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Audio at Glastonbury: The PSNE review

As the sun beamed down on Glastonbury’s Other Stage on Saturday afternoon, the unmistakable figure of former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher arrived on stage every inch the resurgent rock’n’roll star. Kitted out in black from head to toe, the familiar swagger and the confrontational stare were there for all to see, whether up close from the front barrier or further afield via one of the stage’s two jumbo screens. The stage was well and truly set for a triumphant return to the world’s most popular and beloved festival for one of the most iconic frontmen this nation has ever produced.

Yet, as the opening chords of Oasis classic Rock’n’roll Star rang out over the tens of thousands of fans who had gathered to see if the youngest Gallagher still had what it takes to captivate a crowd of such magnitude in 2017, it was clear something wasn’t quite right. Within seconds of the vocals kicking in, Gallagher could be seen throwing gestures side stage that suggested that perhaps he wasn’t too happy with what he was hearing on stage. And it was a similar story for the masses in attendance. From various vantage points, the audio that was supposed to be pumping and thumping out front was, at times, inaudible, particularly for those on the outer reaches of the audience, as the sound veered from muddy to quite and back again. Still, in fine voice for much of the set, Gallagher’s snarling vocals were what the masses were predominantly here for, and for the most part, they generally rang loud and clear throughout proceedings.

Likewise, US pop icon Katy Perry, making her Pyramid Stage debut on Saturday, delivered a set besieged by technical difficulties. The star’s distinctive brand of sun-tinged bubble gum pop was intermittently interrupted by audio issues, with sound cutting out at various points during the performance. Many, though, will likely have been too distracted by the dizzyingly surreal, brightly coloured outfits and stage props that whirled and twirled around the singer as she bounded around the stage and twerked with Glasto security staff.

However, for the rest of the weekend, Glastonbury’s top two stages held up exceedingly well on the audio front, making for an exceptional run of spectacular bill-toppers. Friday night headliners Radiohead, making their third headline appearance at Worthy Farm 20 years after their first, dazzled the audience with a precision perfect performance to which the delivery of equally precise sound was essential. In a set filled with both guitar-fuelled rockers and experimental electro noodling, the audio quality at the Pyramid Stage was near perfect for the duration of their two-hour, career-spanning set.

It was a similar story with Saturday night’s headliners Foo Fighters. The band’s straightforward approach to rock – hit hard and play as loud as possible – sounded gloriously raucous and packed plenty of punch, as frontman Dave Grohl whipped the crowd into a frenzy from their opening number, such was the blistering sound emanating from the line-arrays.

Festival closer and biggest act in the world right now, Ed Sheeran, also benefitted from clear, clean sound at the Pyramid on Sunday night. While his set-up is surely the most simple ever deployed by a Pyramid Stage headliner in the festival’s long and illustrious history – one acoustic guitar, one loop pedal – that just highlighted the importance of reliable audio on the night.

Which just goes to re-emphasise the influence audio quality can have at live events of this scale. It really can be the difference between cementing an artist’s place in the annals of music history, or rendering a potentially legendary musical moment a mere damp squib.

Last week, PSNE spoke to freelance sound mixer for such things as Glastonbury and Later… With Jools Holland all about the reliability of gear when operating in the realm of live shows and TV broadcasts. You can read our interview with him here.