Profiles - A Light-Hearted Look at Industry Personalities

Charlie Kail

Consultant and Set Designer

No. 97 in a continuing series

Charlie Kail

Caricatures by

David Lewis

Taking a route that didn't follow any career officer's advice, Charlie Kail's ‘proper' working life began with a two-year marine engineering course and ended many years later with research and development welding via early computer engineering, refurbishing and selling old cars, decimalisation, natural gas conversion, and finally government retraining in welding that resulted in several years industrial welding and fabrication.

But in two unconnected moments in time (he thought), other events took place. He got a job from a neighbour in Chalk Farm in 1965, sweeping the soot out of the long unused Round House, hanging screens from the balcony, selling tickets, operating liquid wheels, scratch films, epidiascopes and dressing, yes! dressing the strippers for the legendary Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine/ Pink floyd shows.

The second moment was meeting his long time friend and sometimes colleague, Tony Slee (now of ELP), on a natural gas conversion team in 1974 for what were the funniest six months of his life!

"It was 1979 and my second and final foray into the music business was about to begin," explains Charlie. A call from Tony Slee (a good case for a caricature if ever there was one) resulted in me going to Knebworth to see the lighting for the Led Zeppelin concert being set up. There I met his boss Ronan Willson - another seminal moment. To cut the story short, one year later, after two Judas Priest stage sets, several drum risers, becoming a lighting rigger and noteworthy followspot operator, I left Meteorlites to set up Brilliant Constructions - a name derived from a credit in an Iron Maiden programme.

"In RSD's PA warehouse in Luton with a hefty £2,500 bank loan and Willie Porter as my right hand, we ploughed through sets for Genesis and Siousxie plus some, and Willie decides he'd have shorter days touring again and I lost him. I reinforced my revenue with various jobs in PA and lighting between set work, learning more about the biz and meeting people that were to become significant in the future.

"One of the previously mentioned jobs was a two-week festival in northern Portugal when the vinho verde was broached and sold locally for about 5p a milk bottle or whatever. I also remember several kilos of premium hash were washed up on the local beach, and that my followspot technique came of age at that time!

"One day I was welding some eyeballs for Rainbow and up against it as usual, when Tony Bowern (director and monitor engineer for RSD) appeared. I asked him if he wanted a job, and he's still running Brilliant Stages to this day!"

Brilliant expanded through the eighties on the back of the Heavy Metal boom with notable sets for Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Metallica, AC/DC and many, many more.

Eventually, through the auspices of Charlie's good friend Brian Croft, Brilliant was aquired by Samuelsons and subsequently Vari-Lite. For Charlie it commenced the most exciting segment of Brilliant's existence, as MD of the renamed Brilliant Stages and sitting on the Vari-Lite board.

Brilliant moved on to create some of the most significant stunts and sets in the 90s, including '94 Pink Floyd set (Charlie's second project for them), Metallica's Scary Towers and The Stones' Voodoo Lounge and Bridges To Babylon, culminating in a large portion of the central show in The Millenium Dome.

"These achievements, along with the aquisition of Brilliant by Tomcat, seemed like a good punctuation point in my life to move on to my current venture as consultant, specifier, designer and project manager," says Charlie. "The last five years have flown by, covering most aspects of my old stamping ground, including set work from a different perspective including designing two sets for Judas Priest, marking a nostalgic return to where I started in '79.

"I'm currently working on a set for Kylie, designing for Jamiroquai and doing some stuff for the Winter Olympics in 2006."

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