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UB40: Weathering the Storm

UB40: Weathering the Storm
UB40: Weathering the Storm

UK – As if reopening the venue after a little problem with storm Eunice wasn’t enough, UB40 managed to implement several notable firsts of their own for their show at London’s slightly ragged O2 Arena on 25th February.

“Grant Hickey, who took the reins as LD in 2018 was stranded in Australia by travel restrictions,” explained Oli Metcalfe. “Things in our business are currently so unstable but we have to roll with it. Fortunately Grant set me up with a starting show file which I ran with and then added to on the load-in day. Even so, it was quite something to go in hot with nothing more than a quick sound check for the London show.”

Metcalfe had formerly designed for UB40 himself and indeed on that last tour had directed video while Hickey ran the lights. “Luckily mine and Grant’s histories with the band goes back some way and this design is still his. With that experience, I’m inputting to video duties to some degree, assisting Luke Collins who is proving well up to the task as video director.”

Collins expanded on the challenges faced by both men. “The first show of the tour is here at the O2, not the norm for any band and the only production rehearsal was here yesterday, how many bands get to do their production rehearsal at this venue?”

No kidding. Collins, who operates the Disguise [D3] server as well as direct cameras for the production might well think about unusual firsts: “It's also the first time for me to direct cameras for a headline act.” Anything else he’d like to add? “Well, it’s a really big thing for the band and their audience as well because of the very recent passing of Astro.”

“For me there will be a lot of sadness,” agreed Metcalfe. “Emotions will be difficult to contain. For Ali Campbell and the rest of the band it will be tough after 40 odd years of playing together. We will all pay homage, it will be very moving but I think the fans, a very loyal group, will lift us all.”

The show features all projected video, IMAG to side screens from Barcos, while upstage is dressed with a sweeping full width cyclorama fed by a Panasonic laser projector, all supplied by Video Design. “Content and lighting intermingle on the cyc.” explained Collins. “It’s very textural in that sense. Oli does some really nice work blending lighting that makes the content appear treated.” For London it was decided to keep the IMAG clean cut, though the EVS dyvi switcher Collins is using has in-built effects should the two men decide a little actual treatment would be appropriate.

“It’s a tight little team from Video Design,” continued Collins, “Our projector specialist will operate the pit camera while my engineer runs the two Bradley Robocams. I have a long lens camera out front operated by one of our truck drivers. He too has the experience that so many drivers do, so I’m well supported in finding the right shots. The D3 content does not overwhelm the show; its principal role is to fill the hole left by Astro in that we have a section of three songs just before the encores that are all content driven and feature Astro. It’s a fine tribute that I feel will go down well with their fans. I’m also well supported by Oli, he still has his notes from the last tour would you believe? He has shared that and his general insight to the band with me. He’s a very generous man to work with, between him and the support from Video Design this has all come together nicely for me.”

Metcalfe has pressures of his own. “In another first, this is my first outing with the grandMA3. I actually bought the desks back in 2019 would you believe? Having them sat idle for over two years I felt this was a great opportunity to get them out there. I’m very excited about the potential of this desk. It's made for things like VectorWorks where GDTF and MVR have really pushed things along, something that MA have been a big part of. Working in 3D is very, very interesting, especially for lighting, so the desk is a valuable asset. Support from MA and from Neg Earth who are supplying the lighting system gives me a really secure platform to build from. In an era where the channel footprint of fixtures is coming to verge on the ridiculous you need a well structured control system such as this. That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned Hog or indeed ETC, but I think the Germans have come to be the cutting edge at just the right time and not a moment too soon. That’s why it’s such a great opportunity.”

It is entirely in keeping with the ethos of the band and Astro himself that the show should be pushing new boundaries. While the series of concerts will be tinged with sadness, both Metcalfe and Collins reflected that “it will also be a joyous occasion worthy of the man it commemorates.”

photos: Lighting crew chief Dave Cox

24th March 2022

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