Procol Harum

the Pale

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Hollywood Bowl, 21 September 1973

Some feedback feedback

If you run a rock website the thing you really want is feedback: not so if you're responsible for amplifying an orchestra and rock-band!

In May 2000 Scott Supak wrote to BtP, asking us to pass on a letter that took issue with one of our contributors and his reasoning about the Hollywood Bowl sound-problem: this we did, and that contributor's prompt reply is printed below.

Both messages are reproduced with permission, and we hope that they do shed useful light on the engineering difficulties of the famous PH Hollywood Bowl concert, as well as setting the record straight ... and showing what a civilised bunch we Procol fans can be, even when our points of view differ.

Scott Supak writes:

Regarding Mr. David Pelletier's comments on the Hollywood Bowl gig ....

Easy to blame the other guy, isn't it?

The Hollywood Bowl, in 1973 especially, was a unique place with many audio problems. Most of those problems were ironed out in the long run. As for "that damned orchestra engineer" - that would be Frank Supak, my Dad, who just died recently. He often told me of the problems associated with lease-event engineers who complain about it not being loud enough and then complain about the quality when it was turned up ...

In your case, you stated that an orchestra member who didn't want the mike so close moved it, and that, of course, would cause major problems, especially in feedback. Your anti-union point-of-view sticks out then, when you blame my Dad for the problems, rather than stick with your original assertion that if the mike had been close it would have been like the rehearsal.

My father was well-liked throughout the audio world and made many contributions to his field. The comments from the likes of Zubin Mehta, Johnny Green, and many others tell me that he was a true pro who took his job very seriously. In fact, I remember seeing a Procol Harum album around that he listened to before the show. He always did that back in the days when he was told, by his superiors in the Hollywood Bowl Management, that he had to mix every show (a practice which later changed, allowing mixers with egos like yours to mix your own shows, leaving Dad to do the orchestra only).

Anyway, I've built a web site about my Dad that I think you should check out. Contrary to popular belief, just because he was a Union guy doesn't mean he didn't know his stuff - especially that house.

David Pelletier replies:

Scott: Sorry about your dad's passing away. You are right, he was a good engineer and I had the opportunity to work with him before the Procol show and after. I first met him when Tycobrahe was brought in to do A-B comparisons with the Bowl's "new" system. Chris Jaffe's column system from the early 70s just wasn't exactly hacking it. Your dad was as frustrated as the audience because he was the poor bugger who had to turn mud into gold. Of course the management who was sold this bill of goods could only look at your dad and say: "How come it can't do these shows we paid for it to do?" Needless to say, we felt sorry that he was put in such a position.

In the case of the Procol show, it was true that about 12 of the string players raised their mikes so that any gain without massive bleed from the electric instruments the band was using was futile. I believe the "Bowl" had a Spectra-sonics board at the time and since they weren't bad for what they were, we agreed with your dad to let the orchestral elements be mixed through that. Procol went through a second board and brass, winds, percussion and the chorale went through a third.

Your dad mixed the first board, Chris Thomas (one of the world's best producers) mixed the second and I mixed the third. Your dad's feed and mine were sent into the second board. Unfortunately, it started to become awkward, because he wanted to hear what he couldn't and Chris Thomas was reaching for what he wanted to hear. Me, I had the easy stuff. I'm sorry to say, that the gears didn't mesh well that night, not because of anyone's particular personality, but because everyone was trying too hard, under a lot of pressure, to get it right.

Well, the "physics" gods were conspiring against us and at some point frustration may have risen to the point where we asked that the strings be set and left alone, because "reaching" for what you couldn't get was just making the band louder. Trust me, your dad was just as frustrated as all of us, because we knew how much he wanted to have it come out perfect. He was very supportive of the "one-sided" PA tower and commented about how this was the first time he had been "punched" in the chest by bass notes at the rear of the "Bowl." He liked it during the soundcheck and had his role down.

Believe me, if we didn't think he was up to the job, we wouldn't have invited him to fulfill the role he played at the actual concert. We had tremendous respect for the pride he had in his job, and trust me, we knew he's seen little shits like us come and go. Hey: he was "Frank" the "Hollywood Bowl Sound Engineer." I had worked with him previously on the Pink Floyd gig, some Wolfman Jack show, Rod Stewart, and a whole bunch of others I can't even remember.

So, don't take what we have written as being derisive of a guy we had a lot of respect for. Things happen. Try having to answer to Mick Jagger when Annie Liebowitz kicks out the wiring on Mick's monitors during a crucial part of a Stones show, just because she is trying to get the right photo. Trust me, when I say: Annie's excuses didn't go down too well with Mr. J. I hope this helps you understand the whole story. Damn, if I could tell the number of times Jim Gamble and I almost came to fisticuffs you'd be appalled. And we worked for the same company.

If you have any questions don't hesitate to write. Take care ...

Thanks, both

The original soundman's article

An illustrated report of the concert in question

More of Mick Grabham's Hollywood images here

Chris Michie's account here

A website dedicated to the late Frank Supak, orchestral sound-engineer at this concert

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