Professional Lighting & Production - Winter 2021 - Page 23

that and thought , “ I ’ ve got to take a piece of that .” So , funny enough , the company I worked with were the people who did Live Aid . I was very fortunate . So , then I moved up the ranks in England and then had been coming to America a lot with tours with The Who and with Eric Clapton , Robert Plant and Jimmy Page , David Byrne , and all sorts of great bands and started getting asked to work in America . I met my current wife , and she said , “ Come on , you got to live here .” So , I moved [ to America ] and that ’ s what happens . But I still work all over the world just because you have to , just to keep yourself current , you know . I ’ m fortunate to get asked to do stuff .
PL & P : That ’ s a pretty incredible rise in a relatively short period of time and from a very young age …
Kenny : Well , what ’ s happened in the years since I started , which is 35 or so years , lighting has become a real job . It used to not be such a real job , like a lot of things in concerts . A lot of my friends were in serious theatre and they used to be slightly contemptuous of us in music . So , the first people I started working for are the people who were inventing the Vari-Lites , and people who are doing this and that . I look back and think , if it wasn ’ t for concerts , if it wasn ’ t for what we all did and we all innovated , theatre today would be very boring — a few par cans and Lekos – and they ’ d have to catch up . I noticed that it takes 20 years for something in theatre to happen . I see something that , let ’ s say , David Bowie or Peter Gabriel would ’ ve done 25 years ago , and now it ’ s the coolest thing in the world in theatre . That ’ s how it is .
So , I look down my nose at them every time I walk around Broadway ! [ laughs ]. Because they followed us , just in technology , mainly . You know what it ’ s like , everything needs lighting and everything needs to look good . It ’ s a sort of a surreal job to have . You turn a light at somebody or you have lights coming out into the audience or creating the icing on the cake , as a lot of artists would say . But I ’ ve been fortunate to grow up in this time .
I always try and mentor and help as many young women and guys as I can who are cool . There ’ s a lot of nerds out there and they know how to punch a couple of buttons , but they wouldn ’ t know how to light a dog walking across the street , you know ? It ’ s the same in every business ; you get lots of very techy people and they just don ’ t have the passion . So , you have to have the passion , and you have to be into it . You could ask Patrick Woodroffe or LeRoy Bennett or any other really good lighting designers and it ’ s the same thing , you just have to be into it . It isn ’ t a job , it ’ s a calling .
PL & P : Even if you catch some breaks early on by being in the right place at the right time , it still takes talent and work ethic to take advantage of that opportunity . But you also must ’ ve had some innate skill or understanding of how music and lights work together in order to move up like you did ?
Kenny : Yeah , it was within me . I could break down a song because I came from a family of musicians and was surrounded by poets and actors , and I went to a Gaelic-speaking school , so it was all about the arts ….
Also , I ’ m very easygoing and when it comes to somebody who ’ s an extremely iconic artist , they ’ re just another person to me and I treat them that way and that ’ s how we get on . You just got to be able to communicate , also , and be able to read not only what the band wants , but what the crew wants . I was like 20 years younger than a lot of the crew I worked with originally . You know , 90 % of them were fantastic and 10 % of them were grumpy and that was the only job they could get . They were really difficult to deal with , they were always complaining , and that makes you very aware of other things . A tour is like a family and if you ’ re smart enough , you can go into any business after that .
You know , nothing ever scared me . What I always find is , the bigger the talent , the better they are to get on with . You know , the U2s or Beyoncés or whatever , they ’ re great because they ’ re expecting you to be great or you wouldn ’ t be there . Like , I see Coldplay at the moment has gone around different places and Sooner [ Rae Routhier ], who ’ s lighting them , is doing a great job . She ’ s experienced the same thing , that you got to be good to work for people like this . They ’ re taking a big chance on you .
So , my advice to any young person is , if you ’ re not feeling it and if you ’ re not into hard work , you should give it up . But it is all about lucky breaks and it is all about somebody , someday going , “ Wow , I saw your lights the other day ,” or “ I heard your sound at a concert .” I ’ ve been very fortunate where you lose a job but a better job comes up .
PL & P : What was the first large-scale tour that you did ?
Kenny : I had done a couple small arenas and stuff like that , and I had Van Morrison and big Irish clients that we ’ d brought up to England , but I think the first one was with the company I was working with at the time and it was a Fender show — every guitarist you can imagine was in Wembley Arena . All of a sudden , I ’ m in Wembley Arena and I ’ m like , “ Okay , it ’ s a lot bigger than I thought .” I ’ d been there before at shows but it ’ s different when you ’ re in charge of lighting and such .
Also , there was a very famous band in the ‘ 80s I was involved with called The Communards , and they were at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic and they ’ re an amazing band . We used to play all over Europe and I had just two trusses of lights , and we ended up in Paris for 10 days . Just the excitement of going from a medium-sized arena to a large arena . They were smart with money , so they didn ’ t bring in any equipment or anything and they loved the lighting .
So , I think I was lucky in that sense that I wasn ’ t pushed into using a lot of technology immediately . The first time I really had to take it on was at the end of a 1988-89 [ run ] when I started working for Eric Clapton , and they said , “ Do you want some Vari-Lites ?” Fortunately enough , Rick Hutton , who was one of the main developers who had programmed for Eric before that for Showco , was going to be around and I was lucky that I had somebody on board with me that understood the whole technology . So , I was fortunate that way that I had really great people around me who were at the forefront .
When I was working for Clapton , Phil Collins was in the band and occasionally I would get prototypes of the VL5 , the VL6 , VL2Bs and 2Cs , and all this stuff that we would get because Showco would say , “ Let ’ s use it on that tour .” So , I was lucky like that .
So , you go from clubs , to theatres , through arenas to stadiums , and the first stadium I did was Wembley Stadium and the first time was when I
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