If there’s one overarching force that has driven Stuart “Dinky” Dawson’s career it’s a never-ending search for quality. A relentless innovator, he cut his teeth mixing and designing systems for some of the most prominent acts of the past five decades.
And though they came from a broad spectrum of genres, in every case his goal was the same - to consistently improve the methods and the tools he employed in an effort to deliver the highest quality reproduction of their music he possibly could.
“We were just making it right, looking at what was already established and making it higher quality. That’s all,” Dinky explains.
Although specifically referencing his own creation, the Acoustic Suspension Sound System - a granddaddy of the modern line array - it’s an ethic that’s informed every facet of his professional life dating back to his very first job.
Born in “a little town in the middle of Sherwood Forest” - Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England - he grew up in the village of Greasborough, near Rotherham, Yorkshire with his adoptive parents. And while his love of music was a product of nine years spent singing opera at his local church, Dinky was no “choirboy.”
“I was always experimenting. When I was a kid I actually blew up the science lab in my metallurgy school, blew out all the windows and everything.”
That passion for experimentation would become a hallmark of his later work in audio, and at age 15, while working in the same local steel mill as his father, prompted his co-workers to nickname him “Dinky.”
“I’d get these little Matchbox ‘Mini Cooper S’ dinky toys, put a ‘Jetex’ solid fuel engine in them, race them down a quarter mile of concrete at the mill and they’d blow up at the end.” The fact that Dinky later began driving to work in a full-size version of the miniature cars he so enjoyed destroying only solidified the nickname.
On The Rise
Although he loved music, Dinky never pursued a career as a musician, instead working days at the mill and moonlighting as a disc jockey.
Shortly after his father’s death, however, inspired by the dramatic cultural changes of the time and the music accompanying them, he left the mill for good, first working in Germany as a Northern Soul disc jockey, and then upon returning to England, as a roadie for Fleetwood Mac.
Dinky Dawson and the public debut of the Acoustic Suspension Music Reproduction system in Lenox, MA for the Mahavishnu Orchestra in July 1972.
When he signed on in 1968, the band’s star was on the rise but their gear was a mess. “It was falling apart and I had to rebuild the whole sound system.”
Self-taught, Dinky learned the trade by diving in and figuring it out himself. “I had friends who were building sound systems at the time so I followed their path, started doing the procedures that they did, and when I hooked it up it sounded great. So then I was like, now, how can I make it better?”
When Fleetwood Mac toured North America later that year with Dinky tour managing and mixing, they carried a significant amount of Orange gear with them.
It was on that tour, at Manhattan’s Fillmore East, that Dawson first used Bill Hanley’s multicore snake cable and mixed from a true front of house position. He is widely credited as being the first British engineer to do so.
“That was the first time I was able to mix from the audience, before we were always mixing from the back of the sound system.” Inspired by the experience and seeing the value it brought to achieving better quality for the audience, he ran with the idea. By the time he returned to England he’d built a snake of his own so he could continue to mix from front of house.
To further improve the system, Dinky relied heavily on Watkins Electric Music (WEM) technology and input from WEM founder, Charlie Watkins, one of his earliest mentors.
“As soon as I headed over to see Charlie, it was love at first sight,” Dinky says, and by 1969, he was regularly bouncing ideas off Watkins and working to design one of the most sophisticated systems to be used consistently by a touring rock act at the time.