….it’s just Rock n Roll
Back in 2013 I was lucky enough to do two large balloon drops at the NEC and NIA in Birmingham for Black Sabbath. It was short notice but I managed to pull it off and all went well.
2016-2017 sees the band on a world tour, The End Tour. Sabbath are to retire from global touring and bow out with dignity at what can only be described as one of the the best ever tours that Rock n Roll has seen.
The tour started in January 2016 with 65 shows, 956,000 tickets were sold and grossing in over $73 million in ticket sales and I was very proud to play a small part in that epic journey.
The final leg of this tour moved to Europe in January / February and their final gig was to be played in their home town of Birmingham at the legendary NEC and I was delighted to be part of this final farewell to this iconic band.
On the 19th January I travelled with Mike Harris ( my right hand man) to Dublin to install two large drops at the 3 Arena with help from Sandra Mckeon of Ab Fab Balloons based in Dublin. Always good to have a local crew on hand.
We meet up with the rest of the Special Effects crew and started to inflate. Now if you know Rock n Roll gigs then you will know that you have to think big and Mrs Osbourne, thats Ozzy’s wife and band manager had requested large balloons, large round balloons. Each net was filled with 100 3ft and 2ft Qualatex balloons which took less than an hour per net. The in-house rigging team installed the nets 25m above the arena, we tidy up our area and wait. We are then instructed to go and see George the tour manager as He needs to tell us our queue for the drop. The song in the one but last on the night called “Children of the Grave” and our drop need to be activated 2m.6s in. Well that all sound very straight forward so we have dinner and watch the concert. At about 4 songs from the end Mike and Myself take our position on the gantry some 25 m above the arena, Mike is Stage left and I am stage right, we have radio contact but cannot really hear each other due the the noise coming from Sabbath. Now if any off you out there have ever done a balloon drop you know what it feels like, I was nervous, very nervous. my hands were very clammy as I reached for the release cord. At 5 second to go I take up the slack and then pull like mad, 150 ft of chain stitch has to run through the net, I keep pulling the cord, I don’t look up until I feel the cord tighten and at that point I see 100 3ft and 2 ft balloons heading towards the 12,000 strong crowd. I glance stage right and Mikes balloons are also on their way down, the crowd bounce them all over the arena and towards the stage.
So the concert finished about 10.30pm and by 11pm the area is clear, Mike and Myself are buzzing and start to de-rig the nets. George the tour manager is now walking over toward us at quite a brisk rate and I’m expecting the worst, did we pull at the wrong time, no I though, everything was perfect. Now from what I can remember I think these were his exact words…” Well done guys that was perfect but Sharon is not happy and thinks it needs more balloons, can you please treble the order and drop 600 3ft balloons at next two concerts in London and the same for Birmingham, I will confirm all by email”. I agree and have a chat with Mike, we do a happy dance, load the flight case and head of in the direction of the hotel bar.
Next stop London, The O2 Arena inside the Millennium Dome
We both travel back to Birmingham on Saturday morning and prepare for out next leg of the tour. We need 2400 3ft and 2ft balloons. No suppler seems to be able to complete this order so I find myself having to split orders between different manufactures and even having to have some flown in from the States. Thank you Pioneer
Our next dates are the 29th and 31st January in London. Mike and I travel down in the van with all the extra kit and check into the hotel. The next morning we are up bright and early and set about off loading the extra flight cases and then locating our original flight case from Dublin. The crew arrive and we start to fill the nets. Mike sorts out the additional nets for stringing and I get the crew inflating and filling the nets already strung from Dublin.
Now when it comes to rigging these nets at the O2 you need to have quite a head for heights. The grid height is 49m and that is where we activate the nets from. Now 49m does not see a long way up but when you up there it’s a long way down. The in house rigging crew did an amazing job. Once rigged the crew including myself had to watch a H & S video prior to being allowed to go up to the grid. H & S is paramount and prior to walking out you have to have a pat down which basically means you are now allowed to take anything out on the grid that could fall, no tools, no phones, no camera, nothing. Anything on your person must be stowed in zipped pockets or attached to you with a safety line. You are not allowed to work in the grid alone and you must be accompanied by a fire officer at all time.
Because the grid it so heigh we need to activate the drops 16 seconds earlier than Dublin as this was the amount of time it took the balloon to hit the audience but I think you have to admit, the effect in stunning and both nights the drops were 100% successful and the crown went wild.
A day off for Mike and Myself.
There was no concert on Monday 30th so we became what is more commonly known as Tourist W@*kers. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Tuesday 31st January
Another day another dollar. This time a new crew, 6 more nets filled and rigged in 3 hours and all went well.
Thursday 2nd and Saturday 4th February
Its the final run, the last two concerts on home ground, The Gentings Arena at the NEC, Birmingham
Its a smaller arena holding about 17,000 with a much lower grid height. This time we are able to rig our own nets and again its a sell out crowd on both date
The final concert will be the big one, TV and media coverage was immense and yes pulling those release cords was a nerve racking experience but I would not off missed it for the world
The Final drop at the very final concert
A big thank you to all the crew who helped make these drop possible, Sandra Mckeon, Carol Dack, Heather Ellis, Adam Ellis, Rhiain Edwards, Paul Muffet, Jim Peters, Tracy Peters, Mike Hurst, Glen Everton, Dave Jackson, Anthea Wynne Orchard, Stuart Davis and my right hand man Mike Harris. I can quite honestly say they were the best crew anyone could of wished for and it was a job that we all will never forget.