Bandit Lites is supplying full lighting production for blues legend BB King’s final UK tour. Still vibrant and enthusiastic at 80, King has decided that it is finally time to take a break from the rigors of the road. The tour is co-headlined by another guitar hero, Gary Moore. The Bandit Standard methodologies proved invaluable as the tour went straight into the first gig with no rehearsals.
Lighting designer Mark Wheatley has worked with Gary Moore for the last four years, and he came onboard to light for both artists as King doesn’t have permanent sound or lighting engineers.
“It was basically like designing two completely different shows,” explains Wheatley. Moore was on first, and he wanted a rock-n-roll lightshow with energy and movement to accompany his powerful playing. Eye-catching lighting has always been central to Moore’s set, and “there’s a lot of light and shade to what he does,” observes Wheatley.
BB King’s design specifications were a total contrast to Moore. He wanted no visibly moving lighting, no greens, no haze, and a more sedate TV mode of illumination to suit his style, and to ensure there were no visual distractions to the music. All musicians had to be lit at all times using profiles and followspots– unlike Moore, who dislikes spotlights intensely.
The first design decision Wheatley made was to have a white cyc at the rear, broken up by four black legs, creating three white columns, which would be utilized for gobo projections for King’s set. He also decided on three upstage/downstage trusses to give the stage more depth. These were also raked – lower at the upstage end – imbibing the stage an elegant structure and form.
There was also a front truss containing 10 ETC Source Fours with 19º lenses for key lighting, and an additional four, each with 26º lenses, to catch the upstage positions. Ten bars of 6-lamp PARs were used to create a standard 4-color wash, and four Martin MAC profiles were used exclusively for the backdrop colouration and projections. The front truss also contained some 8-lite units pointing forwards for audience participation moments.
The two offstage fingers each contained four 6-lamp bars and two bars of four ACLs, while the center one had two 6-lamp bars and two bars of ACLs. All three fingers featured two MAC 2000 washes and two Profiles, plus one Source Four and 4-lite blinders on the front facing ends. They were toned with ChromaQ ColorBlock LED fixtures.
On the floor were four vertical truss towers, carefully concealed in between the back legs. These each had a MAC 2000 Profile on the top, an ACL bar and another Source Four. Another four MAC 2000 Washes were positioned on the floor on flight cases to ensure there was plenty of cross lighting and low-level contrasting beams.
Wheatley ran the show using an Avolites Sapphire 2000 console – his desk of choice, primarily because there were no rehearsals and it was always going to be an improvisational show. While Moore kept to a set list, King had none at all, so it was a question of feeling the music and the vibe each night. “It certainly kept me on my toes,” says Wheatley, who really enjoyed the challenge of fulfilling the lighting requirements of two totally contrasting artists.
Graham Feast and Rick “Avo” Butler made up the crew from Bandit. They were joined by Russell Matthews, who was on standby to take over operating while Wheatley awaited confirmation of other overseas commitments.
“The guys were absolutely brilliant,” says Wheatley. “It was a very specific rig and crucial that everything went exactly in the right place, which took time and thought each day.”
Lester Cobrin, Bandit’s business development manager, comments, “It was an honor and a privilege working on what was billed as BB King’s farewell tour. I have absolute respect for the ‘King of the Blues’ and will never forget seeing him on stage at his final show at Wembley.”