From Bars to Bowie , Tom Kenny on His Life as LD to the Stars
BY MICHAEL RAINE
TOM KENNY ( LEFT ) WHILE ON TOUR WITH THE WHO
“ first adventure in the pandemic was going up to Edmonton to the massive , beautiful arena there . A month and a half in that bubble ,” says one of the world ’ s preeminent live event lighting designers , Tom Kenny , to PL & P . He ’ s referring his unique gig as LD for the 2020 NHL playoffs , when all games were held with no fans and in only two arenas in Edmonton and Toronto . “ It was just a great thing . It showed off how you can really tweak stuff and I was so happy to be in Canada and to get out of here . It was so nice !”
His accent , frankness , and humour give away Kenny ’ s Irish roots , though he ’ s been living in Florida for many years . His career – from humble origins through a meteoric rise to designing shows for musical legends and massive TV audiences – is remarkable . From an astonishingly young age , he went from lighting his brothers ’ bands in Irish bars to world tours with David Bowie and The Who , and has left his mark on TV with the MTV Video
22 | Winter 2021
Music Awards and Univision ’ s Premio Lo Nuestro award show , and so many more .
And so , we were thrilled when Kenny said he was more than happy to get on Zoom and chat about his life and career , what he ’ s learned , how he ’ s left his mark , and much more . We hope you enjoy …
This interview has been edited for length and clarity .
PL & P : So , how do you go from lighting your brothers ’ bands in Dublin pubs to mega stars in massive stadiums ?
Tom Kenny : Well , [ my family ] were in folk groups and traditional Irish groups , but the original thing – how it all started – is I was tagging along and there was this older guy who I ’ d seen a few times – he was only 22 and so was his friend – and they did sound and lights for these little festivals . One day they just said “ tag along ,” so I helped him out . I was only like 12 or 13 . Everybody ’ s got this story , but my story being , the next time he called me –
I ’ d been helping out here back when I was about 14 – he said , “ I have his little band called U2 who I ’ m working with and they ’ re starting to do some shows ; I need some help .” So , I used to help them on that .
Ireland is like Canada , in a way , in that you can ’ t just do one thing . So , with me , I was forced to be involved with lights , sound , and just everything , and because I was able and smart enough to do stuff , as a kid , I got employed by a lot of people . It was like the best sound company and the best lighting company were in the same building – I don ’ t know if it still happens this way – so the sound company would get a job and they ’ d go , “ Hey , we ’ re looking for someone to do the lights ; is Tom or Terry available ?” That ’ s how it went .
Later , a girlfriend of mine at the time wanted to move [ to England ]. I had such a great career in Ireland by the time I was 20 and I didn ’ t want to give this up , but I had to take a chance . It was just after Live Aid [ in 1985 ], around that time . I ’ d seen