David Bowie in the spotlight from Philip John


photo Philip John Mott Road Crew Live

Philip John… You’ve probably seen the much publicized photo of David going down on Micks guitar but this shots a Road Crew Original. It’s one of the few live shots I managed to get before I was sent up into ‘The Gods’ to run DB’s spotlight. With modern equipment like ‘Super Trooper’ portable spots the job was relatively straight foreward, the problems came when ‘The Artiste’ failed to take up his designated position at the mike which could lead to you opening the show on a blank space. Fortunately I have to say David was a total professional and was always in the right place at the right time. If I remember Mick Fussey was running Ronno’s light and we were both linked by headphones to Bob See the lighting director who was controlling all the stage lighting from down at the front. Bob would shout instructions to us for changing the coloured gels in the lights. for example: ( Bowie to red Ronno white, Bowie white head shot Ronno white on guitar neck and we’d flip the gels and and focus the lamps, screwing down the iris’s really tight, at the same time following them as they moved about the stage. Ronno kept Mick pretty busy as he moved around the stage a lot and there was considerable focusing on his guitar playing whilst I often had to follow David’s mime routines. The one i had to pay the most attention to was during ‘Width of a Circle’. Firstly i’d have to focus a small dot on his hands which he held tightly together then he would mime holding a small disc, slowly he would draw his hands apart as I widened the circle of light, we’d got to about a foot across and he’d snap his hands back together, at the same time I snapped my iris shut. Then the performance would be repeated and he would force the circle open until his arms were at full stretch then he would mime climbing through it and I would snap the circle shut behind him.
If you watch the Ziggy Stardust and The Spiiders from Mars concert on DVD you’ll see how it works.
However our biggest challenge was when we played some of the older theatres. Here we were truly stuck up in The Gods and the house equipment we were using was often pre-war. If you’ve ever seen the Italian Movie ‘Cinema Paradisio’ you’ll know what I mean.The spots were huge carbon arc lamps and enormously cumbersome and hard to focus but this wasn’t the main difficulty..
Now I’m not certain that my operating description here is 100% correct but how I remember it we used a foot long carbon rod that you wedged between two power points in the side of the lamp . When the power was on the carbon rod blazed away,literally, sparks showering everywhere, if that wasn’t bad enough I think they only blazed for around 20 minutes then you had to knock them out of the holder and ram another one in its place. This meant you had to time it so that the change over could be done between numbers when the stage was black. I’m going to check with Mick Fussey and hopefully he’ll add a few observations of his own. Often the best effects are the simplest, a good example was in the encores. After ‘Waiting for my man’ David woud roll straight into ‘Velvet Undergrounds white Light, White Heat’ by this time the audience were all on their feet going fucking crazy and Bob would scream over the headphones ‘All lights to white full beam !’ and we’d drop out our coloured gels and just flood the stage with pure light.
This was the only time the carbon arcs came into their own, they were immensely powerful and gave a truly dramatic effect.
Probably got a few more pic’s and tales left from the tour but right now I need to relax. We’ll be back……

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