Friends of Simon Chandler Honnor will no doubt be amused to learn that the first lighting company he ever worked for was called Gaslight. Equal parts lighting designer, technician, comedian, and philosopher, Honnor grew up in southeast London and stumbled into the lighting business at age 20. "I used to drink in the same pub as the guy who was one of the partners in the company, so I went to work for them," he says. "Before that, I worked in London theatres as a local stagehand."
Twenty years later, Honnor is still making his living in the lighting industry. He spent much of the past two years touring with the Rolling Stones as a lighting technician and currently he is touring the US with longtime client Squeeze. "Touring suits my personality. I'm not a 9-to-5 person; I never have been," Honnor explains. "Going to an office everyday doesn't appeal to me. If you make enough money in three months of touring, you can have a month off and do something else. So it's an adventure."
Honnor's adventures began with the 1980 Pretenders tour. "The LD was Jim Laroche, and we didn't even have a tour bus," he says. "But it was good fun."
Honnor then met Steve Hirston with See Factor and began working for the company both in London and New York. "We used to pick up all the American acts when they came to Europe, like Rush and Blue Oyster Cult and Rainbow," Honnor says. "I started off as a technician and later taught myself how to run a lighting desk. I got shipped out quite a lot to do different tours, and met a lot of good people while I was there."
After about three years, Honnor went freelance. "I was still a technician, but I also did a bunch of one-offs, which was design work," Honnor says. "At the time, I didn't really think of it as such, I just did it. It is great when you're given the freedom to do whatever you want.
"When you do design work, you see the show all the way through," he continues. "But when you're part of a crew, you just make sure what you have to do works."
Honnor became the lighting designer for Squeeze in 1988 and has worked with them ever since. "I took it over from Dave Wilson when he became the production designer," Honnor says. The band then asked him back to design its subsequent tours, including Play, in 1991. "They let me design the lighting and the set--the full monty. I had some terra cotta flower pots for set pieces because that's what was on the cover of the album. We had an artist do some of them on scrims and we'd light them up in different colors. They were quite silly things, but I've definitely seen sillier," Honnor says. "They're good to work for--fun music and nice people. They do take a great interest in what you're doing with the lighting, but there are no superstar attitudes to deal with."
For lighting, Honnor had High End Systems Intellabeams(R). "They were new then and better than the moving lights we'd had on the previous tour," Honnor says. "Those were from Strand, basically a PAR can with a color changer that would move. They should be in a science museum by now."
Honnor has also designed lighting for Paul Weller, John Denver, and Van Morrison. "Warren Flynn and I also were the lighting directors for Jonathan Smeeton's 1989 Mike and the Mechanics tour," Honnor says. "Then in 1990, he designed Paul Simon's Graceland tour, and I ran the board for the European leg of that."
In 1996-97, Honnor traveled to Turkey to design the lighting for an annual jazz/blues festival sponsored by Parliament cigarettes and featuring James Brown, Chick Corea, and the Becker Brothers. "It was on for four days each time and I had a great time--everything was brilliant," Honnor says. "I met with this Turkish lighting company called Staras, based in Istanbul, and they brought in Thomas trussing, Avo dimmers and a Sapphire desk--all the best equipment. The greatest part was that only two of the crew spoke English. It's quite a challenge to work in a country where you don't speak the language.
"But I've found that everywhere you go in the world, if you treat people the way you'd like to be treated you'll generally be all right," he continues. "I've gotten really good at sign language and facial expressions. I can order food, something to drink, or ask directions in most languages. That's what I like about touring. You take on the culture of wherever you go."
Back in his homeland, Honnor has lent his lighting skills to the worlds beyond music. "I've been a board operator for CPL [now VLPS] for London Fashion Week a few times, and that was great fun," Honnor says. "I've done other fashion shows and events of that ilk. A production company called Supotco has hired me to do awards ceremonies, industrial shows, and car launches. When this is what you do for a living, it's good to have some variety."
For the current Squeeze tour, the LD is using house systems in the tour's club venues. "I'll just adapt the lighting design depending on what I have to work with in each venue," Honnor says. "In November we go back to the UK as Blondie's support act."
And after that? "I suppose I'll just carry on doing lighting. There are a lot of people that I like in the business. It's where I'm happy."