Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music

Taking the load

Sector Focus
9 July 2018
Star Events
With event productions becoming more elaborate and with increasingly complex staging and design, rigging companies are delivering their specialist services with ever-expanding technical skills – and safety is the top priority in this high-risk sector. Claire Bicknell reports.


Operating in a sector where working safely is paramount, rigging companies are leading the way in many areas of health and safety in the live music industry.

Not only does the equipment have to be safe, but they need to ensure working practices are too, following tight regulations.

Rigging Services

Stage designs are also becoming more complex as productions ramp up the latest technology for audience interaction and what is expected from a live show.

Fortunately the UK is blessed with several companies that have the skillset and technical knowledge needed to advise clients on what is possible, safe and wise.

Formed in 1990, Blackout offers dry hire and full production rigging services with NRC (National Rigging Certificate) certified riggers and trusted technology.

Clients include MTV’s European Music Awards, The Summer Series at London’s Somerset House (cap. 1,500), Henley Festival (6,000), Take That tours, and the BRIT and Classic BRIT Awards.

Based in London, it also has an office in Paris.

Star Events

“We’ve had a very busy past year,” says director Kevin Monks. “There’s repeat business and many long-standing clients, including the Trafalgar Square open-air concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra which we’ve been doing the rigging and drapes services for six years now.

“The Europe Music Awards at The SSE Arena, Wembley saw us rigging from the back of the arena all the way to the front – the designs were very ambitious and we had lots of equipment to squeeze into the arena.”

“We’re also seeing more Kinesys motion control equipment in demand, as it has become more accessible to people, now that it’s more affordable. It’s a good, quick solution for accuracy of movement.”

War Horse, Nottingham Concert Hall

Sitting on PLASA’s National Rigging Advisory Group (NRAG) and members of PLASA and PSA (Production Services Association), Blackout welcomes rigging apprentices to its company and currently has one apprentice and two trainees.

“A steady flow of apprentices and trainees come through and we constantly add to the in-house team,” says Monks. “If they develop and then move on, we’re very happy for them as they will take their training, experience and insight into the industry.”

With over 20 years in the sector, Rigging Services is one of the leading suppliers with five branches across the UK – three in London, one in Birmingham and one in Manchester.

It specialises in lifting and rigging equipment hire, sales, inspection and testing and training. Clients include the Europe Music Awards and the BRIT Awards.

“We have equipment that nobody else owns,” explains director Paul Fulcher. “Equipment that goes into the BRITs, for example, may only be used once a year and other companies further up the supply chain won’t have it. That’s where we come in – as a dry hire company, we’ve got it on the shelf.”

Kevin Monks

In touring concerts, Fulcher has also seen an increased demand for more intelligent hoists, as productions become more interactive and stage design moves on.

“Hoists just used to go up and down, but now a lot of performances are more dynamic with moving truss grids in a show and moving people,” says Fulcher. “There’s a demand for hoists you can move during the production and that you can control the speed of – we’re a big supplier of motion control and we’ve seen a year on year increase in demand for it.”

Rigging Services is a member of LEEA (Lifting Equipment Engineers Association) and Fulcher is also the current chairman and has served on their board of directors for 25 years. He is passionate about training and the competent and safe use of the equipment in the industry.

“Lifting equipment comes under a regulation called LOLER [Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998] – it’s not just about the equipment being safe, it has to be used safely and maintained and certified by competent people.

“There’s a great responsibility on the owner and the user and if there was a recordable incident, the Health and Safety Executive [HSE] would be looking for how did the company involved comply with LOLER? We offer a third party inspection service and training on the safe use of equipment to help others in the industry who may not have that skillset.”

“It’s not just about the equipment being safe, it has to be used safely, maintained and certified by competent people”

Paul Fulcher

Making it possible

Operating since 1976, Bedford-based Star Events is a long-established supplier of temporary structures to the entertainment industry with live music clients including promoters AEG Presents, SJM Concerts, Kilimanjaro Live, Loud Sound and Live Nation Entertainment. It also has an office in Shanghai.

“We provide a wide range of specialist rigging equipment from heavy duty truss systems and long chain, heavy lift hoists to ancillary hardware,” says head of structures Pete Holdich. “Our in-house team of design engineers is backed by highly experienced rigging crews delivering projects in the field.

“Our Mothergrid systems are fitted with the company’s Active Roof Technology, which provides automated grid levelling, weighing and pre-programmed positions. We have an extensive range of quality equipment for dry hire too and can also offer testing and repair services.”

Holdich states 2018 has been an exceptionally busy year for Star Events across all market sectors.

Colin Luke

“Our VerTech Ultra system for the Adele 25 tour was the first ever event industry design to win at the Institution of Structural Engineers [IstructE] Structural Awards, which recognises exemplary engineering, creativity and innovation on a worldwide basis so that was a real coup,” says Holdich.

“Those stages broke new ground to accommodate Adele’s in-the-round stadium shows last summer, not least suspending 90 tons of production equipment at 25m above the ground with the audience directly underneath. Our designs minimised work at height and every single bit of equipment, lighting, video and audio was load-celled and monitored meticulously.

“We’re well known for our adaptability and for doing the impossible, particularly where budgets and time restrictions apply. Our team is highly experienced by also creative and having in-house engineers helps us to provide fast turnaround of drawings and calculations.”

“[Our stages] broke new ground to accommodate Adele’s in-the-round stadium shows last summer … suspending 90 tons of production equipment at 25m above the ground”

Pete Holdich

Load cell accuracy

Load Cell Rental, whose clients also include Adele, as well as Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake and Def Leppard, is helping to improve rigging safety by installing load cells to accurately report the weight of rigging systems.

“We were formed in 2012 to professionalise the load cell industry and to provide an independent verification service of show weights,” says senior project manager Colin Luke.

“We provide a weighing service for the entire rig of the show – placing calibrated load cells onto each point of the show, we record a certificate for each individual truss or structure which is incorporated into an insurance backed and mostly independent report.

“We have no other interest other than to report and record 100 per cent accurate weights.

“In the event of a rigging incident, we can provide valuable back-up to our clients by providing due diligence in using load cells rather than calculations – the report to prove the weights along with the calibration documents will show our equipment was accurate. The report also provides all venues with the reassurance of an independent party saying what the rig weighs.”

With audience expectations increasing on what they want to see from a live show, stage design is changing and there is new innovation in lighting and LED.

Paul Fulcher

“We are seeing individual fixture weights generally becoming lighter – that said, this enables more lights and more video panels to be incorporated into shows and the overall trend is that shows are getting heavier,” Luke says.

“We often find trusses which are overweight – it may be just down to distribution but without a load cell, these issues would never be identified.”

Being adaptable and responsive is also key in this sector, as Luke explains on how Load Cell Rental operates.

“We have never turned a job down. From receiving an enquiry in the UK, we have commenced a report 23 hours later in Los Angeles. If you need us we will always find a way.

“The past year has been extraordinary – we’ve had weight reports being conducted simultaneously on three continents, and the repeat custom we are developing is the most encouraging element with production managers using us time and time again.”

The company is doubling its UK office space in Shropshire and is also looking to expand its US network, currently represented in Los Angeles and Lititz, with more bases.

“Our goal is to expand in line with demand and establish load cell use, and even a weight report as the expected normal practice,” states Luke.

“Shows are getting heavier and more complex”

Robin Elias

Flexible skills

Based in Northamptonshire, Unusual Rigging’s clients include the Rolling Stones, Genesis and Pink Floyd over the years. It also provided and managed the rigging infrastructure for broadcasting purposes for the Rio 2016 Summer and PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Pete Holdich

“We’re not called Unusual Rigging for nothing,” says technical director Robin Elias, who is also chair of NRAG. “We’ve been around since 1983 and while none of our work could be referred to as run of the mill, we do find ourselves involved with some really challenging projects.

“As well as live music, at any given time we may be refurbishing the flying system of a century-old theatre, hanging unique artworks in one of London’s famous museums, flying scenery in a West End show or designing daredevil experiments for primetime TV.

“We offer equipment, NRC-qualified riggers, design, fabrication and solution provision. Using our combined experience, we design and source the best solutions for every project with equal dedication. Safety is our highest priority and all of our staff are fully trained; assessments for the NRC, of which we’ve been a contributor to and a supporter of since its inception in 2007, are carried out at Unusual’s headquarters. The centre is managed by myself, and I’m a qualified assessor, and our centre administrator Gemma Millar.”

Unusual works with its clients to find affordable solutions to their needs.

Robin Elias

“Clients will tell us their aspirations and requirements – we then find and implement the solutions to enable dreams to be realised, in a cost-effective way,” explains Elias. “Our clients like the fact that we never tell them sorry we can’t do that. Somehow, and I’m not always sure how, we always manage to find a way to deliver what they want and without compromise.

“Shows are getting heavier and more complex which is great – except when you’re staging them in old venues that don’t have the capacity to take these loads.

“That’s when we have our work cut out – we have to make changes to the very structure of the building before we can even think about rigging a show within it.”

It seems like there’s always a way to ensure that familiar saying ‘the show must go on’.

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