SSE Audio Group celebrates 40th anniversary

It was on 12 December 1975 that a 21-year-old John Penn and his girlfriend Heather pulled up at a school in Merseyside to provide the PA and disco equipment for a sixth form Christmas party – a low key concert that also marked the debut gig for a fledgling enterprise, Sigma Sound Enterprises (SSE).

The pair formally launched SSE in early 1976, were married later that year, and have remained at the helm of the company for 40 years since.

The PA comprised some reflex Electro-Voice eliminator bins – constructed in John’s garage – together with a Wem Audiomaster five-channel mixer. The wedge monitors placed on the stage carried the only clue to the new company, with SSE stencilled in white.

In 1976, the business slowly developed, acquiring premises and building a stock of PA that could service larger acts in bigger venues. A breakthrough came in 1977, when John met a band of nine musicians who went by the name of Darts. They were supporting Jerry Lee Lewis and when they toured in their own right, John provided the sound reinforcement.

Darts first charted later that year with Daddy Cool/The Girl Can’t Help It and this propelled them into bigger venues around the country, requiring larger and larger PA systems. For the Penns, it meant a growing overdraft as they invested everything in building (largely in-house) a system to meet the needs of their client. So it was then that SSE was able to grow rapidly in size and stature to become an established national PA hire company.

On Saturday 12 December 2015, 40 years on from that first gig, a re-formed Darts coincidentally played at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo with another former SSE client, Chas n Dave. Hammersmith Odeon (as the venue used to be called) staged many a Darts gig back in the ’70s and ’80s with SSE, although this time they will be playing through the house system at the Apollo – supplied and installed by SSE in January of this year.