Lighting The Cure’s Shows of a Lost World

The English rock band blends their 45-year career with evolving technology, meticulous lighting cues and a dedicated crew to deliver a visually stunning and dynamic rock show designed for devoted fans and newcomers alike.

TPi recently caught up with The Cure on their Shows of a Lost World Tour 2023, where the band still exhibit long sets showcasing their historic catalogue and a rock show that defies odds despite Robert Smith’s plea to keep ticket prices low. As the band celebrate a 45-year career, the show is designed for dedicated fans and newbies alike.

The Cure’s Lighting Designer and Director veteran, Angus MacPhail said working with the band all these years has been a process, an evolution: “The lighting and set have evolved quite organically, from my experience along with personnel changes and new technology.”

MacPhail said that for him there was a rather large gap from the early years, starting in clubs and lugging around small lighting rigs, that enabled touring even a small country with several shows. Touring clubs in Australia and New Zealand, even touring with a circus tent in the Netherlands, noted MacPhail. “It’s not really possible now as most smaller venues utilise a house lighting rig to which adding a couple of specials is all that is necessary, if that.”

MacPhail’s original period with The Cure ended with theatre shows and arena tours, a simple stage set and a mix of the then-available moving lights, Telescans and similar, which were his personal preference over Vari-Lites.

“For me the biggest change from that period was moving from clubs to theatre’s, which allowed for more than one truck, several extra crew, selecting fixtures that were not part of the norm then.”

MacPhail began working with The Cure again in 2011, with an evolving rig. “This has continued, and hopefully remains so. There are still elements today that show 1980s origins, and it’s not being lazy, it’s just if the shoe fits. New equipment allows for more evolution, making ideas that are in your head a possibility. Also listening to advice from the lighting/visual team helps especially as they are more familiar with new consoles than I am. The grandMA consoles, especially the MA2 were a real eye opener to me. I did learn quickly that I was not a fast programmer and was never going to keep up with Ben Hornshaw, our programmer extraordinaire! He can easily interpret my cue’s and knows the system well enough to cover all of the possibilities. A big change happened here, in as much as an LD, you were now part of a team, not jack of all trades, every one part of the whole, as lighting tech was beginning to advance at quite a rate. So, sharing responsibility seemed a natural turn of events,” MacPhail explained.

MacPhail said visualisers are brilliant for programming as it’s possible with a little imagination to see the show as it pretty much is. “Live, I prefer ‘eyes to stage’, but using previs checking for compatibility with TV and video, – for glare, etc – is pretty much the norm.” Timecode is used for every song, but not always at the start, and endings vary, so it keeps MacPhail on his toes. “I like that as it allows for some live experimentation!”

Even the waiting times between songs have evolved into little mini looks themselves, noted MacPhail. “Depending on which songs are in the following order, the visual looks can vary, so live ‘hands on’ are required.”

MacPhail said the number of songs they have timecoded and the number of cues they have for any version of the show is enormous. Then there’s Robert Smith who is involved in the show on all counts: “It keeps us thinking both inside and outside the box. He has a great sense of logic,” commented MacPhail.

New lighting fixtures to the current tour are 39 Ayrton Khamsin Spots and Martin Professional MAC Encores to replace the PRG Best and Bad Boys. They also replaced all the smoke machines with Base Hazers, which give that ‘morning mist’ effect that MacPhail is particularly drawn to. “Venue air filters permitting. We have the GLP impression X4 LEDs that I really like as a visual asset as well as a lighting fixture.”

MacPhail used Lee Filters as a constant, with occasional Rosco filters. Now he only uses (unless filming) Lee Lux 400, to soften up the 8-Lites, saying it’s the only filter that works for him. “I always liked Lekos and Source 4s, they’re great for subtle flesh tones and softer light in general. I would use them again in the right environment (small, arty, theatrical setting).”

MacPhail likes the way strobes have evolved: “These days with a JDC1 strobe you can do some full-on effects that can give an edge to more subtle investigations of larger scenes. Claypaky Mythos have been a revelation and I have found no equivalent, close but not the same.”

MacPhail noted that the band have pulled off some incredible shows. “All the crew have been great, the vibes are excellent, job well done! Chris Scott stepped in for Ben Hornshaw on the West Coast. Thanks, Ben, for prepping him so well. Looking forward to seeing you later in the year. We had a lot of laughs on the production bus, including some ‘theme’ nights, no not that kind!” Lighting and Video Technical Director, Ben Hornshaw explained that there are over 150 songs programmed within the desk. But that covers years of shows they’ve done. “The band can basically choose from any of those songs to play in a show and we are constantly tweaking and updating them along the way.”

Generally, the band sticks to a core list of songs and then will let the crew know in advance if they would like to play something new. “This allows us to check over the songs and update wherever Angus (MacPhail) or the band would like us to do. All the songs are timecoded with the video content and this aspect has allowed the band to be very precise about the show and where changes and intricate details happen in a song. Smith loves long builds over songs to a specific climax point for example.”

Hornshaw will break down the song with MacPhail into cues and then sit and listen through the song a few times to get to know it and create a plan for the lighting: “This process is quite efficient and then when it comes to programming. It can be quick and methodical. That’s allowed us over the years to program so many songs in the short rehearsal periods. Then once the core of the songs is in, we generally do some tweaking and add accents where needed. The band has a large say in the look of the show. Usually relating to builds and drops and colour choices. So, Angus liaises with them to make sure we all are on the same page, and they have what they want. The band’s lighting can be quite literal. Singing Under the Yellow Moon for example.”

Hornshaw is on the grandMA2 in MA2 mode, which has been his console of choice for a long time. “It’s a solid board, a good flexible platform for a designer to create their show on. Anything is possible with enough thought. This show has evolved and developed so much over the years that I don’t know if we could ever move off the MA2 onto anything else. Its timecode implementation is fantastic, and its backup and multiuser features are second to none.”

Hornshaw and MacPhail both operating the show with an MA2 has them perfectly in sync with each other, allowing them to have exactly what is always needed in front of them.

Hornshaw puts out a special thanks to Chris Scott. “I have worked with Angus on this show since 2013 and never missed a show. But this year Chris took over halfway through the American tour and took on the batten and the mammoth show like a champ. It’s been a fantastic tour. Supported by PRG worldwide with equipment and crew. “Mark England has been our Lighting Crew Chief for years and is fantastic at bringing in new people to the family and making them all feel part of the show. It’s massively a team effort and I’m proud of the family feel on the tour between all departments. I’ve never done a tour where it doesn’t feel like lighting, video, sound, but one team.”

When Video Director, Jon Priest joined the tour, it had already been out in the UK and Europe. This was his first tour with the band.

He was taking over from an established show file. “I met up with Richard Menday (who had run the UK/EU tour) for some prep in the UK and he gave me some useful insight into the show file and how the band liked things to look. The show itself is quite straight forward but the back catalogue of songs that The Cure has keeps you on your toes with what we could be changing up each show with our huge evolving set list.”

Priest had known Ben Hornshaw for a while and met Lighting Crew Chief, Mark England during prep and then Mac (Angus Macphail) in rehearsals. “The time during rehearsals was valuable to get to know everyone and meet up with the band. Everyone across all departments were great and it quickly felt like I’d been a part of this group for a while.”

Priest said the show is one vx 4 disguise media server with an understudy, cameras go through disguise and through a Barco E2. A lot of the songs are content on the back columns and cameras to IMAG: “However this is mixed up during the show. We have seven cameras on stage and one at FOH. The camera at FOH is used for some effect looks on the up-stage columns, Mac really likes the infinity look that this gives for the songs we use it on, the lights on those songs then enhance this effect. We have two Panasonic PTZ’s stage left, and right which Robert really plays up to which give a good look for the audience.”

“It’s been good to work with both Mac and Ben, they obviously have had a lot longer time with the band, so they know what to do and don’t do, finding that balance has been important. From show to show there isn’t much variance in what we try to achieve, the US leg was interesting because of the variety of venues that we were doing but that helped in some cases so we could achieve some different looks.”

Lighting Crew Chief, Mark England first worked for The Cure back in 1992 on the Wish Tour. He then started up with them again in 2014 and has been with them ever since, up to the present world tour. PRG is again the lighting vendor for the tour, notes England. “The connection is Jon Cadbury, who has had the band’s back for 40 or more years. They have looked after The Cure all that time and they’ve always provided great worldwide service and support. There’s been no difficulty finding lighting packages the band requested as far as I’m aware. In Europe though it was quite hard to find experienced local crew. But otherwise, we’ve been very lucky. It’s a great production and always a pleasure to work for the band, and the production crew are a wonderful team of pros to be out on the road with.”

The wider production crew featured Production Manager, Robin Scott; Tour Manager, James Monkman; Production Coordinator, Marie Gallop; Stage Manager, Phil Spina and Rigger, Kurt McLaughlin with technical support from Clair Global/Britannia Row Productions (audio); PRG (lighting and video) and Stage Call (trucking).

Words: Steve Jennings

Photos: Steve Jennings