While Chichester Festival Theatre was sadly closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak it became a perfect time to utilise the space and transform it into a recording studio to capture Richard Taylor's wonderful 'Flowers for Mrs. Harris'. Having previously mixed the show at Chichester I was delighted when sound designer, Mike Walker invited me to join the recording team.
Using the vast CFT stage meant we were able to socially distance the musicians and cast to ensure the recording was inline with government guidelines at the time.
Transforming the space into a recording studio under normal conditions would have required a fair amount of preparation but given the increased health and safety measures due to COVID it had to be carefully mapped out to ensure it was fully COVID secure.
The stage become the live room, the rear dock became the control room. Drawings were created to ensure that cast and musicians were appropriately spaced with a least 2 meters apart and 3 for the greater aerosol-generating instruments which allowed us plenty of room to run cables and place microphones.
A chalked mark-out demonstrated that the drawings were pretty accurate.
Risk assessments were created to ensure a safe working environment, we consulted and compared a number of relevant organisations such as BECTU, MU, Abbey Road as well as the government guidance.
As we were a fairly unique scenario being in a theatre but doing a studio recording it was important to consider everything.
In the control room...
It was a good opportunity to try out Yamaha's flagship next generation console the RIVAGE PM10 using their new hybrid preamplifiers connecting to RPio 622 rack via fibre. I was very impressed with the natural sound, accuracy and adaptability of the console. I look forward to hearing the console in a live application.
It was important to hear the recording on high-quality monitors, so the newly updated Opus ISO's become an obvious choice, delivering the low end were Opus 218's which crossed over on the console. Having previously worked with these loudspeakers meant that we understood how they behaved which meant we could make conscious decisions about microphone placement and captured audio.
In the live room...
A selection of microphones mostly consisting of high quality condensers from Neumann, Sennhesier and DPA were chosen to capture the vocals and orchestra. Vocals were recorded on Neumann TLM 103’s along with pop shields. We also decided to use radio microphones in the hairline to capture and compare the live feel as well as provide us with a familiar sound we knew well. We could then pick and chose a combination of these in post production. Sennheiser D9000 series were specified along with MKE1 capsules as per the original theatre sound design.
Musicians and cast members were wearing headphones to avoid any unnecessary noise spilling into their microphones.
It was important for us to adjust their individual mixes to ensure each vocalist and musician was hearing everything they required. As the cast were at least a 9 meter distance from the conductor they relied heavy on their headphone mix.However, some musicians found that the additional distance between players was a benefit and made it easier to be able to hear each other, rather than needing to use headphones.
In total we had three days from loading in to returning the new CFT studio back to a blank stage so scheduling was precise and between Mike, Richard, Tom and CFT staff a plan was put into place that allowed for a good balance between the technical and musical elements.
Everyone had been busy at home re-familiarising themselves with the busy score. Music was send out in advance for everyone to bring their individual copies along to the session. As the musicians hadn't played together in group for quite a while it was surprisingly harder than normal.
This wonderful short film documents the making of the cast album and the unprecedented impact of the pandemic on some of the freelancers involved. Flowers for Mrs Harris captures the glowing humanity of the novel by Paul Gallico on which it is based.
Post Production - Mix and Master
The console and monitoring set up was installed back at Loh Humm Studios in Sussex where audio takes were selected by Richard, Tom and Mike. It was edited and mixed by Mike with assistance from Chris Simpson. Reaper was chosen as the Digital Audio Workspace, primarily using plug-ins provided by Izotope and Exponential Audio.
Produced by Richard Taylor and Mike Walker
Engineered by Mike Walker
Conducted by Tom Brady
Orchestrations by Richard Taylor
Assistant Recording Engineers: Charlie Smith, Maxim Gamble and Mike Keniger
Mixed at Loh Humm Studios
Assistant Mix Engineer: Chris Simpson
Producer for SimG Records Simon Greiff
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"A wonderful cast album"
Musical Theatre Review
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“The intimacy and emotional connection of the show is captured so beautifully. Clare Burt and Mark Meadows imbue each line with honesty and such masterful storytelling through voice from the outset that you’re immediately transported, not a skill so often achieved by many cast recordings. The ability to maintain this absorption throughout is one of the biggest hallmarks of this album.”
★ ★ ★ ★
"A poignant and heart-warming listen."
"...masterfully engineered by Mike Walker"
“A charming musical with a huge heart and one of the best translations to an album I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.”