23 Sep 2004

The very early days, rock lights

The CX website states that the first custom lighting desk with flash buttons was made in the mid 1970s. There was at least one built as early as 1971. In 1969 I started in the lighting department at GTV9 Melbourne at the tender age of 19. I got the job on the basis of my past experience in amateur theatrical lighting. Some fisticuffs between a previous lighting tech and the head of the Department got me the opening I needed! It was not long after starting at GTV that I started to do some rock lighting on the side. The need for a compact desk with plenty of facilities for this type of work led to many discussions after work with electronics wizard Ian Whitelaw who also worked in GTV’s lighting department. Ian offered to build a desk to my requirements if I paid for the parts and development work. This was agreed and, by 1971, the desk had been built and was in regular use at local venues under the banner of the “ESP Lightshow”.



The desk had a 32A three-phase inlet with its own phase metering and breaker facilities. It had on board 12 x 2kW dimmers, 6 x 2kW variable speed flashers, 6 x 2kW audio-modulation channels (each with its own input so you could mic up a musician’s amp and then light him with the output of his individual instrument), 6 x 2kW line switches (for items like projectors that could not be dimmed), a dimmable worklight, and inbuilt talkback. Later on, a drive circuit was added for the mother of all strobes (12 Xenon tubes) All the 240V patch sockets were on the back of the console. Above each of the twelve dimmer channel faders was a set of paddle switches. These had three positions – up was latching and on, centre was off, and down was spring-loaded and on. The switches were fairly large and could be played like a piano key. These, I believe, were the first “flash-buttons” in Australian lighting. Many years later, while working for Lighting Corporation in Melbourne, I was given the task of retrofitting a Strand desk with flash buttons for “Men at Work”, at which time the concept was already ten years old!


This custom lighting desk was used at Sunbury ’72, ’73 and ’74. I decided not to tender for ’75 as I had recently married and bought a house – a good thing as, like everyone else, I would not have been paid! By now, I was working full-time in the Audio Department at GTV9. (While sweating away at “Festering Hall” in Melbourne doing follow spot on “Blood Sweat & Tears” some years before, the combination of an amazing band and the first Clair Brothers sound system to come to Australia won me over to audio, in which I have primarily worked ever since). Around 1976 the custom lighting desk was sold through a colleague to a Church somewhere in Kew – I wonder where it is now!



I’m still working in the industry 35 years on – my hair might not be as long and is a lot whiter than in those exciting fledgling days of rock and roll lighting, and I might wear suit more often, but I will never forget the early 70s and all the changes they brought. Sadly, Ian Whitelaw, whose electronic genius did much for my early lighting career, died a few years ago.


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