Expelled from school and having worked briefly as a copy boy for the defunct Sydney Mirror, I took my only $12 and registered my first business on March 1st, 1973. The Certificate of Registration for Zapco Lightshow was framed and hung above my old desk at home. I was 15.
Blame Led Zeppelin; whose concert at Sydney Showground blew me away the previous year. I saw the Jands guys with their blue painted PA serving the side seats that the promoter had sold over the top of a sellout. I was amazed at the Showco PA that towered either side of the scaffolding stage. It rocked. I had the bug, bad.
I’d already accumulated some lights: a slide projector, black light, and built a mirror ball with little one inch square mirror tiles that came on a cloth backing sheet so you could decorate a really trendy bar. Coloured Par 38 lamps were $5 each at Radio House. I bought a Jands 3 channel chaser and a feeble strobe that Ian Eastman built for me.
For $5 I would come and do a lightshow. The price went up to $15 once I had some colour wheels and Strand Pattern 23 spotlights. Transport was a problem, so I networked anyone with a car.
Back then, Jands, Ellis D Fogg, Vibe Lightshows and Mac Enterprises were the main players. Unicorn Lighting, Access, Foxglove and a bunch more hovered on the edges. Krazy Maze appeared a little later with the first Par 64. There were heaps of us, looking for work. We did weddings, parties, suburban and school dances.
The promoter booked the band and the lights, separately. The band arrived in a van with a column PA and one roadie.
How does an ambitious 15 year old from a dirt poor family accumulate capital for expansion? Very hard. I worked as a cleaner in Sydney Wide Discount Store, starting at 5am and polishing the floor for 3 hours. Try doing that while working nights!
Somehow I scored a gig lighting a professional play called The Cakeman. It was directed by Brian Syron in collaboration with Bob Maza and written in 1974 by Robert Merritt from Erambie Aborigines’ Reserve, Cowra. The play was run in a converted warehouse in Redfern. With help from a Richard Pilbrow book and Rob Nichols at Strand, I managed to do a decent job.
I sent flyers to agents and venues, one of them landed on the desk at J.O.K. Entertainment, where one Johnny O’Keefe called me and summonsed me for a meeting. If he was surprised at the spotty faced kid that arrived he didn’t show it, and he hired me to light his daughter’s birthday party. The glitterati were all there, and J.O.K. himself did a set during which he insisted that the strobe remain on. I think he was doing pills.
Another unusual gig was a season at the Sydney Easter Show, lighting a stage that promoted a children’s magazine. It was a double header with a rock band, but the star was Tommy the Sea Lion. He wasn’t pleasant to work with, and you gotta love that fish smell.
Once I was 17 I could drive and do things like deliver telephone books – a 3 week contract for the entire East Sydney region. Just me, my Kombi Van, and 24 hours in each day. I did it – I still have the contract with Post Master at Darlinghurst: $1,300 was a fortune in 1975.
From there it all went swimmingly, I toured with bands, drove trucks, blew things up and after a spell being mentored by the late and great lighting designer Roger Barratt, I moved into audio.
The really cool thing is that there are still 15 year olds getting the buzz from concerts, and there’s really nothing stopping them from doing what I did. All you need is a business name, a card, and a pile of tenacity, drive and energy. Not to mention self belief, good luck and being prepared to forego fun and teenage pursuits in exchange for a dream. A dream that became the job that I do today.
Now I’m 50.