Ray Furze

Ray Furze in Profile – L&SI
© Mike Mann

One of the UK’s most successful live sound engineers, Ray Furze charts his career path right back to his mother’s dining room in Yorkshire…

“Our family was always arguing about whether our huge radiogram sounded better with the lid open or closed,” he explained, “My mother liked the lid down so that the whole cabinet resonated, but my sisters, my brother and I all preferred it up so that we could hear the top end!”

Having left school at 15 to work in his father’s electrical shop, Furze built fuzzbox and wah-wah circuits for local musicians. Though a budding guitarist himself, he was moved to give up playing music at an early age; “I played rhythm guitar for a band and one night we played the roughest pub in Scarborough. Half way into the first number, the pub jukebox sprang into life. I asked the landlord who the hell had done it and he said, “It was me. Now get your gear and f**k off!”

As with most audio electronics enthusiasts, Furze soon graduated to building mixers, expanding simple designs to accommodate better facilities. “I sat out front and mixed – which was rare in those days and especially at that modest level,” he recalled. While setting up at a working men’s club in Newcastle, Furze was told by an unamused club manager, “There are too many hangers on with this group. You’re either on the stage or you’re out!”

With only a 6-channel mixer to master, Furze found himself with ‘several free fingers’, and started to design lighting equipment. Fortunately for the audio industry, a chance meeting with Paul Lilly (later to become Chris Rea’s manager) resulted in a move to London and the flourishing of his audio career. Lilly’s Panther Sound Hire company handled, amongst others, U2’s first UK tour, as well as Elvis Costello and Squeeze, originally with Zoot Horn self-powered speakers but graduating to the ubiquitous Martin rig. While freelancing for Britannia Row, Furze helped with the Quad system used on Pink Floyd’s memorable ‘The Wall’ performances at Earls Court and in Germany.

Much of Furze’s work has been conducted from the stage, rather than FOH – though he describes himself as ‘a bag of nerves’ whenever his talents as a monitor engineer were required. “I was always a very fastidious monitor engineer,” he admits, “but it’s always a compromise, because you can’t be up there with the artist. I mixed front-of-house for Chris Rea and decided that this was where I wanted to stay. I like the artistic input that you can bring as an FOH engineer.”

Furze’s search for a flown PA system for a Chris Rea show at Hammersmith Apollo (née Odeon) led him to the door of Wigwam Acoustics, with whom he formed a lasting association. “We were well impressed when we first met them,” he recalled, “The Wigwam crew had their Meyer system flown and tested before we even arrived!” Furze was largely responsible for bringing Wigwam on board the Chris Rea bandwagon – assisting the company’s expansion into secular, rather than purely Christian music.

Chris Hill of Wigwam was in turn responsible for widening Furze’s mixing experience; “Chris pushed me into mixing an orchestra on the evangelist Dr. Billy Graham’s stadium events – as well as a 2,000-piece choir, an organ and the band itself! It was a rapid learning curve but at least we were not the main event. It’s rare to get the chance to experiment on such a grand scale, but it was great for building up confidence.”

Despite having mixed for some of the UK’s greatest musical names, Furze cites some less well-known bands as having had a great influence on him. “I loved working with the Pixies – although I had to be forced to do it,” he laughs, “I hated their stuff at first. Mixing the Sugar Cubes, too, was another high point for me. I suppose that what keeps me going is the need to find solutions to problems – there’s so much good music out there of all types.”

Furze is typically practical about the rôle of a touring engineer, and explains that not much has changed over a career spanning 30 years. “Anyone getting into this should know that it’s a dirty job you need to be a bit of a gypsy and have enough technical knowledge, but you should never be afraid to get your hands dirty. No PA company in the world is going to let you just walk in and mix.”

Equipment choice is often a big issue with engineers – especially those with a reputation to maintain. Furze often specifies D&B equipment but states the Meyer MSL-3 system of the 1980s and the L Acoustics V-DOSC speaker systems have made a major impact on his world, but is sceptical about the claims of obvious differences between equipment; “I sometimes wonder if, now that most speaker systems are so good, it’s really just us engineers making each box sound the way we think it should.”

On the subject of ‘best personal career moment’, Furze is unequivocal. “The first gig my parents came to see – a Chris Rea show.” Which, from the man who has mixed Carreras and the Spice Girls and who has just been voted ‘engineer of the year’ by his peers, is rather touching.

Crewperson 

Ray Furze - FOH Sound Engineer

Recent Activity

The Pixies, McFly, The Beautiful South,

The Breeders, Liverpool pops.

Worthy Past Glories

Spice Girls, Jose Carreras, Queens Jubilee, James, M People,

Westlife, Richard Ashcroft, Dome Millennium night, and a list longer than my memory.

Why are you what you are?

As a teenager I discovered the tone control on the family radiogram, I have since been addicted to aural pleasure!  That is I fiddle around with the sound until it satisfies me, luckily most of the time it seems to please others as well.    

3 best things about your job?

I am still amazed that I can earn a living doing what I enjoy most, getting to places most people can only dream of, and the adrenalin rush of live shows.

3 worst things about your job?

Being the other side of the world when your family would like you around.

Not being able to plan holidays, my long suffering wife would love to be able to book in advance knowing the tour will definitely not be extended/ brought forward.

I’ve met most of my friends on the road and they don’t live anywhere near me.

Detail the equipment you use in an ideal world?

A 2u unit with one big knob marked BETTER, and EVEN BETTER, I would turn it up full, then wish I had the Mk2 version.

Most crucial invention since you started, that’s improved your job?

Tour buses,

I started a long long time ago and used to sleep in the transit on the WEM columns!

We used to have to get up before we went to bed- - - -

Kids today don’t know they’re born,

Whoops! Sorry slipped into boring old roadie talk for a second.

What do you never leave home without when working?

Nerves.  After all these years I still get very wound up before a show.

I am very envious of those cool as ice engineers.

Proudest moment?

Sorry you are going to have to allow me two here,

The first was when my Mum & Dad came to Sheffield arena to see me mix Jose Carreras with full orchestra. They realised I might make a living at this after all; dad thought it was too quiet!

My second was The Dome Opening night,

Letting in the new millennium surrounded by my wife and children the Queen the PM, oh and a couple of others who had managed to get past security in time for the show.

Best gig while working?

The Pixies first night at Brixton Academy 2004

I have seen many great bands getting fantastic receptions from the audiences, but I have never seen anything like the 10 mins. of deafening applause before they even played a note. Just incredible.

Best gig as a punter?

I am not a good punter, I have trouble switching off my production head, and the only times when the show is so good that I forget the nuts and bolts, I come away feeling jealous because I want to be working on that tour.

Its got to be Floyd though, I was lucky enough to have a small part to play on the original Wall in Earls Court and Dortmund, I have seen them as a punter since, I don’t think they can be beaten for that type of huge production.

Biggest nightmare on the job?

The Queens Jubilee, the military needed to rehearse the horses and troops marching up to St Paul’s it was a big deal and it could only be done the once at 5:30 in the morning. Myself and a couple of others volunteered to get off early and come back at 5am after all it was only to play back a CD for timing the march to the score what could go wrong.

Well a vital piece of digital equipment that was distributing feeds to all areas decided it wanted a lie in that morning!  Error messages for days,

Usually in these cases there is an extensive network of people to call for fixes, but not at 5:30 in the morning!  I stood shivering and staring, having tried all the obvious things (how many times do you have to turn it on and off before you realise it just aint gonna play the game!)  I felt like Humpty Dumpty, I had all the Queens Horses and all the Queens men and I was heading for a big big fall!

5 min to go before rehearsal, thinking I was on my way to the tower anyway, I was starting to press every button I could put my hands on, eventually pressing play on the CD player. Everything burst into life, all the audio was working perfectly but the screen was still showing the chilling message ‘non-user serviceable fault return to manufacturer’. 

Most irritating request from promoter / artist / member of the public?

I mixed a fantastic arena production with massive orchestra and choir and amazing light/multimedia show, it was a joint promotion between a top classical promoter and a top pop promoter and although they did a great job putting this on they seemed to have differing visions of the final product, at one point I had Mr classical stood to my left saying turn it up it’s meant to be a spectacular, and on my right I had Mr pop asking me to turn it down ‘it’s meant to be classical music’, I took it to mean I had got it just about right!  Not worked for either of them since though!

Artist from the past you’d most like to have worked for?

I know he is still very much around and not from the past, but in my past I did monitors for Peter Gabriel and would have loved a chance to do FOH. Do you think he reads this column?

Most reliable piece of equipment?

If I tell you, the next one I use will go wrong

What phrase sends a chill down your spine while working?

‘Oi ! Cloth ears’

What invention would make your job easier / better?

Mixing stilts, you wouldn’t believe how humiliating it is asking a 6’9’’ Texan PA tech. for a box to stand on so you can reach the gain pot.

What other member of the crew would you least like to be?

My babysitter, I couldn’t put up with me

Which other member of the crew do you take your hat off to?

Of course the great PA teams who get me out of trouble constantly.

But also tour/production managers, without them how would I know when to take my hat off, where to put it, or how to FedEx it from the last gig.

Name 3 best sounds and 3 best videos on the crew bus?

Beige Mix 1, 2 & 3, Beige is a renowned DJ from Hull who likes to come on the road as a backline tech. on The Beautiful South tours, He always brings some great new mixes on tour.

Videos:  Anything that distracts me on long travel days.

Most irritating thing on the crew bus and why?

Probably me, boring old road stories,

Best hotel you've stayed at while working?

This is a trick question isn’t it? I am never at the hotel when I am supposed to be working.

Well nearly never.

Like all music journalists, are you really just a frustrated musician?

My one and only gig as a musician was in the roughest pub in town I was 17 and had learned nearly 4 chords, someone put the jukebox on during our first song so I went to tell the landlord, he said ‘yes it was me now get yer gear and f*** off’ I have a feeling we didn’t get paid, But it did launch a long career on the other side of the mic.

PS. I still know 4 chords

Any artist you'd happily swop places with if you had the talent?

What do you mean if I had the talent?  Aren’t 4 chords enough?

Members of the audience you loathe the most?

Girls with whistles at boy band concerts, I can just about manage the screaming.

Name 4 artists you'd happily spend time with socially?

‘Just one more before I go to bed’

‘By the way did you realise you sang a bit flat at times tonight’

‘I’ll get my coat’

Best passing through customs anecdote?

Entering Australia everyone was paranoid and on best behaviour after tabloid allegations of substance abuse, edicts had gone out from management,

We got held up for hours when one musician was pulled, turned out his wife had packed him a banana for the journey and he had not eaten or declared it!

Bizarrest sight you’ve ever seen at work?

Chris Hill (Wigwam) sat naked at a white grand piano for a camera rehearsal at a Silk Cut Music Festival many years ago.

I think someone has a picture somewhere!

Favourite artist to work for?

Orville the Duck

Favourite venue / Most hated venue

Dublin Olympia theatre & Dublin Olympia theatre.

It’s a pain to do from load in to load out but the local crew are very helpful and for some reason the shows are always very special. Of course both judgments could be clouded by Guinness!

Open air or under a roof?

Under roof, I can just about understand festivals in hot dry countries, but not in wet and windy Britain, Wellies make me look like a garden gnome.

Best festival?

I liked the relaxed atmosphere and good beer at the Cambridge Folk Festival the one time I did it.

But it was warm and dry that day and everyone looked like garden gnomes anyway.

Best item of clothing when working?

Comfy Shoes

Closest you've come to death whilst touring?

Probably in the ‘good old days’ in the transit trying to keep my eyes open whilst driving at speed up the M1 at daft o’clock in the morning.

Not proud of that. Don’t do it.

Most outrageous thing you ever did on tour?

How many times do I have to explain, it’s just not true!

I have had my moments, but I wish they were half as good as the stories.

Most sensible thing I ever did on tour?

When you are on tour it is very easy for it to take over and become your life. The most sensible thing I do is remember to put my family first and last.

Have a great time but keep perspective.