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Mains Electricity for Touring PA Installations
Most modern venues will have a suitable power‑supply, but some performance spaces (village halls, private houses, fields...) may not have. The main concerns are:
In any working environment - but especially one that is open to the public - electrical safety is a legal requirement. You can find more information on legal requirements and good practice in a free download (which you can also order in printed form) from the HSE website:
For a supply to be safe, it must be adequate for the load placed on it (see Current Ratings, below); Live, Neutral and Earth connectors must be wired correctly, and the Earth connection must be suitably grounded. Circuits should be protected against overloading and potential leakage of current to earth by use of appropriate circuit‑breaking devices. A basic 13 amp socket tester is inexpensive, and can instantly show whether a socket is wired correctly - we have found instances where they were not - and earthed.
Portable generators have their own earthing (and other) requirements, which may differ depending on the generator and application. If in doubt, ASK!
We provide additional protection for our own equipment and personnel by using our own (RCCBO and RCD) circuit protectors, and advise anyone else to do the same: a 30mA RCD can be obtained from any DIY shop, typically for less than £10. These are not a substitute for circuit‑breakers at the main switchboard, but they are a guarantee that there actually is a circuit‑breaker between your equipment and the 230V supply. Always use one, and test it using its Test button every time you use it. Don't let anyone persuade you that keeping the power amps running is more important than avoiding electrocution.
You need enough power to supply all the amplifiers, all the backline, all the stage lights, the mixer(s) and the rack lights: the whole show. If the sound and lighting equipment shares a single 13A socket (or, shares a standard 20 or 32 Amp ring circuit with other equipment), there is the possibility of circuit overload. In most cases this will result in the circuit tripping out or a fuse blowing, which won't be much more than a nuisance. However, in some cases it could also present a danger. Note, for example, that a 13A extension reel is only rated at 13A when the reel is fully unwound: try to draw 13 amps through it without unwinding it and it will get dangerously hot. Every power‑distribution component needs to be adequate for the load placed on it.
Most working venues will have adequate power for the sound and lighting systems, as well as a technician who will be able to advise you. However, the same is not always true of hotels, social clubs, village halls or other institutions that may put on events. An extension lead from the house to a marquee in the garden might not be enough, especially when someone plugs a space heater into it at the same time as the kettle goes on in the kitchen. If you are in any doubt about whether the power‑supply will cope with the whole sound and lighting system's requirements, check it out - or if we are involved, talk to us - in plenty of time (days or weeks, not hours or minutes) before the show.
All the power in the world will be useless without the correct connectors. While 13A 3‑pin plugs and sockets are standard for domestic equipment, other mains connectors are often used for portable equipment (and many theatres still use 15A round‑pin plugs and sockets for lighting). Most touring PA systems use blue ‘Ceeform’ connectors (our own systems use 32A connectors for sound, and 16A for lighting). Some venues have all varieties available on stage, but several we go to have only 63A outlets. There is no safe way to get power from a 63A Ceeform socket without using a 63A Ceeform plug. In addition, some Ceeform sockets cannot be switched on at all without a matching plug inserted.
This means you should always:
Never ‘bodge’ mains connections with insulating tape, or take other dangerous shortcuts.