Chris has worked as Tour and Event Production Director or Manager across an enormous variety of artists and genres, including Beyonce, Muse, Take That, Kings Of Leon, Biffy Clyrro, Jeff Lynne's ELO and many many more. Chris's has extensive experience and knowledge of the touring environment and where the potential risks are.
(Taken From The Guardian, "How To Put On A Mega-Gig, 2015)
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The most amazing tour I’ve been involved with was Take That’s Progress tour, which had three stages and a 62-feet-high robot, which we called Om. Technically, that was an incredibly challenging production. We had a 14-metre-high waterfall, off which Robbie took a dive and the band ran through, and 30 dancers running back and forwards.
We had a couple of problems along the way, the main one being the famous Spinal Tap moment when the boys got stuck out on the robot. These things happen. One of the problems for us is you start putting together a spectacular show as the album recording is coming to an end. So you might have four or five months maximum to come up with ideas and invent something and you’re in uncharted territory. These tours are unique: you have to invent something before you can build it, so U2 got stuck in their lemon on stage one night. Mark Fisher, who designed most of these shows, died recently. He was an old-fashioned British inventor, who worked in his shed. There’s also a big American company who do a lot of these tours and when we went to them and asked for a 62-foot robot, they said it couldn’t be done; but a British company, Brilliant Stages, delivered it. I was amazed that we got it to reality, never mind touring round the world.
I’ve done 250 tours and not too much has gone wrong. Once, when Ronnie James Dio was singing with Black Sabbath, a fan jumped up on stage and hugged Ronnie. A security man ran up and grabbed him and all three of them went tumbling into the pit. I was called into the dressing room after that one, and those situations are worse than being summoned to see the headmaster at school. Another time, I was with UB40 in Peru, when we got in a scrape with an unscrupulous promoter. Guns were involved, but generally, I’ve been quite lucky.
A production manager is the first point of contact in the delivery mechanism of a mega-show, once the band’s manager and the agent have decided on their touring strategy. The band will release an album, promote it and decide to tour. The agent will book dates around the world. The manager, with the record company, will plan out where they need to go and in which sequence, depending on the album plan. Then they’ll come to me. Generally I’ll sit down with the band and look at what type of show they want to do and the size of venues it will be in. Then I’ll put a team of creative people together and we’ll develop some show ideas and go back to the band with the ideas and cost. The bands normally go, “Wow, brilliant, loads of pyro!” and the manager will go “How much?” Then the agent will go “Can you do six shows a week?” It’s a balancing act.
In a case such as Take That, the band are very involved and we have development meetings every two weeks. They’re incredibly focused on the live show and that’s why they’re so good. You can’t achieve a show like that if the artist just sits back and isn’t personally involved.
It used to be different. Up until 10 years ago, the record companies would give us money to fund tours. Now, touring is the main income, which is obviously good for my business. It’s almost snowballed, in that bands have needed to play bigger venues to generate more income. The productions have had to become bigger to catch up. This has driven an industry of companies who design massive productions and have created the means of taking them down and putting them back up again very quickly. If I can do two or three more shows a month than another tour, we’re going to be making lots of money, and by creating greater income, you can move things very quickly. We’ve got to be able to build a massive stadium show from grass pitch to doors opening within around 48 hours and we’ve got to be able to take it down within four hours, and clear the pitch for the next day. As a guitarist finishes with one guitar, someone will be packing it away. We turn smoke machines and whatever that aren’t going to be used any more off, and they’re in their cases before the show is over.
I got into this by a stroke of luck. I was in a school band and Nazareth’s manager sent his son to the same school. Cheekily I asked if I could borrow some of their gear, and he actually said: “Yes, but when the trucks come off the next European tour, you’ll have to get some lads to help unload it.” To cut a long story short, I ended up on tour with Nazareth.
They put me on the road as a tea boy, helping the tour manager. There weren’t really production managers then. The most elaborate show going out then would be someone like Alice Cooper, but if you look at those productions now they look like an amateur dramatics society. Everything was very simple. Also, for a very long time the biggest gigs were in theatres. You always had the arena circuit in America, because they had ice hockey and basketball, but over here it didn’t exist. But then in 1976 they built Birmingham NEC, the first of the UK mega-venues, and from that point productions started getting bigger. From the 80s onwards there was a joined-up circuit of arenas, so you could do the same show as in the States and western Europe. Everything snowballed from there.
The venues are still getting bigger, which means we can put on ever more spectacular shows. The budget comes out of the band’s pocket. They could put on a very simple show: the same audience would be there; the same songs would be played, but investing in the show comes from the band. To a degree, there probably is an arms race between bands, in a tongue-in-cheek way: “Bon Jovi did this, so Iron Maiden will do that.” The heavy metal bands, through the 80s, were driving this the most. You had Motörhead’s bomber and so on. Then the pop acts moved into the massive arenas.
I once did Gary Glitter, which at the time was the big gig to have and technically, theatrically, they were great shows. As it says on my website, “I was young and I needed the money.” But because I did that tour, Take That fell into my lap, because their tour manager saw it. I was involved in their first theatre tour, but they became an arena act immediately.
When you’re in the middle of these big technical productions, you’re part of it but not part of it. One of my grumbles as I get older is that all I do is work and sleep. It requires massive commitment, as if you were on a military campaign. We’ll start work at 7am, build the show, the band will turn up to do the soundcheck at 4pm, have their dinner and leave immediately afterwards. We’re loading everything until 1.30am, on sleeper buses overnight and starting at 7am again in another town. The speed of loading out defines how much sleep you’ll get that night.
This life is not for everybody. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not at parties with the band after the show. They’re mostly on private jets going home to their families. But I’ve had a lot of “How did I get here?” moments. Doing the Manic Street Preachers in Cuba was extraordinary. I was in the room when they met Fidel Castro. We were in the Karl Marx theatre in Havana, and all these men in suits started going through our gear. Normally you’d get your security men to throw them out, but we just stood back and let it happen. Five minutes later, in walked Fidel Castro. I think it was Nicky Wire who said, “We hope the show’s not going to be too loud for you, sir,” and Castro went, “It won’t be louder than war.”