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Finding a Natural Rebel in Richard Ashcroft
UK – Undoubtedly one of the most influential British singers of the last two decades, Richard Ashcroft has pursued a hugely successful solo career following the initial split of acclaimed alt rockers The Verve in 1999.
His lighting has been designed by Jonny Gaskell since 1996 and the heydays of The Verve – an impressively long and fertile client relationship also making Jonny the longest serving crew member – and he is still driving some of the onstage aesthetics 23 years later! Ashcroft’s fourth solo album and top 10 hit Natural Rebel dropped at the end of last year and he was back on the road recently in the UK with lighting and video once again supplied by Colour Sound Experiment.
At the start of each touring project, Ashcroft will present Jonny with a series of ideas. “He’s a demanding client but in a good way,” commented Jonny, “he knows what he wants and what he doesn’t like, so that’s always an essential starting point, beyond that, he trusts me to come up with an appropriate design.”
For this leg of the tour they were playing several academies, theatre and town hall venues, culminating in London’s Olympia, so it was decided to bring video in just for the London show. For the other gigs, the visual emphasis was all on lighting.
Ashcroft originally only wanted Johnny to use variations of white light, but he managed to persuade him of the creative benefits of sneak in the odd bit of primary blue or red here and there!
It’s always been an edgy, contrasty, stark look onstage, with Ashcroft preferring the emphasis to be on the music rather than himself, and to be lit by shadows, silhouettes and the margins and subtleties of negative luminance.
Given those specifics, any lighting also must have the capacity to go huge for the big anthemic numbers.
“I chose the fixtures for flexibility and to produce the multiple textures and layering needed to make the show look good on an academy stage right up to Olympia,” explained Johnny, adding: “As always, H and the team at Colour Sound did a fantastic job in supplying everything I needed on budget.”
The format was a straightforward front and back truss plus a floor package.
The front truss was rigged with blinders and Claypaky Stormy LED strobes for the effects, together with eight Robe BMFL Spots for the key lighting and six Robe Spiiders for the stage washes that could also swing out to the audience and do big sweeps and statements when needed.
Jonny likes to keep the keylighting localised and obvious, so Ashcroft had a choice of pools of light or dark spaces to move in and out of as the mood takes him, a technique he’s devised through working with him over time.
The back truss featured more Stormies, some 2-lite Moles, six Robe MegaPointes and six more Spiider LED wash beams.
On the floor, there were six Stormies upstage in a line at the back, six 2-lites on one-metre high scaff barrels just below the bottom edge of the video screen and another six Spiiders, also upstage beneath the screen primarily used for silhouetting.
On the downstage edges of the stage were two additional Spiiders a side for extra coverage across the mic line.
While the artist doesn’t like follow spots generally, they carried one on the tour which was rigged each night and on ‘standby’ as needed. At Olympia, it lifted the light levels on his face at strategic moments for the cameras.
The challenge was: “Finding that fine balance between dark and light and pleasing all the fans who want to see him and his preference for keeping the lumens down,” stated Jonny.
The Colour Sound BT6 video screen installed for the London show measured 40ft wide by 25 high and was an impressive addition to the visuals, supplied complete with a Robocam package from Colour Sound (on the tour they utilised a backdrop with the album over artwork).
The video playback footage was content that Jonny and their regular video director Julian Hogg had compiled using a proportion of re-edited existing and classic music videos plus some new footage, all presented on screen in a series of virtual vintage TV set frames bringing a flourish of retro with a modern twist.
For the Olympia show, the video playback was co-ordinated by Toby Vogel using a Resolume server, and the Robocams were operated by Colour Sound’s Ed Blackwell. The Robocams were positioned along the front of the stage on stands and the resulting IMAG footage was highly effective.
Jonny operated the lighting using his own ChamSys control.
His lighting crew from Colour Sound were James Hind and Simon Robertson for the tour, and for Olympia, Ed was joined on the video crew by Jani Fodor.
“It was another excellent experience working with Colour Sound,” he stated, and he is looking forward to working with the west London based company again for the 2019 Hampton Court Palace Festival for which he is the production lighting designer.
photos: Louise Stickland
24th May 2019
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