Spirit of the Age 2004

Some (longwinded) musings from the recent tour - For the past couple of tours I have managed to graduate from running the Hawkwind merchandise to running the video projection side of the lightshow.  I am still on merchandise - big HI to everyone - but now I just have someone keeping an eye on things while the gig is on - you can usually see me running from the lighting desk after the encore to the stall ready for the rush:-)  So, for all the fans out there - if you see me running out of the hall - the gig is OVER folks - probably.  This has had a huge impact on the whole show - previously, I had spent hours sequencing the video footage, only for Neil to run it without knowing what it was I had set up - no easy task, particularly when Neil also has a million and one other things to focus on - so it was with great relief that I managed to take over this bit.  Take it from me, there's nothing more frustrating than watching someone else bumble through the footage you've spent hours setting up, no matter what the reason.  Of course, this also allows Neil to spend far more time on the other bits - which became very apparent for us on the 2004 spring tour.  As most people have commented, the show was far more together and very slick compared to previous years.   For those who have no idea about how we set the shows up, here's a brief synopsis on what goes on pre-tour.  

Once receiving the set list - preferably a few weeks before the tour, sometimes a few days!, Once I have listened to the most recent live versions of the set list, or guessing if it's new stuff:-), I sift through the previous setups for songs and appropriate clips for new songs - with a huge bank of files to go through, this can often take hours per song, particularly if I want to start working off certain cues etc.   Once set up we're ready for the first gig, and the usual mishaps that go with it.

Before we can get to the first gig however, we need to find a way of getting our gear there and a way to make sure we have enough people to set up the show.  Due to there being no room on the bus for John initially, we decide to take hotels and hire a van, giving up our space to John - helping us on the lightshow, and Anne-Marie - to help cover merchandise when I was in the gigs.   As most of our stuff was in Devon, and the band were hiring a smaller trailer - this was proving to be a bit of  a headache.    No problem - we hire a larger van than planned and pick up whatever can't fit in the trailer in Devon on our day off between Norwich and Salisbury - so no day off, but hey! it was worth it.

So by us opting off the bus and into shabby Travelodge's:-) this idea proved to be a good one as there was no way all our gear would have fitted in the trailer and the resulting lightshow would have lacklustre to say the least. 

So Sunday April 18th arrives - and it's raining.  So what! I here you cry - not bloody good when the brand new Sprinter van has a leak, double ungood when you have lots of very expensive electrical gear inside.  Luckily, our new apprentice lampie - John, is a plumber by trade and has to hand some silicon sealer - who needs gaffer tape!.  After the trauma of the leaky roof, the rest of the day goes fine - a poor venue from the lightshow point of view - the stage was so low you could touch it and there was nowhere to hang a screen from - but it did provide a good run through the set and allow us to iron out some glitches with the sequences.

So the day off arrives, we set off from Norwich at some early hour and we have a "short" drive to Salisbury - grab John - lazing away on the tour bus, and onwards another seventy miles to sunny Devon to pick up the rest of the gear.  Lucky for Neil, John was able to drive back as Neil was rendered incapacitated after a nasty bout of hayfever - and a large dose of medicinal gin;-) - via Stonehenge of course!

Back into Salisbury, and out for a curry with the rest of the crew and Kevin Sommers (Hi) followed by as nice long rest and a really short drive from Amesbury the next day and what can I say - Salisbury City Hall is a really nice venue - lots of room for the lights, nice big stage for the band and (merch hat on here) plenty of space to set up the stall in the foyer.   And - BONUS - Peter Pracownik is also here - really nice bloke and top artist (see Hawkwind logo) - to keep me company whilst serving the "punters" before the gig (Hi Nick, Rob, Ian, Steve, Lee, Alan and everyone else who I knew there).  

So - gig time - and I thoroughly enjoyed myself here.  I could actually see what I was doing for change  - thanks to some modifications to the flightcase - which can only help when you are often relying on visual cues from the band for some sequences.  Neil and John really managed to play around with the big projectors and strobeflowers as well.  Having only recently rigged up the onstage strobelights/flowers etc to remote control via some custom electronics (which Neil and I were busy soldering the bits onto only a couple of weeks previous to the tour), Neil was busy working out programming the lighting desk as well as ironing out bugs in his software that controlled the strobes.  John was left to the delightful task of figuring out which Opti effects would look best on which songs...a couple of mistakes here, but this led us to the late night discussion on the way back from Salisbury to Derbyshire about scripting certain effects to the songs - resulting in...well...less chaos and more illumination.

Glasgow - The Cathouse - well the less said the better really, one 13amp socket!, oh well, it meant I had a full night on the merch stall instead - just like old times.  Neil got very bored very quickly operating the one K4 projector with the Solar System effects - although the three flights of stairs up to the venue would have proved a bit of a pain had we had to carry all that gear up there.  Obviously a venue suited to small rock bands with very little kit, not the mighty Spaceship Hawkwind

Aberdeen - what a contrast!  Not only was the venue fantastic, so were the in house crew.  We arrived at The Forum after the 160 mile drive from Glasgow only to be greeted by four keen guys only too willing to carry all our gear into the venue - all 1 and a half tonnes of it.  Boy, did we enjoy this gig.  We had a whole balcony to ourselves, which meant that, once again, we could clearly see the stage.  We had scripted all the cassette and wheel changes for John - which made his life easier and the screen was a dream to project onto.  Again, some familiar faces here and, best of all, Alan Taylor also managed to make this one which meant he could see some of his artwork projected in full glory above the band - unlike the previous night.  So you all owe a thanks to Alan for his contributions.

OK - another day off - sort of.  We have to go via Newcastle to pick up John so he can drive the rest of the journey back.  Aberdeen to Chesterfield via Newcastle - a long way - although we do stop off in Newcastle for a while for a couple of drinks with the rest of the crew - well it is our day off after all.

Manchester - The Ritz.  A nice near one for us although we had a late start trying to fix a projector that had gone down.  It's been a few years since Hawkwind played here and we couldn't remember the layout of the venue but it was OK.  Yet again - great in house crew so a big thanks to those guys for their help.  We did have the annoying mirror ball shadow on the screen - the venue couldn't or wouldn't take that down - but it was fairly good on the whole.  Luckily, we managed to get on the balcony again as the sprung dance floor would have shaken the images around a fair bit.  However, there was a slight hitch.  The venue decided that the balcony was going to be opened, we had already set up as we had been assured that the balcony was going to be closed (takes about three hours usually.) For Health & Safety reasons they couldn't have us up there with the crowd - obviously we weren't going to budge - Colin Allen to the rescue - and we get the balcony to ourselves:-) and a good show was had by all.  Big hi's to Dave and Ang who guided us in to the venue after discovering purely by chance that we were in the van behind them on the way into Manchester, and to Mick and Lindz and everyone else there as well.

Here comes the backbreaker leg though, the four dayer ...Portsmouth...Brighton...Cardiff and finally, Northampton.  Well, we knew that Portsmouth was a fair way - Neil often spent his summer holidays there so we also had a pretty good idea of where to go as well.  The plan was to set off early - call in at Optikinetics in Luton as it was on the way to sort out the broken projector (and buy more effects - you can never have too many of those) and then head off to Portsmouth - ETA around one o'clock in the afternoon.

OK - M1 all the way to Leicester - a car park.  Get to Luton about 4 hours after setting off (normally only a couple of hours drive) and Neil Rice at Opti very kindly loans us a replacement Solar 575 whilst ours is being looked at.  Manage to get back onto the M1 only to be stuck in another car park.  Roadworks and accidents do not make for an easy drive!.  Finally get onto the dreaded M25 and yes, you've guessed it, another carpark.  After crawling round London, we make a break for it through Staines and onto the A3 finally reaching Portsmouth about half past four - three and a half hours later than planned.  However, help is at hand with the fantastic duo - Steve Hibbert and Lee (don't know his surname) who help unload the van and get set up.  Special thanks also go to the the laser guy - Andy King - who brought a lovely 500mW homemade DPSS laser and controller - nice one as it looked fantastic and gave the band something to look at for a change as well. 

Next day was a relatively easy drive along the coast to Brighton, where we knew what to expect from the last time we did a gig there in 2001. A small venue with little space on stage and even less for our gear. Worries of the crowd  pushing into our gear were removed by the wonderful Steve Hibbert when his eagle sharp eyes spotted some portable metal barriers in the car park across the road. His hands moved without thinking, and his feet like lightning too, as he borrowed them and positioned them around our rig.

More to come...







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