"A day in the life of... (Part Two)" Continuing our behind the scenes look at the Calling All Stations tour, Interview with chief lighting engineer: Dave Hill. Interview conducted by Martin Dean and Alan Hewitt at the National Exhibition Centre Birmingham 26th February 1998.
TWR: How have you become involved with organising the lighting for this tour?
D H: Well, I have worked with the lighting designer; Patrick Woodroffe, and have done as part of a team for about the last twelve years and so it was through him and he was not available for this particular tour and so I am taking over and for my sins I am back out on the road for it as well (laughs) which I have managed to avoid for the last three years!
TWR: So, this is a return to the front line for you on this tour, is it?
D H: Yeah... well I have also programmed the last two Phil Collins tours as well as this...
TWR: Did you do the last one? Because that was something special.. That must have been quite interesting playing with the circular stage and everything...
D H: Yeah, it was and I am obviously biased because I programmed it (laughs) bit it was one of the better programmed shows I have seen! Because it is very difficult to get a round show that works because there is so little to play with in terms of space... the roof was the main thing in that set and it was so versatile with the three joints that we could change it from a V to a ... it had all these different names; "Barking Spider"; "Ahead Look" ; "Chinese Hat" and "Low Roof" and we had about six looks in that roof that enabled us to change the feel of the stage without having to do that much with the lighting ..
TWR: Is that an extension of the Vari Lites where you can play around with the stage effectively without changing the set up too much? that was pretty impressive...
D H: So, that is the connection, through Phil and Tony Smith; their management. It is the same designer; Mark Fisher who did the stage for Phil's shows and did the stage for this one which is very effective.
TWR: What has it been like working for these guys, because I know the guys take a lot of interest in what the show looks like, visually and of course, with the video screens being the big thing on the last tour and a lot of people said that the lights were lacking and this tour there is probably a much bigger lighting rig...
D H: Well not bigger than the last one; the last one was for stadiums ... they lent far more to video last time and now it is about fifty fifty and when we don't have the video it is a full light show which is what Genesis was all about really, before the screens in any case.
TWR: How many lights are you playing with on this show?
D H: How Many lights? At a guess I have got about a hundred moving lights and eighty channels of conventional lighting which covers strobes; aircraft lights; the five kilowatt ones which sit on top of my Michelin and all the stuff under the stage; the flood lights and pie cans so probably about one hundred and eighty channels of lights which is not a big show but it is big enough. It is a versatile system
TWR: Certainly lighting wise it is more of a return to what we were seeing before from the lighting side and a lot of this was sourced out at Bray wasn't it because that was where you did all the pre-show rehearsals?
D H: Yeah, we had two weeks... two and a half weeks in Bray to build the two shows really; the video show and the light show...
TWR: How much can you plan ahead on a show like this... Is it possible to do things like a computer simulation to see how things will look ..?
D H: It is technically possible but it is still not terribly practical. There is a system called Whizzywig that they can use but that has to be DMX product and as not all the Vari Lite systems run on DMX ... it has its own protocol the Vari Lite and all the new ones have DMX as well. It is good to ... I find those systems better for building cues that you know you are going to use; like a black and white strobe cue I ran one of those but then had to rebuild it on site for the focus and the look . For things that you know you are going to build standard stuff they are very good. You could technically build half a show now I guess with the Whizzywig set up. I would say that hopefully in ten years' time I could stay at home and do 95% of my work from home and just e-mail the show file to the operator (laughs).
TWR: We have seen the show progress a lot since Bray because that was difficult when we were all sitting right down the front and...
D H: Yeah, now you get a proper sense of scale which you don't get when the venue is all too close up like it was in Bray.
TWR: Obviously you have been doing the video material but I don't think they are working with as much material as they were doing first time round and there is a lot of material that you have played around with since the show at Bray especially things like Home By The Sea where things were just repeating and they are a lot smoother now.
D H: Yeah, Bray was a case of cramming too much into too short a space of time really to try and learn the show and put the edits together.
TWR: It is interesting to see that you work to the band whereas a lot of bands these days work to the click tracks ..
DH: That made the entire project incredibly challenging . There are a couple of tracks that do run fine but some of the older tunes just because of the way they play them they are slightly different each evening and so I am literally editing live to what they are playing and sometimes I get caught out and so every day they play it slightly different and I have to react to that and it is the most challenging work I have done for ages.
TWR: Well I suppose it must be a help...in both cases, the advent of computer and it must make it a lot easier for you to get your cues rather than have to work them out ...
D H: I still have to MI drive and I could make it more complex but you still have to hit your cues on time and the basic human factor is still there. It's a lot different than say working for Depeche Mode where the entire show is run from a click track and you can leave the desk and everything is still running... it is a sequence but with these guys it is a sequence and you have to hit it right on time.
TWR: I would imagine it must be more difficult on this tour because you are running with less people. I noticed at the Lyon show, whereas previously you would have had two people operating the desk, this time it was just you.
D H: It's good for the brain cells that and calling the spotlights although that is relatively simple now but the first few shows were all fun and games because of that and not having gone out on the road for a few years as well....I hoped to slink away and let someone else deal with all those problems and that's the way to do it and that is the biggest advantage of computers really the design people design the show and the programme and then leave it with us and it is basically the same every night as long as they hit the buttons on time so that is a huge advantage because there aren't many jobs on the road that you can escape from; the lighting guy has got to stay there; the sound guy has got to stay there and can't hand over to someone else because every venue is different ..
TWR: Have you found that with the lighting you haven't had to play around too much with how you set the lighting up for the shows because you have got to have enough space?
D H: The rig is put up the same every day ...
TWR: Is that because before you go out on tour you sort of look at the venues and think.. the smallest venue we are going to have to fit it into is this size...
D H: Yeah, there are a couple of venues where the system is lower because the roofs are lower but basically it is the same and I was still changing the system up until last week which is the first time when I stopped building the show and stopped programming.
TWR: So, by the end of the tour you will have almost got it right... almost got the show that you wanted to do...
D H: Yeah, but you never do really. The thing is shows often feel right when I leave them after a month of programming and before the first show but if you are doing it every day you see that one light has a one second delay on the timing and you would never notice that... the punters would never notice that and you can be fine tuning things like that for months and months .
TWR: It must be fun when something like the gel splits like it did last night ...?
D H: Yeah I heard about that and I am sure they will fix it but it wasn't that that went wrong last night he strobe went wrong last night and then the bulb blew in the next one ...it was one of those nights last night and then the aircraft light bulb went down. You have those occasionally and it is usually in London so I am pleased to say this time it was in Birmingham . The systems have been very good, generally and the crews are fantastic, they keep on top of it.
Thank again to Dave and Privet for giving up their time to talk to us and to Tim Brockman for all his generous assistance throughout the Calling All Stations tour.