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‘Live Events’ Category

World renowned American rock band, The War on Drugs, have spent the first 4 months of 2022 touring the UK and Europe showcasing their newly released album, I DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.

 

Production manager Jimmy Russo and Lighting Designer Ben Silverstein, who have both been working with The War on Drugs for several years, enlisted the help of Neg Earth Lights to supply the tour with lighting, rigging, and network and control equipment.

Ben explains, ‘One of the challenges was to design something that would be scalable from 1,000 to 2,000 capacity venues all the way up to the O2 arena’s 20,000 capacity. We constantly needed to go from ‘A-rig,’ to B-rig,’ to Z-rig,’ and back with a system that would be compatible for each. Dave Ridgway and Gavin Maze understood those challenges and really did some backflips to make it happen for us.’

 

Neg Earth Lights’ Project Manager, Gavin Maze, was the key contact for Jimmy and Ben. Gavin took Ben from vision to reality with our fantastic CAD team providing lighting plots, rigging plots and custom fabrication solutions and welcomed The War on Drugs crew to Neg Earth’s HQ in London for rehearsals in the LH3 Studio, where they could see the rig and lighting fully set up.

 

‘This project was a perfect example of what Neg do best, all departments working together to make sure Ben got the show he wanted. Having them in our LH3 studio space with our workshops and warehouse team in the same building meant that any tweaks that needed to be made could be done speedily without holding up programming,’ states Gavin.

 

Ben continues, ‘A huge advantage for us too was using the LH3 production space at Neg Earth to get the whole rig set-up and prepared for all of the various venues we would be performing at whilst on tour. We had all our backline, audio gear and crew at LH3 studio to do a full set up prior to the tour. It was a perfect facility for the team to work and sort out how the production needed to come together.’

 

The lighting rig featured Ayrton Khamsin-S and Robe Robin Spikie LED WashBeam controlled by a full size GrandMA3 Console and network infrastructure. The simplistic, yet effective staging and lighting layout gave the illusion that the band members were playing in an illuminated cube, the theme and colour changing with each number The War on Drugs played.

 

Ben highlights how this set up was far from usual, ‘The use of LH3 pre-production was crucial because the design has a full rectangle on the floor and in the air of X4-Bar20s which totally cuts off any stage access. The only way to enter and exit the stage was to step over the lights and the only cable access was through the little gaps in corners. Obviously creating something that has no stage access is not a normal thing to do, but the band and crew was fully supportive and were fine with stepping over lights to access the stage.’

 

Gavin also assembled a highly skilled team of freelance crew to support The War on Drugs Tour.

Ben gave a special mention to this, ‘Neg Earth provided us with the most incredible crew who made it happen every day. Mr. Keith, Craig, T.O, and our tour rigger Nippy just did an incredible job everyday without fail. On ‘B-rig’ or ‘Z-rig’ days they were always finding solutions to get the most bang for our buck at each venue.’

 

Gavin concludes, ‘it was a pleasure to work with Jimmy and Ben once again. Their productions get more ambitious each time they come over and it’s great fun collaborating with them to achieve their vision.’

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Article credit: Neg Earth Lights.

Photo Credit: Jessie Kamp (Netherlands) and Neg Earth Lights (London O2).

Tour Manager: Craig McQuiston

Production Manager: Jimmy Russo

Lighting / Production Design: Ben Silverstein & John Frattalone

Crew Chief: Mr. Keith Johnson

LX Crew: Craig Ralph, T.O. Robertson

Tour Rigger: Steven “Nippy” Williams

FOH: Matthew Walsh

Monitors: Ricardo Garcia

Audio Tech: Rob Greene

Backline: Dominic East, Josh Goldsmith, Eddie Chappa

Tour Coordinator: Lori Delancey

Merch: Swax

The legendary band Genesis has reunited for “The Last Domino?” world tour, their first since 2007.

Long-time Creative Director for the band, Patrick Woodroffe, worked with Roland Greil to design the set and lighting for the tour. Genesis core members Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks kicked off the COVID-delayed tour last September in Birmingham, England then played a US leg in November and December. The open-ended tour continues in March with dates booked in Germany, France, the Netherlands and England.

The lighting design calls for 148 versatile Claypaky Scenius Unico spot, wash and beam lights for the show, which were supplied by Neg Earth Lights.

“As Genesis has a rich history of pushing the envelope in terms of show design, it was important to keep that momentum going for their return to the stage,” says Roland Greil. “For Patrick and myself it was key to create a very versatile and theatrical design, which allows for all kind of different looks. Therefore we designed a stage that can change its look and overall feel for each and every song giving them all a suitable look and feel.

“Over the stage we built five pods, which are fully automated to change the scenery,” he explains. “Each of them holds 16 Claypaky Scenius Unicos and a linear array of LED Neon Flex. Together with Jeremy Lloyd, who did the show’s technical integration and design for Wonderworks, we have designed 2mm high-resolution LED wall panels upstage as a backdrop, which track horizontally and can spin to reveal lights on the back of the walls.

“A decently-sized floor package helps to support the overall look from the floor or create imagery with the emphasis on strong floor lighting and silhouettes,” Greil adds. “The whole lighting system extends into the audience to create an immersive experience for the fans and include the auditorium in the overall look.”

Greil and Woodroffe have found Scenius Unico to be “a proven workhorse” fixture for their shows in the past. “It’s versatile and has a lovely big front lens, which works perfectly for an arena rig,” says Greil. The majority of the Scenius Unico fixtures for Genesis are integrated into the five fully-automated pods over the stage with additional units mounted on two audience trusses and an advance truss.

Greil also acts as the Lighting Director for the tour. Marc Brunkhardt is the Lighting Programmer and Joshua Key the Video ProgrammerSam Pattinson and Giles Maunsell of Treatment Studio did the content design and production.

Article Credit: Clay Paky 

Photo Credit: Manfred H. Vogel 

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Neg Earth Lights donated lighting, rigging, power and control solutions enabling Lighting Designer Tim Routledge to work his magic at the Concert for Ukraine charity event.

Held on 29th March with around 8,000 attendees, the event took place at Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena which boasted world class artists such as Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Anne-Marie, Emeli Sande, Manic Street Preachers, Snow Patrol and most significantly Ukrainian singer Jamala, who gave a heartfelt performance whilst wrapped in her home nation’s flag.

Our team jumped at the chance to support the cause, which aimed to raise money for humanitarian charities helping the people of Ukraine in their time of need. Neg Earth technicians worked hard to prepare and deliver industry leading technology, including lighting fixtures such as the Ayrton Perseo-S, Ayrton MagicBlade-R, Robe Spiider and Martin MAC Aura XB LED, all controlled by a GrandMA3 Full Size console and a cohort of Robe RoboSpots. Passionate team members also created custom blue and yellow corner stickers for the flight cases being sent to the event.

A total of £12.2 million was raised on the night, which will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an organisation which brings together charities to provide emergency aid to people caught up in humanitarian crises such as war. The Neg Earth team also held a bake sale on 31st March with employees bringing in home baked goods to sell to raise additional funds for the cause. The team managed to raise £200 in cake sales, which the company matched to make the total £400, all of which has been donated to the DEC.

The day before I visited Stormzy at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena, Micheál Martin, the Irish premier had cancelled his St Patrick’s Day meeting with US president Joe Biden in Washington after the Taoiseach tested positive for COVID. For us mere mortals, such decisions do not these days pertain – life seems almost back to normal. Tours, however, still need to exert presidential caution.

 

Joel Stanley, production manager for Stormzy, has a particularly good reason to remain cautious. Arguably one of the more extreme examples of the disruptions of this era – Stormzy’s tour has had to reschedule three times – the experience has crystalised the relationships with Stanley’s chosen vendors. “The biggest impact is how we respond to COVID now. My plan is defined by the concept that if we get an outbreak within our production, we can still have a show.”

 

That ability comes from strength in depth – in a nutshell, the tour is well-crewed with people at the top of their game. “I have a group of preferred vendors and specific people who I know can be relied on. Over the two years of COVID, I have always kept those companies and people informed at least six months in advance about what dates we were booking. The dates might get cancelled, as it transpired, but that meant the vendors could bank that time well in advance. In total, this is 42 days of work including band, build and production rehearsals, and the 15 shows.”

 

He continues: “That didn’t mean our needs were precise gear-wise. We didn’t have a lighting plot then, let alone a conceptual framework, but they all knew what the scale of the production would be and the length of the commitment. There is always a pressure to get fresh quotes from other vendors, but you have to weigh that against those magic ingredients, reliability – a mutual flow in that they can also rely on us – and consistency. I know our vendors will try their utmost to deliver. That’s something to be cherished. If I call Alex [Leinster, of Video Design] or Dan Bennet at SSE and say, ‘Look, we need to try something out’, they would bring the tools. There’s no nickel-and-dime attitude, no ‘we’ll come, but we’re going to have to charge you.’ They get on side, and if what we’ve proposed to trial doesn’t add up, they will proffer alternatives. You can’t put a price on that; they are all first-class on that score.”

 

Speaking of crewing and the pressures on touring during the pandemic, Stanley says: “Loss of crew from the industry has created a situation – the last thing we need is burnt-out people jumping from one tour to the next.

 

With COVID, we have had to be firm – from the very beginning, if someone tests positive, they are off; we get them taken care of and sent home, and they don’t return until they’ve had two consecutive negative tests.” Stanley himself fell ill just as rehearsals began. “That’s where the strength of the team shone through. “We’d already had the meetings and development sessions, it only remained to pull it all together, and they did that autonomously.”

 

The schedule for this tour is tight. “In effect, there are no days off on this tour,” says Stanley, “even though there are dark days between shows. Our crew protocol is to test every three days. Although I can’t mandate it, we ask that everyone wears a mask at all times indoors. Sadly, I don’t see that rigour applied with stage crews. At a time of continued uncertainty, it would be nice to know that was being done.” There is also an aspect of time. “We might have all had six months advance warning on the dates, but the uncertainty has meant we left hard details about design and concept to the very last minute. In effect, we had just six weeks from our first meeting to our first show, and the last three and half were all that anyone had to pull it all together.” No small feat considering this is a 19-truck production . . .

 

AUTOMATION

Stanley continues: “Ric Lipson led for Stufish; TAIT provided much from rental staging, plus some special items from the US. All those little bits of bespoke kit were managed by Holly Saul, Tamsin Webley and Jess Woodwood, three TAIT onsite production managers who took responsibility for different parts of the build whilst I was off sick. That worked because from our very first meeting at Stufish, everyone was present – Neg Earth, SSE, Video Design, Pyrojunkies/ER Productions, everyone. And of course, Bronski and Amber (Tawbox), who as creative directors oversaw the conceptual integrity and kept us on a coherent path.

 

Working for TAIT, Alex Burrows is responsible for all moving elements and their safety. “Kinesys chain hoists lift everything,” says Burrows, “and it’s all run off the Apex system. With the Vector control surface I operate, it’s all very precise and secure.”

 

There are three main elements, two involving artists. A crown of lights formed by two semi-circular trusses with scenic dressing hangs over centre-stage. The Crown variously descends, performs a penny roll, and eventually splits and re-orients almost completely vertically to form an ‘S’ for the song Superheroes. Within the Crown is a scenic dish as would be seen on pan scales – think scales of justice and you have the image. The other end is far downstage. The scenic balance beam between them is a separate truss. In motion, with Stormzy and/or DJ and totemic side-kick TiiNY in the pans, the visual impression is of a singular physical element as it seesaws between positions. Symbolic as well as dynamic, it’s a grand gesture and raises the audiences’ enjoyment another notch.

 

The third element is an elevator ‘flying carpet’ gag that opens the show, with Stormzy concealed behind the towering see-through LED wall. “It’s a powerful entrance at the top of the show,” says Burrows. “A hand-mounted bridge is temporarily positioned to give Stormzy access to mainstage when he dismounts. A 2m gap between the back wall of LED and mainstage conceals the Slab, a large scenic truss (72” SuperTruss) spanning the full 20m width of the stage. Dressed with LED video and with lights and pyro within, it’s raised by three hoists at each end and moves through a variety of positions horizontally and inclined. We feed precise Slab positional data to Luke Collins at the video servers, so image consistency is maintained between the Slab and the back wall of LED whatever its position.”

 

This was one of the most eye-catching elements of the show, but more of that later. “I have four watchers for close visual monitoring of all movements,” adds Burrows. “I’m positioned mid-stage right with a good eyeball on what is moving.”

 

VIDEO

Having a stage with such an open vista is a gift for the video element of the show. Across the back, the towering ROE Visual Vanish LED comes and goes like a chimaera. For those seated up off the floor of the arena, the panels of LED on the floor and across the steep ramp that edges the upstage boundary provide continuity of image when perhaps the seats are blind-sighted from what plays above. Then of course, there is the Slab.

 

All the equipment and crew is provided by Video Design. Luke Collins programmes and operates a pair of 4×4 disguise servers; Mark Davies cuts cameras operating a Carbonite 2ME switcher, and both men are employed directly by production, as so many of the principals are on this tour. Content is king on this show, as Collins explains: “For the most part, it’s produced by Tawbox, Bronski and Amber’s company. There are also some from Shop, another big content house. There are some really bold 3D animations.”

 

A good example comes early on during Cold, where the Slab tilts cross-stage and distinct avatars of Stormzy march up the incline. You may shrug your shoulders at that, but in the concert hall, it projected a quasi-augmented reality.

 

“As you know, we take the tracking data from Apex motion control, the accuracy of that system down to 0.1mm means the imagery never loses touch between the Slab and the back screen. Frequently, depending on the view angle relative to the stage, the Slab can be subsumed into the rear screen, even when moving between horizontal and tilted,” says Collins. It’s a striking illusion nicely exploited by the content providers and perfectly delivered by TAIT’s motion data and Collins’ precise programming. “The rear screen is suspended on a TAIT tab track so smooth that when it needs to part to expose Stormzy up on the ‘flying carpet’, it is opened manually. The screen position, when parted for that reveal, is not critical to images on any other screen in the set, and once shut, then point zero is restored.”

 

CAMERAS

Amongst other tours, Mark Davies has appeared on these pages as the man cutting cameras for ELO (see LSi September 2017). A different beast to Stormzy? “Actually, they are similar in an operational sense,” he opens. “I have three manned cameras in the pit, three PTZ robocams, a long lens at FOH, one track camera, and one handheld. All the operators come from the Video Design crew. The big difference is the significant isolation of Stormzy onstage relative to the rear LED screen, and to the exclusion of other musicians and performers. That does make it easier for me – even so, the key is the energy he brings to his performance.”

 

Discussing his work alongside content creator Bronski, Davies says: “The most important discussion we had was over camera positions. He understands cameras and knows about the drama that can be transmitted if you get the right angle. In that sense, we are definitely travelling in the same direction. Stormzy himself is equally knowledgeable – I noticed in rehearsals how he liked to play to a particular robocam, so we now put the handheld there to increase our ability to respond to him. He’s a very self-aware performer – a gift to any camera director.”

 

SPECIAL EFFECTS

The show is punctuated by a variety of effects supplied by Pyrojunkies and ER Productions but, as ever, it’s the application that matters. All are under the watchful eye of Liam Mace, who says: “I freelance though I have worked a great deal for Pyrojunkies in recent years. I had not worked for Stormzy before but have been pleased to find a degree of creative freedom in what we are doing. I was invited into the conceptual discussions from the beginning – important as in any performance there may be desired cue points but building a sequence that fits the role requires a proper understanding of the show designers’ intentions. To work well, pyro has to be sensitively applied.”

 

Then there is safety. “Where we fire from on the floor stage-right is quite restricted in terms of sightlines,” says Mace. “Besides direct line of sight for me, we have spotters at all critical points.” The firing system in use is from Galaxis Showtechnik. There is a lot of information available on this system, e.g. you can see interference from RF – an essential feature with everything triggered wirelessly. Galaxis runs to a firing script, linked to the show timecode.

 

FOH

Luigi Buccarello may count himself the luckiest man in audio to pick up this gig at short notice. “I met Kojo Samuel, the band’s music director, many years ago,” he opens. “I was mixing for Nao and he liked what he heard. Soon after, he invited me to mix for Rita Ora which I ended up doing for a number of years. It’s my good fortune that the Rita Ora production included Joel, our PM, as well as Kojo – Tawbox were also part of the team. When I was asked if I wanted to do this tour, I said ‘absolutely’. Who wouldn’t?”

 

Buccarello has an L-Acoustic K1/K2 system provided by SSE Audio with all the fidelity that system promises. “It’s a great rig, and I have a great tech in Richard Kemp. I’ve never worked with him before but he’s very flexible, has great knowledge of the system and got to know what I wanted very fast.”

 

For the opening, Stormzy’s arrival is preceded by a series of slowly-delivered low-frequency pulses of fierce energy. I’ve had my trousers flapped before and had some funny sensations in my abdomen, but I’ve never felt every hair on my head vibrate.

 

Of the show’s challenges, Buccarello says: “Stormzy is not one thing – he has multiple styles. The show starts with six songs, all hard grime, then suddenly we’re into gospel soul with a horn section. Those changes of style have to be made into something that is sonically-coherent; the performance has to hang together. The rule is to keep it simple – a couple of compressors and a de-esser are always there, but I have the threshold up so it’s not really engaged till I need it.”

 

Buccarello continues: “It’s a four-piece band, drums, bass, guitar, keys, DJ TiiNY, three brass players and six backing vocalists. I start by getting drum and bass where I like it, then my whole attention is focused on the vocals. Some numbers are very soulful so need to find a more organic sound. I build a template, soft and natural, then adapt song by song.” He mixes from an Avid Venue S6L. “I’m comfortable with this, it sounds amazing and I really like the workflow. I find it’s much like the Avid Venue Profile, just with smaller buttons and knobs, but it does so much more.”

 

MONITORS

Stage tech David Courtney and RF tech Patrick Taghavi ran me through the nuts and bolts of monitor world. “Raphael [Williams, Stormzy’s usual sound engineer] produces 21 mixes on his DiGiCo SD7 Quantum,” says Courtney. “The IEM system is Sennheiser EW G4 with the Digital 6000 series for the wireless mics; there are 12 handhelds. Every earbud is custom – Stormzy and the band all use Ultimate Ears, the rest have Cosmic Ears.”

 

Meanwhile, Taghavi is king of RF for SSE. “I do a lot of monitor work in France and RF is far less regulated there. Here it’s much more stable, not that it means I can be less vigilant. There are two separate RF antenna systems, one upstage of the LED back wall where the band and BVs mostly live and, one downstage. That makes things much more secure.”

 

Williams has been with Stormzy since 2017. “I did FOH initially, that’s the end of the snake I prefer, but what’s needed is some TLC from this end, so here I am. The first hurdle is the voice and the band being separate. Then there’s the room and the audience, which all have an effect. Stormzy has great projection, so do the BVs, but if you’re not careful, that BV detail can get lost.”

 

He continues: “With Stormzy, my process is to get it correct for me. He’s not looking to pitch from his IEM – he’s listening to the full show and needs to hear the band and the audience. That’s probably the key difference between what Luigi is doing out front and me – I bring balance to everything, just keeping the vocals present. He will bring more emphasis to the voices where needed.”

 

He concludes: “There’s not much treatment on the mixes for the performers in the desk – a bit of EQ, a bit of compression. I needed the SD7 for the output channel count. If I need extra, I need it immediately; the SD7 has that flexibility plus the Quantum gives me the Mustard Processing for a more powerful EQ. I use the UAD-2 racks post desk to finesse what goes to each of them.”

 

 

LIGHTING

Much of the illusory nature of the show described in the video section above would lose credibility were it not properly lit. Lighting designer Tim Routledge presents a palette that often results in something of a ghostly, otherworldly character – ‘dirty’ is the adjective he uses, but make no mistake – this is no easy show for lighting, with Stormzy spending so much of the night alone on a giant stage bereft of any structural bling.

 

With most of the core performance area so far downstage, you might imagine a show played in-the-round. There, you have the nub of the dilemma for Routledge and his key programmer, James Scott. The show is cue-heavy and has taken a great deal of thought in a remarkably short period of time, but neither man seemed too flustered.

 

“The Crown at the centre of the rig is populated with the new SGM G-7 BeaSt,” says Scott. “A beam light much like the Vari-Lite VL6000 used elsewhere in the rig, it has a tight pencil beam and comparable effects. To me the BeaSt is not noticeably brighter, but at the centre of that Mercedes-like symbol across the lamp sits a very bright, LED strobe.” Routledge adds: “The BeaSts in the Crown are a bit more special. That centre strobe element can be bled in gently, an effect we use to give the Crown a jewel-like feel.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You’ll also see what looks at first like the classic X4 Bar,” continues Scott, “but is the new FR10 from GLP. The LEDs have a bigger aperture lens and you have individual zooming per lens. There are 28 of them on the Slab.” This individual zooming stood out on One Second. A ripple runs across the bottom edge of the big screen; zooming in and out on it as it ran across the FR10s made it appear more fluid. In Routledge’s own words, “the new GLP FR10s are stupendous.” Elsewhere in the rig, the SGM Q-8 came in for praise. “The segmented pixel plate and the four lines of strobe pixels around that rectangle are so bright and so versatile.”

 

Keylight is provided by eight Robe Forte lights. “Previously, we used the Robe BMFLs, a good lamp for the job, but the power and CRI make these new ones just perfect.”

 

Scott runs the show from a grandMA2 desk. “I’m using Cue Points, the new software that allows you to timestamp – that gives us separate markers for pyro, lighting, everything running from the same hymn sheet.”

 

Speaking at length to Routledge several days after the show, he outlined its structure. “It falls into three distinct sections – a heavy grime Stormzy; a tender, soulful Stormzy; and a playful Stormzy, which is where he has fun and things go a little crazy. Despite the large stage and the deep double thrust, we were really careful about which part of the stage he uses and when. He’s not just running about all over the place. Each section of the audience gets their turn, and he is really good at hitting his marks.”

 

Routledge continues: “Getting any reveal opening is so hard these days – an audience of 10,000 with their phone-lights on can catch anything concealed behind a blow-through LED screen. That’s why we went for the blinding strobe punch for the opening, to assault the retina. This heavy grime section is all lit through smoke. Much of the lighting is concealed within the stage, so the lighting comes mainly from below. The stage has several moats so there are plenty of places for lights to shine through. We use up to eight Robe Fortes spots to track him, though not all of them all the time. We colour him a lot at the beginning and with a lot of ‘dirty’ colours. Because of his tall stature, it’s like lighting an animated stature – we can use monochrome from the rig and make him pop out in a dirty red, for example. James did some great programming for me there.”

 

Speaking of the scenic details, the LD says: “The Slab truss is Ric Lipson’s idea – rising from below is unexpected. Audiences are all too familiar with scenic elements that lower in from concealment above. For the top of the show, the Slab is hidden just downstage of the rear screen.”

 

“For the soulful Stormzy part of the show, we reveal the band. But the focus remains on him, with the descent of the Crown for Heavy is the Head; down low enough to be figuratively oppressive above him as he talks though the pressures, he feels from his meteoric ascent to stardom. We took a deliberate tack not to make the Crown some clear symbolic thing; its scenic dressing purposely dishevelled. Then it’s made fun of with a penny roll, and of course, by how it’s lit. By the time we reach Superheroes it’s no longer a crown, but split and raised vertically to form an ‘S’.” It’s worth noting that the show is by now nine songs in, yet it’s not till song fourteen, Cigs & Cush, that Routledge reveals a wall of MAC Auras concealed behind the Vanish screen, and the Q8 strobes.

 

Routledge continues: “The VT Don’t Forget To Breathe is our curtain-raiser for the havoc section. Wiley Flow follows, a real mosh-pit favourite from his early days. The Scales of Balance descend at speed and we have the artist raised above his audience. The Scales are symbolic of justice, the speed they move at is dramatic. James and I were discussing all the possibilities of what to wrap the beam of the Scales with and he came up with Portman P2 tungsten as they have the ability to bend in two planes. To enhance that view, we avoided using followspots on the Scales as the audience to the opposing side would have been dazzled. Instead, we used Astera Pixel Bricks within the scale pans.

 

“By the time Shut Up begins we’re all in full-on fun mode. Stormzy loves comedy sunglasses and has a pair of heart-shaped ones presented to him for the song – this man does not take himself too seriously! The Free VT and song section gently reveals he’s about to release a new album and then we’re straight into Blinded By Your Grace, a great sing-along number. Finally, the show plays out to his comedy lampoon of Boris Johnson in Vossi Bop.”

 

In conclusion, I can only agree with Routledge, who observes: “There is so much powerful variety of style in presentation and content. Stormzy is a remarkable performer.”

 

Originally Published by LSi Online. 

Photo Credit: ‘Timmsy’ Andrew Timms 

 

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Our teams are well underway with preparing industry leading lighting equipment for Concert for Ukraine next week, which we proudly support by donating our hire equipment services to the event.

The concert includes an evening of performances from Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Becky Hill, Emeli Sandé, Manic Street Preachers and more at Resorts World Arena, Birmingham.

In addition, our Moving Lights technicians decided to customise the corner stickers to match the colours of the Ukrainian flag to show their support for the people of Ukraine.

Neg Earth Lights provided WWE with lighting, rigging and control solutions and highly skilled crew to illuminate the Jeddah Super Dome, the world’s largest freestanding dome. The substantial amount of kit included over half a mile of truss, 504 metres of Martin Sceptron,* 246 Litec Exe-Rise Chain Hoists, 6 Grand MA3 Full Size Consoles, 12 MA NPUs and 272 Solaris LED Flare Q+s.

 

*(FUN FACT) The truss and Martin Sceptron supplied to equip the dome for WWE would stretch the distance from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace.

Lighting Design Team: Jason Robinson & Jason Shaw

Photo Credit: WWE

We have worked with the revolutionary circus troupe Cirque Du Soleil since 1996 on Saltimbanco and it was a joy to resume our partnership for their latest performance, LUZIA, at The Royal Albert Hall. Our team supplied lighting, rigging, distro and control solutions which aided the performers to wow audiences with the stories of Mexico.

Neg Earth supplied a mixture of ROBE, Clay Paky and SGM lights & LEDs for Cirque Du Soleil.

Photo Credit: Matt Bread

 

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I’ve told this tale once before, when I first reviewed a Gary Barlow solo show for this magazine (see LSi February 2013), but it’s well worth re-telling. Back in the mid 1990s, my wife and I were re-acquainting ourselves with London, having returned from a stint living and working in the US. Standing in line to enter The Tower of London, I spotted Clem Burke, Blondie’s peerless drummer, already inside. Having worked for Burke on the Parallel Lines tour of Europe and as his drum roadie, we were well-acquainted. Once we were inside, I sought him out; after all, what was he doing in London? “I’m working for Gary Barlow,” he told me. I was visibly surprised; I knew nothing of Gary Barlow’s talents bar the two Take That shows I’d previously reviewed for LSi. I liked boybands – it was like revisiting the heights of Motown from my own teenage years – wonderful vocals and great dance routines to fantastic three-minute pop classics written by the powerhouse that was Holland, Dozier, Holland. In my naivety, I had assumed the same combination applied to Take That . . .

“No, no,” said Burke. “He’s a great songwriter. I’m really enjoying the work; melody, lyric, hook. He really understands what makes for a great pop song.” Burke’s opinion has been vindicated a thousand-fold, but it didn’t fall into Barlow’s lap. That’s what I find so illustrative about Barlow’s success – he has always worked bloody hard for it, something he continues to this day. In speaking to his production team for this tour, it’s clear that drive percolated all the way down.

 

PRODUCTION

For this Gary Barlow tour, the production manager’s hat goes to Paddy Hocken, with Chris Vaughan of CV Productions being preoccupied in Las Vegas with Adele’s residency. I first spoke with Hocken back in early October, just before full production rehearsals at Fly By Nite’s facility. It was apparent even then, prior the emergence of omicron, that all elements of production had been examined with a weather-eye on maintaining that all-important isolation bubble. How right Hocken was to be so cautious. “That said, this is a big arena production and we will aim to make it feel as normal as possible,” he said. “Full-scale and polished; a Gary Barlow tour is nothing if not a quality show. He always wants it to be that way – why should now be any different?”

Considering what transpired across the nation during the run of the tour, it is to the credit of Hocken and the team he assembled that the tour was so successful, and so tumultuously received.

 

LIGHTING

The show opens emphatically in red and doesn’t rest from that area of the spectrum for five numbers. The original concept was quite different, as outlined by lighting designer Tim Routledge below, but the great disruptor impacted this tour as much as it has affected all of our lives. That opening is a bold, defiant gesture; Barlow sets out his stall with aplomb, “you’re all going to have a good time”. That decision alone throws down the gauntlet, challenging the audience to run with the show’s powerful surges.

Where did the powerful opening come from? Routledge offers some perspective: “In a way, this is a postponed tour to introduce the album Music Played By Humans [released in 2020] but of course, it has had to evolve over the last two years. Now, it’s more an ‘all the hits’ show; even more than that in fact, as he has another new album out now [The Dream of Christmas, released late 2021]. Misty Buckley [set design] and I have worked together on this new iteration of the tour since June 2021 when the tour changed direction with the arrival of a second pandemic timed album release, and the show has since become very heavy lighting-wise. Lights are so heavily integrated into the set that it has to be that way of working.”

He adds: “I love working with Misty – her detail on set pieces is always second to none; that just makes things look more considered and cohesive. The kick-off point to the show is ‘a big band for the modern era’, a concept that comes from Gary’s imagination. The origins to most of what the show is feeds directly from him.” How so? “The show falls into four sections – Vegas, Christmas, a compact B-stage in-the-round segment, and the finale. The first references a classic Las Vegas-style big-band show. Red is the theme, to the extent that Gary wears a red suit and red shoes. It’s mainly new songs from the Humans album. The band is his normal five-piece, augmented by a six-piece brass section.”

Routledge continues: “It’s a cold start – there’s no big entrance, he walks out in blackout, the spotlight hits him out of the darkness, and he starts to sing a cappella. As each line of the first song builds, he introduces the band one by one. That works great for a soft opening. I think that example underlines how Gary has command of what takes place on stage and how we make it look for him. Development is a very direct process; he speaks to Misty and I, not via his management or an assistant, and he does so regularly.”

Can you give us an example? “In terms of Gary communicating the direction of travel for the show, that is an absolute. For example, he had been working with his stylist Stevie Stewart and had determined the all-red costume right down to the shoes. He brought that original idea to us – that wish to have a red flavour to the first five songs – he wanted bold Vegas.”

And the reds are brassy and bright, with the big brass section and dancers in feather headdresses, it oozes Las Vegas at its best. It’s not all-red all the time, of course – Routledge relieves the eye with open white to provide the highlights and accents the stage needs.

“That’s an intervention from him that gives a strong direction for how to approach a whole section of the show,” continues Routledge. “A more detailed example could be one that deals with the specifics of a sequence: the addition of a scenic fireplace on stage and the falling of snow during the Christmas section were directions from him. Misty and I might have selected or suggested all manner of ways to contextualise that section, but he already had the vision, it only remained for us to realise it for him. At the musical level, he keeps us up-to-date about how he is developing the setlist way before and during band rehearsals prior to us going into production. So we know what’s coming, the ebb and flow, the light and shade of the show. That is so helpful and he will let me know any key points he wants to emphasise throughout the show. In production rehearsals, that direction continues; he will talk with the band and the dancers and tell us what they want to work on. Likewise, he will ask us if we need to work on something from them. Lisa Spencer, his choreographer, was originally a dancer on a Take That tour; they came up with the sleigh ride gag in the Christmas scene. I cannot overemphasise how, because he knows what he wants and controls the flow directly not via other people, that is really effective. There is no ambiguity or confusion and it’s massively efficient.”

The Christmas section comes next; this is the point where the audience abandons any sense of inhibition and lets loose. “We always expected this to have an impact,” says Routledge, “you don’t create scenes for them to languish. But the audience response has been immense. Gary does some of his own original Christmas songs and some traditional ones and it goes down a storm. So we start high in Vegas and get higher. Yes, it’s cheesy, but isn’t that what Christmas is about? We all like to indulge and right now, everyone just wants to have fun.”

As the fake snow is cleared from the stage, Barlow travels to a small B-stage in the centre of the hall for part three. “He normally walks through his audience and spends a lot of time hugging and greeting his fans. That has had to go and he now follows a COVID-safe route; if he gets sick, the tour’s over. He does miss it and I’m sure the fans do, but they still get to see him up-close. The B stage is relatively small, so there’s nowhere to hide – just him, a piano, and two band members. It’s presented low-key, just 10 floor lights and followspots. Normally, he’d play ballads in this setting, but instead, he raises the temperature even higher, performing classics like A Million Love Songs, The Greatest Day, and a huge crowd-pleaser, Let Me Go.”

As that segment draws to a close and he’s whisked away, a large mirrorball lowers in above the main stage. When Barlow re-appears, we’re straight into what you might call the disco finale.

“It is all very Studio 54,” says Routledge, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. “And again, it’s more of the big hits, Shine and Rule the World, for example. In fact, all the big hits right to the end – all killer, no filler.”

In terms of hardware, Routledge has made some keen choices in how he lights all this musical extravagance. “The way we differentiate the scenes theatrically is through the colour palette. Lighting carries a big load in that sense. There are some props like a decorated fireplace for the Christmas sequence, but mirrorball apart, there are no huge automation gags in the show at all, it’s all down to lighting.”

“Centre-stage, there’s a big bold set of Gary Barlow initials in an old 1930s font. It’s populated with 200 Ayrton Magic Dots inside. They transform something simple into a constant shape-shifting, colour changing focus of emphasis – the whole piece pans and tilts like some gargantuan moving light.” An effect, it should be noted, delivered by some deft programming, as we will learn.

“The main structural element of set/lights is the six vertical chevrons that cup the performance area and frame the initials.” Routledge continues. “Each covered with 16 Ayrton IntelliPix which are just brilliant. At nine individual parallel beams per IntelliPix unit, that’s like having almost 900 small individual Sharpys. The chevrons are also edged with Sceptron LEDs which hide the truss and give the show a modern, neon feel at times, and add a sparkly effect like falling snow in the Christmas section. I first used the IntelliPix for X-Factor and they are absolutely stonking, just so punchy and versatile. Thankfully, Neg Earth has them in the sort of quantity I needed – yet one more example of why Neg is such an easy choice as supplier; skilled crew, great gear in abundance, Neg Earth has everything. Gary had asked for ‘twinkly, warm and sparkling’, and that’s just what the IntelliPix are, as well as delivering bold punches of light that are accented at every turn. Other lights include Claypaky Scenius Unicos for a lot of the aerial beam work, Robe LED Beams, and BMFL Blades for remote control followspots. Gary also very much wanted a starcloth. I haven’t specified one for years but actually, used sparingly when it’s 120ft wide and 40ft tall, it makes the set very special.” Routledge applies it for the Christmas section, and in so doing, seemingly lifts the chevrons and ‘GB’ initials to float magically in the air.

He continues: “The whole show is run on a grandMA2 that Tom Young programmes for me on MA3 hardware; he just prefers it as he has moved his muscle-memory to the new hardware. There are several reasons for sticking with the MA2 for running the show, besides it still being the desk of choice in most live concert situations. Rob Gawler, who runs the show for me, is an MA2 devotee, plus Tom couldn’t be present all the time at rehearsals, which meant I had to maximise his time. He is unbelievably fast – arguably the fastest programmer out there. I also love James Scott, he programmes a lot for me as well across a number of shows. But Tom and I have worked together for at least seven years on Gary Barlow and Take That shows, so his face fits the show perfectly. That brings a significant impact to the work of building a show, the slang and shorthand we use is refined to a point of hyper-efficiency. Tom also brings great musicality; he has covered Gary for me over the years and knows many if not all the songs. With that skillset he offers up stuff to me in real-time; he’s exciting to work with.”

And where’s the pay-off for Routledge? “Satisfaction for me comes from working with an artist the stature of Gary Barlow. From a more general level, what makes it worthwhile is that magic moment when the houselights go down. A cliché maybe, but one that always brings up the hairs on the back of my neck.”

Wrapping up, he says: “For this tour, we left rehearsals already in a good place, but even so, I was surprised by how mad the audience went. You can’t beat that feeling. And Gary is in great voice; he’s singing better now than when I first toured with him 10 years ago. He’s a superb performer at the top of his game; he knows how to deliver. A great songwriter, great singer, writes terrific scores for musicals: he’s pure talent, and the reviews have underlined that fact.”

 

SET DESIGN

Although Misty Buckley was unavailable for interview due to the immense workload she is currently under, Paddy Hocken had much to say on her behalf. “She has done an absolutely fantastic job, well-supported by her art director Matt Rees and prop designer, Richard Olivieri. Ben Brooks and Jordan Whittemore at TAIT UK really pulled it out the bag for us on the build. They supplied the main stage, apron, lighting shelf, tech bunkers, band risers and camera platforms. The B-stage, a 16ft wide decagon, is fitted with an electric scissor lift for Gary’s piano, all finished with Hi-Shine flooring. A combination of
rental stock and customised pieces, at a ratio of 80%-20% respectively, made this ecologically-sensible.”

Hocken continues: “On the fully bespoke front, TAIT fabricated the 7.5m tall ‘GB’ sign Tim liked so much; the central steps with opal polycarbonate fascias and gold powder-coated step tread angle detail; magnetic Di-bond riser fascias with integrated diffused LED in gold powder-coated channels. The Christmas props include 20-odd giant gift-wrapped presents and a tourable 16ft high dressed Christmas tree. These details, especially on the steps and risers, really enhance the Vegas flavour of the show opening and sustain a polished look throughout.”

What about the fireplace? “We wanted it to have a fire with real flames – not the easiest thing to achieve safely,” says Hocken. “Marc Webber at ER Productions really impressed us with his solution – being able to have our special effects supplier deliver the whole gag was great. By the time Stephan Saliba from TAIT UK Scenic had added all the finishing touches to it, the piece looked very authentic.”

 

SOUND

Anecdotally, those of an older generation who find rap, hip-hop, grime and drum’n’bass an impenetrable musical form, will be pleased to discover complete relief in the music of Gary Barlow. His ability to access, harness and exploit melody, modulation, harmony and the development of tempo in the structure of his musical output can illustrate many of humanity’s strongest emotions. In short, he writes a great pop song.

Read the full article here.

Originally Published by LSi Online. 

Photo credit: Luke Dyson.

www.negearth.co.uk
www.skanpa.co.uk
www.taittowers.com
www.video-design.co.uk

 

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Originally published by TPi Magazine.                                                                                                     Words: Jacob Waite                                                                                           Photos: JPBoardman
After four-and-a-half years away from the road, English folk singer-songwriter, Laura Marling captivates audiences with a stripped-back, solo acoustic tour exhibiting a ‘less is more’ approach to production.

Following the success of her Live From Union Chapel livestream [see TPi #251], and in support of her critically acclaimed seventh studio album, Song For Our Daughter, English folk singer-songwriter, Laura Marling embarked on her first tour in four-and half years; a stripped-back, solo acoustic campaign supported by a tight-knit crew.

“It has been a privilege to work with such a lovely team,” Tour Manager, Dan McKay began, speaking to TPi as the dust settled on the whirlwind tour. “We were meant to be in the US in 2020 but that was subsequently curtailed with the COVID-19 pandemic, so she had that fire in her belly to get touring again and put on a show that people will remember.”

With a handful of creatives and technicians on board, McKay enlisted the support of Neg Earth, Britannia Row Productions, Event Transport, Phoenix Bussing, Acre Jean and design collective, NeonBlack, to make the post-lockdown project possible. “We were apprehensive to plan anything too far into the future case it didn’t go ahead,” he explained. “When it became apparent that the tour might happen, we decided to assemble a team of creatives and suppliers, and luckily the speed at which they operate made it possible to put this project together in a matter of weeks.”

He went on to praise the team for adapting to the speed in which many post-lockdown productions are advanced, designed, and taken on the road or – in some cases – shelved or even cancelled later down the line.

With a loyal fanbase, the singer-songwriter, who rarely tours, cuts an enigmatic figure on stage. In each venue, according to McKay, you could ‘hear a pin drop’.

“Laura doesn’t necessarily say much on stage, so the crowd hangs on to her every word,” he said, recalling visits to London’s Roundhouse and Manchester’s Albert Hall among his personal highlights. As one of the first tours back with new COVID-19 regulations, the safety of the performing artist, crew and audiences remained at the top of McKay’s agenda. To this end, the crew embarked on regular testing and wore facemasks on site.

“We left it to each venue to implement their own procedures but I believe the messaging between promoters, ticket sellers and public attending shows post-lockdown is confusing and could be improved,” McKay reported. “Thankfully, the most we ever had to push the stage back was around 45 minutes as audiences and venues adjusted to the implementation of COVID-19 passes before getting in the venue. The rest of the tour went off without a hitch”

 

‘A SHOW OF 19 LOOKS’

“She’s an absolute talent and commands the stage for 90 minutes every night,” NeonBlack’s Jon Barker enthused, having worked closely with McKay and Marling for the past two years, including stints lighting her side project, LUMP.

Having recently formed a design partnership, NeonBlack, with longstanding collaborator, Dom Smith, the duo devised the production design, in line with visual references provided by Marling. “Laura is an incredible talent and a real delight to work with,” Smith said. “She had wanted to split the show into three distinct acts.”

As a new face to the camp, Smith was pleasantly surprised by Marling’s hands-on approach, citing a “less is more” approach to the project. “It is a very theatrical production. Laura is great at curating ideas for both the visuals but also the musical narrative. When an artist is as transparent about her ideas as Laura is, it makes our job a joy.”

Indeed, part of the reason the duo joined forces was because they believe, the role of the production designer is to tell the stories of performing artists and musicians. “This production as a whole tells that story, from lights to audio,” he remarked. “Fundamentally, it is a show with 19 individual looks, three acts and a strong identity.”

Act one, ‘curtains of light’, saw a series of theatrical and intimate looks with a mid-stage drape in front of a gauze with lighting courtesy of GLP impression X4 Bars.

Act two, ‘shadows’, featured lighting casting shadows on a whiteshark tooth gauze, courtesy of Acre Jean – hung on a Kabuki Solenoid system – from front and rear;

Act three meanwhile saw the Kabuki Solenoid system triggered and LED lighting come to life. During the pre-visualisation phase, NeonBlack drew collaboratively on Vectorworks, albeit operating remotely, and worked on programming in-person, during rehearsals at Neg Earth in LH3, before hitting the road for three weeks.

The majority of the production lighting design was floor based to ensure similar looks in a variety of venues with one mid stage truss of GLP impression X4 Bars and a Sharkstooth kabuki gauze the only flown elements.

“We deliberately kept the show small scale and easy to facilitate due to the uncertainty of the post-lockdown landscape,” Barker explained. “Some of the venues on this tour range in size, so the challenge has been to come up with solutions that don’t compromise the integrity of production design.”

At its largest, the lighting rig featured 10 Martin by Harman MAC Aura XBs dotted around the floor of the stage, seven Ayrton Ghiblis as back and sidelight (three at the back of the stage with two flanking Marling, per side), along with 16 GLP impression X4 Bar moving lights, attached to the onstage and upstage chord.

Static light came in the shape of six ETC Source4s (three per side), 12 VDO Sceptron 10s, four VDO Sceptron 320s, six clam shell footlights, and a Mole Richardson Type 245. Due to a national CO2 shortage at the time, the team relied on Look Solutions Unique Hazers and Martin by Harman AF2 fans for atmospherics. “We discovered early on in the programming phase, it would be easy to upstage Laura by doing too much, which doesn’t happen very often,” Smith noted. “She’s such a talent, spellbinds a room, and does so effortlessly, so she should be the centre of attention, while we provide a backdrop.”

In closing, Smith praised lighting vendor, Neg Earth, for providing essential kit and crew in a tight timeframe. “I’ve known [Neg Earth Project Manager], Lindsey Markham for many years and she is always my first port of call for a show,” he said, recounting the need for custom fabricated square frames to house Martin by Harman Sceptron fixtures – which Neg Earth was able to provide, along with on-site Lighting Technicians, Alan Fotheringhame, Mark Anthony Cooper and Jake Saunders.

‘90 MINUTES OF ESCAPISM’

“This was the first time I’ve done a show with Laura where she hasn’t had a band with her,” FOH Engineer, Darren Connor noted. “It’s been a great experience. Although Laura is an incredible artist with a great voice, she doesn’t project vocally. So when she’s performing with a band you have less control of her vocals. However, when it’s just her, you can make it natural and exposed. It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with her and dig really deep into her vocals.” In an effort to keep the touring footprint as small as possible, Britannia Row Productions provided a bespoke, small format control package to fit Connor’s specific requirements. “Britannia Row Productions has got a great reputation and was very flexible with us, having made a few tweaks during rehearsals,” he said, praising the vendor and particularly, Britannia Row Productions Client Liaison, Marc Soame.

“It was our pleasure to be able to support Dan McKay and Darren Connor on this tour,” Soame said. “Laura Marling’s performances are captivating; truly something to behold.”

The control package comprised an Allen & Heath C1500 desk on firmware version 1.9, a DM32 stage rack, and a 100m Cat6 multicore. Connor was specific about his microphone choices to achieve a ‘natural and open sound’. AKG 414s and Neumann 184s on guitar, six Radial Engineering DIs on acoustics, Sennheiser 409s for electric guitar amp, with DPA Microphones 4018VL on Marling’s vocals. This was the first time the engineer had used DPA 4018 on the singer’s vocals but after trying several capsules in rehearsals settled on the VL version. “It worked fantastically throughout the entire tour,” he recalled. Connor added that the layout of certain venues required different approaches to sound.

“We went from club-sized shows to seated theatres to rooms so dry we needed to smother in reverb to sound live, as well as extremely reverberant rooms like Manchester’s Albert Hall, which is a beautiful venue which requires little reverb,” he pointed out.

Guitar Technician, Joel Ashton made sure all seven guitars were tuned to perfection and Marling felt as comfortable as possible on stage. “This has been the most wonderful experience I’ve had on tour. The setlist has been deliberately structured in a way to keep the narrative, flow and design of the show as beautiful and seamless as possible – watching her go from a heavier rendition to slowing the songs right down so every person in the room hangs on every single word has been an absolute pleasure,” he commented.

“She reads a room really well and it’s fascinating to see her hold an audience. I’ve been working with her for six years on and off and I still find myself getting sucked into the intimacy of every performance,” concluded Connor, elated to be back on the road with one of Britain’s finest musical talents post-lock-down. “People still need to be entertained and if we can provide an outlet and 90 minutes of escapism amid all the drudgery of the past year then it has been a huge success.”

Originally published by TPi Magazine.
Words: Jacob Waite
Photos: JPBoardman

www.lauramarling.com

www.neonblack.design

www.negearth.co.uk

www.britanniarow.com

www.e-t-ltd.com

www.phoenix-bussing.co.uk

www.acrejean.com

www.tpimagazine.com

 

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