29 Nov 2023
Vale Ray Vickery
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After a long battle with prostate cancer, Australian lighting pioneer and mentor to the lighting industry at large, Ray Vickery, was laid to rest in a ceremony in Melbourne on 23 November. Ray’s company, Lighting Lab, served as a creative workshop for inventing new products and nurturing new talent, a rehearsal space for bands, all in addition to renting out gear. We tell his story here through the memories of those that knew him best.
Ray Vickery: Humble, Reliable, Honest, Trustworthy
by Andy Edis, Lighting Lab
A true gentleman, Ray was as genuine a man as you could ever find. He did not listen to what anyone said, he watched what they did. He did not tell anyone what to do; he showed them what to do. Ray never looked for accolades or praise, he just did what had to be done.
Ray worked out the formula to success early in life, which was pretty simple, really; please others. And I believe he did that every day.
Being an A grade electrician, and due to his talent in design and creation, lighting production was a perfect career choice for Ray, which he was not only brilliant at, but also loved.
Ray started his company, Lighting Lab, in the garage of his home in Bessazile Avenue, Forrest Hill, in 1978. He built the lights and equipment he needed to light shows of any kind. He was a talented tradesman and built anything he needed from scratch.
He very quickly developed a reputation as a talented lighting designer and innovator, using turntables from record players and ceiling fan motors without the blades to create moving lighting effects for productions. He created amazing effects as exciting as the digital lighting of today, simply by adapting mechanical devices to lighting to create custom looks. He used cycloramas and the oil effects of the time to create amazing looks.
His shows were being noticed by all on the circuit and his equipment was growing in demand. In 1980 he had lots of work lighting shows and touring. His inventory was growing, so he needed someone to look after Lighting Lab while he was away, sometimes for many weeks.
Ray employed me to prep the shows and look after the bands while he was away. I was a fifteen-year-old cover band lighting trog and was honoured to be offered the job at Lighting Lab, where the band I was working for at the time was hiring their lights.
One band he was lighting designer and operator for was legendary Aussie live act The Uncanny X Men, with Brian Mannix as front man. They had a huge following on the pub and club scene and were the perfect band for Ray to light, as they had the budget. Ray designed their versatile lighting rig designs that could be adapted while on the road to any size venue on the circuit.
Large or small, Ray was able to make the shows look as big as the bands sounded. His looks in every venue were legendary, and were industry-leading light shows. His rigging techniques, his focuses, beams, pyros and his incredible cueing contributed massively to the success of those live shows. Ray’s quote in his book sums it all up; “When ten thousand people all gasp at one of your lighting cues, it’s an amazing feeling!”
Most band and crew would over-indulge in the opulence of the 80s touring circuit. However, before the party got messy, Ray would quietly retreat to his hotel and be designing and planning the next show or gig, or Lighting Lab’s next move.
Ray would be relaying instructions back to Melbourne via landline, and I would be on my bike peddling round to Bessazile Avenue to please others, serving the bands what they needed. Loading and unloading trucks all hours of the day and night. Changing dimmer racks, supplying new Par 64 bubbles, globes, or anything the growing number of touring bands needed.
Eight tonne pantechnics reversing up the driveway, gear in and out, truss and winch ups banging and crashing. The neighbors loved it! When Ray came back from an east coast tour, he said “We are moving, Andy.”
We walk in to 16 Clarice Road, Box Hill. It’s a huge empty warehouse in an industrial area with access down the side walkway, all of the gear from Bessazile fits into one little corner of the factory. I’m asking “What the hell are you going to do with all this space, Ray?” Answer; “I’m not sure.” Yeah, right! Classic Ray; bypass the problem and go straight to the solution. It didn’t mean he didn’t know; It meant he knew he was going to fill it, but just hadn’t worked out when and with what!
With Ray’s Dad John Vickery (known as Jack), an accomplished engineer and craftsman, they began designing, creating, and constructing.
Ray recognised a need for state-of-the-art rehearsal spaces for the growing number of bands, so they designed and built the first studio, complete with recording facilities, utilising the laneway entrance and rear door, which allowed bands to come and go without interfering with the business.
The demand exploded so the construction continued, and resulted in what we see today, eight studios with equipment mezzanines above utilising every inch of the warehouse. Keeping it clean, and well-stocked with bickies, tea and coffee became a daily task for the employees and Ray, who never expected anyone to do anything he was not prepared to do himself.
While all this was happening, Ray was still doing shows, building his inventory, diversifying into audio, staging, and new technologies, still always pleasing others with the equipment they needed. Ray was building relationships with overseas manufacturers, designing equipment customised to his needs, and arranging the manufacturing and shipping of the gear to Australia for sales and hire, developing Ray’s unique brands.
Somewhere in Ray’s incredibly busy life, Ray and his wife Gloria raise four boys to become the most wonderful, honourable men they are today. A tribute to Ray and Gloria and a pride to us all.
By now, 16 Clarice is bursting at the seams and Ray needs more space. Factory 9, number 10 Clarice Road becomes available and Ray once again takes a risk and grabs it. Yet again, walking into a huge empty warehouse, but this time without Jack as he had sadly passed. So Ray puts head down, ass up, and gets on designing, drawing, creating and building the special place we see today all while running and expanding Lighting Lab!
He built that space to please others. He built it for us to work in and create from. Ray built it; every stair, rail, bench, counter, shelf, and wall. It’s a very special place that pleases others.
As Ray embarked on his gallant battle with prostate cancer, Scott Pryor stepped up and grabbed the reigns to keep the business going as it has for 45 years. Hats off to Scott, amongst his own challenges, to get on with it as he does every day. Brandon and Blake were prepping the gear to Ray’s high standards and getting it out the door, serving the customers.
The studios were looked after the whole time, cleaned and restocked every day. Ray’s wife Gloria and sister Helen chipped in to ensure Ray’s high standards of chockie bickies and immaculate studios were upheld.
Ray was a great husband, a great father, a great son, a great brother, a great partner, a great mentor, a great friend, and an industry legend.
You’ve left us now, and we have gear to prep and shows to get out the door, but don’t worry! We will be OK, because you showed us what to do, and you showed us how to do it!
Ray Vickery and the Early Years
Ray was born and raised mostly in Box Hill Melbourne. He attended Box Hill Technical school where he first discovered and fell in love with lighting and sound, and operated both for his school and other schools in the area. However, it was the lighting side of things that grabbed Ray’s attention, and, after starting to light bands in the local area at the ripe age of 16, he was hooked. He slowly started to amass equipment including his own lights (wooden boxes and gel) and a switchboard to control it all.
After secondary school, Ray embarked on an electrical apprenticeship while continuing to light bands on the weekends. However, halfway through his apprenticeship in 1974 Ray was offered a permanent weekend gig with a band that had some of his friends in it. This solidified his desire to complete his apprenticeship and seek a career in lighting. Business was to follow and following years were spent working as an electrician during the day and lighting bands, building lighting equipment or hiring it out at other times.
By 1979, Ray was running a sizeable full-time from his home in Forest Hill. In 1980, under the strain of growth and complaints about trucks turning up at his home at all hours, he made his first big step into commercial premises and moved into a warehouse in Box Hill. At the same time, the business finally got an official name and Lighting Lab was registered.
At around the same time, he approached his long-term friend Gary (the drummer from the band) who happened to have just completed his electronics degree and asked if he would like to design some lighting gear together. At the time, the majority of the equipment on the Australian market was from Strand and Ray was looking for something both different and cheaper. The two designed a lighting controller called the Entertainer and a 6-channel dimmer pack. Several of these were built and sold into the marketplace and the different gear helped Ray differentiate his offerings from his competition.
The warehouse that Ray leased was much bigger than he needed and he quickly saw a market opportunity for somewhere for bands to rehearse. Always being able to turn his hand to anything physical, Ray started to build rehearsal studios which were seriously sound-proofed. Being in an industrial area, noise complaints were not an issue. Over the years, Ray went on to build several of these studios and eventually moved Lighting Lab to new premises up the road. The rehearsal studios still function today, are always booked out, and are testament to Ray’s ability to seize an opportunity.
Now with premises and staff on, Ray got back to doing what he loved; running the show. He spent the next years alternating between six months on the road and six months in the office.
At this point Ray found the love of his life Gloria, and in 1992 they were married. Not long after, children entered the picture. As is usual, home life then took up a large majority of his time.
The story of Lighting Lab was now nearly 20 years in the making but had a long way to go and the company continues today to service the entertainment industry rental and sales market.
The Gary in this story is Gary Pritchard, founder of LSC Control Systems. There is no doubt that LSC Control Systems would not exist today were it not for Ray approaching Gary to design some equipment for him. It can be said that Ray’s influence on the industry was deep and wide.
Gary Pritchard’s reflection on Ray Vickery
I first met Ray when he was 16 through a mutual friend. While we were not close in those early days, we did hang around in the same group and later on spent a lot of time together in pubs, parties and on various trips. That changed and we got a lot closer, when in the mid seventies, Ray became the lighting guy for our band. Lighting was not a big part of live performances in those days, particularly at the pub band level, but Ray with his collection of home-made lights and his eye for lighting made us look better than we were.
We spent many times together over the years including travelling to Europe by ship in 1979. In 1987, I exercised my brand-new pilot’s licence taking Ray on an island-hopping trip up the east coast of Australia, where I met my wife.
It is not widely known but Ray is the reason that LSC Control Systems exists today. He approached me in late 1979 to design some lighting equipment for his then fledgling company, Lighting Lab. This I did and that led onto me designing equipment for other companies, and LSC was born.
Ray was an amazing character and was always positive even if the chips were down. He never gave up and would inevitably find a way to make things work. His smile was always on his face, he was ready for a laugh, and he wore his heart on his sleeve. He was instrumental in helping many people into the industry that he loved so much and was always there as a helping hand.
Ray will be sorely missed, and I will miss our chats and laughs together. RIP my friend. – Gary Pritchard, LSC Control Systems
Thank You, Ray
by Gary Davey, Lighting Lab
For me it began in July 1991, the start of a new financial year. Ray offered me a position at Lighting Lab after I had been doing freelance lighting for cover bands.
Prior to this I was an upholsterer, and when I started lighting I really struggled with the idea of being paid for creating an illusion that was pulled down at the end of the night, as opposed to creating a piece of furniture that would last for years. Ray soon taught me that the purpose of stage lighting was to ‘enhance’ what was happening on the stage, and if that was done well it would help create lasting memories of the performance for the audience. This valuable insight completely changed how I approached lighting and was just one example of how much Ray was willing to guide and share his knowledge in order to help someone develop their craft.
There was never a dull moment working with Ray and it didn’t take too long for me to realise that he was always tossing around ideas in the back of his head as well as developing projects that would help improve his business, either by becoming more efficient or by offering better service for his customers. This was something he thrived on, and it was something that I believe motivated him every day.
As Lighting Lab continued to expand it became obvious that one of Ray’s joys in life was the opportunity to ‘get on the tools’. He loved working with his hands, whether it be building some outdoor seating and table for the studios, his old grey fibreglass road cases (which were bullet proof), then on to larger projects such as the mezzanine floor at the new factory including the showroom, repair room, his office and meeting room. He got so much satisfaction seeing it all come together. He didn’t always have the right tool in his hand for the job, but somehow he made it work.
Unfortunately, some of the projects didn’t come without significant risk of personal injury due to Ray’s tendency to do things as fast as he could. There was the broken wrist from falling off a ladder at the old factory, falling off the front counter at the new factory (which I believe was another broken bone) and then there was the odd drill bit through the thumb (not sure how he managed that). But he would always dust himself off and get back to work as soon as he was able. It never ceased to amaze me what one man could achieve.
Over the years I have witnessed many changes in the business, and I know Ray took great pride in watching it evolve. This evolution was not only confined to the business itself though; it also applied to some of Lighting Lab’s customers as well. It has been very satisfying to see some of the early customers, some which were still at school at the time, go on to achieve incredible success in their chosen fields within the industry, with some even going on to create successful businesses for themselves. All of which I believe was in part made possible by Ray’s generosity and willingness to help others where he could.
If I had to identify one attribute that was the secret to Ray’s success it was that he was fearless in business. He had such a strong sense of purpose and belief in himself that he was able to navigate his way through hard times, and he had his fair share of those, but he always managed to get through. He also had great intuition and trusted his gut instinct which saw him expand the business into new areas including audio, staging and finally into AV with the purchase of LED screens, which I always thought was his crowning achievement.
It was the LED screens that I loved working with the most, and thanks to Ray’s belief in me, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing people, both at the factory and on the road, as well as being a part of some of the most incredible events I have ever been involved with, many of which have left me with my own lasting memories.
After COVID hit, and the following uncertainty that surrounded the industry, I was given an opportunity to go back to upholstery in 2021 which, after much consideration, I accepted. I will always remember the support, encouragement and understanding that Ray gave me during this time which made the transition so much easier for me.
I was at Lighting Lab for just on 30 years. There were incredible highs, and yes there were a few lows, but during that time I achieved way more than I thought I was capable of and that is all thanks to one man.
Ray, thank you for believing in me when I had little belief in myself. My life is richer for having known you. I just hope you know how much impact you have had not only on the industry you loved so much, but more importantly, the impact you have had on the people that came into your life.
Thanks for the memories my friend. Rest in Peace. – Gary Davey, Lighting Lab
Ray Illuminated our Industry
by Lynden Gare, Colourblind
Reminiscing about Ray brings me back to my first visit to Lighting Lab in Box Hill. As a 10 or 11-year-old, brought along by my father me Saturday morning, I entered a space where Ray, alongside his trusted general manager Gary, unfolded the world of lighting for me for the first time.
I had been encouraged by my parents to learn about business by DJing for friend’s parties. And naturally I wanted to make these events as exciting and as close to my idea of a good show as possible. Ray spent an hour or more showing me all the best sound activated effects on the market, before I started asking about lighting consoles and moving lights. My eyes were now wide open to the exciting world I would later call my career. Gifted a shiny magazine from Ray, my parents would later buy me a subscription to that magazine, Connections, (now this publication, CX) for my birthday that year.
Instantly, Ray’s dedication to nurturing enthusiasm shone through as it did every time that I went back for the next 10 years. Despite my youth, both Ray and Gary treated me with care, extending the same attention for a kid with a $200 budget as they would to a client with $20,000. It was a foundational experience that set the course for my current career.
Reviewing the memories, it becomes clear that under Ray’s leadership, Lighting Lab has always been more than a rental company; it is a place where passion meets mentorship. Ray’s dedication and enthusiasm for the lesser-known artistic pursuit of using production lighting technology was so important for not only seasoned professionals with big gig budgets, but also to young, aspiring individuals like myself.
My last encounter with Ray mirrored the initial on; a testament to his consistent dedication. A planned 20-minute visit for speakers for a friend’s wedding turned into a captivating two-and-a-half-hour exploration of his latest products and profound discussions on lighting techniques and business strategy.
Over the three decades I knew Ray, his unwavering commitment to each and every customer remained a beacon for our industry. His legacy extends beyond the products and technologies; it encompasses the mentorship that inspired countless individuals, including myself.
Ray’s passing leaves a void, but his positive impact on our industry is enduring. I’ll remember him not only for his contributions to the small end of our event industry but also for his role as a mentor, exemplifying the qualities of patience, dedication, and a genuine passion for the artistic possibilities within our field. In honouring Ray, we should never lose sight of the importance of nurturing the next generation of professionals who might illuminate our industry with creativity and enthusiasm.
It was with great shock and sadness that I heard of the passing of Ray Vickery. Ray was a pleasure to deal with and was highly influential in the Melbourne entertainment and production industry. Condolences to his family and friends. – Darren Holborow, SMOKESCREEN Illumination
It is never easy saying goodbye to someone you looked up to. Ray, you have been an inspiration to many, myself included. Your love and dedication to what you have built is amazing. Your patience and kind heartedness does not go unnoticed either. It has been an honour and privilege to have worked for you over the last five years. – Brandon Tan, Lighting Lab
I first met Ray at the start of my career decades ago when I walked into Lighting Lab with my enthusiasm certainly outweighing my ability. Back in the early 90s there were not a lot of women working in lighting, and certainly not working with bands as LDs. Ray was so incredibly supportive of me and my career at a time when many were not. He had limitless patience and time to offer advice and even showed me how to patch my first console. He saw the potential in me. Ray genuinely cared about our craft and all those who worked in it. I will never forget how willing he was to teach and support someone starting out and I always try to pay that forward. Rest in peace dear Ray, you will be remembered and cherished always. – Megan McGann, Nine Network/Colourblind
I have had the privilege of working for Ray and Lighting Lab for the last 13 and a half years. I have learnt so much from Ray, from how to properly prep lights, through to running the business. He had a passion for lighting. He had a passion for every show; a single Par Can hire to a 300 LED panel hire were given the same attention. I am honoured and privileged to be able to call Ray not just a boss but a friend. I will miss our chats about hires, working out costs, and planning new purchases. He had a knack for knowing what the industry needed. I am also honoured to continue the legacy that Ray has built in Lighting Lab. Ray was an exceptional man; kind, generous, humble, never in want of an accolade, and driven. He will be truly missed at Lab, and by me. – Scott Pryor, Lighting Lab
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