(January 1, 2013)
By Julius Grafton
At the end of 1976 I sold my lightshow business Zapco to Roger Barratt who was soon to be acclaimed as Australia’s greatest lighting designer. We met in late 1975 after Roger told Rob Nicholls at Strand Electric that he needed someone to look after his lights.
Roger was a handsome and fit man, ten years older than me. He was a charmer, loved his mum and aunties from Kogarah, and had a great mind for business. He was forthright about people – ‘he’s a hoon’ or ‘horrible little man’ he would say of those who fell outside the circle.
He worked full time for the Australian Opera, and had started to buy lights. At that point he had 24 Pattern 743 1,000 watt tungsten lamped fresnels, bought from Jands Concert Productions. They used them for concert lighting before discovering Par 64’s – Deep Purple bought a rig of 20 Par 64’s into Australia for Sunbury – which Jands bought. They then had a metal fabrication company called Model Engineering in Sydney make a hundred more, and flogged off the Deep Purple rig – to me.
I found myself bursting at the seams with my lightshow stock, the Deep Purple rig that I hired to Sherbet, and Roger’s 24 fresnels. He started to buy more, and somehow hired the gear back to the Australian Opera with no hint of conflict of interest. Maybe that concept hadn’t been invented yet?
By late 1976 he had stepped up the pace, and snagged the entire Eric Dare inventory of lights that had lit many Reg Livermore shows at the Balmain Bijou Theatre, and Rocky Horror at the New Arts Cinema in Glebe.
We were awash with lights, and due to the excellent political connections one acquires when working not only for Opera Australia but also freelance (he had managed to ‘arrange’ this with the Opera) Roger brought home the big one. The gig you always look back and sigh about. The very first Festival of Sydney contract!
Sydney had decided to reinvent its cultural festival from the dreary old Waratah Festival into something bright and new – and they hired Stephen ‘Festival’ Hall as the director. He was, of course, a crony of Roger. As with many in ‘the circle’, they were gay. (Complaints about CX being homophobic can be emailed, but please consider whether you are being precious first!)
The Festival was to launch with a concert on New Year’s Eve, on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. A scaffold stage was built, along with a lighting tower and two follow spot towers. A flat platform each side was supplied for Jands to stack every JBL bin they had, plus more.
The newspaper report (below) describes how Harry M. Miller climbed on stage and started things off. Air Supply performed, later Renee Geyer, and of course the whole chorus from Opera Australia singing the triumphal march from Aida. June Bronhill, one of Opera’s greatest of the time, did a few numbers, and Tommy Thyco and his orchestra were there too. It was that kind of gig.
But the lighting department, headed by Roger with his space cadet sidekick (me) spent days in the sun hanging individual Strand 1,000 watt fresnels and profiles everywhere, and stringing up festoons. Two Super Trooper followspots trucked up from Artist Concert Tours in Melbourne. And we made looms on the spot – no pre rigging in those days, since we had only just finished actually making the new Barratt Lighting extension cables – from Red 240 volt flex!
Roger Barratt, above.
The Opera House sails were lit by a barrage of outdoor discharge lamps in a hideous 5000 kelvin white. Festival Hall wanted them to change colours all night, so Roger took a huge blueprint of His Invention to the Opera metal department, and on a tray truck arrived The Colour Changer from Hell. Two of them. One for each side.
‘Lucky’ Wally Sloss was appointed to operate one with an assistant from Roger’s coterie of gay associates, which involved counter weights and a hefty lump hammer to get it moving. Too much wind, and things got ugly. They were, no kidding, about eight foot wide with five foot tall frames that looked like a steel bed base. Across this, and hemmed in with chicken wire, was a small fortune of Cinemoid colour gel, lovingly sticky taped together. There were at least five colours for Wally and his spank boy to change, and a second crew over the other side working from synchronised watches.
Roger had done a deal with David Bird at Strand to buy a 48 channel, three preset desk with quadrant faders, along with four of the new ‘touring’ JTM racks. This cost One House (!) which Roger flogged off in Spring. In effect these were not ‘touring’ racks as we know it, rather a quaint theatre concept of touring which meant a four foot square steel and aluminium chassis that was about a foot high, with wooden skids underneath. You could stack them up, which we did, a nice square lump of heavy dimmers.
Typical of the era, we had analogue control multicores, one for each rack, with 14 pin Cannon twist lock plug and sockets, designed specifically for the United States Military and adapted by Strand. I was out somewhere recently (2012) and found a bunch of these in someone’s spare part collection – maybe at Clearlight in Moorabbin?
This painfully slow rigged lighting system was state of the art for 1976, and with Roger at the helm it delivered the goods just as effectively as Jands did sound at the time.
With no crowd control, no rules, cash bars and New Years Eve added on, it wasn’t too long before the Festival dumped the concert – after some out of control bottle lobbing knocked out the bass player for The Angels.
The bump out was painful, literally, in the sun with acres of broken glass and vomit, upended food, rubbish and endless cables to de-loom. Festoons needed the bulbs removed and boxed. It went on, and on. But it set us up, and Barratt Lighting was the biggest lighting shop in the land for the rest of the decade.
We did Festival of Sydney gigs all January, in the pissing rain if necessary so that Festival Hall would approve the cheques. Roger discovered corporate gigs, again through producer mates from the Opera circles, and Bobby Limb’s firm, The Showman.
Pictured: Julius in winter 1978 at Barratt Lighting, Myrtle street Chippendale
I lit hair shows, pantomimes, charity gigs (Roger figured out how to get 90% of his fee every time and make it appear he was doing the show ‘at cost’!) product launches, car dealerships, and the annual Christmas party for the Art Gallery of NSW – under the direction of Leslie Walford, no less! I really enjoyed these gigs, and the endless committee meetings that went into them. On the committee was (now) Federal Parliamentarian, Bronwyn Bishop, complete with bee hive hairdo. And little Julius, space cadet lighting kid with his notebook and big ideas.
I remember getting into the glass skylight roof above the exhibition hall to hang mirror ball motors – the heat was off the scale, Christmas blazing sun coming in through clear glass, me on a catwalk. I dropped a 240v cable down the gap between the frosted glass ceiling panels, feeding it down, down, down to my assistant who then attached the motor and the mirror ball. I hauled the thing up on the cable – a technique that never let me down – and tying it off when my assistant yelled in the distance. I came down looking like I’d been drowned, and it was all sweat.
But it was nice to dress up and watch the guests appreciate my work, while nibbling a chicken leg and ogling the chicks in the quartet.
Being young and now knowing everything, I left Roger and started an audio company in 1980. Rock and roll was calling me, again. Roger went on and found new and better assistants, like little Tony Davies, and that Gavin Swift boy.
Sadly Roger left us in 1995, after suddenly almost drowning at the beach on the Gold Coast. He lost all energy, and flew straight home. The doctors quickly diagnosed acute Leukaemia, told him to get his affairs in order, and he died after a terrible fight. At least I had the chance to say goodbye. Goodbye to the best mentor a young bloke ever had.
On his death bed he asked me to arrange a Lighting Scholarship in his name, which I did. Tony Davies and others helped make this be for the first (and final) time, and Jason Waide went off the London to learn the craft, in Roger’s name.
The scholarship funding was to come from Roger’s estate. This could not be proven, and the executor – a lawyer friend of Roger’s – declined to contribute. For reasons hard to write about without defaming anyone, the estate of Roger William Creke-Barratt was mired in conflict and drawn out, causing some people considerable distress.