London native Dave Hill got into the business in 1976, when he began doing the lighting for some friends who were in a band. After cruising around the UK with six lights and a homemade desk, he began working at London's Rainbow Theatre, where he started out on the lighting crew. "I eventually worked my way up to manager and was in charge of the lighting for three years. I gained a lot of experience--it was a fantastic training ground for putting rigs together." In 1978, Hill was able to test this knowledge when he went out on the road with the Boomtown Rats. "That was my first-ever tour, which was a lot of fun, and to this day probably the most outrageous tour I ever did. I was working for Phay MacMahon, now with Bandit Lites."
When the Rainbow closed down, Hill decided he wanted to pursue a career in lighting, so he joined some friends who toured with bands in Australia.
In 1983, Hill was in Sydney when David Bowie's Serious Moonlight tour (designed by Allen Branton) arrived, and he was introduced to Vari*Lite(R) technology. "I'd heard they had this moving-light system in America, so I went down to meet a couple of the Australian crew that night. I still remember walking on the stage, and although they didn't have the lights on, they were moving them around, so I could hear them. And it changed my life, because I figured that if I wanted to really move on in lighting I had to go live in America--LA or New York--or come back to London."
Hill did move back to London. He started off doing crew work, but soon got a lighting design job. "Then I got a phone call from Jimmy Barnett at Vari-Lite asking if I'd like to join up and become one of their operators, of which there were only six in those days in London. I decided to do it, mainly because only the bigger bands could afford it, so it seemed like it would be a good line to follow."
Hill went out on tour with Madness as a Vari*Lite operator in 1984, and has since become one of the most renowned programmers in the industry. Two years later he went out with Spandau Ballet, designed by Patrick Woodroffe. "I've done about 80% of Patrick's shows since that point. I've done a few of my own designs along the way, but the partnership has been very successful. I've always been very happy with the relationship that I had with Patrick, because he's a salesman and he basically lets me do what I want. So they are as much my design as they are his--but I don't have to struggle to get the clients."
Bands that have benefited from the Woodroffe/Hill collaboration include Phil Collins, Blues Brothers Revue, and the Rolling Stones. "He has all the skills that you'd expect from a top programmer--a logical mind, supreme patience, imagination, and commitment--but he also has a great eye to know instinctively what is right and what is not," Woodroffe says. "But it's not just great-looking shows that are a testimony to his character. It's the really difficult ones, where whatever you do nothing seems to look any good. That's when it's a real comfort to have Dave there because he always manages to turn things around."
Hill would attribute this to having honed his skills to a certain level of expertise. "I've always stuck with running the Vari*Lite Artisan(R), because I always preferred to be a specialist on one than a jack-of-all-trades," Hill says. "If you run seven or eight different desks, you're never going to be a master of any one of them.
"I've certainly used conventional lighting desks as well, but I've always ended up with enough work with just that desk," he continues. "It was probably five to eight years ahead of its time when it came out. So I never found a need to run all the other desks and moving lights. The Icon desk is the only exception I made, the main reason being the Icon light helps on more tricks and the desk itself has slightly more tricks to it, and we always need new tricks."
Hill programmed the Icon Console(TM) for the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon tour, but did not tour with the band. Along with all the usual rock-and-roll work the LD does, he spent much of this past year lighting classical and dance pieces. "I did Swan Lake in the round at The Royal Albert Hall which was wonderful, then went to Switzerland to do a modern ballet with the Bejart Ballet in Lausanne. The ballet was done to the music of Queen--it was an interesting combination of ballet and rock music. I also programmed all of Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance shows, and later this year I'll be doing a show called Explosive Dance, so there is a lot of footwork going on under my lights these days."
Looking back on his touring days, Hill fondly remembers three as his favorites. "That Spandau Ballet tour was just fantastic fun, and it marked the start of my work with Patrick," he says. "Also the Toto tours, because they were my own design, which was rare, and Steel Wheels, the Rolling Stones' first stadium tour.
"The touring life has been very good to me. I've enjoyed it, but I much prefer to program shows now," Hill continues. "That's another good thing about the partnership with Patrick--we do a lot of one-off concerts, television, and video shoots. The work is still interesting, and I like seeing my family when I get home at night."
Hill has two children at home: George and Daisy. "You only get one chance with kids, but there will always be another tour," Hill concludes. "Once they've grown up, if I still wanted to tour, I could always go back and do it again. But right now I don't miss it."