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Morrissey Tour 2019

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • December 2019Wide Focus • December 13, 2019

MORRISSEY © Steve Jennings

Singer-songwriter Morrissey is on tour in support of his 12th studio release, California Son. The album, released in May, is a collection of cover songs from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Laura Nyro and others. Fronting the band The Smiths from 1984 to 1987, this iconic singer has had a successful solo career spanning 31 years. Along with his devoted longtime fan base, he is reaching out to new fans along the way with each release and tour. He has many awards to his name — the Ivor Novello Award, Mojo Award, Q Award, and 17 NME Awards. We had a chance to talk with Max Conwell, the lighting designer, programmer and lighting director for the tour, who has been with this artist over a 15-year span.

The Briese lights act as set piece when illuminated by BMFLs.. Photo by Steve Jennings

Max Conwell

Lighting Designer, Programmer, Lighting Director

Max Conwell’s first tour with Morrissey started in 2004. Moz (Morrissey) had seen a show Conwell lit for the band Placebo and liked it, so when the lighting designer job came free, Conwell was asked to submit a design for it, and the rest, as they say, is history. Conwell also works with Naked Eye Lighting Ltd. based out of London, an independent lighting and production design company with a pretty diverse portfolio from TV game shows to fashion to film. Though not a fixture rental house, they have a stock of consoles and media servers. Their ethos is to find the best and most creative design solutions for clients and source the best suppliers for the project.

MORRISSEY © Steve Jennings

Conwell says Morrissey is always very involved and very interested in the look of things, that he will generally come up with the preferred backdrop images and will come up with an overall visual look. “We’ll discuss specific song looks as new songs are added to the repertoire. Usually at the start of the run we will have a pool of 30 to 40 songs and by the end around 50, and these can be in any order on any night.

MORRISSEY © Steve Jennings

“Usually I’ll start the design off in the old fashioned way with paper and pencil, then flesh out the design in either Wysiwyg or Vectorworks/Vision. I begin the design with the key lighting of Morrissey, usually followspots at the side and rear for that classic silhouette look, and layer up the lighting from there. I’ll usually avoid using a front truss, preferring to have a more open look to the stage and keeping the video or projection screen clear. As with any job, it’s a massive team effort. I couldn’t really go wrong with the crew I have or the support from the vendors. A big shout out to our production manager, Joseph Joannides, as well.”

MORRISSEY © Steve Jennings

The video side has evolved over a number of years, Conwell notes. “Even before my tenure going back to the Smiths days” (lit, he adds, by “the wonderful” John Featherstone), “photo images have always played a major part in the design. Using video/projection gives us the freedom to have bespoke images for every song and in addition we have a 30 minute film leading into our show with an ever changing content of various film clips and music films. Moz usually comes up with the song images and the preshow film is more of a collaboration.”

The artist likes to choose the digital backdrop images. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Distinct Looks

One clear focal point in the design are the seven Briese lights and their reflectors. Think of umbrella-looking light fixtures. “The Briese fixtures we use have a 2kW tungsten bulb and look great on their own, but I also point the BMFLs into them for color/strobe effects. The Briese lights are a high end photographic soft light,” he adds. “I wanted something that would reflect the album artwork and theme, but not in an overtly obvious way. They have a built-in tungsten source, which gives a great warmth, and the silvered reflector takes color beautifully. The company we rented them from in Los Angeles, West Coast Lighting, have now decided to make their own version with built-in LED lights. Another fun addition we have is for drummer Matt Walker’s kick and kettle drums, with some RGB ribbon added for that glow effect.”

MORRISSEY © Steve Jennings

The lighting and video vendor for the tour is from Solotech which, Conwell says, came as a recommendation from their promoter rep on the Canadian run back in April. “They impressed us early on by the quality of the crew they put on the tour and their willingness to go the extra mile. Robert Kennedy has been a real godsend. Also, having one supplier for the gear worked so well, as we basically had one crew rather than a departmentalized lighting/video split.”

GLP X4 Bar20 battens line the trusses. Photo by Steve Jennings

Morrissey Tour 2019

Crew

  • Lighting Designer, Programmer and Director: Max Conwell/Naked Eye Lighting Ltd.
  • Lighting Co: Solotech
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Sam Stuart
  • Lighting Techs: Adam Notman, Corinna Blue Johnston
  • Solotech Rep: Robert Kennedy
  • Video Content: Max Conwell
  • Video Co: Solotech
  • Video Tech: Mike Overend
  • Tour Manager: Donnie Knutson
  • Production Manager: Joseph Joannides
  • Trucking: Roadshow

MORRISSEY © Steve Jennings

Gear

  • 2       ChamSys MagicQ MQ500 Stadium console
  • 36     GLP X4 Bar 20’s
  • 40     Claypaky Mythos
  • 7       Robe BMFL WashBeams
  • 3       Robe BMFL Followspots (on Robospot system)
  • 10     Claypaky Sharpy Washes
  • 18     Solaris Flare Q+
  • 7       Briese fixtures (2 x 140/4 x 180/1 x 220)
  • 2       Hazers
  • 6       Smoke machines
  • 1       LED video wall (45’ x 16’), w/341 Saco S12 12mm tiles
  • 1       Catalyst media server setup for video control

 

More Morrissey 2019 tour photos by Steve Jennings:

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