Having first been discussed in 2019, The Last Domino? tour has been a long time coming. With rehearsals halted due to the pandemic, hard work behind the scenes during lockdown meant that the show was one of the first out of the gate when live performances were allowed to restart. Sadly, COVID-19 reared its ugly head once again and put the breaks on the last few dates of the UK tour, but with unfinished business in the UK, the trio of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks reunited on stage for Genesis fans again in 2022 for a three-day residency at the O2 Arena. TPi had been following this story having for a while, having first met the team behind the production at Manchester’s AO Arena last year, and got to to learn how this certified heritage band once again broke boundaries in live production.
LAND OF CONFUSION
When the production first hit the road in 2021, and with this being one of the first arena shows to tour the UK since March 2020, the Genesis camp could have been excused for keeping things simple when it came to scale. However, true to form, the reformed trio were keen to live up to their tradition of awe-inspiring productions. For the few that are unaware, the band have helped the development of the touring industry, being early investors in Vari-Lite – in fact, it was the band’s long-time Manager, Tony Smith, who coined the name. And, yes, as you can imagine, a few of the company’s fixtures made their way onto the lighting rig. But more on that later…
TPi’s first stop was to speak to Production Manager, Howard Hopkins. Like many within the camp, Hopkins has several decades of service under the Genesis mast and has worked his way through the ranks. “I was never planning to get into this business,” he reminisced. “I was volunteering at an event in Austin, Texas and I met a gentleman called Morris Lyda – the band’s PM at the time. He liked the work I was doing at the event then next thing I knew, I was being taken out on tour with the band. That was in 1986.” Hopkins, like many others on the crew, has bounced between providing services for Genesis as well as Phil Collins’ solo tours.
The origins of The Last Domino? can be traced back to Collins’ last time out on the road. “Our last outing with Phil spanned from 2017 to 2019 when we started doing some open-air gigs in Europe – Mike + The Mechanics joined us.” During these shows, Collins did a few Genesis songs with Mike Rutherford joining him on stage. “I think that is where the seed was formed,” mused the PM.
The Last Domino? finally hit the road in September 2021, pushed back a year from its originally planned date. “COVID-19 shut everything down, but later in 2020 we still opted to go into production rehearsals,” he stated. “The justification was that we didn’t want to wait to do rehearsals until this year as there would be a huge demand on studios. This way we could get everything prepared and be ready to hit the ground running when shows returned.”
The production brought in The Event Safety Shop (TESS) to create working protocols for the six-day rehearsal period, which involved regular PCR tests as well as remaining in a bubble for the duration. The production then brought these protocols out on the road. “We were also testing all local crew and security and, in a few cases, had to turn people away,” stated the PM. Sadly, despite all these efforts, the tour was ultimately cut short, with one of the band contracting the virus – an illustration that despite all the due diligence, no method is 100% effective.
Away from the COVID conversation, TPi asked Hopkins what suppliers had been brought in for this grand reunion. “A lot of the companies we’ve got out with us were also on Phil’s last few outings as well as the last Genesis tour in 2007.” These included Neg Earth, providing lighting and rigging. “Stronghold Productions then supplied our riggers – namely Head Rigger, Stephen Armstrong, with Mike Fowler and Tom Armstrong,” Hopkins confirmed.
Britannia Row Productions was brought on for audio, Matrix for Video, TRUCKINGBY Brian Yeardley, and CS UK. Also on the tour was WICREATIONS, which not only provided an impressive automation setup but also acted as the tour’s staging provider.
The band set their sights on the US after their UK campaign, with Freight Minds overseeing the mass transit of production across the Atlantic.
Hopkins praised the hard work of the others in his wider production team including: Tour Manager, Steve ‘Pud’ Jones; Tour Accountant, Uwe Schmid; Tour Security, Andy Simpson and Luke Warner; and Production Assistants, Michelle Pekrol and Liz Woolnough.
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TURN IT ON AGAIN
“When it comes to Genesis, as much as it’s about the music, their tours have always been about the enormity of their shows,” stated Hopkins. This wish for the big show has often meant utilising the latest and greatest technology and The Last Domino? was no exception. As the show moved through its various movements, the stage morphed in front of the audience’s eyes, with automated lighting trusses to a fully automated LED video wall. The production also attached moving lights to the rear of the 12 moving LED columns that made up the back wall to create more unique looks.
The duo responsible for this grand design was Patrick Woodroffe and Roland Greil of Woodroffe Bassett Design. Having sat down with the band and Manager Tony Smith, Woodroffe, the group’s long-time Creative Director, created the concept that incorporated all the ideas from the Genesis trio.
Operating the show on the road, Greil walked TPi through the highlights of the rig. “We started working on this back in 2019 with the goal of having it hit the road in Autumn of 2020, which obviously never happened,” outlined the LD. “But throughout 2020, we kept on working on the design and brought all the pieces together during a production rehearsal in LH2.” Prior to the rehearsals, Greil and long-time Lighting Programmer, Marc Brunkhardt had a week in Neg Earth’s wysiwyg suite to finalise all the designs.
With all the COVID disruptions, Greil described what it was like to not have the traditional timetable of design, rehearsal, and tour. “We were lucky in that we had four production days before our first show in Birmingham. It was interesting to have such long gaps between our rehearsals and the tour beginning, but we took recordings and continued to make notes on what we could improve on in the interim.”
The LD went on to note some of the design goals. “The thing you have to remember is the legacy of Genesis,” he stated. “They were always one to redefine boundaries and push our industry in particular investing in technology. As this is a landmark reunion, we wanted to push things again and do something that separates this from other shows.”
Both Greil and Woodroffe were aiming to create something modern that was versatile enough to produce many types of look. “Their back catalogue goes back to the early ’70s, so it was important to be able to have looks that matched some of these tracks,” stated Greil. “We wanted to take the audience through a journey of different scenes and atmospheres, which meant it was all about transformation and metamorphosis, thinking of it more like theatre than a traditional live show.”
The LD went through some of the highlights of the lighting rig that made their vision come to life. “The fixture that we’ve put the most faith in is the Claypaky Scenius Unico, with 148 on the rig. We also have numerous Robe BMFLs and, of course, plenty of Vari-Lite VL65000 and VL6000 Beams. The VL65000s are providing us with some big wash looks from the floor, whereas the VL6000s are up in the rig providing some back followspots.”
Greil discussed some of the R&D that went into producing one of the more ‘out there’ design features – specifically fitting moving head fixtures to the back of the automated video wall. “We needed a fixture that was bright, lightweight and could work well in this different configuration,” he explained. The fixture both he and Woodroffe landed on was the Ayrton Karif LT. In total, the team mounted 70 of the fixtures to the rear of the video screen panels.
Elsewhere on the rig, the visual team deployed a large number of GLP impression X4 Bar 20s for some more traditional looks, as well as substituting standard Molefays with TMB Solaris Flare Q+s for the all-important audience lighting. So important was this element of the design that the visual department included two audience trusses that were rigged in the middle of the venue. “This means we can integrate the entire audience into the overall look of the show and make the experience more immersive for the crowd,” stated Greil.
Another highlight for the LD was the Hungaro Flash T-Light Pro 85k – a strobe fixture he’d made use of during his last design with German metal icons, Rammstein. “I love these fixtures, and for a certain big strobe effect, there is no substitute.”
For a followspot system, Greil and Woodroffe opted to use a Follow-Me system, which was calibrated to 220 fixtures in the rig. However, due to the sheer amount of automation within the show, the designers had to work closely with the Follow-Me team to ensure that no matter where lights were in the physical space, they would still follow their marks. “In collaboration with WICREATIONS, which is providing the automation for this show, we are integrated via the PSN Stage Network, so wherever the pods move, the light beams will stay exactly where you want them.” This was a big undertaking, although Greil reported how he was confident they would be able to make it work – in part thanks to the support from Gary Yates and his team from Follow-Me.
At FOH there was a sea of MA Lighting grandMA2s that were all used by the visual department. Greil operated the show from a full size with another as a backup, with Lighting Tech, Tom Bailey using a grandMA2 Light to work on the show and jump on any issue that may occur, leaving Greil to keep his focus on the performance. Also on a grandMA2 desk was Ellie Clement, who was handling the media servers for the screens.
Completing the lighting team for the tour was Lighting Crew Chief Luke Radin, alongside Barry Branford, Neil Johnson, Matt Flood, Jim Mills, Danny Wiseman, Andy Thompson and Bianca Mastroianni.
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THE CINEMA SHOW
Continuing the video conversation, Clement walked through her workflow that funnelled into the impressive video setup. Having been part of the Not Dead Yet tour in 2019, she was brought into this production in early 2020, just before the pandemic. With the extended hiatus from live events, the video setup saw significant rejigs to accommodate the expanding camera package, which included: a BlackMagic URSA Broadcast camera on a Canon DIGISUPER 90 Long Lens at FOH; three BlackMagic URSA Broadcast cameras, each on Blackcam Robotics track and dolly systems; two Camera Corps Q-Balls, also on a Blackcam Robotics track and dolly system; and a final two static BlackMagic Minicams mounted on the drum kit.
“We also moved from disguise GX2s to VX4s,” furthered Clement. “I have three VX4s that operate through a Lightware matrix into NovaStar 4K processors. I also have two MA Lighting grandMA2s to accommodate the way the lighting team wanted to run the show fluidly between lighting and video cues.”
Clement worked alongside the lighting team at FOH. “I usually operate from FOH; that is where I feel most comfortable and it’s easier to communicate with other departments.”
Unilumen X3 was used for the rear automated screen. “The screen is lightweight and high resolution,” enthused Clement, emphasising the importance of lightness.
Pre-rendered content was created by Sam Pattinson and Gilles Maunsell from Treatment Studios. Throughout the show, the video team blended the content with live footage.
Responsible for cutting the show live was Darren Montague, Video Director. Having worked on Phil Collins’ The First Final Farewell tour as a pit camera operator, Montague soon cemented himself within the video department and the wider production, holding the titles of Video Crew Chief for Collins’ Not Dead Yet tour in 2017, before finally taking the Director role for this tour. “It’s a production that is highly respected within the industry and one I’m very proud to be a part of,” he enthused. “My brief for the IMAG from Patrick Woodroffe was to make it quite a classical screen cut,” continued the Director. “Classical in a way that the IMAG should represent what’s happening on stage. In simple terms, if Tony Banks is playing a keyboard solo, we need to see it on the screen.”
With eight different cameras to choose from, there was no shortage of looks for Montague to create. In total, he had five camera operators looking after a range of Blackcam Robotics tower lift cameras.
“At FOH on the long lens, we have a very talented newcomer and all-rounder, Mike Flood. The standard long lens at FOH is great for him as he’s a musician in his own right, meaning he was very quick to learn the sequences and parts of each song,” commented the Director.
In the pit there was Rod Williams and Gordon Davies, both on remotely operated tower lift cameras, both tracking, with Ant Barrett remotely operating the two Camera Corps Q-Balls both on separate Blackcam Robotics tracks stage left and stage right. Gareth Manicom was manning a Blackmagic URSA Broadcast camera on the upstage track and dolly tower lift. “It wouldn’t be fair to mention the camera department without mentioning Ray Gwilliams who is the disguise Systems Designer and Technical Director,” stated Montague. “Ray brings so much touring experience and expertise, problem solving and racking the live cameras during the show. Technically, he is the glue that bonds the department together and we’re lucky to have him.” Also aiding the team in the build of the LED screen were Technicians, Freddy Debaillie, Patrick Vansteelant and Daan Govaerts.
The Director went on to give his opinion on the Blackcam Robotic System used during the tour. “It’s a camera system which certainly engages both sides of the operator’s brain as it allows the camera to move on multiple axis and creates visually beautiful shots,” he commented. “It’s also a system which uses less space in the pit, allowing the barrier to be slightly closer to the stage and also, without an operator physically tracking with the camera, allows for a better viewing experience for the prime front-row seats and for the band.”
Another interesting aspect to the remote system was that for the show a bit of software had been written to allow both camera dollies on the pit track to ‘see’ each other, allowing the operators more time to concentrate on building the video cut rather than having to think about collisions – essentially creating a safe bubble around each camera.
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FOLLOW YOU FOLLOW ME
Another of the FOH crew playing a vital role in the look of the show was Xander Ballet of WICREATIONS. Prior to the show, TPi spoke to Ballet behind the large automated video screen to discuss all the moving parts up in the sky.
There were 23 moving objects in total, including 12 video screen sections, five lighting pods and six FX trusses – all of which was made possible with 56 automation hoists, with the entire stage having been pre-programmed and operated within WIMOTION software and controlled via its own control desk.
“I operate the show from FOH right next to Roland,” explained Ballet. As timecode was non-existent in the Genesis camp, Roland cued the moves, which were then operated manually by Ballet.
The automation specialist spoke candidly about the intimidating nature of this show, especially as the production were coming into this one after such a long time away from the road. “We had a really good rehearsal period at the end of last year and then the long load-in we had in Birmingham made it begin to feel natural again,” he reflected.
This show also marked a sea change for WICREATIONS, which also provided the rolling stage for the show, rather than just automation. The stage was 18m wide by 11m deep and was flanked by two offstage band platforms as well as an upstage light shelf. The entire stage, complete with handrails and staircases, could then be packed away in 12 bespoke set carts with the goal of creating flexibility along with a quick and easy stage setup.
The entire project was a noteworthy one for WICREATIONS as it marked the first time the team could utilise the WIMOTION CLOUD COLLABORATION. In advance of coming onsite and during lockdown, the WI team collaborated in the WICLOUD with various expertise profiles, among them the video content designers and programmers, Ellie Clement and Ray Gwilliams.
While looking skyward to the roof, it only seemed right to speak to Head Rigger, Stephen Armstrong about dealing with this large production. “The major issue from a rigging point of view was the flown weight of the upstage scenic elements including the video and lighting wall,” he began. With a wall that weighs 25.5 tonnes and a mother grid that housed five automated lighting pods weighing 23 tonnes, this was far from a light production. With all its elements, total flown show weight was 83 tonnes, hung from 134 rigging points – 48 of which were two-tonne SWL chain hoists.
“Most large arenas in the UK, Europe and North America have a roof load limit of 50 tonnes. With the addition of other flown elements, such as audio hangs, the show weight was over some building limits and so engineers were consulted and approved rigging plans that were put into place.”
For certain venues, there was no other option but to reduce the size of the mother grid and in some cases take out the automation elements of the rear wall.
Aiding Armstrong out on the road were fellow riggers, Mike Fowler and Tom McKay Armstrong. “All three of us worked on the Phil Collins’ shows previously so to keep ‘Team Rigging’ together was great.”
Prior to the house lights coming down, the audiophiles in the audience could not miss the sheer number of black boxes hanging in the ceiling. “Yes, we get a few of those comments,” chuckled Audio System Designer, Ben Phillips, who outlined from the beginning of our conversation that although there were numerous boxes in the air, it had nothing to do with SPL – “It’s all about coverage.”
Phillips has worked several times with the Genesis camp, including back in 2017 with Phil Collins’ solo tour. “We’d been working on the design for this one for the best part of a year before we moved into LH2 last year.” Although the plans had been in place for a long time, Phillips explained how they were very conscious of the current situation in the industry and understood how they would need to be flexible with the inventory. “We wanted to make it easier for everyone in what has been an incredibly difficult time.”
The PA in question – as is the preference of FOH Engineer, Michel Colin – was an L-Acoustics K1 system provided by Britannia Row Productions. The main and side hangs comprised 10 K1s and three K2s with a rear hang of 12 K2s. There was also a flown central hang of two A15s and nine KS28s. Fills comprised eight A15s, four A10s and four X8s. On the floor, 24 KS28 subs were deployed. There was also a notable delay setup, with both an inner and outer system boasting eight K1s and three KARAs, and an audience truss delay of two A10s per side. “Production has always been very generous in terms of not limiting what we can have on the audio front,” enthused Phillips, adding that the audio quality has always been held in high regard in the Genesis production. “We want to ensure that each member of the audience has the best possible sonic experience.”
The designer pointed to the central hang as a case in point for this goal. “It’s a seated audience, but if you were just to have front fills, as soon as people stand up, the sound would only make it to the first few rows, so it was vital that we had that central hang for those in the middle of the floor.”
Despite aiming for the most coverage, Phillips explained that due to the size of the show, he had to be very conscious of weight over the stage. “There is a lot of video, lighting and automation, so for that reason, we needed to keep our weight as low as possible.”
One weight-saving solution was to fly the LA12X amplifiers and LS10 for each array. “Traditional amp racks were quite heavy, but these days they are really light and by flying the amplifiers, it saved us weight rather than having long lengths of heavy speaker cables that are full of copper.”
Overseeing the mix on his trusted Avid S6L, Colin spoke about what it has been like helming the sound for the milestone tour. “I’ve worked with Phil Collins for nearly 20 years and even mixed for Genesis last time they were together in 2007,” he said. “This history meant they had confidence in my way of working and made it very smooth during the build up to this show.”
He went on to highlight some of the things he had to consider when mixing such a heritage act. “You have to preserve the original songs. In modern mixes, you find there is a lot more low end than the original vinyl, so you want to toe the line. That said, the core of the band is keyboard, guitar and drums, so in that sense it’s simple to get your head around.”
The Engineer gave his two cents on his control setup. “The S6L is a great console and very clear for me to use,” he explained. “I don’t have to work too hard to find various elements of the mix.” He also made use of numerous Waves plug-ins to enhance the mix.
“One of my go-tos has been the F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ.” he stated, emphasising his use of the S6L’s onboard EQ. “There’s no timecode on this show, so it’s all very much live,” he added. “Although it’s a very digital setup, it all has a very analogue feel.”
On the other end of the audio chain and manning the band’s on-stage mixes was Alain Schneebeli. The Monitor Engineer was also using and Avid S6L and, like Colin, had amassed over two decades working with this wider production. “The setup on stage is similar to the last Genesis tour apart from there is one fewer drum kit, two backing singers as well as an acoustic set in the middle of the show.”
The entire band was all on Shure PSM1000 with an additional d&b audiotechnik V-SUB for the drums. As for microphones, eight Shure Radio Axient Radio systems were deployed – four with sE Electronics and the others with DPA capsules.
To close, Schneebeli gave his final thoughts on the latest run. “It has not been too challenging, especially as I’m surrounded by a great team and everyone on stage is great.” Phillips agreed: “I’m eternally grateful to everyone involved. We were not all match fit after such a long time away, but Genesis has always been a band to make an impactful production and I think we held up that tradition.”
THE LAST DOMINO?
For a tour that seemed to have all boxes ticked as far as COVID-19 protocols, it’s such a shame that the last few dates in the UK were cut short in 2021. Thankfully the band returned to finish what they had stated, showing off this stunning production for a multi-day residency at the 02 Arena after a jaunt across the Atlantic. The Last Domino? certainly kept the band’s reputation of stellar production alive.
This article originally appeared in issue #269 of TPi, which you can read here.