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New Clair system stands up for Ian Anderson

The Jethro Tull frontman is on the road revisiting one of the band's finest moments. His British dates saw a new, small line array supporting the concept. Kevin Hilton reports

Ian Anderson, leader of Jethro Tull, occasional solo artist, Laird and fish-farmer, is well known for his eccentric sense of humour and his exacting standards, both musically and technically. Both of these are apparent in his latest venture, the Thick as a Brick 2 (TAAB2) album and an accompanying tour, with the British leg featuring a new compact line array system supplied by rental firm Clair Global. The new recording is a sequel to Tull’s 1972 LP Thick as a Brick, which Anderson conceived as a response to critics who labelled its predecessor, Aqualung (1971), a concept album. The singer-songwriter and flautist denied the record had any conceptual basis and so conceived the follow-up as “the mother of all concept albums” and a send-up of bombastic and pretentious progressive rock bands of the time. Credited to “Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson”, TAAB2 is sub-titled Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock?, a reference to the – fictitious – eight-year old boy who supposedly wrote the lyrics for Thick as a Brick. Anderson is on the road this year, playing both the original LP and its follow-up in full with a touring band featuring guitarist Florian Opahle and composer/musical director John O’Hara. The UK tour saw Anderson and his band playing mostly in theatres, concert halls and civic buildings, rather than arenas. “He does like playing theatres,” comments Mike Downs, who has worked with Anderson “on and off” for 20 years as both studio and live sound engineer. Not all of these would seem immediately well suited for rock bands but Downs says Anderson “knows about acoustics and venues”. Downs is mixing front of house using a range of Yamaha digital consoles, including the M7CL, LS9 and the PM5D, which is his preferred desk. Over the years, he says, he has used a number of loudspeaker systems for Anderson’s live work, Meyer rigs and the d&b audiotechnik Q-Series among them. “The main problem with indoor shows is that the venues are either too thin or too wide,” Downs comments, “so you have to adjust the amount of horizontal curve. If you’re getting a dispersal of only 70 to 80º then you have to put in side hangs.” The ideal situation, Downs observes, is for the whole audience to hear what is going on from the same source. A system claimed to offer this was suggested to him by production manager Chris Archer. “He asked if I was interested and sent over the spec,” says Downs. “When I saw it I was raring to go.” The rig was the iMicro, designed and built by Clair Brothers Audio Systems, the audio equipment division of rental company Clair Global. The rig is a small line array, something that Harry Witz, senior director of systems development at Clair Audio, acknowledges is offered by most manufacturers. 

Big business 

Clair is known for its big rigs, both line array and horn-based, but Witz says the company was seeing a need to cater for smaller venues. “Rather than bringing larger stuff into theatres and so on, we began looking at a more compact system because most people would think in terms of a mid-sized rig for a theatre instead of something micro,” he explains. “But something like this takes up less space and you need only one truck. It operated beyond our expectations and in some cases it might produce mid format performance.” The iMicro is a three-way active system and follows the larger i5 and i3 line arrays. It comprises a 30cm high, 67cm wide, 47cm deep box housing a centrally located large format compression driver couple to proprietary wave guides for the HF and two 8” long excursion high power drivers for mids and LF. The Ian Anderson UK shows used 12 iMicro boxes a side with three BT2 18 sub basses each in an inverted cardioid stack. Clair’s older SS2 cabinet was used for front fills. The tour was a Clair Global production, with the Swiss, UK and US offices working together. Simon Bauer of AudioRent Clair in Switzerland was systems technician on the UK performances; he says the iMirco’s specially designed rigging allows it to be set up quickly and easily, with “no loose bits and bobs”. A particular feature is how it is able to be curled into a ball on de-rigging and then uncurled when it is being hoisted, with only one person running the process. An aspect that impressed both Bauer and Downs was the ability to change the horizontal coverage of the system between 80, 120 and 160º, according to the size and shape of the auditorium. “That means you can adapt it for wide or narrow venues,” says Bauer, “and eliminate as many reflections as possible.” After the UK the TAAB show moved on to Germany, where a d&b system had booked some time in advance, and later in the year will hit the US, where Anderson remains popular. Whether anyone will really know what happened to Gerald Bostock is another matter.