Kevin has had an association for many years, is taking care of lighting for the first time, although lighting designer Simon Tutchener and the lighting crew have remained the same for a number of tours. Lars Brogaard’s Major Tom continues to supply audio requirements.
“We like to work with smaller companies,” explains Kevin. “Marks’ relationship with people is very strong and very important to the tour, plus we feel we work better with smaller companies.
“The most important thing on the tour is audio. It has to sound right above everything else. It looks great too - we’ve kept that very simple and haven’t included any video. Lars has just bought the Meyer Leo system and we think we’re the first arena tour in Europe to go out with it. Dave Dixon at FOH, and Sven Waldheim, the system tech, were keen to work with the Leo, having listened to a lot of different systems. We’ve changed the bass cabinet and the configuration, taking it from a two to a three-box system, which seems to work better for Mark’s type of music, which has an acoustic folk vibe to it in some of the more recent material.
“We’ve also changed consoles from DiGiCo D5s to SD7s, which is working out well. We have 96 inputs, with nine players on stage; Mark rarely does the same set list twice, so sometimes there are instrumentation changes – and there are a lot of instruments, as the guys in the band play lots of different things, which means we have a whole truck full of backline, including a lot of guitars. Mark tends to change guitars for most tracks and sometimes within tracks, so we have about 50 guitars in total, including collectables like a 1958 Les Paul and the National from the Brothers in Arms album cover. Because these instruments are vintage, you can’t mess around with their insides, which means there are lots of buzzes bought about by local power conditions & building quirks and that brings its own challenges.”
To cope with this, the tour has five backline crew: a drum tech, a keyboard tech and three guitar techs.
“And they’re busy!” says Kevin. “We have to take a lot of care when we’re touring, as some of the guitars are worth huge amounts of money. In fact, they have their own security guard who goes on stage after the soundcheck while the crew take a break.”
Transportation is via four Redburn trucks, a company with whom Kevin has a long association. “We’re always trying to find ways of fitting extra shows in, as Mark would rather play a show than not, so Redburn has to be flexible & is heavily involved in the planning stages,” he explains. “We have a bunch of outdoor shows at the end of the tour and, although we try to take production in with us whenever we can, we do also play festivals with local production.
The outdoor shows are in locations such as Malta and Sicily, where temperatures can rise to around 40°C, which presents its own problems.
“But we have space blankets to cover the equipment to keep it as cool as possible,” Kevin concludes. “But we’re used to the various demands, and all in all, we have a very running smooth tour.”