Craig David’s crew learn to ‘adapt, live and create art’ within COVID-19 restrictions

Craig David returns to the stage with TS5 and their tight-knit touring team for the first time since 2017 to present a genre-spanning production where visual narrative and musicality coalesce to form a truly multimedia spectacle.

Four years, one global pandemic and a redesign in the making, Craig David, TS5 and their production crew descended on UK arenas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his landmark debut album, Born To Do It with the long-anticipated Hold That Thought Tour. With two decades of genre-spanning discography condensed into two hours of stage time, audiences were treated to a narrative-led production design boasting clean edges, bright neon colours, a giant inflatable moon, palm trees, sand dunes, as well as a tight-knit band and halftime TS5 set.

With a year’s notice to put together this ambitious touring campaign in 2018 (“a rarity even pre-pandemic”), Production Manager, Joel Stanley of Production Value, was enlisted by long-time friend and Tour Manager, Mark Friend, to sit down with Craig David and his team and put together a budget for his grand return to UK arena stages. 

Working closely with performance design studio Sinclair Wilkinson, the proposed production design was split into three parts – a band set, a TS5 set and a closing greatest hits set – spanning, visually, through time zones and locales. However, just as the tour was about to make headway, the COVID-19 pandemic brought proceedings to a screeching halt.

“We were one of the first tours to be cancelled, and while some of the elements of the original show design remained, we have completely reimagined and scaled back this production for design and budgetary purposes,” Stanley said.

With reschedules and revisions under their belt, Stanley outlined the logistical orchestration involved with the three-part show: “Our biggest challenge was deciding where to put the TS5 riser while Craig and the band were performing. In the end, we settled on these big Kinesys pods that hide the backline,” he recalled. 

“Mark Friend’s schedule also sadly ended up clashing with Ed Sheeran’s latest tour, so we didn’t end up working together.” In Friend’s absence, Sam Thomas of Stylus Productions was brought in to fulfil tour manager duties. 

“It’s been like stepping into an old pair of shoes,” he began. “It’s great to be back in familiar surroundings again making new friends and business relationships and rekindling old ones. Come show time, we see the culmination of everyone’s efforts – a great band, a great performer and a lively audience enjoying a great show.” 

Despite the shifting timeline, technical suppliers were locked in from 2018. “We remained loyal to our original vendors – Neg Earth, Video Design, Capital Sound, and KB Event,” Stanley noted. “Popcorn Catering was brought in later as, sadly, our original caters didn’t make it through the pandemic.”

The team devised an A show with Kinesys and automation, as well as a B show for smaller arenas. “Trim heights have been challenging when we go into the likes of Brighton, Bournemouth, Plymouth and Cardiff arenas,” Stanley reported. “Staffing is also difficult.”

Given the strain on touring crew, Stanley made a conscious effort that there were no load-ins before 8am. “I wanted load-outs to be two hours long, with stuff packed into the trucks smoothly. Thankfully, everything has stayed true to form, other than last-minute requests like adding a 25-tonne truck to transport delays,” Stanley said. 

“We are glad to be back. However, people are generally not fully fit. Other than some livestream projects in summer, most UK tours took place in late 2021, which is why I wanted a later load-in. I’ve made a real effort to ensure that everyone is as well rested as possible, with a focus on their mental health,” he explained. 

“Everyone is struggling to cope with the demand and event managers, venue owners and promoters are grateful that we come in later and bring everything we need with us.” The production crew supplied their own barriers, FOH platforms, and camera risers. “We’re supplying these so the facilities, cleaning and events management teams in each venue no longer have to finish at 2am on one event and have to come back three hours later for us,” Stanley commented. 

In closing, he enthused: “Craig and his management team have been a pleasure to collaborate with. This has genuinely been one of the most fun and enjoyable tours I’ve ever been involved in.”


“We had been touring with TS5 for a while until 2016, and then Craig’s solo work exploded following the release of Following My Intuition,” FOH Engineer, Peter Whitelaw and Monitor Engineer, Ash Wilkinson informed TPi – having spent the best part of a decade on the road with Craig David projects. “His last solo UK arena tour was in 2017, so this has been a long time coming,” 

Wilkinson noted the interactive nature of Craig David’s performances; particularly during TS5 – the only part of the show not run to timecode. “With TS5, we wanted a tight pick-up pattern, so we tried a Shure KSM9HS microphone and the super-tight hyper cardioid pattern helps to get a nice crisp vocal. He loves the sound of it – particularly a crisp top end in his ears and out front for his wedges and J-Series sidefills without feedback,” he said, gesticulating to two boxes and a sub aside on the stage, which the artist used as his ‘comfort blanket’, with additional low end on stage at the request of the drummer. 

d&b J-Series was the PA system of choice, two M2 wedges were used behind the DJ booth, while the engineers mixed on DiGiCo consoles – a Quantum 338 at FOH and a Quantum7 in monitor world. 

“We’ve mixed on DiGiCo consoles for as long as we’ve been touring with Craig. It’s a reliable desk and perfect for what we require with this show – they’re also readily available in most regions,” Whitelaw said.

“There is no other console able to do what I require for this gig,” Wilkinson added. “It has functions that no other desks have.” 

For outboard, Wilkinson tapped into two Rupert Neve Designs 5045 primary source enhancers for vocals, while Whitelaw made use of Waves plug-ins. The band and TS5 all used IEMs. “Craig is so tuned in with them he can probably tell you what preamps he’s got,” the engineers noted. “What we’ve worked to achieve with this setup, as much as possible, is to digitise inputs. All the radio mics and wireless guitars are on Shure Axient Digital via AES, and all our playback and keys on stage are on MADI fed directly into an Optocore loop. 

“The only analogue elements on stage are drum mics,” Whitelaw said, praising the tour’s audio vendor. “Capital Sound has serviced us for years and they’re great – especially Account Handler, Martin Connolly. We have had the same core team of technicians on the road with us for a long time.”


With Craig’s album release imminent, Production and Lighting Designer, Daniel Richardson, representing Sinclair Wilkinson, began redesigning the show in January 2022. Really Creative Media created on-screen content from the storyboarded narrative that Richardson developed for the show. Before production rehearsals, Richardson and Lighting Director, Matt Arthur spent 10 days cue stacking structures for each song, creating a show file and programming in WYSIWYG. 

“This show has evolved over the past three years – the story we’re telling on stage now feels much more meaningful, we are delving into Craig’s past, present and future with a narrative of Craig the journeyman,” Richardson said. “It’s Craig travelling through distant lands, through his cities London and Miami, culminating in an Ibiza beach party!” 

When it comes to lighting, Richardson praised his right-hand man on the road. “Matt is rock solid with perfect timing. We’re all in safe hands with him behind the desk.”

Arthur, who modestly referred to himself as the lighting ‘maintenance man’ on the road, picked up the story: “Daniel has created a lovely looking show. My job is to keep it running smoothly and looking good each night, making slight tweaks to keep the standards high.” 

The lighting cues were linked to video clips. “Dan’s idea of a vignette to soften the edges of the video with palm tree overlays was genius as it removes the harsh edge of the video wall, blending the content in with the real palms. The mixture of content, camera work and lighting with soft vignette edges and the moon is great,” Arthur said, highlighting Richardson’s ‘creative eye’ during the magenta/amber lighting design for the track, Ain’t Giving Up. 

“The narrative of night-to-day trajectory is refreshing. It’s a well crafted show. Full credit goes to the entire team.” This project marked one of Arthur’s first forays into operating an MA Lighting console. “I’m so happy to be progressing down the MA track because it’s so widely used on the road,” he admitted. 

“Dan has been a great mentor and the entire Neg Earth crew work hard to make the show the best every day. It’s nice to be back on the road working with people at the top of their game.”

The show opened with an Airworks Inflatables moon descending with a moody, night-time aesthetic akin to the 22 album cover. A mixture of video content and lighting was designed to fit the mood of each song. 

Hilly landscapes, lakes, reflections of the moon, a desert landscape with twinkling stars, and the aurora borealis with mountainous terrain spanning from freeways to cities were among the key content looks. 

“Really Creative Media went all out, filming long drives on the freeway to create content of our journey into the cities, perfectly fitting songs like Walking Away. As the show progressed, we pushed real footage with colour grading to fulfil the brief of Craig as a ‘journeyman’,” Richardson explained.

“Craig is returning to arenas after a lengthy absence, so we wanted to make an impact with the content,” Motion Designer, Alex Vipond of Really Creative Media said. “The first half of the set was difficult for us to create because it relied heavily on drone shots spanning several locations, particularly at night, which throws up problems. We used Unreal Engine to create a lot of these visuals, such as panning shots over a snowy lake with trees.” 

There were also lots of ‘easter eggs’ embedded within the visuals content, such as a clock structure and cubes torn straight from The Time Is Now and Born to Do It album artworks, which only the true fans would notice. “It would have been easy to have gone down the route of cheesy ’90s MTV revival act, but the reality is that Craig has evolved as an artist and now boasts over two decades of genre-spanning music, so the content has to be reflective of that,” Really Creative Media Creative Director, Jack Fox noted.

Palm trees were brought in by Palmbrokers to reference Craig David and TS5’s Miami links. Neon lights shaped into the figure ‘22’ were made by Light Initiative, while Hangman dressed the set with sand dunes. 

As David travels through various landscapes and cities during his set – from the streets of London to Miami for sunrise – the screens lower behind the band and backline, as the set enters ‘party mode’.

“The logo has been Craig’s staple look during TS5 shows. For this tour, we modernised it, transforming it from a simple monochrome logo into something more impactful by adding animation, colour overlays and background footage for the arena-sized shows and to match the pace of the content, the party vibe and fill the gaps on stage from where the band left,” Vipond explained.

“The TS5 section of the show makes it more interesting and challenging for us when it comes to creating content,” Fox added. “As that portion of the show is not on timecode, it varies each night and Craig likes to feed off and perform songs based on the reaction of the audience. Our content must support that. Working with an artist at this level open to experimentation is refreshing, and we enjoy it.” 

For lighting design, Sinclair Wilkinson selected a mixture of brands. “As a company, we like Martin by Harman MAC Quantum Washes and Auras, as well as GLP JDC1s. Robe BMFL Spots and Blades have been good workhorse fixtures,” Richardson said. 

A RoboSpot system with four followspots were housed in BaseStations, with 12 BMFL Blades situated on the front truss for followspot, key light and palm tree illumination. MAC Auras were also used to uplight the palm trees, while Quantum Washes were used for ‘top down’ looks, with JDC1s backlighting the band with pixel effects.

The TS5 DJ booth featured a video screen, while the band riser boasted two levels with a video screen, as well a central video back wall for content. “We use Martin by Harman VDO Sceptron fixtures to line the trusses and risers to intermix the video and create a contrasting neon look, which is ideal for TS5, Miami content and cityscapes,” Richardson remarked.

The lighting rig consisted of three fingers of truss per side, from where an Airworks Inflatables moon would fly into the middle of the truss fingers on Kinesys and sit above the central screen. Each truss was lined with Quantum Washes and Sceptrons. Side trusses boasted five BMFL Spots and Sceptrons along the inner edge, facing the stage, with additional Sceptrons along the top of the risers. 

JDC1s were placed either side of the stage with Quantum Washes for side light, while a row of BMFL Spots were situated upstage, under the screen, with Sceptrons lining the risers and downstage edge to “accentuate” and “highlight” the structured staging design and break up the video during the ‘Miami’ portion of the set. 

“With a few elements automated, you inevitably have cables hanging, which we wanted to hide from the audience, so Neg Earth did an amazing job of harnessing an automatically retracting extension cable, which allowed power to travel with the moon in a discreet manner, without coils involved,” he revealed.

According to Richardson, it was important the video content stayed fresh and exciting like a daytime Ibiza club for the TS5 portion of the show. “Really Creative Media made striking content loops to fit the theme of each song, which we triggered in disguise via the lighting console,” he explained. “Matt also has the ability to manually overlay various logo loops and strobing colour effects on the screen.”

With seven band members on stage at a time, in addition to Craig, Video Director, Jamie Cowlin had the tricky task of calling the shots. A long lens camera was located at FOH, with robo cameras located stage right and one around drums and keys. 

Video Crew Chief, James Crossley operated a camera housed on a track using a x14 lens to pick up the ‘relationship’ shots between the band and Craig David. A x22 lens camera was operated by Bruce Selkirk during the TS5 set for a DIY aesthetic, while the other camera stayed predominantly on Craig David or the band throughout the show. 

“The robo cameras have been interesting due to the size of the band on stage. The range of shots add glue to the show, highlighting the talent of musicians – particularly the drummer, who loves interacting with the camera. Each show can change depending on the feedback from the audience,” Cowlin reported. “We feature a lot of the crowd and broadcast them on the upstage wall using a mirrored effect.” 

The Video Director referred to the reverse shots with Craig David and the crowd in the background as among his favourite looks. “Hanging on that reverse shot where we see how the audience interprets David is quite a powerful image,” Cowlin remarked.

Media Server Programmer, Ben Gittos collaborated with Richardson, Arthur and Really Creative Media to power the visuals. During the initial stages of the project, the collective went into a breakout room to begin programming the base of the show without seeing it in space. “There have been tweaks along the way, and naturally, the show you start with is not the one that you finish with,” Gittos explained. 

The show was half timecode, half live DMX. On each of Gittos’ layers/tracks, he had a base timecode layer of content, with DMX layers on top controlled and programmed by Arthur at FOH, who can bring content on the risers and upstage wall, which provides him creative control from his lighting console.

“It’s great to be back with such a good team for my first tour of 2022,” Gittos concluded. “Now, we’re learning to adapt and live and create art within COVID-19 restrictions.” 

This article originally appeared in issue #270 of TPi, which you can read here.