Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Getting Ready for Wembley

Tour Report: July 2, 2019 – Somewhere in the world . . .

Today, while preparing the week of our huge Wembley Stadium show, a blog that is truly “backstage” – with photos by our man, William Snyder.

We’d like to introduce the team that puts on all The Who shows worldwide: This is the road crew. About half of us have been with the band more than 10 years (some for many decades now) and a few are new to this very tour; it’s a slowly-shifting “family” of dedicated professionals.

Sometimes our work means doing the same thing over and over, but often there are daily problems (space, weather conditions, birds dying onstage! etc.) that mean adaptation must happen. Improvisation is critical; adding different cable runs, building something to adapt the stage, modifying the stage plot to fit a tough situation. Even on good days, when things are as-planned, we really have a tight schedule this tour; there’s not a lot of extra time to do repairs or experimentation to improve something. Luckily, there have been very few technical troubles of a major sort.

Roy Lamb has been the Production Manager for about 15 years now, having toured the globe with everyone you’ve ever heard about since the early ’70s. He’s seen it all and done it all – these tours always have some issues, so he’s always in problem-solving mode. His job covers about a hundred topics, from making sure the crew arrives at the right times and places, companies get paid, emergencies get sorted, hotels get booked, tight security each night, various requests coming in for the band, parking issues – it is a LOT to do in one day. Not a job for the faint-of-heart, and definitely the cornerstone of our whole road organization.

Tanya Ross has been Production Assistant for a similar length of time, coming in early and leaving late. She sets up all the backstage amenities and decor, specifies our food for the buses, handles our runners (locals who drive to sort out our daily needs) and crew or band wardrobe/laundry, assignment of rooms backstage; hers is yet another job with hundreds of facets!

RIGGERS Probably the least-visible and yet most-important jobs. Rigging is a theatrical term for all the parts of the show that must be suspended from the roof. This included lighting and PA, mainly, but video screens and curtains are factors in our present show, and that is literally tons (tonnes, in the UK) of equipment, hanging over the heads of rock stars and other people. Their safety requirements and equipment quality is beyond strict, because this is a job where NO accidents can happen. There is no room for error.

They plot where all our stage pieces above (lights/video/PA) need to be placed, then triangulate cables to make sure the structure overheard holds them securely in the right place. It often requires scrambling along small struts of metal 80-100 feet in the air, carrying many pounds of equipment. The calculate the strength and load-bearing capacity of the structure, and also our motor systems used to hoist all the heavy equipment up later. They coordinate with the local riggers who know their structure and the building itself. Their job is also like the Marines: “first in, last out” – our long day always begins and ends with them. Our guys Bart Durbin and Paul Ingwersen share many years of experience, and we have no reservations, they have ‘aced-it’ every single day.

STAGE MANAGER Scotty Williams is one of our “old guard” longtime crew members. He oversees the timing and placement of each team of workers, making sure that the truck loading and unloading happens as-planned. He controls the use of the local crew-people, makes sure the stage setup is as specified. It’s a long day of work and involves routing and placing all our equipment – even the empty cases during the show, and the truck loading issues that change from venue to venue. On a side note, Scotty holds a critical role during shows: he runs the closeup camera the shows Rog and Pete onstage each night, all their moves are captured if and when the video crew wants to show their most-detailed work. (This means he’s also had the one seat “closer than front row” to hundreds of WHO shows! What’s that one worth?)

CARPENTER Not a lot of actual woodworking is needed (some) but the Carpenter role on our tour is handled by Martin ‘Hagar’ Hodgson, who adapts to various roles as-needed. He’s in charge of building the stages each day, a large task made more tricky by the changes in buildings and arenas where we set up. Some things must be consistent without question, other things must be improvised and modified to suit the event. (Martin also is technician for the bass guitar equipment during the show.)

Robert Collins Once a musician in the Get Together Show band, he is now House Mixer for The Who and other major acts. His job is the overall sound of the PA and the balance of instruments that you hear anywhere in the audience. He’s always pushing to get the show better, from suggesting equipment/instrument changes to offering song and performance suggestions directly to Pete and Roger.

Chris ‘Chopper’ Morrison is the Sound Crew Chief, and also handles mix duty when Robert is called away. He controls the setup of the entire PA system, tuning the rig during the day to make it ready for Robert Collins to come in and run the show.

Ben Smith of our Sound Crew team sets up and services/repairs anything in our large PA system. He measures the room with a laser pointer, to determine if the sound system rigging is hanging in exactly the right place, and then enters the room calculations into their computer software which will optimise the PA volume levels for the whole room.

Sean Tingle and Tom Lawn are the PA technicians, in charge of setting (hanging above the stage) and powering the large PA speakers used anywhere in the room.

John Switzer is our stage sound technician, setting up 68 microphone channels for the orchestra, all the connections for the band instruments; that’s 1300 ft of cables placed every day. It’s quite a lot of work needing to be done before any note can be heard.

MONITORS This is the system JUST for the band to hear themselves – to hear Roger’s voice or a drum fill or the effects on tape. If a monitor engineer’s day went very well, nothing would change, and no one would notice them – not even the band. However, it always needs some tweaking and adjustment, as their work is hyper-critical to the band playing to their best. Without good monitor work, it would not go well. It’s also a technical-meets-artistic role.

Simon Higgs is our MVP; now known as “the most difficult to replace” on stage monitors. Simon has been doing monitors with The Who for over 20 years, starting as assistant to Bob Pridden and gradually taking over as Bob retired from the road. We briefly “lost” Simon to Lady GaGa a little while ago, and went through a trial of various engineers, none of whom could satisfy what The Who need to hear to have a good show. Although the whole band and orchestra relies on the sounds from Simon’s console, most of the work goes into making sure Roger gets what he needs. A singer can get easily lost onstage compared to the volume of guitar amps and drums – so monitoring is essential.

Trevor Waite We “discovered” Trevor when we were playing at a festival with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers; we were having a terrible day, and this one guy kept helping us make it better. When we changed to another PA company in 2007, Trevor worked for them and was specifically invited along. Now, he works for us whenever we tour. He’s been handed another “hot seat” position – monitors just for Pete Townshend. Pete’s very perceptive and emotional about the sound onstage, when it’s right – he’s in heaven, when it’s wrong – “down in the ground is a place where you go if you’ve been a bad boy…” So Trevor is on guard all night long to make sure PT gets what he wants!

Clive ‘Binky’ Brinkworth Binky joined us full-time over 13 years ago, but he’s been around the world with many of this same crew doing Jimmy Page’s guitars in Page and Plant, Bryan Adams, and Robert Plant’s own tour with The WHO in 2004.

Martin ‘Hagar’ Hodgson Alongside his extensive “Carpenter” work each day, he’s very comfortable handling any stage duties for bassist Jon Button and backup vocalist Billy Nicholls.

Simon Law continues his guitar-tech work with Pete Townshend each night; originally brought in to assist longtime wiz Alan Rogan with the amps and pedal system, Simon is now in charge of it all, a stressful-but-important job with about 1000 facets. He’s a master guitar-maker already, and very skilled technical matters, so our results have been good on this tour, even though Pete has had a re-work of his entire system for the first time in ages.

Laurie Jenkins is in charge of Zak Starkey’s system of drums, a custom-designed set of Roland V-Drums built into a gold and black DW kit. Laurie does tech work for all kinds of groups worldwide, and percussion is just one of his specialties, being a drummer himself.

Brian Kehew is in charge of the keyboards with The Who since 2002, and now has taken over concert playback (previously handled by Bob Pridden since 1971.) The orchestra has made the playback system more critical than ever before, as they follow metronome tracks during most songs. Brian also does this blog and the screen slide-shows before the concert.

Lighting is the second crew in (with rigging) and the last crew out (also with rigging) = a very long day. They have an extreme amount of equipment to deal with and they have figured out ways to streamline the setup each day, but still it takes many hours to assemble and often about 90 minutes to fully remove and store. We have lighting above, beside and all over the stage, from large trusses of many lamps, to vintage incandescent stage bulbs, to modern LED “sticks” that can run sequences and patterns in many colors.

Tom Kenny is the Creative Director (choosing the look and style of each tour, as well as song choices, etc) and has been Lighting Designer since 1989. He works closely with the band to conceive of a tour style, how much video, what kind of lighting effects, staging choices etc. During each show, he “calls” the direction of any visual action moments – when the light cues happen, spotlight changes, lighting up the audience, etc. to give the most-emotional impact possible. He’s also usually behind local specific concepts, like a flag from a country we’re visiting, wearing a jersey from the city’s team, special thanks or notes for the crowd or anything specific to that night. For this tour, they scaled back on some of the wilder visual effects and video content, to make the show more about listening to the music, although there is more onstage lighting around the orchestra and band to keep things interesting.

Jim Mustapha as Lighting Director sets up the full lighting rig each day, adjusting the focus (direction and range) of key lighting positions across the stage. During the show, he runs the desk to make the lighting scenes change or run sequences tied to the music, etc. while alongside, Tom Kenny runs the key lighting cues. Jim started in 2010 with Roger’s tours and The Who in 2012. Jim enjoys sports – we don’t know why, no one else does.

Iestyn Thomas Lighting Crew Chief. He organizes and directs our touring technicians and also the local crew, the workers who assist us in setting up any show. We need LOTS of help each day, especially with lighting equipment, so their placement and structural rigging get the lighting rig into position each day, working well, and maintain the stuff as-needed.

Bart Buckalew is in charge of all dimmer controls, Cole Wheeler is master of the moving drapes rig we use, the only “animation” used during the show. The drapes move in/out and form different shapes on various parts of the show. Rob Simoneux is another talented lighting tech, setting up and testing/repairing all the systems in play.

Clay McMurray brings his expertise in programming and running the Follow-Me spotlight system: This computer-controlled system uses an overheard camera (showing the whole stage) and (when set up properly) overhead spotlights can then track any one of our performers across the stage using a mouse and the camera’s monitor screen down on the floor.

Our video team really make the show more exciting by a large factor. From the moment you enter the arena, you’ll be watching their work. [2006: I remember a serious argument whether to have video screens or not. One feeling was that maybe this is the one group visual enough NOT to need screens like Britney Spears, etc.] Luckily, video won out and has joined us since. Not only for the tours with “video content” (films made specifically for certain songs) but for the live-action camera work of the stage musicians. This really makes any distant seats seem more reasonable, and brings those people “closer” to the things happening onstage. There are RoboCams onstage (remotely-controlled small cameras to show closeups) and a large camera in the pit in front of the stage, plus distant cameras with long lenses to capture more of the wide-stage shots and action.

Mathieu Coutu has been our Video Crew Chief for many years now, and directed the video for hundreds of shows. He calls the shots by directing the cameramen to get the right person at certain times (like when Pete scrapes his guitar across the mic stand in ‘Amazing Journey’ or when Roger sprays out water for ‘Love Reign O’er Me’.) He then mixes the feeds live by-hand, with nearly a musician’s timing, so that the audience is seeing the very best parts of our show at the right moment. As I said in a previous blog, it makes nearly any spot a front-row seat, as you can likely see everything of interest easily.

Mathieu Giroux is another longtime video crew member, he’s a specialist at the RoboCams all across the stage. The RoboCams spin, turn up/down, and focus from a remote location offstage. When you see a closeup of Zak doing drum fills, or Loren Gold doing the piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, he’s the one getting that shot.

Kenneth Hoffman of the video crew is a projectionist and cameraman. He sets up four projectors and fine-tune and focus for the two video projection screens on each side of the stage. The screens have to be hung from the roof points and placed carefully to not block sight-lines from seats in different arenas. After the screens are prepped, he takes the cameraman role at the house mixing/lighting platform to shoot the long stage-view camera shots.

Simon Beaulieu is another talented video technician on the crew, and he is also training to be director when Mathieu moves onto another tour.

This is how we get from place to place, as we managed to misplace our personal Lear Jets! The drivers become our friends for the leg of the tour, and get us safely from Starbucks to Starbucks: Vance Vigna, Mike White and Joe Montalto.

This is the fuel our engine runs on, and certainly never in the public eye. Yasmin Kotb is back to The Who camp after several years away, and we’re happy to have her keeping the books balanced!

Our Tour is handled by Live Nation, and our on-tour representative is Elizabeth Pickrel, temporarily and appropriately nicknamed ‘Liz Nation’ by our Production office. She takes care of the advertising, PR, media requests, and any special needs for each day. One of the main functions is deciding which extra seats can go on-sale once our final equipment is placed; we don’t want to sell tickets that may be blocked, so we hold back some seats that might be affected, then a show-day check is made to allow more tickets on sale. The promoters pay for everything, including The Who, so promoters are quite important! She’s doing a champion job out here . . .

On the road with us daily is the VIP Team, who organize the special reception for the day’s VIP guests. They build the mini-museum of Who artifacts, food and drink, and organize the watching of our soundcheck, all perks of the special VIP ticket packages. Hoda El Mostafa and Elisa Mosely are in charge of this branch of our tree, and are great to have the around.

Our longtime man Terry Ruchotzke (with assistant Tim Ehrlich) has been organizing all the merchandise sold on our tours for over a decade. He’s easy to deal with, and certainly the income from merchandise (T-shirts, programs, etc) is a significant factor in how much any touring band takes home at the end of the tour. At our Philly show, he was working til 3.00am!

All that gear has to move. All that gear is expensive, and it all has to be there on-time and in good condition. Working as a team, our truck drivers organize their routes and schedules to get us loaded in in the mornings. They take the day off to sleep and recover, then start all over again as our show ends; they greet us at the trucks afterward (one for Video, one for Backline, etc) and make sure everything is loaded/secured safely for the long haul to the next place. Mac Maclear is our buddy – the Lead Truck Driver who plans the highway treks, with the team of drivers always with him: Jim DeLuca, Jon Cordes, Bob Wright, David Vancil, Jay Briscoe and Brian Briscoe. Sometimes, just getting in and out of a downtown sports arena is a wicked challenge for several full-sized semi-trucks.

Just as an example of a day on tour, here are the timelines for the Philadelphia show on May 25, 2019:

1:15am The day started with the riggers, lighting crew, Production, Carpenter, and Stage Manager. (Normally their call time would be 5.00am)

7:15am The Sound and Video crews are in.

9:00am Backline crew, followed later by other production workers (like VIP and Live Nation crews.) At this point, everyone is in the venue working for the rest of the day.

7.30pm Showtime

11:00pm We all start packing just moments after the show ends, which takes up to 2+ hours, depending – so we are usually out at 1am or so.

On “normal” Who tours, the goal is to have all the equipment ready by band soundcheck, which happens at 4.00 or 5.00pm. However, on this tour, the band and orchestral equipment must be ready by noon or 1.00pm; that’s the time the orchestra comes in to rehearse. So everyone’s day is currently three-to-five hours longer than a normal tour.

(We have some great photos of the enormous Philadelphia show here, with great thanks to our photographic pal, William Snyder.)

And now you know. Onward . . . to Wembley!