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Home arrow Reviews arrow Books arrow New book: "The Development of Large Rock Sound Systems" - Chris Hewitt
New book: "The Development of Large Rock Sound Systems" - Chris Hewitt Print E-mail
Written by Glenn Povey   
Friday, 20 August 2021

New book: Recently published is The Development of Large Rock Sound Systems, Chris Hewitt’s homage to the development of amplified sound systems spearheaded by Charlie Watkins whose company, WEM (Watkins Electric Music) was synonymous with the supply of PA systems to a raft of artists and festivals through the 1960s and 70s.

You need to have a basic understanding of the principals behind amplified sound systems to get a grasp on this book because it not only traces the history of sound systems but the individual components that made up those systems. It can get quite technically overwhelming but it is strangely compelling, not least because its author is a hugely enthusiastic authority, but is also a world renowned collector of vintage PA equipment. So much so that Chris has supplied his equipment for films including the recreation of the Live Aid stage for Bohemian Rhapsody and scenes in Elton John’s biopic Rocketman and more recently a recreation of David Bowie’s infamous July 1973 concert at Hammersmith Odeon for the soon to be released Sex Pistols film by Danny Boyle. (I’ll leave you to work out the connection.)

Watkins began the design and manufacture of amplifiers, mixing desks and speakers in the early 1960s when pop music was on an upward trajectory and venues were becoming ever bigger which in turn demanded better equipment. It was also surprising to learn how late in the day stage monitors became the norm.

Watkins, however, made a critical business error at the very outset – he thought that supplying the artists with his equipment for free – emblazoned with the recognisable red WEM logo - would encourage retail sales to would-be musicians. It is hardly surprising then that many acts took advantage of that offer – and not least Pink Floyd, but it ultimately became his downfall as other companies began making their own mark, including Marshall, Allen & Heath and Martin to name a few which ultimately spelt WEMs demise.

Unsurprisingly, WEM also spearheaded the supply of PA systems to the burgeoning festival scene and supplied systems to the early NJF at Sunbury, Windsor and Plumpton; all the Hyde Park free festivals; Isle of Wight and Bath. For anyone interested in that scene alone this book is a must with plenty of rare photos – some of which that defy today’s health and safety regulations!

For the Floyd fan this book is an absolute must. Yes, it discusses the equipment the band used in painstaking detail that, like me, was largely lost on, but it is also a useful insight and history into how the band created their live sound. I was particularly fascinated by contemporary recollections and interviews following Peter Watts career, first as a roadie for the Pretty Things and then his career with Pink Floyd as their sound man.

Also contained within the book is a very detailed look at Pink Floyd’s PA system used during the filming of Live At Pompeii along with some rare photos and an interview with Adrian Maben, offering some insight into the often chaotic events that surrounded the production of the film.

At 148 pages and with some 200 photos this is an excellent and fascinating insight into the development of PA systems from their inception to the present day.

You can order The Development of Large Rock Sound Systems by Chris Hewitt from the publisher, at deeplyvale.com/wem-pa-book.

Our thanks to Glenn Povey, founder of Brain Damage magazine, and author of a number of essential Pink Floyd books, for coming out of BD retirement to provide this review.

 
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