Stadium Rocks!

March 17, 2010

From the Populous Magazine archive: Issue 02, 2010

Australian singer, rock musician and friend of Populous, Tyrone Noonan, remembers his time performing in Populous -designed stadia with his band george.

1.8 billion. That’s the figure that kept running through my head as I headed to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium with my musical compadres from my band george, back in 2003.

This was how many TV viewers would be watching the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony at the stadium, in which we were all participating as performers.

Talk about ratcheting up the nerves. And that’s without mentioning the other more immediate rush of adrenalin we had from knowing we were about to play live to a packed house of 80,000 people.

When, back in 1967, The Beatles (my favourite band) performed All You Need Is Love to a global TV audience, they had 400 million people watching. We were about to have well over four times that number focused on us. “Best not to think of such figures,” I said to myself as our car snaked its way through Sydney towards the huge stadium.

Entering through the back felt like being invited into the bowels of a giant spaceship. Normally, at this stage of a gig we’d be looking around for a trolley to transport all our gear back stage. But no, this was the Rugby World Cup. Our car charged straight through and began traversing the stadium’s internal freeway, which reminded me a little of an aircraft carrier.

"Back in 1967, The Beatles performed All You Need Is Love to a global TV audience of 400 million. We were about to have well over four times that number focused on us.”

Tyrone Noonan / Rock musician and friend of Populous

Suddenly, as huge groups of school kids and volunteers started scurrying around us, the enormity of the concert struck me fully. Finally we arrived at our destination where we were led into an enormous green room. It was time for our pep talk from the technical crew. This was one gig where we would have to rely on what’s known as ‘in-ear monitoring’, and I remember being told strictly not to look at ourselves on the giant video screens throughout the stadium, for fear we’d appear out of sync. To ensure clarity for every listener, all the video and audio was to be somehow time-delayed to cope with the huge logistics of amplification in such a large space.

Our eventual performance was, I guess, the closest feeling to what it must be like for a soccer or rugby player to run onto the field of a packed stadium at the start of a game. Except we were being wheeled into the middle of the field on an oval-shaped stage by a team of burly lads. It was totally surreal, and quickly followed by one of the most exciting gigs of my life. I thought:

“This isn’t rock and roll, this is something else altogether.”

  • Tyrone Noonan’s band george playing the Sydney Opera House forecourt in 2005. It was the band’s last ever public performance.

Four years later, in 2007, I then had the opportunity to sing the Australian national anthem at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium for the A League Grand Final (Australia’s season-ending soccer final). I did the sound check to an empty stadium on the day, and the foldback speakers on the floor in front of me seemed perfectly loud enough, so I opted not to have in-ear monitors. I had, after all, heard the horror story of a former anthem-singer who’d used them at a similar event while other music was being pumped into her ears.

But once the stadium was filled, and it came to performance time, the speakers were useless; way too quiet. Yet I had to continue, and so I began to listen around for anything as a guide. Suddenly the memories of the pep talk from the technical crew four years earlier came into my mind, so I knew that anything I focused on was potentially out of sync. It was terrifying, but somehow I got through it.

Populous’ very own Chris Lee (senior principal) played drums in several bands with Tyrone Noonan and Angus McDonald (aka Black Angus of ARIA award-winning band Sneaky Sound System) before he discovered the rhythmic possibilities of architecture. Better to design venues than play in them.

In 1996 Chris joined Populous to work on the Sydney Olympic Stadium before moving to London in 1999 to lead the design on projects such as Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium and Dublin’s Lansdowne Road stadium. In 2006 Chris established Populous’ New York City design studio where he has been leading the design of award-winning stadia in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.

The band george formed in Brisbane, Australia, in 1996. They released several EPs and two albums, enjoying most success with the double platinum-selling Polyserena in 2002.

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