Rick Astley: Are We There Yet? Tour

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This article originally appeared in issue #281 of TPi, which you can read here. Words by Jacob Waite. Photo by Oli Crump.

Back by popular demand, Rick Astley and his hard-working touring team descend on arenas with a timeless production, featuring a kaleidoscope of colour, crowd-sourced teddy bears, and hours of unabashed showmanship.

As the LED backwall lowered gently and the house lights dimmed, the guitar-clad figure of Merseyside-born singer-songwriter Rick Astley, backed by an impressive collection of vocalists and musicians, took to the stage at Liverpool's M&S Bank Arena for the touring equivalent of a guard of honour on this final night of the run. Met with the usual chorus of screams and cheers, the evening was special for those on and off stage, having successfully masterminded a series of shows across the UK and Ireland and fundamentally answered the tour's self-imposed question: Are we there yet?

Production Manager, Tori Lucion of 24/7 Productions - who has been with the Rick Astley camp since 2017's 50 Tour of theatres and pavilions around the UK- believes the singer-songwriter's recent shows are "bigger and better" than ever.

"I was initially employed as a Drum and Playback Tech. The gig has grown significantly in  recent years, and as the campaign topped the charts, we made the jump up from touring backline in the back of splitter vans to carrying systems and rigs that require trucks. The crew and band have also grown, so the shows are getting bigger and better," he explained.

"The creative goal as presented by Rick and management this time around was to have Rick and the band scaled up as large as possible on the screen, following on from the success of his Glastonbury performance and a great festival run, which culminated with BBC's Rick Astley Rocks New Year's Eve: Lucion recalled.

"I think 2023 caught a lot of people by surprise in terms of the level of performer that Rick is and how well he comes across on camera as a showman, which is crafted through years of his own hard graft, so it made sense to present that to the audience as best as we can."

The team shifted their focus away from premade visuals and utilised bespoke video content created by Pixels & Noise and through detailed collaboration on architectural layouts, colour grading and aspect ratios with Rick and Manager, Lene Bausager.

A template was formulated for each song, which allowed Video Director, Jamie Cowlin to work his magic - masterfully cutting and directing eight cameras pointed at the stage with some reverse shots thrown in for good measure -while Lighting Designer, Ali Pike programmed and synchronised the visuals.

"Lewis, Jamie and Ali put a lot of work in to getting this show up and running from a creative point of view, seamlessly combining the editorial and tailored video elements with the classy yet vintage lighting feel," Lucion said, extending his praise to the support of 24/7 Productions (production and tour direction), Adlib (audio, lighting, rigging and
video), Bite Tour Catering, CSE Crosscom (communications), Fly By Nite (trucking), Phoenix Bussing (crew travel), Pixels & Noise (video content), and triplex (audio control).

"The support we receive from our suppliers is second to none, from all the initial discussions with account handlers, to the technical teams dealing with the constant back and forth as the shows creative was fleshed out and developed within such a tight timescale and turnaround with two weeks from creative sign-off to show delivery," he said.

"They have done a fantastic job across all departments, with an excellent delivery of service and have been on hand to deal with pretty much anything at any time of day. I cannot applaud them enough for dealing with everything we threw at them with patience, grace, and creative thinking."

The team's main logistical challenges during the build were aligning three sections of LED screen hangs and Martin Professional Sceptron lighting fixtures placed on the video truss sections to create a cohesive and seamless look. Routing was also not always in their favour: "The nine-hour drive between Cardiff and Glasgow meant we were four-and-a-half hours late to our load-in at the OVO Hydro, but we still managed to get the show up and running and ready for sound check, which is a testament to the hardworking crew whose tireless efforts made it possible," Lucion said, underlining the pragmatism of the tight-knit camp.

Production Coordinator Eva Martin of 24/7 Productions supported Lucion with the day-to-day. "I love working with 24/7 Productions; everyone is such a close-knit family style of crew, looking out for each other, working hard, and having fun. I enjoy the logistical side of the business, and I'm hoping to develop my technical knowledge as this tour progresses, picking up more responsibility, and learning as I go along," she enthused, reflecting on the journey. "It's been a pleasure to work with such a wonderful team."

Stage Manager and Set Carpenter, Lewis Underwood oversaw the stage build, maintenance of marley, and breakdown each night. "It's been good fun; I've built risers and done some set carpentry roles before but nothing to this scale ... Marley is something I've never worked with before, which I have learned a lot about over the past three weeks," he laughed, sharing some newfound tricks of the trade. "Who would have thought that a tennis ball would be the best way to get rid of marks on it?" As a one-man department. Underwood tapped into the pool of local stagehands at each venue. As on every tour, some local crew members were more passionate or experienced than others, which required an extra arm around the shoulder to direct, coach or teach them how to build the set safely.

"It's definitely a people management job," Underwood remarked. "The two risers which we strike in the changeover for Rick aren't rolling, which relies on us to dismantle and carry them off by hand, but other than that it's a fairly straightforward setup."

Wardrobe Assistant, Edie Dawson, dressed Rick Astley- the only performer with multiple changes - in addition to four band members, two backing vocalists and three brass musicians. "My first ever tour was with this camp in 2021, so it's nice to return and be surrounded by so many familiar faces ... Rick's go-to stage attire is suits - he travels with around 11 suits, which generally get brighter in colour as the set progresses, before he changes into the iconic blazer, T-shirt and suit pants synonymous with Never Gonna Give You Up," Dawson explained.


When she is not surrounded by teddy mascots at FOH (more on that later). Lighting Designer, Ali Pike -who splits her time between the People's Republic of Liverpool and Scottsdale, Arizona - can be found hiking, climbing mountains, and fostering senior dogs.

Over a coffee in catering, the designer retraced the roots of the project: "We want the show to look timeless, stylish, and fun," she commented. "Although it's a pop show, we are conscious about colour choices and how we use certain lighting fixtures to make sure it doesn't turn into an '80s disco."

Drawing inspiration from the artist's vast back catalogue, Pike features the colour palette associated with the iconography of each passing album in his live output. "More saturated colour been added. which stems from the rig I've selected to create rich washes and colour gradients," Pike noted.

Spanning the Tyler GT and angled trusses was Martin Professional Sceptron VD010 1m and 320mm sections, which lined the mid and video trusses, as well as the risers. Followspots came in the shape of Robe FORTE with RoboSpot controllers on advance truss and a central rear spot. Martin Professional MAC Ultra Performance units made up the bulk of the moving light package with an upstage truss boasting vintage-looking Robe PATT 2017 fixtures on the mid, front, and advance truss sections. A floor package of GLP JDC1 and Ultra Performances were supplemented with MAC Aura XBs as sidelight, all controlled by an MA Lighting grandMA3 full-size console with Luminex data distribution.

A regular tool of choice for Pike. previsualisation was achieved by Capture software. "I find it very user-friendly, incredibly accessible, and it provides me with a realistic sense of how the fixtures would be used in real time as opposed to a 20 plot, which generally means little to artists and their support teams," Pike said, explaining her fixture choice.

"I love using Ultras in my designs, and they've worked fabulously on this run. Sceptrons are a classic and a budget-friendly way to have a lot of fixtures to play with – even in segment mode, they provide me a lot of creative capabilities, particularly on the risers," the LO said, walking through the rig. "I've never used the PATT 2017s before; they were a
wildcard, but they fit with the brief of making the show feel timeless and we generally use them as eye candy."

Pike elaborated on the synchronisation of visual departments: "I've enjoyed working with Pixels & Noise, bouncing ideas back and forth during overnight programming sessions. I want to incorporate virtual set pieces in future like the virtual lighting fixtures generated in the content, that I can manipulate the colour of. This is something that spanned from experimenting in production rehearsals at LS Live with Lewis Kyle White."

To ensure the video content was aligned with the lighting without being detrimental to creativity, it was "essential" to operate the show on timecode, according to Pike: "It allows me to add a level of detail that the video department appreciates - things like preload times for fading key light, and the timing of that being consistent each night, is helpful for them. And it allows me to take notes and make tweaks," the LD noted, referring to the recent creation of the 'death rainbow' for the Rammstein-inspired track, Kunsthaus.

"I generated an RGB thing across the Sceptrons and without giving it any thought, copied it over to every fixture on the rig. It's resulted in a bizarre-looking colour effect across the whole rig, which I'm then strobing - it's quite offensive and not what you'd expect from a Rick Astley show, but it's incredibly fresh. new, and exciting."

While Pike enjoyed experimenting with gradients and colour effects without turning the design into a "multicoloured cheese-fest", she acknowledged making considerations with lighting for a seated show: "I'm constantly checking my focusses to ensure the people sat at the back of the venue haven't got a constant battering of Ultras on their face and those in front aren't constantly flashed - I'm very much lighting the stage and the artists, because as much as they may want to dance along, they also want to watch the show."

With these considerations in mind, Pike shared her enthusiasm for touring at arena level, having cut her teeth on the academy circuit: "Despite the coldness of arenas, having the consistency of the rig each day means you can make fine adjustments and improve and hone things constantly."

Before bidding adieu to Pike, TPi addressed the elephant - or, to speak literally, the teddy bears - in the room. "I have been touring with my own little teddy bear mascot for over 16 years from when I was first out with the Wombats, but Rick fans have suddenly noticed this and have been bringing us bears to join the gang," Pike explained, referring to the dozens of stuffed mascots surrounding her grandMA3, whose adventures are  documented on the @roadie_bear lnstagram page."

All but mine will be going home with Rick and Lene after the tour though - one is quite enough for me." Pike was supported by the Adlib team of Lighting Crew Chief, Neil Johnson; Lighting Dimmer Technician, Martin Mcloughlin; and Lighting Technicians, Nathan White and Ross Gilmour.


"It would have been easy to go down the route of creating retro visuals, but Rick's output and fanbase has evolved since then," began TPi Award-winning Content Designer, Lewis Kyle White of Pixels & Noise.

For the anthemic Never Gonna Give You Up, the video content saw a collage of Andy Warhol-inspired pop art grids of the famed 'rick roll' dance from the original music video, with Pixels & Noise crowdsourcing as many 'rick roll' attempts as possible to process and reanimate to celebrate and embrace the viral nature of the song. "Content was created in line with his performance style for certain songs to match the cadence and energy of the music, which constantly inspired more creative avenues to take the visuals," he explained.

The bulk of content was generated using Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects and Notch software, and was designed in a way which could be implemented as interchangeable blocks, that could synchronise with lighting.

From the grandMA3, Pike was able to change and manipulate the backdrop of the video screens to synchronise the content and lighting. Certain set pieces could remain for a few songs, but colours could change.

"Fundamentally, every track has bespoke content programmed to match the flow and musicality of the setlist," White remarked. For Rick's cover of AC/DC's Highway to Hell custom content, filmed by Peter Neill/Shoot the Sound made up the backdrop to the visuals. Following some minor edits and tweaks, Pixels & Noise sequenced this content to the music so that the video hit the ideal points of the track.

The wider Pixels & Noise team featured Illustrator and 20 Animator, Elettra McConnell; Content Video Editor, Joanna Apps; Previsualisation and Disguise Programmer, Ray Gwilliams; and Notch Rehearsals Programmer, Harrison Mead. "It was a pleasure to be involved in this project, collaborating with Ali Pike, Jamie Cowlin, and the wider team to ensure the entire visual package was cohesive and synchronised," White stated. "It was a brilliant environment to work in."

In selecting his favourite looks of the show, White referenced the simplicity of the opening of the show, which featured a theatrical transition from the lighting rig to on-screen video content. "It was understated and classy," he noted. "Ali was able to use the screen as a lighting device with no real parameters or concept of where the screen ends if you're seeing it as a member of the audience."

The 12m by 8m central wall and two angled walls were made up of 5m by 8m ROE Visual Black Quartz 4.6mm LED panels with HELIOS processing. The video rider also featured a Ross Carbonite 2M/E 4K PPU and Engineer Core and a Disguise gx 2c media server rack, built by Adlib. The camera package included UC4000 Panasonic Broadcast channels, a UJ90 box lens camera at FOH; pit cameras on rolling spider dollies with CJ15 lenses; a further two Panasonic AW-UE150 remote cameras on straight stands on stage with an AW-RP120G remote controller in addition to Marshall Electronics POV lipstick cameras. Video Crew Chief, Kieran Bruton; Video Server Technician, Toby Nares; Video Racks Engineer, Paul Maddock-Jones; Video LED/Camera Technicians, Jude Butcher, Stuart Anthony Thatcher, and Philip Hesketh made up the Adlib video team.

"There's quite a lot of programming and work behind the scenes to get this package show ready," Adlib Account Handler, Dave Eldridge commented. "ROE Visual Black Quartz is relatively new stock for us and they are great touring LED panels. The space created by having the video wall upstage in this dimension made for a nice and clean stage, and a visually striking show. It was a pleasure to collaborate with the team to make their collective vision for the show a reality."


The triplex-supplied control package included a Yamaha PM7 console and RPio622 1/0 Rack Stage Box for FOH Engineer, Sam Parker (Matteo Cifelli deputised for Parker at FOH from the M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool date and Europe onwards). L-Acoustics X8 and LA4X monitors were specified as nearfield speakers, while also supplied were: a DiGiCo Quantum 5 console and SO-Rack with 32-bit Stadius input and output cards; eight ways of Shure Axient Digital with a mixture of ADX Handheld transmitters for vocals and ADX1 M Bodypacks for the brass section; six channels of Axient Digital for the guitars and bass; 16 channels of Shure PSM1000 IEMs with all RF managed via Wireless Workbench with remote control of the transmitters via a Showlink access point.

"DiGiCo SD5 is my desk of choice because I know it inside and out - I've never found anything it can't do and it's comfortable. It's a home away from home for me," explained cave and sky diving enthusiast and multiple award-winning sound engineer, Samantha White.

In addition to mixing Rick. the band and backing vocalists, White also oversaw the communications system; she noted the extra infrastructure within the DiGiCo desk, like the meters and macros being close to hand for example, as conventions which made "life a bit easier" to mix. The engineer shared how she arranged her fader bays - outputs on the right, inputs on the left and any extras, which she dubbed, the "utility stuff" in the middle.

Having recently struck a deal with the company, those on stage adorned Cosmic Ears' flagship CE6P in-ear monitors. "For vocalists, they're phenomenal in the mid-range with their presence peak, and they really work on Rick's voice and baritone range. His mix is everything with his vocals sitting a couple of dBs on top, and a lush long reverb I create using Waves H-Reverb Hybrid Reverb plug-in. Overall, it's an ambient heavy mix which Rick likes, which is amplified when he throws his microphone to the crowd, as a lot of his songs require a lot of call and response."

Aston Starlights and AKG c414s on the lip fill picked up atmospherics. Backing vocalists used Shure Beta 58a with Axient Digital, while Rick used a DPA Microphones capsule. "It's got a real presence, bite, and smoothness where it matters on Rick's vocal. It suits him, and we also have DPA 4099 microphones on the brass section," White stated.

Adlib supplied an L-Acoustics PA system with K1 on the main hangs; K2 on the downfill and side arrays; KARA II on the rear arrays; flown KS28 subwoofers; a centre fill of KARAII; KS28 ground subwoofers; A10 and A15 wide ground fills; LA12X amplifiers as well as a KSG RECLINE Laser Inclinometer system with a rack mounted display. "This is my first time working with Adlib and their support has been brilliant. The crew has been great." Systems Engineer and de facto crew photographer, Oli Crump commented, extolling the virtues of the L-Acoustics PA system responsible for conveying FOH Engineer, Sam Parker's sound design. "L-Acoustics is mine and [FOH Engineer) Sam Parker's preferred PA system. I'm not doing anything overly creative; it's providing a consistent sounding system, which the tools provided by L-Acoustics allow me to do so."

The team carried K1 and K2 loudspeakers, which were reconfigured on the side hangs, depending on the size of the venue. At Leeds' first direct arena, the team hung more loudspeakers on the side hangs, as opposed to the main hangs, whereas venues like Liverpool's M&S Bank Arena required more speakers on the main hangs and fewer on the side.

"I like being able to manipulate that configuration and move K1 and K2 around seamlessly, depending on the venue." For a few of the shows, the team deployed a delay system - two hangs of KARA II. However, for the larger spaces, four hangs of KARA II were selected to move the audio to the back of the room, and in Crump's words, "ensuring every person hears the same show, regardless of where they are in the venue".

On site, Crump reinforced that arenas are, by definition, harder rooms to mix in: "You have more distance for the sound to carry, a louder reverberant field to overcome, hence the inclusion of delays in longer and more challenging rooms. I've found touring this room in the past that the sound has been a bit distant in the back of the room, which is why we've implemented delays this time around. While this is the A rig, we put in a reduced rig for the Bournemouth lnt'nl Centre show."

Processing was achieved by Adlib's newly invested DirectOut Technologies PRODIGY.MP, requested specifically by Crump. Adlib Account Handler, Richard 'Richy' Nicholson collaborated with the crew to ensure the system was exactly to specification.

"It was great to collaborate with the Rick Astley touring team and our partners at triplex on this project. Although my background is in touring, the technology has come on leaps and bounds since I left the road, so working with Oli and Adlib engineers to deploy PRODIGY.MP was exciting," Richy said, speaking to TPi shortly after Adlib was crowned TPi Awards' Favourite Sound Rental Company.

"We were incredibly proud to win. It's nice to be recognised by your peers as a company and see so many familiar engineers that we work with on a regular basis also honoured, shortlisted, or nominated by the sector."

RF/Stage Technician, Ben Bannister supported White in the monitor world, while the Adlib audio team featured Account Handler, Richard 'Richy' Nicholson; Lead PA Technician, Max Taylor; SL PA Technician, Marci Mezei; SR PA Technician, Louis Grogan and Delays Technician, Dave Cartwright.

"Benji is great at all the things I'm rubbish at," White said, modestly. "Nowadays, you need to tour as a teenager to understand the networking and computer stuff. I remember doing the analogue switchover as an engineer - I used to mix on Yamaha PM5s and PM1 Ds, and Digidesign desks - and I've developed skills on Axient Digital and Showlink but RF control is advancing faster than I can keep up with, so while I keep an eye and an ear on what's going on, on the stage, Benji, who is a talented engineer in his own right, has put a 30-channel RF system and back-ups together, which makes my life easier," White commented, further commending the service of triplex.

"I love their side racks and how they package their gear. I can have monitor world packed down and rolled out of the building within 22 minutes after the last note of a show. It's prepared right and Benji maintains it."

Among the ever-changing, 22-song setlist, White's favourite song to mix is the first track of the encore, Maria Love. "It's a bluesy, country number which is very catchy," she said, citing the sold-out AO Arena show in Manchester as a "special" moment. "Rick's music has stood the test of time. Not only is he a fantastic singer-songwriter and performer, but he is also an equally talented musician with passion and humility which shines through on stage while being humble and approachable off it."

These sentiments were echoed in all the conversations TPi had on site, often within spitting distance of the singer-songwriter, who casually interacted with his crew on a personal level - investing in their penchant for exchanging photos of their pets and the proliferation of teddy bear mascots.

For those now at the helm of the production, responsible for putting together the pieces of the unrelenting Rick Astley stage renaissance puzzle like Tori Lucion, this was a testament to the production's success: "It's an absolute pleasure and honour to be working for a great performer, showman, artist, multi-instrumentalist and all-round amazing human being who really cares about the people and team surrounding him -who he gives a heartfelt thanks to every night on stage – and you know he means it."

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