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Interview: Toby Alington on mixing the most-watched TV concert of 2017, One Love Manchester

Although organised under difficult and emotional circumstances, the concert in aid of victims of the Manchester Arena bombing succeeded in honouring both those affected and human spirit. Toby Alington had the task of mixing the on stage music for worldwide broadcast transmission. He talks to Kevin Hilton about getting ‘that’ phone call and meeting the challenge

The charity benefit concert is something broadcasters and facilities companies alike are now used to staging. Even so, these events are still huge undertakings and can take several months to organise logistically, technically and artistically. The One Love Manchester show was, as is now to be expected, an involved television, radio and live sound production but one put together in just over a week after the tragic event it was in reaction to.

One Love Manchester took place at Old Trafford Cricket Ground, not far from the Manchester Arena where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured more than 100 others at the end of Ariana Grande’s show at the venue on 22 May. Talk of a benefit concert to raise money for victims and their families, as well as commemorating those affected, grew in the days following the tragedy. Then events began to move very quickly.

“My phone rang on Bank Holiday Monday [29 May] asking me what I was doing that coming weekend,” says Toby Alington, who mixed the broadcast music for international distribution as well as for the BBC. “By Tuesday afternoon a plan had been put in place and we were on site by Friday.”

Alington is a veteran of live music for TV, with the BRIT and MTV Europe Music Awards, as well as numerous direct to cinema shows, among his credits. Even so there must have been some trepidation in taking on this project, particularly as the music festival and events season is getting into full swing.

This raised questions about the availability of facilities but, fortunately, leading companies, including Arena Television, Britannia Row (now part of Clair Global) and the Floating Earth studio truck were all available. “That was a huge relief,” Alington comments. “I had already been booked for a live to cinema concert the week after One Love and there was nothing available in the UK for that, so we had booked a French mobile. Thankfully there was a little window for Manchester when we were able to get all UK facilities.”

The Floating Earth truck, which Alington describes as “one of my favourites for multi-artist shows”, is equipped with a 128-channel SSL C200 console and a 192-channel Pyramix multitrack recorder, plus access to 256 remote microphone amps, fibre links to stages and two DirectOut MADI.SRC units giving an additional 64 channel inputs.

Arena Television, which already had several vehicles of its fleet committed to the BBC’s Springwatch nature series, supplied two vehicles for the TV presentation. In a statement the company said, “Arena has been working with BBC Music for a number of years covering largescale music events like Glastonbury. When we first heard about the possibility of covering this for the BBC, we made it clear we would do whatever it took to bring this event to air. We deployed roughly 50 percent more staff than normal as the timescale was very tight and the exact requirements were evolving day-by-day.”

For One Love Manchester, Arena supplied one of its recently introduced next generation IP-based trucks, OBY. This was used for the main event production, while the company’s OB10, equipped with a Calrec Sigma Bluefin console, was on presentation duties for the BBC. “We also sent up about twice the amount of equipment we normally require for an event like this so we could help work with organisers to provide any facilities needed for the broadcast,” Arena’s statement adds.

Alington mixed the music in Floating Earth, with the output of the C200 going to OBY, where on-stage presentation and audience atmosphere were added through the truck’s 64-fader Calrec Apollo desk to create the international show mix. From the stage Alington took 96 analogue splits, plus a further 64 MADI feeds over fibre from Coldplay’s self-contained rig, which was used for the band’s own performance as well as “other bits and pieces”. Alington says he chose to stick with more established connectivity technology because of “the speed the show moved at”, although having the MADI overlay “helped”.

One Love Manchester featured an array of artists, including Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Pharrell Williams, Take That, Liam Gallagher, Robbie Williams and Black-Eyed Peas. Ariana Grande made a widely acclaimed, emotional return to Manchester as the headliner.

Rehearsals took place the day before in London but the first the technical crews at Old Trafford heard of any of the performers – and still not all of them – was at 11am on Sunday, the day of the performance. “The doors opened at 3pm, so we had four hours to rehearse a five and a half-hour show,” Alington says. The end result was roundly praised and drew in an estimated TV audience of over 11 million people, making it the most watched broadcast event of the year so far.