Monty Lee Wilkes
Veteran FOH engineer Monty Lee Wilkes died August 26, 2016; while he was known for mixing everyone from Prince and Britney Spears to Nirvana and The Replacements, he also had a way with storytelling. That was readily apparent in this article he wrote for Pro Sound News' December, 2004 issue, where he recounted his excitement at mixing legendary punk songstress Siouxsie Sioux at the birthplace of British Punk Rock, The 100 Club in London.
The 100 Club, London! To me, The 100 is the Ryman Auditorium of Punk Rock, and as for Punk Rock…it changed my life. Siouxsie And The Banshees were one of the bands that played--in fact debuted at--the legendary 100 Punks Festival at the club, and now I was going to mix her current tour, "An Evening with Siouxsie, The Banshees, And The Creatures," there for three nights. It was the first time that she played there since that debut years ago, so it was a big deal and I was thrilled to be a part of it.
Upon arriving in London the day before the shows, we convened for a production meeting, and then went over to have a look. It was opened in 1942 as a place for U.S. servicemen to dance. It was all about Jazz, and remained so for quite some time (how punk rock came to rear it's ugly head there in the first place I'm not sure, but it was the only place that would “let” the Sex Pistols play.)
Well, it hasn't changed a bit! Sure, there are some (admittedly really tiny) speakers hanging from the ceiling over the stage that probably weren't there in '42, but that's about it. Everything else is untouched. I could feel the soldiers and their dates around us in the stairwell as we descended. The emotions and the tensions of the time still hung in the air like cobwebs for those perceptive enough to feel them.
I was in awe before I even got to the tiny stage that some of my biggest heroes have graced. I hate to sound like a star-struck teenager, but damn it, if a 42 year old man can't be moved in such a fashion, then rock IS dead. That stage has seen people like Joe Strummer sweat, bleed and give their all for the art that they believed in. The place may be a hole, but it’s not a dump. It's a low-ceilinged rectangle, with the bar along one end, the stage in the middle playing the short way, with the dance floor opposite end as the bar. Sure, the stage should be at the other end, but to change it would be criminal. There are also three large posts, one dead center about two feet into the audience. It still hosts jazz and swing for the most part, but rock still weasels its way in there on occasion.
Budgie and Knox, our drummer and guitar player respectively, showed up shortly after us. Now Budgie is quite legendary amongst not only punk rock aficionados, but is looked upon as one of the finest drummers of his time. Had one told me 27 years ago that I would be sharing drinks at the 100 Club with Budgie some day... Yeah, right!
Returning the next day to set up, I opted to be as “un-invasive” as possible, but did augment the rig with a couple of subwoofers on each side. The house rig consists of three ancient Turbosound mid/hi boxes flown downstage per side with some form of even older Turbo box on the back wall on each side of the stage, painted red to match the walls. We hit them each separately with a mono matrix from my Yamaha DM2000 desk and off we went.
The show’s volume was dictated primarily by the proximity of Siouxsie’s vocal mic to the PA speakers, which were typically 18 inches away from her mic, when I was lucky. You can either EQ it death, so that it’s louder but sounds crap, or use your head and take the room and rig on their own terms. This is the kind of gig that I cut my teeth on, where I learned my most basic “chops,” if you will. Management thought that with me coming off of mixing Britney Spears’ tour and whatnot, I wasn’t going to dig this. Little did they know that I was right at home.
I received good reviews, but have to point out that if not for the fact that we were all personal monitors, with almost nothing coming off the stage but drums, albeit loads of them, I doubt that we would be able to pull this off with the clarity and separation that we did. It helped that the Yamaha DM2000 was perfect for the 100 Club gigs. I utilized nothing but its onboard processing for every aspect, and the tiny footprint was appreciated by all since there was really nowhere to put it.
What a show! First off, it was hot--Siouxsie Sioux has a particular aversion to air conditioning due to a throat condition, thus it was all turned off. Meanwhile, I wound up mixing on the floor with the desk on a 14U rack, and it was a rollercoaster ride. The crowd shoved me all over the place. All I could do was hang on as my mix position moved two feet this way, then two feet back. I had anticipated this with proper cable dressing, and just held on for the ride, but I couldn’t see the stage at all. Our LD laughed his ass off, but as for me, I would have disappointed had the conditions been anything other.
It was pretty different than our next gig at the Royal Festival Hall with orchestra, where the DM2000 was loaded up to it’s full 96 inputs with 12 outputs driving the PA and record feeds. But that night at the 100 Club, despite the frenzy, I recorded four tracks into MOTU’s Digital Performer, creating a stereo board mix augmented with two room mics--a couple of 57’s taped to an ashtray on a shelf! I got your punk rock right here, pal!
In the end, everyone got what they came for, everyone: all the Goths, young and old, the crème de la crème of the fetish crowds, not to mention the middle-aged punks such as myself clamoring for one last chance at recapturing lost youth, if only for an evening. People were wandering aimlessly afterward as though they had been stunned. And they had been. Siouxsie Sioux delivers the goods every night, with a huge, magnificent voice and a presence that commands the stage like few others for two-and-a-half hours every night.
On the second night, the owner, Jeff, a fine man, asked me if I would mind changing the pre-show music to “well, a bit more punk, you know. Can you get some Clash in there?” I just threw my latest “in the car” iTunes playlist on… Pistols, Clash, Stranglers, Stooges, Eddie And The Hot Rods, and everyone was happy.
But none more so than me.