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Shining lights

Features
25 September 2019

Ever since emerging artistes in the late-‘60s and early-‘70s built their own lights from Party Four beer cans with reflector bulbs, impressive lighting has been an essential factor for any self-respecting concert act. Fortunately, the UK is blessed with some of the best lighting hire suppliers in the world, as Claire Bicknell reports

With spectacular advances in LED technology and application, concert and festival stage lighting is at a high point and shows no signs of slowing down.

Screens are being installed in a varieThe once impossible is now possible, and lighting designers (LDs) are utilising available technology to its full potential, creating bold, visionary, innovative and immersive light shows.

One of the leading companies in the sector, Production Resource Group (PRG) was founded in New York in 1982, and its UK arm started in 1998 with the acquisition of Birmingham-based Light and Sound Design. It now has offices in 17 countries on five continents and reaches into a further 23 countries through alliances and partnerships.

PRG (UK) supplied lighting and rigging services for the 65,000-capacity Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time in London’s Hyde Park, where headliners this year included Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Florence + The Machine and Robbie Williams, as well as for the Spice Girls’ UK tour. Other clients include Post Malone, Billie Eilish, the five-day Boomtown (66,000) festival and Creamfields (70,000).

PRG director of music Yvonne Donnelly Smith handled the lighting and rigging requirements for the Steel Yard arena at Creamfields.

“The design couldn’t fail to blow you away when used to its full potential by headline acts such as Eric Prydz and Carl Cox,” she says. “The centrepiece was undoubtedly the grids of truss over the audience, housing over 900 LED Revolution BLADES. Split across six sections, over the centre and to each side of the audience, the trusses moved to create an all-encompassing effect the audience couldn’t escape from.

“The Revolution blades were pixel mapped and run through a Resolume media server, controlled by a grandMA2 lighting console at front of house.”

Donnelly Smith says that the affordability and availability of LED lighting fixtures has allowed LDs to expand the production.

“Allowing a lighting designer the ability to often now double the number of fixtures in an arena in turn creates a larger impact visually, and also creates a cohesive feeling between the video and lighting for the concert.”

PRG offers its clients access to one of the largest inventories of rental equipment globally, including lighting fixtures, with 24/7 global and next day support available across Europe and North America.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, north London-based Colour Sound Experiment (CSE) has worked with Underworld for 26 years and counts Groove Armada, Skunk Anansie, Above & Beyond, and Jess Glynne amongst its clients, as well as festivals such as Leeds’ Mint Festival (10,000).

An early industry adopter of LED video for concert lighting, it now owns over 800sqm of LED screen in different pitches and over 1,000 moving head lights.

The company has recently taken on its fourth warehouse space and increased its staff to 31.

“Live music clients want intensity and reliability, as well as innovation,” says MD and founder Haydn Cruickshank. “Lighting directors know what they want and if we don’t already have it, we’re always open to investment to ensure we can help them realise their vision.

“We’re often the first to buy a particular range – for example, the AquaBeams have been particularly successful, the first waterproof outdoor 440w beam,” he says. “Waterproof fixtures are in high demand now and we’re seeing a lot of manufacturers with new offerings in this area.”

CSE also offers its own trucking – from van to artic – and a large selection of pre-rigged fixtures.

“We can offer great value whatever the size of the event,” says Cruickshank. “Our focus is on relationships and our equipment. Our project managers are completely focused on achieving what the client wants within their budget.”

Flexible qualities

Celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, Bristol’s Fineline Lighting has supplied to stages for artistes including Kylie Minogue, Liam Gallagher, Primal Scream and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.

“Generally we’re working on someone else’s rider and specifications, so our clients want that delivered efficiently, cost-effectively and safely,” says MD Rob Sangwell. “We frequently work with a lot of bands in a day, so we need to be flexible and adaptable.

The company offers 24/7 support, and Sangwell is proud of its service offerings.

“Support and back-up is the cornerstone of what we do. We’ll move heaven and earth to solve a problem. There isn’t a limit to the back-up we give – as far as we’re concerned, we’re being paid to deliver a job and will do whatever is needed.”

In terms of lighting trends, Fineline highlights the new generation of large-scale LED spots coming to market.

“LED washes have been out for a few years now, but we’re getting to the point where spots and profiles are LED too,” says Sangwell.

Automated future

West London’s Entec Sound & Light is one of the country’s leading entertainment production suppliers.

The company was founded in 1968 and counts Alice in Chains, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Erykah Badu, The Beach Boys and John Barrowman amongst its clients.

“Lighting forms a major part of our full 360° production service, encompassing sound, video, staging, set design, rigging, stage management, expert crew and other elements that go towards creating the best all-round event to suit the budget” says MD and head of lighting Noreen O’Riordan.

“We will help to create a light show with maximum impact, using a fine blend of today’s best technology and world-class lighting technicians.

“Our warehouse contains everything from old school PAR lamps and blinders, to the very latest in intelligent LED fixtures and control consoles. Based on user specification and industry popularity, we carefully select our stock from the world’s most innovative brands.

“Every item of equipment is maintained in perfect working order and, where applicable, kept up-to-date with the latest software editions.”

For a recent tour by Clean Bandit, Entec collaborated with Dave Smith at Specialz on the design and manufacture of seven upstage rotator pods, each fitted with Martin VDO Sceptron 10 1000mm linear LED battens. Mounted on wheeled bases, they were capable of rotating 360° and delivering a variety of graphical permutations.

“The presence of LED stage lighting continues to expand and developers are finding more interesting ways in which to integrate LED into their latest products,” adds O’Riordan. “Recent technologies such as remote-controlled follow spots suggest that the role of automation will grow in the future.”

Social media

Founded in 1987, Hawthorn is based in Melton Mowbray, Cambridge and London, with recent lighting investments including Robe LEDBeam 150s™.

Clients include Steven Wilson’s To The Bone UK and European tour, featuring a touring lighting package which included Clay Paky Sharpy Wash, SGM P-5 LED Wash, Martin MAC Viper Profile and Performance fixtures. The company also supplied Mark Knopfler’s Down the Road Wherever tour.

“Having supported Mark Knopfler on his 2015 tour, we once again worked with lighting designer Mark Henderson, along with Tellson James, to supply lighting equipment,” says head of concert touring Mick Freer.

“This included Martin MAC Viper Profile and MAC Aura XBs, GLP impression X4 Bar fixtures and Chauvet Professional Nexus Aw 7×7 fixtures. A High End Systems Hog 4 was chosen for control.”

As one of the largest technical event equipment suppliers in the UK, with sound and video to staging, power, rigging and drapes also available, Hawthorn can provide a complete package. It also offers in-house prep and test facilities, content production and 24/7 support, with an in-house lighting team (moving lights and conventionals) available.

“The main thing our clients need is reliability,” says Freer. “When an artiste is on tour, often for months on end across multiple countries, the LX team want the peace of mind that comes from using well maintained, reliable equipment.”

Freer believes social media has had an effect on expectations of stage lighting.

“Lighting designers now not only have to consider what the show will look like to the audience in the room, but they also have to think about how it will translate when the audience is snapping away on their phones and sharing on social media,” says Freer. “It has to have that wow-factor.

“With the big [festival] hitters such as Belgium’s Tomorrowland [65,000] and Coachella [125,000] in the US constantly pushing the boundaries when it comes to stage lighting, audiences are able to see what is possible and this ultimately filters down and influences the smaller shows.”

With on-stage video also dominating many sets, a happy balance needs to be found between video and lighting provision.

“Video provisions on tours are getting bigger and bigger, and this is definitely affecting the stage lighting,” adds Freer. “With technology such as holograms now being used in live music performances, the lighting needs to be carefully considered to work alongside these.”

Heavy loads

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Protec has Its European base is in Birmingham, and Middle East operations in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It also works across Africa, Asia and the Far East.

“We offer full lighting provision from design and creative input, to supplying arena tour riders,” says CEO and founder Stephen Lakin. “We specialise in owning the latest technologies and our lighting department is equipped to supply lighting for intimate shows or stadium spectaculars.

“We are always one of the first to embrace the latest technologies and in the last 12 months we did the lighting on Dubai’s Bao Festival [60,000], which included over 200 moving fixtures. We also provided our grandMA2 and new grandMA3 consoles for the event.

“We provide what lighting designers are looking for to fulfill their designs and that is whatever the latest trend or technology is.”

Lakin says weight load can still be an issue but new technology will tackle this problem.

“We are occasionally impacted by the weight load when supplying a show. The next generation of laser lighting should be more compact and open the door to even more creative lighting designs.

The company has recently invested in laser sourced lighting and Clay Paky Xtylos.

“We’ve ordered 350 Clay Paky Xtylos, the next generation in lighting efficiency,” adds Lakin. “They have a much higher CRI [colour rendering index] than LED lights, and are in theory twice as efficient.”

Southampton-based GLS Lighting works with artistes including 10cc, The Flaming Lips, Joan Baez and Gossip`, as well as festivals such as Boomtown.

Formed in 1995, it encompasses all aspects of show lighting and offers complete systems right from the design stages through to the final event.

“Tech trends are still pushing more LED but the rise of more and more IP55 fixture has proved to be one of this year’s highlights, allowing creativity to continue outside the stage roof,” says director Ian Turner.

Floor packages can be extremely effective for clients wanting an impressive lighting solution.

“All shows need to differentiate theirs from the ones that came before and after them in the bill, and the floor package is king here,” explains Turner. “Many smaller festivals and venues cannot clear out the rig to take in full production, so a clever floor package is what people seek.

“The latest tech toys are all focused on that. Our stock of GLP JDC1 strobes, for example, have been flat out all summer – a small item which provides a big look. The new products coming in from Astera have also seen similar growth in usage in our stocks.”

Budgets, of course, still dictate what lighting is taken out.

“There is a strong driver to keep costs down, so designers and tour managers are looking to see what they can fit into the bus trailer with the backline a lot more than before. At GLS we gave a specific range of cases, products, distros and more that are designed just for that, and to keep weight and volume to a minimum,” adds Turner.

“Often it isn’t affordable or possible to bring the LD or any techs in early, so we can prep the entire show, patch and label and dispatch it ready to go,” says Turner. “We will then provide a handover technician to go through how it works on the first load-in and to make any changes needed.”

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