Blur, one of the most successful British bands of the last twenty-six years, visited Australia for Splendour in the Grass and a whirlwind tour that was all a bit of a …. well … blur.
It has been eighteen years since Blur last played to Australian audiences. Now reunited as a four-piece band, they returned with their eighth studio album ‘The Magic Whip’ after a highly successful headline show at British Summer Time Hyde Park.
Lighting designer Dave Byars, who has been with the band since their inception, had to adapt the show for Australia as there was not enough time to ship the set from their previous show in Hong Kong. This resulted in some manic reprogramming on top of a tight schedule.
“This show changes everywhere it goes depending on what gear we can get a hold off,” commented Dave. “The set normally includes four large ice cream cones with neon outlines and three set pieces in the shape of the Chinese good luck symbol internally lit by LEDs. They have mirrors which drop to reveal a mirrorball and a Studio Due Nova Flower. For Australia, we had a backdrop made with three background mirrors painted on it instead of lighting up from inside. We also had three mirror balls lit by Vari-lite VL3500 Wash FX fixtures as we couldn’t get the Nova Flowers.”
On the floor behind the backline were eight Clay Paky B-Eyes delivering some stunning beam effects through the band. The B-Eyes were not pixel mapped simply due to channel space.
“I ran them in shapes although I did consider pixel mapping them initially but as we take them in as a floor package into festivals, you start running out of channels so I put them back into shape mode,” Dave said.
Also in the rig were thirty-two Clay Paky Sharpys initially added to the plot to satisfy the British Summer Time Hyde Park show. The concert was held on the longest day of the year with the stage fading into the setting sun so Dave needed a fixture that was very bright to compete.
Added to the rig were some Vari-lite VL2000 Spots and Martin MAC2000 Washes, fixtures that tend to get swapped around depending on what is available.
Dave travels with his own control console; an Avolites Sapphire Touch with a Tiger Touch as backup.
“I usually take the Tiger Touch back to the hotel with me to do a bit of programming,” he added. “I’ve always preferred Avo consoles and whenever a new one comes along, I trade in my old one. It gets a lot of looks as it is quite a distinctive design being white. You have to wash your hands before you get involved with that!
“I like that you can set up the Avolites Sapphire Touch in such a personalised way; you can arrange things exactly how you want them. It makes it very easy to connect with and operate.”
Dave clearly enjoys touring and working with Blur and after so much time together, he instinctively knows what the band require.
“They have so many different styles of music you get to do a bit of everything with lots of different tempos,” he remarked. “I’m given a free hand to do what I wish and its best described as really good fun.”
On the subject of headlining at this year’s Splendour, Dave doesn’t hold back.
“Splendour was horrible!” he stated. “Our show requires four follow spots but they could only rig two follow spots. Then one of the operators had some sort of an attack and fainted so I only had the one follow spot. Then that one follow spot was mounted on a very wobbly base and was all over the place! Having a four piece band onstage with only one of them lit is a bit traumatic. It was also one of those gigs where you have only thirty minutes before the band go onstage to look at what you’ve got. However everyone was pretty hammered and I don’t think anyone noticed!”
After his Australian sojourn, Dave spent time redesigning the show for a tour of South America. He remarked that the audiences there are not ‘of a certain age’ as elsewhere, theorizing that they must have discovered the band on the internet as wherever they go, there are hordes of screaming young fans.
“It takes you back a few years, put it that way!” he laughed.