Peter Gabriel Scratches His Back with the DiGiCo SD7

When Peter Gabriel decided to promote his latest album Scratch My Back via select live shows with a 54-piece orchestra, an immediate concern was how the Front of House mix position would accommodate the exacting audio requirements. The answer was a DiGiCo SD7, with enough inputs to make Gabriel's New Blood tour both a reality and a major success.

Gabriel is different things to different people. To some he will always be the ‘proper' Genesis frontman, to others a leading light in world music, to yet more the face in the Sledgehammer video. One thing he is not, however, is predictable. So recording a covers album and then promoting it via live shows with the New Blood Orchestra was just another innovative plan from a thoroughly progressive artist.

Manned by Richard Sharratt, the DiGiCo SD7 was supplied, along with the rest of the audio rig, by Britannia Row. After rehearsals in Shepperton and a Paris warm-up gig, the tour took in dates at Paris Bercy, the Berlin O2, London O2 Arena, Montreal Bell Centre, New York Radio City Music Hall and finally LA's Hollywood Bowl.

With 10 first violins, 10 second violins, eight violas, eight cellos and four basses comprising the string section alone, the channel count was inevitably high.

“All the strings had Schoeps CMC5/MK4 microphones. In addition, the violins and violas had an individual DPA 4060, the cellos and basses also having Schertler Dyn C and Dyn B pickups,” says Richard. “On top of that were mics for the woodwind, brass, piano, percussion, Peter's vocals and three backing singers. Once added to all the reverb channels, CD playback and stuff I was up to 130 inputs in total, which only the SD7 can handle.


Richard Sharratt with the FOH SD7 for Peter Gabriel

Above: FOH Engineer Richard Sharratt with the FOH SD7

To mix the show, Richard set up snapshots for each song, using them for mutes, pans, aux sends and fader level and also reassigning control groups and changing reverbs (both onboard and externally by midi) but from there he mixed the show on the fly, having to react to the ever-changing dynamics of the orchestra.and Peter Gabriel.

“The arrangements were so dynamic, from tiny to enormous, that finding room for the vocals on top was a definite challenge,” he says. “The SD7 was great because there were so many inputs, so many groups, auxes and matrixes. I had all the faders I needed with 24 control groups in front of me for each song. It all worked really well.”

He continues, “I also used the DiGiTubes on the brass, which really warmed up the sound. I hadn't experimented with them before and I liked them a lot.”

Despite the acoustic challenges of mixing the show, the SD7 handled the situation extremely well, DiGiCo's renowned clarity of sound also ensuring that the orchestral sound was as uncoloured as possible.

“I think the SD7 sounds great. I thought the D5 sounded great and it's a continuation of the same line,” says Richard. “From a control point of view it's everything a D5 could do, but better.

“The colour coding of the controls is a big step forward, for example. People see it and think it looks pretty, but in fact you see a green parameter on the screen and you know to grab a green highlighted knob to go with it. It's brilliant and it's all there for a reason. The whole layout is great.”

Richard Sharratt and the SD7

 Above: Richard Sharratt, FOH Engineer for Peter Gabriel

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