How we made Stornoway’s farewell live album – Society of Sound

The current release on Society of Sound captures a very special moment in time: the final ever gig by the band Stornoway.

After a hugely successful ten years together Stornoway set out on their Farewell Tour in spring 2017. Eleven dates across the UK culminating with an emotional and euphoric hometown show at Oxford’s New Theatre on 12 March. The Real World mobile was on-hand to document the performance and this month’s release lets all of us who weren’t lucky enough to have been there on the night share the experience.

In this blog Oli Jacobs, from Real World Studios, who headed up the team charged with capturing the performance, shares his memories of a unique day.

“There’s something different about listening to a live record.

We feel part of something even though we aren’t there. Maybe it’s because we know it’s all been captured as one take – mistakes and all – and there are no second chances, particularly when it’s the band’s farewell show.

Recording a gig presents challenges not faced in the studio because the recording engineer is not the only person needing feeds from the microphones. They’re not the only person wanting a say in which microphones to use or where they should be placed. It’s a gig first, an album second. The live sound engineers have sometimes been touring the show for months before the recording engineers come onboard so it’s important to form a close working relationship with them early on. Fortunately for us, the whole Stornoway team went out of their way to ensure we had everything we needed to make the best possible album.

We drove to Oxford a little apprehensively – leaving the comfort and familiarity of Real World behind. We knew we had a good start – lucky to have access to the finest equipment available. Solid State Logic provided the console (a Live L500). This desk not only sounds amazing, it has a few nifty features that helped. The microphone preamps and analogue-to-digital converters sit on the side of the stage; this is common in live but less so in the studio. Doing it this way reduces interference and noise, compared to a long analogue cable run. It also allowed easy patching and problem solving for Tom and Oli who were helping me. We could position ourselves over 200 meters from the stage in a push for sonic isolation, to be able to hear what we were recording properly without hearing the PA system too. Unfortunately, the only place for us to setup our makeshift control room was just outside the men’s toilets, underneath the stage!

We wanted to give listeners to our recording a sonic experience as impressive as if they were sat in the middle of the auditorium during the gig itself. The New Theatre in Oxford is a traditional proscenium arch venue with tiered seating. We spent a while deciding where best to place microphones so that every cheer and shout could be captured. We chose to position two in the truss over the stage and four others positioned on the front of the stage and at the front of house mixing position. There is actually a section in the set where the PA system is turned off and Stornoway play acoustically. For this, we also rigged a pair of microphones at the front of the stage. During the acoustic section of the record, these (plus the ambient microphones) are all that you hear. Again, a recording of this nature can’t be easily edited or fixed.

You can hear a snippet of the soundcheck – Track 1. We got a good chance to check levels and tweak microphone positions, and were able to listen properly back to the sound check during a break. The show itself was a lively experience – we needn’t have worried about capturing the audience – at times they were louder than the band! Although, when the audience invaded the stage on the last track, we did escape from our makeshift studio underneath it…

Mixing the album was a really enjoyable experience back in the comfort of Real World (with an improvement on the smell of our recording position!). The band and I were keen not to over-process or fake anything. The mix process was emotional for the band – hearing back the cheers and shouts from an enthralled audience who were singing along to their songs for the last time.”

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