DAVE 'LIGHTS' BEAZLEY is the lighting engineer who first launched Iron Maiden's EDDIE onto an unsuspecting world. GET READY TO ROLL! met up with Dave while he was lighting up Lights Out for UFO in Germany earlier this week and we asked him about Eddie The 'Ed and more!
• • • • •
Dave, you were there right back in the early days of Iron Maiden. What part did you play in their opening years?
I promoted Steve Harris's first gig back in about 1974/75. There was a Battle Of The Bands competition in our local church hall, and his band was called Gypsy's Kiss (so called cos Gypsy's Kiss is cockney rhyming slang for 'piss'). That was the first time I met Steve. The next time we met up, he was with his girlfriend Lorraine, who was a friend of my first wife Kim. I'd left home at 15 and was living in a vicarage, and Lorraine asked me if her new boyfriend 'Bomber' Harris could come round and rehearse with his new band at the vicarage. This new band was Iron Maiden! As time went on I got more involved with them, and when they started getting gigs I offered to set up a lighting rig for them, as I was doing an interior design course and lighting was something I was very interested in.
What creative juices led to the concept of Eddie, and how much input did you have into the way he developed? And have you come to look on Eddie as one of your family?
Eddie The 'Ed was a joke that was going around at the time, i.e. - a couple had a child, but when the child was born it was only a head - no arms, legs or anything else. The couple were devastated but the doctor said 'Don't give up hope. When the head's grown to its full size, which will be when the boy is about 14 years old, we'll fix him up with a body'. So the couple put Eddie on the mantle-piece and looked after him for the next fourteen years. On his fourteenth birthday they said to him 'Eddie, we have a very special present for you', and Eddie replied… 'Oh no... not another fuckin hat!'.
So yes, the idea for Eddie grew out of that joke! In the song 'Iron Maiden', the lyric goes 'See the blood begin to flow' etc. So, on the backdrop that we used for the pub gigs, with the help of a friend from art college I rigged up a mask that was made from a mould of my own face which coughed up blood in time to those lyrics. The Eddie that was used as the band became more famous was designed from artwork by Derek Riggs, but the original idea started with that joke, and that first mask. As to whether I see him as family, yes, in a way I suppose I do!
Tell us about your design for the Piece Of Mind set etc.
By the time Iron Maiden were promoting the Piece Of Mind album, the tours were running into months rather than weeks. We'd previously hired all the lighting equipment, but with a 10-12 month tour coming up it was obvious that it would be easier to design and build a set that we could take with us on the road. Not only would this be cheaper in the long run than hiring, but it also meant that everywhere we went, the fans could see the same show. In the late 80s the USA venues were generally able to offer more scope for a lighting system than UK and European venues could offer, and we felt that everyone should be able to see the same quality of show - so I designed a ground-support system with a moving lighting rig which could be taken into every venue we'd be playing at.
How closely do you liaise with a band to come up with what they want? Do they describe an effect and you work to make it happen? Or how?
Usually we talk about what they have in mind, and work out whether their ideas are possible and can be worked into a stage set. Then I go away and draw up some plans, and then we meet up again and talk about it some more - and then if everyone's happy I go back and work out the finer details, arrange for the materials that are needed to build it - and we take it forward from there.
You have a very impressive CV - Maiden, Prince, Dio, Kylie Minogue etc. Who was the most enjoyable to work with, and why?
The best have to be Prince and Dio, purely because they are so serious about their performances. They are both artistes who know exactly what stage effects they want, and are both true professionals. I'd heard some bad rumours about working with Prince, but once I saw him, and saw how talented he was - and the same applies to Ronnie James Dio - it was an honour to be part of their team. I take my hat off to both of them.
You've also been involved with other lighting projects, such as the Princess Diana Memorial Concert, the Millennium event at Greenwich, and even Peter Andre and Jordan's wedding. How different/similar is this kind of project to working with a band?
Totally different! Those kind of events are far more corporate, so the decisions are already made as to what is wanted and what effects are needed. Also, shows such as the closing of Wembley Stadium, the Millennium etc, are one-offs rather than tours - so everything is geared to a single spectacular performance.
In the run-up to the Millennium, it seemed like the whole world was panicking about the potential Millennium Bug, where experts led everyone to believe that all electronic gadgets would fail at midnight etc. How much of a concern was that for you at Greenwich - that your computerised lighting system might shut down, just at the crucial moment?
Nothing I used had a clock on it, so I didn't even consider that it might not work!
How much has the job of a lighting designer changed over the last thirty years, with the advances in technology, equipment etc., and also with the expectations of the audience?
It's changed unbelievably! Today's lighting technicians almost need a university degree to operate the lighting desks and to program the instructions into them. When it was generic the lighting was simpler, but every show had a distinct personality about its lighting.
These days, the lighting might be much more technical, but each show could be any other show, cos they all tend to look the same from a lighting point of view. Whether it be Diana Ross or The Back Street Boys or whatever, there's nothing really distinctive about the lighting.
You spent a few years doing the lights at raves etc, and DJ'ing too? And television work?
Yes, around the time I left Iron Maiden, the illegal rave scene had just started. Of course, everyone likes to do something they're not really meant to be doing, so there was a great buzz about it all. We had a lot of fun putting on big raves in fields, dis-used power stations, warehouses etc. The technology was brand new back then, and I used that time to learn what I could about operating it all. Regarding TV programmes, yes, I worked on Chris Evans's TFI Friday for two years, and also on Hit Studio International which was on the Fuji network. And during the time when I was the in-house lighting engineer at London's Astoria I worked on the ITV program The Beat, which was filmed there.
What has been the proudest moment in your career, and why?
It has to be doing the 2000 Millennium lighting at Greenwich. I'm from Bow in the East End of London, and when I was a kid I used to cycle over to Greenwich. It was my playground - so to light it up for the millennium celebrations was a dream come true. I'd had the option of doing a massive rave that night, but turned it down in preference for lighting the architectural magnificence of the Greenwich Maritime Museum. A very proud moment indeed. Added to which, after the lifestyle I'd led in the 70s and 80s, I really never thought I'd reach the year 2000, so that made it even more poignant!
For once, I can genuinely ask in an interview and get away with it ... what's your favourite colour?
Green! Because it's God's colour. The colour of nature. There's so much you can do with green. It's right in the middle of the spectrum, and when you combine it with other colours you can get so many wonderful effects and optical illusions. Using green and red in sequence you can make objects appear to move. At the right tempo objects, people etc can look as though they are moving even when they aren't.
A few years ago you auctioned off most of your Iron Maiden memorabilia. Was there a reason why you made that break with the past?
Yes, in the mid-90s, Iron Maiden asked me if I'd come back and re-create the shows that Maiden had done in the 80s, as they were planning to take the 'classic' set back on the road. I was pleased to be involved with that, and put the best part of four months work into designing the set, costing the equipment to within the specified budget, and getting all the plans drawn up for the stage production - a mammoth task, because not only had the technology come a long way since the 80s, but the venues all had varying stage-specifications - so to re-create the classic stage set was far more time-consuming than just copying what we'd done before.
Around the same time, I was out with UFO on the Walk On Water tour, and when I got back from that, I got a call to meet up with Dickie Bell, the Maiden tour manager, ten days before the Iron Maiden tour was due to hit the road. Dickie told me that they had changed their supplier of lighting equipment, and presented me with a list of what he wanted me to order from the new company. As soon as I saw the list I knew it wasn't going to be workable - especially with only ten days till lift-off! I handed the list back to him and said "I'm sorry, this is not the same project you asked me to work on - and I'll be sending you a bill for wasting four months of my time". It was even more annoying that they'd used my name in the pre-tour publicity when the stage show that they took on the road wasn't mine. After that, I decided to cut myself free of all the memorabilia from those early days. My daughter Alana was due to start college - which needed to be paid for - and I'd given up months of work out on the road with Maiden, so I decided to auction the lot off, to pay the college fees. I know that some of the bandmembers were upset that I was selling the mask etc, but if they'd contacted me to hear why I was doing it, I'd have told them the full story.
You're currently the lighting technician for UFO and are on the road with them right now in Germany and Russia. You've known the boys for many years - are they still as crazy to work with as some of the stories we've read about them from the past would suggest? Share a couple of Spinal Tap moments with us here.
I demand the right to have my lawyer present before I mention anything that happens on the road with those guys! And in any case, no-one would believe it anyway, cos it's far beyond Spinal Tap - and then some!
Haha, ok then, well tell us your most embarrassing moment over the years.
Oh that one is easy. The first time I toured with Iron Maiden in the Eastern Bloc, when the Berlin Wall was still up, I was in Poland with them and got rather the worse for wear on Vodka. The next day was a very special gig in Budapest where management, record company bosses, families etc were due to be present. I still insist that it was food-poisoning that caused this, but about half way through the gig I started feeling a bit queasy and wobbly. I got on the head-set and asked for a bucket, but before the bucket arrived I'd fallen backwards off the lighting riser, onto the ground behind me. As I opened my eyes, everyone that I'd been trying to impress was standing over me…. But I still say it was food-poisoning, cos the effects of the vodka would have worn off by then (wouldn't they?)
What bands or projects would you like to be involved with - any shows that you'd like to get your hands on?
One project that I'm very excited about is the possibility of working with violinist Anna Phoebe, who is a member of the Trans Siberian Orchestra and has recently worked with Jethro Tull. I first saw her at the Kelly Johnson memorial gig and was blown away by her work. After the show I went up to her and offered to do her lighting if she ever needed a lighting designer - and it turns out that her band Gypsy may be needing someone for their upcoming world tour. We had a couple of meetings and it's all looking very positive!
What would you like to be doing in five years time?
This might not be the answer you're looking for, but I'd be happy just to still be alive!
© Get Ready To Roll - 27th October 2007