PHOTO : COURTESY OF 4WALL ENTERTAINMENT
KENNY ’ S DESIGN FOR UNIVISION ’ S 2018 PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARDS SHOW real . There ’ s absolutely nothing real , and it ’ s all done on code and stuff and that ’ s what the artist wants . But when audience is lapping it up , you got to try and carry it on with them , even if it ’ s just a strobe here and there or singling out the popstar . And that ’ s the other thing I was told very early on is that you always know whose name is on the marquee when you come to one of my shows . Some artists like being hidden — they live for all this stuff around them , and then there ’ s other artists that all they need is a single followspot and they ’ d be fine . But obviously , with ticket prices , you got to put a show together . But I find that some artists are lost in the mix because there ’ s so much technology around them . You ’ re trying to figure out who ’ s who .
I think where it comes from is from when I was a kid in Ireland . There was no money , there was no nothing , so I ’ d make sure the artist was always really well-lit and just go from there . I worked with some of the big artist managers that invented this business and they would tell me stories of the first time they saw Ray Charles or Elvis or whoever , and would mention the followspot . Think of Édith Piaf or Bett Middler , Frank Sinatra ; it ’ s all about followspots and about making sure that if you ’ re 300 or 1,000 feet back , you know that that ’ s them on stage . I think that ’ s lost a lot these days , but that ’ s my signature .
PL & P : How much are you inspired by the charisma of the artist you ’ re working with ? Someone like Bowie oozed charisma , but , if I may say so , Eric Clapton does not .
KENNY ’ S DESIGN FOR THE 2021 IHEARTRADIO MUSIC AWARDS
did football stadiums with Eric Clapton . We had three trusses of lights , no moving lights , and then it just got better after that .
Today , a lot of kids go from working with this techno DJ to doing this massive show and they ’ re just not ready for it , you know what I mean ? You need to have a little bit more experience . Some people are great because they ’ re really into what they ’ re doing , but because I do a lot of those festivals , I ’ ve seen a lot where some people depend too much on technology rather than looking around them and seeing that there are 20,000 people screaming and they don ’ t understand that you don ’ t need to do those certain cues — you just have to connect that artist with the audience .
PL & P : I ’ ve seen you say before that your signature style is , “ bold and in your face , but not flash and trash .” Can you expand on that and explain the difference ?
Kenny : To me , it ’ s just always about making it look massive – as massive as you can – and expanding . One of the reasons why I ’ m successful
24 | Winter 2021
at [ designing ] award shows is that I ’ m not just basing it on the music , because it ’ s about the entire show . So , I make it into one big look , or one big show , and I ’ m very , very happy that that look is being used by so many people now .
But the “ flash and trash ” part of it is about doing it when it ’ s appropriate , you know what I mean ? You can do that , but it ’ s all to do with the audience . I just watched something the other day on YouTube of some show and the audience were going nuclear , and [ the lighting tech ] is not doing anything with the lights and I ’ m thinking , “ C ’ mon , you got to react !” That ’ s the problem with all these tours that are MIDI ’ d and wysiwyg ’ d and within an inch of its life it ’ s got it a cue .
On the last tour I did with David Bowie , the A Reality Tour , we ’ d been going through my program and he came out one day and he says , “ You know , I was just at such and such a show and I felt it was so sterile , so let ’ s not do that .” I went , “ Well , we ’ ve got to stop what we ’ re doing then , because that ’ s what we ’ re doing . We ’ re programming [ the life out of it .]” So , he had the foresight , but then there ’ s a lot of pop shows where there ’ s nothing
Kenny : When I started working for Eric , he was so quiet , and he still is now . He ’ s very in himself and serious about his guitar . So , I just lifted him out . Now , his friends were like George Harrison and you can namedrop all day , but these people would come up and talk to me , people like George Harrison , Phil Collins , Patty Boyd , all these really famous people from the ‘ 60s and ‘ 70s . They went , “ Tom , I ’ ve never seen Eric like this before .” Luckily , they ’ ve continued that now to this day , though I haven ’ t worked with Eric Clapton for a long time … One night , Eric said to me , “ If I hear one more thing about the lights , you ’ re going home .” But at the same time , he was wearing a Versace suit and I said to him , “ Listen , I ’ m lighting your suit , man .” So , he got it , but he didn ’ t want to go too far . But obviously you ’ re doing a show .
I remember we did a co-headlining tour with Elton John and [ LD ] Steve Cohen , who ’ s brilliant , was doing a certain look , and I was doing a certain look . I watched how it was done , and you ’ ve got a man on a piano , which is very difficult , and Steve made Elton look like a star . And I had the guitar god and I made him a star . We were doing our job to 100,000 people a night .
Then , some [ artists ] just don ’ t want to know about lights . It ’ s like , “ That ’ s your job , Tom , so just do it .” But some of them , like Beyoncé or someone like that , it ’ s 100 % and that ’ s all they think about . That ’ s helping them perform .