Jeff Lynne’s ELO

by Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • in
  • October 2018
  • Tour Lighting
• Created: October 13, 2018

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Jeff Lynne’s ELO © Steve Jennings

The Artist’s Return to the Live Stage Continues with First U.S. Tour in 37 Years

For fans across the country who had never seen ELO in the day, or those who had, 37 years have passed since Jeff Lynne (ELO) has done a major tour of the U.S. Hearing Lynne in fine voice, the band rocked out to such hits as “Evil Woman,” “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Turn To Stone” and “Livin’ Thing,” many in the audience singing along to every word. The tour extends overseas with 15 shows in the U.K., ending at the end of October. We spoke with lighting and creative designer Tim Routledge, lighting programmer and director Tom Young, laser programmer and tech Ollie Jenni and disguise programmer Luke Collins.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO © Steve Jennings

Tim Routledge

Lighting & Creative Designer

“The music is an LD’s dream in lots of ways. My brief is to make the show as visually dynamic as possible without being a distraction. We underscore everything musically with lights. The music is symphonic and has a lot of range for possibilities. This current run of shows is very much an extension of the last years’ run of indoor and outdoor stadium shows in the U.K. that was critically acclaimed, and the basis of the recent film made about Jeff.

“My initial brief over four years ago was conversations about Jeff’s love of space exploration — never astrology, always astronomy. For this last year, we have created all new video content that links together and is similar in style. Stunning 3D landscapes and cityscapes from futuristic or interstellar places. Jeff will send thoughts on certain pieces or imagery that he would like to see in the show. Last year we created an ELO oscilloscope for the song “Twilight.” He isn’t keen on retro and looking back too much and always wants to progress forward. We only really go retro for one song, which is the Traveling Wilburys’ song, “Handle With Care,” where we see vintage footage of the band. For the most part though, I create the full storyboard and work with the awesome Ben Ib, our content creator, and send off our storyboard for approval.”

Routledge based the tour around both an arena and stadium concert. The UFO came first, and then the rest of tour wrapped around it. He found it worked equally well without the massive UFO structure for indoors, and the big curved screen “lent itself to the huge widescreen looks of content we were going for.” In 2016, they did a huge European tour, and this was very much based on the orbiting paths of satellites. This time around, they added more of that to the content and went for a clean contemporary look.

“For the outdoor stadium version of this show, we created an enormous ELO spaceship that towered above the stage, filled with lights, lasers, video and SFX. That sat where the overhead circle is now… That beast took a crane to lift into place and took two days to build then populate with lights… We would have loved to keep the spaceship for the arena shows, but this was logistically impossible. We investigated building a smaller one, but we felt it wouldn’t have the same presence indoors and wouldn’t look impressive, so we opted for more references within the video content for these shows.”

Neg Earth have supplied lighting for a huge number of projects for Routledge, including the Beyonce’s Formation world tour and Sam Smith’s current world tour, The Thrill of it All. “Their attention to detail is second to none, and their investment in new kit cannot be matched. I’ve worked with vendors all over the world and simply can’t find the same level of service elsewhere.”

Video Design from the U.K. is the video tour vendor, led by Alex Leinster. Leinster started the company after Chaos Visual Productions was bought out by PRG in mid-2015, and he has never looked back, says Routledge. “He has supplied a number of major tours for me, and his crew is exceptional,” Routledge says, lauding Luke Collins, the disguise programmer, in particular, whom he calls “unflappable” and “always keen to work out complex notes and make the show better.”

Routledge met lighting programmer and director Tom Young around five years ago. He started as an intern and quickly moved to being full-time with Routledge as his right-hand man. This year, Young has gone freelance, but they still work very closely together. “Tom is a rare breed,” Routledge says. “He is an exceptional programmer — his detail and speed is second to none, and he is able to adapt from programming live TV shows for me like the U.K.’s X Factor each Saturday to touring and theater. I would class him as one of the world’s best programmers.”

Having been involved with Jeff since his comeback in 2014, this is the third big set of shows for Routledge. “I had no idea that when we did that first one-off show that it would snowball into two sellout arena tours in Europe, shows at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl and New York’s Radio City Music Hall, and then into this new tour across North America and Europe… To think last summer we sold out London’s iconic Wembley Stadium is incredible… and for a lighting designer, the music lends itself to so much visually.”

Jeff Lynne’s ELO © Steve Jennings

Tom Young
Lighting Director & Programmer

Tom Young notes that this tour is based off the London Wembley Stadium show from last year, with the rig being virtually the same as the indoor shows they did, with just a few minor tweaks including the addition of some fixtures on the circle truss overhead to represent the large UFO and a couple of minor fixture type changes.

“I have based this tour on the show file from those shows and, as a result, we didn’t need to spend too much time re-programming the show, as most of it translated and carried across. I did a day of previz using WYSIWYG in advance to clone across some existing programming to some new fixtures and did all my fixture swaps and tidy-ups.

“As we are touring everything over from the U.K., we had four days to set up, build and use the system at LH2 [Studios] in London. As part of these days, we set up and ran the system using American voltages so we could be confident it would work as expected when we arrived,” he says, noting that all the Neg Earth distros can be re-wired inside to work on either American or European voltages.

Routledge and Young spent two of those days tweaking the programming and making small adaptations. For these days, there was no band, no backline, no P.A., just the lighting, video walls and stage. This proved to be quality time for their artistry and perfect opportunity, as it meant they could spend the whole day with no working lights on, no other noise or work, and really refine the show.

“Tim has been working with ELO since the Hyde Park show in 2014, and then I came on board to program the 2016 Arena tour. When it came to doing the shows last year, I built that off the previous 2016 tour show file, so we already had the option to pull any songs from that tour into the 2017 shows. I have around 40 songs in total, so it’s easy to pull up any additional songs that could possibly get added.

“Control for this show comes from a grandMA2 Full size, which is my console of choice. In my opinion, no other console comes close to dealing with large numbers of complex fixtures, handling of timecode and multi-console/multi-user environments. When I’m putting together a show like this, I need something rock solid that I can rely on, and the MA2 gives me just that. There’s also a fantastic support network in place should anything happen, and they’re available pretty much all over the world, just in case.”

All songs in the show are fully timecoded, with one or two manual bumps or buttons at the very end of the song as the timecode stops to allow the band to hold the last note for however long they wish. There are a lot of cues in the show, with over 900 separate cue lists being triggered multiple times.

Having a fully timecoded show means Young can guarantee it’ll look the same night after night. However, one crucial element of the show that isn’t timecoded is Jeff’s key light. This is so they can adjust it throughout the show if we need be, making sure it’s not too bright, fading it out at the end of a song, during a guitar change or if he moves off his microphone.

“We’re mainly a Robe lighting rig on this one, with a few other fixtures thrown in for good measure, but it’s been great! BMFL Spot fixtures are the workhorse fixture on this show, and we’ve had far fewer problems and swap-outs comparatively to any other fixture type. In addition to BMFLs, we’ve also got some of the new MegaPointes in the rig this time round, which I think are one of my favorite fixtures. They’re quick, super bright, have nice gobos/beam effects and are consistent from one unit to the next. Having CMY is a bonus in a beam fixture like this and they’re smaller/lighter and brighter than any other similar products.

“What’s important to me is consistency across a rig. I spend a lot of time color matching fixtures to one another and matching up gobo rotate speeds etc. This means if an LD says, ‘Put fixtures X and Y in amber,’ they all look the same rather than different shades of orange. I see far too many programmers being lazy and just using the same numerical CMY values to create their colors across fixtures, without looking at what’s actually coming out the end.”

Young says the equipment supplied by Neg Earth has been to their usual high standards, and he credited lighting team, led by Jonathan “Sell” Sellers, for being “absolutely superb” at looking after him and the rig.

“I think what makes this show great and special is the stripped-back nature of the show,” he adds. “There are no gags or complex staging, it is just about the lights, audio, music and video coming together to create a great-sounding and looking rock show. Audience members don’t come to see theatrics, they come to see a rock show with Jeff playing guitar and singing the songs they love. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have been involved with this tour — everybody is so lovely, and it definitely has the ‘touring family’ feel about it. To work alongside Tim again on another project is also a delight. We get on really well, and I always enjoy working together. I feel very privileged to have been involved with this tour.”

Jeff Lynne’s ELO © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Special Effects

Ollie Jenni is the laser programmer and technician on the ELO tour. He was briefed to provide a laser package to complement the set design, which included a large number of green lasers. ER Productions has worked with Jeff Lynne’s ELO on their 2016 and 2017 tour, so Jenni says they were only too pleased to be asked to provide lasers for the 2018 tour as well. ER Productions worked closely with lighting designer Tim Routledge and lighting director Tom Young to incorporate modern laser looks into the band’s performance of iconic tracks, including “Shine A Little Love,” “Telephone Line,” “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Roll Over, Beethoven,” to name but a few.

The company used 10 high-powered green lasers controlled by Jenni using Pangolin Beyond software and FB4 control hardware. The 24 Green Burst Boxes produced by ER Productions had specially designed beam blockers made to block out the zero order of the diffraction grating. This made focusing the lasers much easier and essential to the tour setup time. A High End Systems Road Hog 4 operated by Jenni controlled the Green Burst Boxes, with timecode being used by the Road Hog and by Pangolin Beyond. To highlight the lasers during the show, Unique hazers and Viper Deluxe machines from Look Solutions provided the atmospheric effects needed for this show during its arena tour.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Video

disguise programmer Luke Collins started his role for the tour by creating the content templates and advising Ben Ib, who created the content, on how best to deliver the files. Collins says this entailed coming up with solutions on how best to technically realize some of the design ideas.

“The show is driven by timecode, which triggers the two disguise V2.5 servers driving the content for the five main screens upstage as well as the oval LED floor that Lynne and other band members stand on. The content for this tour is largely based around the Wembley show last year with a little reformatting for the new screen sizes. The I-Mag projectors are driven directly from the vision-mixer cut by video director Sacha Moore.”

Jeff Lynne’s ELO © Steve Jennings

Jeff Lynne’s ELO 2018 Tour

Lighting & Creative Design: Tim Routledge
Lighting Programmer/Lighting Director: Tom Young
Lighting Co: Neg Earth
Neg Earth Account Rep: Lindsey Markham
Lighting Crew Chief: Jonathan “Sell” Sellers
Lighting Techs: Alan Fotheringham, Lewis Wilding, Bianca Mastroianni
Dimmer Tech: Peter “Kiss” Horne
Tour Director: Chris Vaughan
Production Manager: Richard “Wez” Wearing
Production Coordinator: Zoe Buttling
Production Assistant: Georgie King
Stage Manager: Mark Berryman
Video Director: Sacha Moore
D3 Programmer: Luke Collins
Video Co: Video Design
Video Design Account Rep: Alex Leinster
Video Crew Chief: Jack Middlebrook
Video Techs: Matt Vassallo (System Engineer), Rod Williams (Camera Operator), Kev King, Gary King, Richard Doran (LED Engineers), James Crossley (Projectionist)
Systems Tech: David Wolstenholme
Laser Programmer/Tech: Ollie Jenni
Laser Co: ER Productions/Marc Webber
Staging: Total Fabrications/Mervyn Thomas

2 grandMA2 Full size Consoles (Main & backup
1 grandMA2 Light (Show FOH Systems Console)
1 grandMA2 onPC (Dimmer Systems PC)
62 Robe BMFL Spots
12 Robe BMFL Blades
24 Robe MegaPointes
38 Martin Viper AirFX fixtures
10 Vari-Lite VL6000 Beams
10 Claypaky Unicos
24 SGM Q7’s
30 4-Lites
32 2-Lites
1 Hungaroflash T-Light
2 MDG The ONE hazer/foggers

1 High End Systems Road Hog 4
1 Pangolin Beyond control system
24 Green Burst Boxes
10 High powered green lasers
6 Viper Deluxe smoke machines
2 Look Solutions Unique 2 hazers


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