For those who don't know, “46664” was the prison number given to Nelson Mandela while he was incarcerated for 27 years by the former apartheid government of South Africa. It was therefore a noble gesture for Mandela to allow the number to be used as the defining logo for his fledgling AIDS charity at the spectacular and important November World AIDS Day concert in Cape Town, South Africa at Greenpoint Stadium. To say the show, dubbed “46664-The Concert,” was worthy in its intentions would be an understatement.

“It was never the intention for the actual show to make money,” explains Robbie Williams, concert producer for the event. “It's whole purpose was to launch ‘46664’ worldwide.” The show, therefore, needed to be slick. Eventually, a compilation version of the event was broadcast around the world by MTV, and those who saw it know it was slick, indeed. But they may wonder how such an impressive presentation could have been possible in Africa.

Williams is an experienced producer, having most recently made his mark upon another world-class event, the Diamond Jubilee concert for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Royal Albert Hall in London. Thanks to his experience, Williams knows what such presentations require.

“Even so, it's the first time I've ever worked down here (in South Africa) and I have to say I've been very impressed,” he says. Williams goes on to single out Ofer Lapid, managing director of Gearhouse South Africa, as a man “who has been most helpful” in making the concert happen.

Gearhouse was the principal contractor for the show, providing the stage, roof system, PA, the bulk of the lights, some video, and most of the crew. “But this was the height of their touring season, and for them to have done it all would have seriously compromised their domestic market, so we brought in substantial amounts of equipment from the UK,” says Williams.

Staging

To start at the beginning, the roof and staging system owned by Gearhouse originally came from Belgium's Stageco, and was composed of Lehrer modular scaffolding with an eight-tower, 82ft.×52ft. roof.

“The roof can take six tons per cross beam — even so, we ran it close to the limit,” says Peter Joubert, Gearhouse's head rigger on the job. “The problem wasn't total load, it was dynamics. Mark Fisher's set design called for three on-stage LED screens to move up-and-down, while Bruce Ramus' lighting design also called for truss movement.”

The three screens weighed in at just over 1,100lbs. per point. Joubert elected to use 2T Loadstars for them “because there are no load arrestors of that capacity available here, so I over-spec'd the motors.”

Joubert's problems were compounded by the nature of the show. “Because it's effectively a festival show, almost 50 percent of the stage is behind the backdrop being used for changeover space, so 100 percent of the flown show equipment hangs off the front half of the roof — just six of the eight towers.”

Joubert rigged Ramus' vertical back and side trusses first, then landed them on the stage and supported them from beneath with screw jacks, taking almost eight tons off the total load. He also choreographed all light and screen movements using an IBEX control to overcome the inherent dynamic load problems.

“It was principally a matter of discipline,” Joubert says. “So long as we didn't try to move everything at once, we remained inside limits.”

Nonetheless, this was a tough responsibility. Cape Town is geographically at the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and as such, it's prone to sudden and sometimes violent windstorms. Joubert also had to take these weather factors into account when planning the concert.

“We have a scaled response to wind — at 45 mph, which is not that unusual, we start to drop the scrims and cloths,” explains Joubert. Fortunately the weather was kind last year. But the previous year, for an MTV show on the same day, winds reached 54 mph.

Light and Sound

Gearhouse provided most of the lighting — High End x.Spots and Cyberlights for movers, and a huge number of conventional fixtures for audience lighting. But Ramus needed more to give him the “variety of looks required by the cameras for such a lengthy show,” Ramus says. “We turned to LSD/Fourth Phase for support.”

The largest supplier of moving lights in Europe, LSD provided 140 Coemar CF1200's, 55 Martin MAC 2000's, and a pair of Whole Hog III consoles. “In consideration of the event's noble purpose, we gave them for virtually the shipping costs,” says Mickey Curbishley, one of LSD's UK directors, who came to South Africa for the show.

It was much the same story for audio. Gearhouse provided a substantial PA system of Turbosound Flashlight and Floodlight cabinets, with a delay system consisting of of Meyer MSL4's for the further reaches of Greenpoint Stadium. Williams then contracted Britannia Row Productions, Ltd. of the UK to bring in higher tech hardware and expertise.

“The control setup is complex,” Britrow production and finance director Mike Lowe explained while preparing for the show. “We've shipped out nine consoles in all, including three Digico D5's and a Yamaha PM1D, for both broadcast and live sound requirements, plus a five-man team to assist. Essentially, a pair of Midas XL4's is used to mix the house band (a combination of former members of Queen and several others musicians), while Rick Pope mixes all the live/main acts on a D5.”

All three FOH desks were run through a Yamaha DM2000 as a show desk, with a second one onstage mirroring this function, allowing the two monitor engineers at their D5's to take anything they wished from the house mix, if so desired. The PM1D and a pair of Midas Heritage 3000's also found their way into the recording environment.

Design

Williams also brought Steve Jones, from London professional stagehands organization, Stage Miracles, to manage changeovers.

“He did a fantastic job for me on the Jubilee, and considering he was on his own here, I have to say the local team did a marvelous job,” says Willams. But Jones was more circumspect.

“I had a 12-man team — for all of them, this was the biggest thing they'd ever done,” Jones says. “In fact, only two of them had ever done a show before that involved any kind of changeover, so it was a steep learning curve for them. I did have to scream at them a couple of times, though. We never really got to do a proper dress rehearsal, so when the show day came, a lot of them spent too much time in awe of what was happening on stage, rather than preparing for the next change. But they quickly understood, and in the end they were great — as good as you'd find anywhere else in the world.”

With help from members of Queen, Jones had rolling risers from Music Bank in the UK brought to the show, and “Fisher's set design ensured we had loads of space backstage to work in, which was nice.”

Set designer Mark Fisher, whose credits include Janet Jackson and the Rolling Stones, also came to the event through his connections with Queen.

“I'd worked with (Queen's) Brian (May) and Roger (Taylor) on the Queen musical, ‘We Will Rock You’, so when they and their manager, Jim Beech, decided to take on this event and put it on a secure footing, it was perhaps natural that they should ask me to be involved,” he says.

“Secure footing” is accurate, considering that “46664-The Concert” was originally scheduled for November, 2002, but collapsed in disarray due to poor organization. Members of Queen, Beech, and later, with added support from Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics, took over and consolidated the show's commercial validity, reviving it for late 2003.

“It was Brian and Roger who insisted on the huge Mandela statue, and as such, that single element determined much of the rest of the design,” says Fisher. With the statue taking over one third of the budget, Fisher used the remainder to dress the stage, employing local set company, Art of Light, to produce the huge decorative scrims that covered the PA wings, as well as the backdrop, stage floor treatment, soft goods, and signage that decorated the stadium.

Fisher also used onstage LED screens as part of the set concept. “For live video, (live video director) Blue Leach is the driver — he knows far more about video and what's possible than I ever will — so we present the screens to him as a blank canvas. They raise and lower to put some dynamic change on the back wall, and more importantly, their presence was needed to balance the huge, adjacent Mandela sculpture.

“That's the way to approach these projects, as we have with Bruce Ramus and Blue Leach, and all the others, and like Robbie Williams does with production — employ the people with the right skills and give them enough room to do what they do well. That's why Al Gurdon (the show's director of photography) is here — someone to make sure it looks pretty for the cameras, leaving Bruce to concentrate on the live show. Bruce gives it that real rock-and-roll feel.”

Video

Video was almost entirely a South African affair, though the three onstage screens (172-square-feet each) were shipped in Barco Dlite 10 units from XL Video in the UK.

“In total, I take a feed from nine cameras,” explains Leach. “One hothead upstage center, left-and-right cameras in the pit, long lens in the house, and a jib for some movement, plus one of Initial TV's pit dollies.”

Indeed, (British production company) Initial TV supplied a 12-camera system for video director Davis Mallet to record the event for MTV's broadcast, an inevitable DVD, and posterity.

“Then there's hand-held cameras onstage for some action shots, and they also have cameras backstage doing interviews, which are crucial for me for fillers if the continuity of changeovers slips,” continues Leach. “All the cameras and OB truck are from local company Dimension TV. They were recommended to me by Gearhouse's project manager, Bill Lawford, and they've been excellent.

“The onstage screens themselves (Gearhouse also supplied 540-square-feet of low resolution Opti Screen LED units behind the mix tower) are 1:1 ratio, which is unusual — a new way of shooting for me,” Leach adds. “That specific aspect ratio encourages shots of performers in isolation, the format excludes the background, and so, to be able to fire off several different cameras to different screens is good for differentiation.”

That said, one or two of the changeovers slipped badly during the show, and though the local South African TV anchorwoman employed to fill during unplanned gaps never lost her momentum, the fill-in interviews were sometimes labored. But the crowd was in a forgiving mood — this was, after all, a momentous occasion.

It was also a world-class event, presented to world-class standards. Musically, the complex show also featured several major African artists who were barely featured in the MTV broadcast.

But, beyond the noble aspirations of the concert, the event offers lessons for producers in every corner of the globe. Although Cape Town is a modern city, Robbie Williams still offers a cautionary note about producing such large-scale events in such remote corners of the world.

“If I were to offer advice to anyone contemplating a big show in this part of the world, it would be this: make sure you know what isn't down there. For example, there's no (equipment rental facility) around the corner. Bringing something in from Johannesburg is a two-hour flight away. Even so, apart from some real state-of-the-art LED screens, Gearhouse had everything else we could want. In fact, I'll go out of my way to say how good they were.”


Steve Moles worked his first load-out for Genesis in 1972. By 1985, he was crew chief for Live Aid in London, but sensibly retired from the road two years later. He began writing about the live-event industry in 1994, and in 1999, he adopted three children, just to keep himself busy. Email him at LeSauce@aol.com.