The History of SSE Audio Group

John and Heather Penn in 1976 and 2011SSE Hire founders, John & Heather Penn, pictured with the company's first van in 1976 and with one of today's fleet at the Group's Redditch HQ.

SSE Audio Group Timeline
1976 Sigma Sound Enterprises founded, in Nottingham England.
1977 Name abbreviated to SSE Hire and first premises established - Rear of Hartley Road, Nottingham.
1979 SSE Hire relocates to Faraday Road, Nottingham.
1979 Wigwam Acoustics established in Heywood, Manchester.
1982 Canegreen founded, in North London, England.
1982 Melpomen founded, in Nantes, France.
1984 SSE Hire relocates to Birmingham, England.
1988 SSE take over TexServ and move to Coventry Road, Birmingham, next door to Light & Sound Design.
2001 SSE aquire Melpomen SA in France and SSE Audio Group is established.
2003 SSE Audio Group move to 35,000 sq ft headquarters in Redditch.
2006 SSE acquire Tarsin Ltd, expanding its Installations business in London.
2008 Sigma Fabrications - is created as the new brand name for SSE's flightcases.  A name with echos of SSE's beginnings in the 1970s as Sigma Sound Enterprises.
2008 Canegreen joins SSE Audio Group
2009 Aquisition of Green-I and Canegreen Commercial, businesses that were involved in audio installations and AV hire.
2010 SSE's London operations and Canegreen move to premises in Park Royal.
2011 Bradford office and warehouse opens, establishing SSE in Northern England.
2012 ETA Sound joins SSE Audio Group, expanding the Group's capability in large fomat audio installations.
2013 Melpomen acquires french lighting company MES - now Melpomen Elairages Servises and French video division established: Melpomen Video Services.
2013 Wigwam Acoustics joins SSE Audio Group, establishing the largest audio  services group in the UK.

SSE was founded as Sigma Sound Enterprises in 1976 by husband and wife team, John and Heather Penn. The world of public address systems has changed radically in the last 30 years and SSE, together with Canegreen and Wigwam, has been at the forefront of that change.

In December 1975, at what is recognised as SSE's first PA hire, the mixing console was a WEM Audiomaster - with five channels controlled via rotary faders! That's a far cry from the world of digital consoles used and supplied by the Group today - SSE are now the UK's largest supplier of digital mixing consoles.  In the early days SSE was based in Nottingham, where John and Heather had gone to college, initially from the garage at home.

Stable Foundations

The company's first premises were the former stables of Players Cigarettes, with the less than salubrious address of Rear of Hartley Road, Nottingham.

From the very beginning SSE was involved with the manufacture of speaker enclosures and flightcases as well as PA hire. This meant the business could respond to the growing demand for rentals without over reliance on the less than sympathetic banks of the day.

Within a year the premises were outgrown as a handful of cabinets had expanded into enough gear to fill a 40ft trailer.

SSE's breakthrough as a rental company with a national profile came in 1977. SSE had supplied PA to a support band called Darts. As this nine-piece doo-wop revivalists hit the big time, SSE expanded to supply them. On the back of a string of hits, tours of pubs were replaced by tours of the largest venues of the time. Other artists on SSE's books in the early years were Scouse rockers Deaf School and emerging punks The Undertones and The Buzzcocks.

SSE began to develop its reputation as a pro audio sales outlet, building distributorships alongside its own manufacturing. Soon SSE were supplying JBL speakers, MM mixers and TAC/Amek mixers alongside many others.  In the early 1980s John Penn worked closely with Amek and provided constant feedback on the requirements for road desks. Eventually John joined Amek and Chris Beale - an SSE client - took over the day to day running of SSE's rental business.

Birmingham Move

In 1984 SSE Hire relocated from Nottingham to Birmingham, sharing premises with Bob Doyle's TexServ. "There was no passing tradein Nottingham, so we moved to Birmingham" says John Penn. "LSD was really trying to break the mould; it was going places and borrowing money through venture capital, which was unheard of in those days. We rented space from them and , by association, it gave us a real boost straight away. This gave us the confidence to invest in more systems and led to the purchase of the Electro-Voice MT4".

During this period, SSE Hire's regulars included UB40, Nik Kershaw and Simply Red.  Meanwhile, John Penn became Sales Director at Amek developed the TAC Scorpion, a modular desk for PA or recording. Advanced electronics were needed so the bulk of manufacturing was transferred from Devon to Nottingham changing SSE Sales into a highly successful TAC factory in the process.

In 1988 SSE took over TexServ and moved to a former bus depot in Coventry Road, Birmingham, next door to Light & Sound Design (LSD - later to become part of PRG). John and Heather rejoined SSE Hire and re-activated the manufacturing and sales sides of the business. The 1990s saw a significant upturn in business. Clients now included AC/DC and Metallica.

"AC/DC would be out for a year - UB40 would be the same, so it was a high volume of work - and meant we were having to sub-hire a lot because we were under-resourced and under-financed" says Penn.

The company invested in NEXO's Alpha system and SSE were keenly involved in its development. This began a long-term relationship with the French manufacturer.

As the '90s progressed, the top end of the hire market was touring the new arenas and SSE Hire looked for a new system to meet the demands of these venues.  In 1996 SSE provided its newly purchased Nexo Alpha system at the first ever V festival (V96). This was followed by the development of the Geo T and Geo S line array systems. In each case SSE was involved from the first stages of development with the manufacturer, making sure that systems would work both in terms of specifications and ergonomics.

SSE Innovations

SSE has developed key products and innovations of its own. In 1998 the TeePee tower was developed, initially as a safe and efficient delay tower as SSE provided systems for more and more outdoor events such as the V festivals and the Carling weekends.  ProSight was developed by SSE to help improve the alignment of line array systems and SetDeck is the latest incarnation of risers manufactured by SSE.  More recently SSE has launched the ddi - the Digital DJ Interface - to help sort out patching issues with club systems and following supply difficulties for multipin plugs used in its line systems, SSE now manufactures its own Sigma HD100 series 100-way line connectors.

SSE has developed many packaging innovations to speed up the deployment of equipment. The company's carpet-covered flightcase range look distinctive, but are also built to standard widths so they fit snugly into truck widths. SSE's standardised line systems mean that equipment can be prepared and deployed extremely quickly.

SSE Audio Group

In 2001 French PA Company Melpomen SA merged with SSE, creating SSE Audio Group, expanding the presence of the company into mainland Europe.

The Group acquired new headquarters in Redditch in 2003. Situated about 15 miles from the centre of Birmingham, Burnt Meadow House is ideally located for the UK motorway network and provides over 35,000 sq ft of offices, warehousing and manufacturing facilities.  With ample parking and loading facilities for five 40ft trucks, the site is ideal for the preparation, servicing and storage of hire equipment.

In 2005, after 23 years as hire director, Chris Beale left to pursue other interests. Soon after the decision was taken to expand the range of PA systems available from SSE, with L'Acoustics VDOSC added to the inventory. Since then the full range of L'Acoustics products, including the K1 have been added. 

For many years SSE has carried out audio installations as part of its Sales operations. Notable installs have included upgrades to studio audio systems at the BBC TV Centre in London as well as installs at various entertainment venues and Universities.

To consolidate and expand the installations business, SSE acquired Tarsin Ltd in 2006. With premises in West London, Tarsin had built up a portfolio of contract hire installations at numerous pubs and clubs across the UK. From this, SSE London was formed as the new installations business of SSE, with a team of installers and service engineers.

SSE has manufactured flightcases for over thirty years, both for its own equipment requirements and for sale. In 2008 a new name - Sigma Fabrications - was created as the new brand name for SSE's flightcases. A name with echos of SSE's beginnings in the 1970s as Sigma Sound Enterprises.

Canegreen

Yan Stile and Pete Edmonds started Canegreen in North London in the early 1980s and built it up a successful PA rental business. By 2007 Canegreen had accumulated four units, all knocked together, in Tottenham. They were approached by their neighbours, Tottenham Hotspur FC, to see if the premises could be sold for ground expansion. This provided the final impetus for a merger with SSE.

In the summer of 2008 Canegreen Ltd joined SSE Audio Group. Canegreen continues to service its own client base of internationally renowned artists and adds Meyer Sound to the hire inventory. Over the next 12 months there was a gradual integration of facilities and resources, with Canegreen finally departing Tottenham in June 2009. Within 18 months of the merger, Cangreen's turnover had increasedby 50 percent and the enlarged entity was employing over 60 people.

In 2009 SSE London acquired Green-I and Canegreen Commercial, businesses that were involved in audio installations and AV hire and SSE London was renamed to SSE Installations, acknowledging the national profile of the installations business.

In the autumn of 2010, SSE Audio Group moved all its London operations to premises in Park Royal in west London. This was followed in 2011 with the opening of a northern office and warehouse in Bradford. A reorganisation of the business means that all services - hire, sale and installations - are available from London, Redditch and Bradford.

Wigwam Acoustics

The Group's policy of acquisitions and mergers has continued, with ETA Sound joining SSE in 2012, expanding the installations business to include large format audio installations in arenas an stadia. In 2013, Melpomen in France acquired a lighting company - MES Eclairages - to help meet the need in Europe for an integreted hire service.  To this, Melpomen has added a video services division.  Also in 2013, the largest acquisition to date was completed, with Manchester-based Wigwam Acoustics joining SSE Audio Group.  Wigwam has its own hire, sales and installations portfolio and brings a wealth of experience to the Group and the addition of d&b loudspeaker systems.

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