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To sound from underground

April 2009

HE hates to say it because it sounds like media schmaltz but Girls Aloud are a nice bunch.
"They're brilliant, they're normal people," says Neal Allen.
"It's a cliche that they're lovely but they are. All very down to earth – they want to do a good job and work hard."
Since the end of last month the 42-year-old has been working with the pop princesses eight hours a day, seven days a week, in a studio in London.
He's their sound engineer and will be with them on their UK tour, including two shows at the Trent FM Arena on May 11 and 12, next month.
Out of sight, Neal will be at the side of the stage controlling the sound that the girls and band hear in their earpieces.
"This is the biggest tour they've ever done and all the dance moves are brand new," he says.
"You're talking 20-odd songs with all new choreography. It's a lot to take in."
And how are they doing?
"The ones that are probably a little bit chatty need that little bit more work when they're doing the choreography," he says, diplomatically.
Neal has also been the sound engineer for the quintet on tour front of house, controlling what the audience hears.
"Out front is easier because you've got one mix. I've got 24. There's the five girls, seven members of the band, and each instrument has its own lines. For example, there are six for the drums alone. So I'm working twice as hard as normal."

Neal Allen, right

Neal has toured the world with likes of Girls Aloud, Estelle and Jamelia as sound engineer but with his PA hire company Merlin, clients have included "everybody bar Kiss".
Westlife, Bryan Adams, Sugababes, Jools Holland, Blondie, Blue, Status Quo... but Kiss is his dream job, having been a lifelong fan.
"I first saw Kiss in 1980. If I ever met Kiss that would be the only time I'd be lost for words, I think."
He toured Australia with James Brown and Estelle.
"He was hilarious," he says of the Godfather of Soul.
"They'd push him everywhere in a wheelchair. Then once he was at the side of the stage it was like he'd had an injection in his feet. He was suddenly really quick on his feet.
"What surprised me was he was quite small. I'm 5'6" and he was smaller than me."
So how did a lad from Hucknall end up working with major names in rock and pop?

His story starts down the mine.
"I was a mining engineer for 15 years and I really enjoyed. If they hadn't shut the pit I'd still be doing it now."
He was an apprentice at Calverton Colliery then Moorgreen and Annesley.
"Then I went all round the country mending machines. Everyone knew me as Merlin, after a band I was in at the time."
When Annesley Colliery was closed he invested money into a PA system and within six months was working with a fledgling opera singer opera – called Russell Watson.
"I wish he'd stuck with opera," he laughs.
"I think he's missed his calling."
Watson was teamed up with Ray Lewis of The Drifters and a DJ and toured around the UK and Europe, with Neal handling the sound production.
"We did Paul Burrell's 40th birthday party, Dennis Irwin's testimonial, we did all sorts. The only time I've been star-struck was meeting David Beckham at Dennis Irwin's testimonial."
One of his apprentices, who had graduated from the sound engineering course at Confetti Studios in Nottingham, was Graham White. He now handles former Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland.
Since March 21, Neal has been working with Girls Aloud.
"We haven't had a day off."
He gets back to Hucknall to his wife and six children, aged three to 25, when he can.
On Sunday, he'll be in Nottingham handling the sound at the Concert For Life, the Rock City gig in aid of The Julie Cotton Foundation.
It's to raise money for Billy's Appeal, a charity project to renovate a house near the QMC for families to stay over when their children are undergoing treatment for cancer.
Neal knows only too well the devastation that cancer can wreak on a family having lost his mum to the disease.
His dad, a former miner, was diagnosed with it in September. And his wife has also had treatment.
"A couple of years ago she was in hospital being treated for cancer.
"The same day my son Dylan fell on to a radiator valve that split his eye. So while my wife was in the operating theatre in the City Hospital, Dylan was on the operating theatre in Queen's. And the next day I was working on an INXS gig at Newmarket racecourse."

His wife, Sue, is all clear but still having scans while Dylan is still being treated for the damage to his eye.
"Sue's mum died of cancer. And her dad was one of 11 children who all went the same way."
The concert features Sam Beeton, The Modfathers, The Phonics and many others, including Neal's former band, the Bon Jovi tribute outfit Blaze Of Glory.
It's through the band that he met Mark Cotton from the Julie Cotton Foundation and became involved in the annual fund-raising gigs.
"My biggest dream is a three-day festival at Wollaton Park to raise £1m for cancer charities with bands like Whitesnake and Madness, Girls Aloud and Kylie, then a classical day on the Sunday."
Does he know Girls Aloud well enough to get them to play?
"I'd be surprised if they said no."

Concert For Life at Rock City on Easter Sunday features Sam Beeton, Blaze Of Glory (Bon Jovi), Basketcase (Green Day), The Phonics (Stereophonics), Modfathers (Paul Weller) and Baggy Trousers (Madness), Nottingham's 13th Hour, who won The Confetti Battle of the Bands, The Joe Strange Band, original punks Resistance 77, plus Pistola Kicks, Silent Film Project and Against Spoken Words. Tickets are £10 in advance from Rock City (0871 310 0000), The Old Volunteer in Carlton and Foreman's Bar in Forman Street. £12 at the door. Doors at 5pm.

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