Blowing Up (It Wasn’t Just Pyro)
by Julius Grafton.
The things that went wrong resonate same as the golden moments. Gold when everyone is happy, the show is sold out, sounds and looks great, and money flows where intended. But the sticky brown moments are our great test and they could come hard and fast. All these stories are old, but the lessons learnt apply today.
Owning several production rigs I took a lot of trouble looking after the trucks. Early exposure to several of the best that the Ford Motor Company could build led me away from large displacement petrol engines, inadequate brakes, leaky everything, and surprise headlight failures. These along with adding on extra rear springs all cost me time and money.
I went upmarket and got some Isuzu 5 tonners. These were incredibly reliable, assuming you did the right things, like put proper tyres on them and not let the bottom fall off the air filter intake stack – while traversing an enormously flooded road.
Diesels react the same as an LED when filled with water. They stop.
The trucks were fine so long as the drivers were fine too. I had a rule: ’no overnighters’ which one fine crew disobeyed out of Canberra and headed to Melbourne. Many accidents happen at sunrise, which was exactly when Dopey Michael fell asleep and side-swiped a bridge.
Woken by the phone, I had to (a) wake up, (b) gather facts, and (c) make a plan – all before morning coffee. From the inadequate descriptions it seemed we were a couple of wheel rims and tyres down, with a fairly rude section of pantech peeled open like a sardine can.
Best I could tell, the equipment was probably OK. I rang Dave Suttor at Orana, a good man, who gave me the name of a truck tyre joint in Albury. Calling them and using only Dave’s introduction, they loaded rims and tyres (I’m still amazed they had spare 16” Isuzu rims in the shop) and bolted down the Hume.
All on the promise I would pay the invoice they would mail to me later!
I was now sitting in the dark, since the mobile phone was not invented yet. I got down to business and arranged extra loaders for a late load in at the gig in Melbourne, and called the band. Several hours later, Dopey called back to say they were mobile. The truck joint had cut away the jagged aluminium, and gaffed plastic over the holes.
The truck was pulling hard to the left, but it would do 80kmh. Now we were back in business. I hired another truck for the load out, and paid the extra loaders and the gig went up just in time.
Another tour we had a second truck – a petrol Acco – driven by ’She’ll Be-Right’, who decided ‘E’ on the petrol gauge meant ‘ENUFF’ and sure enough ran out half way between Tarcutta and Wagga Wagga.
That cost us 90 minutes and screwed the sound check on a difficult tour with an international band who were hard to deal with when things were running well. Adding to the torture, that same Acco dropped its differential just a mile after we loaded out.
Circumnavigating Wagga Wagga I spot a rental Isuzu outside a servo, and I’m on their doorstep at 7am hiring it. We leave the Acco behind and are only 90 minutes late for the next sound check at Chasers in Chapel Street. By now the tour manager hates me real bad.
Back in the Ford 350 days I did a rescue run for Kevin Borich Express, and managed to find Gerry Georgettis and the bass player in a hotel room in Holbrook at 3.30am. Bit of trial and error, knocking on doors waking sales reps until I found the right room! Then we drove to their broken down Dyna (a slow, small 2 tonner) to crossload their stuff and drive to the gig in Sydney.
There were so many broken truck tales, and even more broken systems. I fast learned about redundancy when early on, my one and only front of house crossover expired in Lismore, leaving me to innovate with a couple of equalisers.
Then the reality of 220v Soundcraft power supplies in industrial towns like Lithgow, Port Kembla or Newcastle when the industry switched down a gear and the grid spiked at 240v + 10% = 264v.
That extra 44v wasn’t appreciated and the console supply would go up in smoke.
Another big lesson was that any new combination of equipment really did need to be properly introduced rather than thrown into full use.
We built an entire touring set of speakers to a revolutionary design by a guy who worked sound for Moving Pictures. His compact front loaded designs were completely unsuited to my choice of transducers and crossover points, and it Just Didn’t Work. Huge loss of time to pull all those 12” and 15” drivers, and horn drivers out and put them back in the old double four way boxes.
Of course, the ‘Idiot Check’ was intended to make sure we didn’t leave stuff at the gig. But we still did.
Being separated from the microphone case by 160kms is character forming, as is leaving the step ladder AND the follow spot stand at the same place. Plenty of times we would roll up for load in and find random stuff someone had left the previous gig. Some of it just sat there unclaimed!
Later on there was a terrible situation in which one of my production staff soldered up thirty mic leads and decided – why, I never found out – to connect the earth pin (1) to the shell termination on the XLRs. While this is done elsewhere, it was not our policy, and those cables went out as system patch on a major gig with a brand new set of processors, amp racks and boxes. The resulting earth loops drove the crew insane.
Which brings me to blowing stuff up. Shame and continued fear of damages lawsuits prevents me fully explaining what happened one Summer evening at a certain Sydney venue in the mid 1970’s. Let’s just say that my career as a pyro guy ended that night.
It was a blast. Actually, it was. Lucky no one was badly hurt.