ACCESS ALL AREAS in conversation with Stage and Production Manager, Colin Rowell

Motorhead came to the City Hall with their Bomber lighting rig. They strapped me to the cockpit and flew me round for hours ha ha. I remember drinking Tequila with them on the hotel balcony after a gig in Berlin…but don’t ask me about Brian Robertson’s hawaiin shirt ha ha. A few people told me ‘You gotta get Col’ he’ll tell ya loadsa stories’. A few weeks back I interviewed Chris Phipps who worked with Col’ on The Tube and he recommended I get in touch. He passed on his contact and we agreed to meet up.

 

This is the bit where I mention their background. What they’ve done or how they made their name. But where do I start ? Deep breath. What about Stage Manager at Wembley Stadium for David Bowie, Production Manager for Genesis at Knebworth, Reading Festival stage manager. Tour manager for Hawkwind, Motorhead, Buzzcocks, Big Country. And more. TV stage manager at The Tube, Razzamatazz, TX 45. Music shows across the BBC, ITV, CH4, USA TV. The list goes on. What do you do to relax Colin ? Listen to music Gary, what do ya think ha ha. With his infectious laugh and good humour Colin recalls his time of nearly 50 years in the music business. Yep 50. Let that sink in. So buckle up, strap in and… You know I’m just a lad from Hebburn who got to work with some of the biggest bands in the world. It was right time, right place.

How did you spend your teenage years ? My passion for music came in the ‘60s when me and a friend from Clegwell School were singing in North East Working men’s clubs. I was around 13 year old, still at school and earning more money than the teachers (laughs).

How did you get to be stage manager at Newcastle City Hall ? At college in the early ‘70s I ended up running the coffee stall in the Haymarket, booking bands and promoting concerts. At the Mayfair I had Fleetwood Mac on when ‘Albatross’ was in the charts. At the City Hall I had Sweet on with their hit ‘Blockbuster’. Another time was two days at the City Hall with Chickenshack, Savoy Brown and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The compere was John Peel. I also done some follow spot lights and other jobs around the hall. I knew the place well and got on with all the visiting promoters who said I done a good job.

I knew Bob Brown the City Hall manager so when the opportunity came up to take over the stage management he said ‘Col you know your way around will you look after the place ?’ So yeah I started hiring crew, getting equipment in, making sure sound checks were on time and just generally ran the venue. I was there for several years so the bands I saw and the stories I could tell you, we’ll be here forever. So I’ll keep them for my book (laughs).

 

Can you pick a few out, maybe a nightmare job ? There’s a few but maybe one that was a nightmare for others. It involves Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. They were on a UK tour and stopped for their gig at Newcastle City Hall. The singer Graham Bonnet came up to me and said ‘You don’t know any good hairdressers around here do you Colin?’  I said ‘Funnily enough my sister in law has a shop just down the road 5 mins away from the hall’. She said ‘Send him down and we’ll get him in. He went, got the cut, and everything was hunky dory…until after the show.

At 4am in the dressing room you’ve got Paul Loasby from Harvey Goldsmiths office, me, Ritchie Blackmore and the drummer Cozy Powell going mad cancelling the world tour because Graham Bonnet had his hair cut (laughs).

Another Blackmore story was we used to have to take the doors off the City Hall to get the rainbow in from their stage set, it was so big. The rumour was that on their way to America they threw it in the ocean. I was curious about this so Ritchie called me up and said ‘There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the rainbow still exists and I’m giving it to you as a gift. The bad news is, it’s in America under your name and costing you storage (laughs)’. Which yeah I thought was great, my story is littered with stuff like that. And I look back on those times Gary and think, can’t be bad can it.

Have you any gigs that stand out as really good memories? There has been loads of great times but one night we had Golden Earring on. You know they only had that one hit ‘Radar Love’. And the guest band were Lynyrd Skynyrd who were blowing them off everywhere on that tour. When they came to Newcastle City Hall the management of Golden Earring told them they couldn’t have any lighting and only 8 channels on the sound desk. Now as it happens I’d bought some lights off Lindisfarne and stored them in the hall. So I set the lights up and knew the sound engineer so we bumped them up to 16 channels. Well Lynyrd Skynyrd were over the moon and they blew them off. Again.

 

Next time they came to the City Hall on tour they were headlining and the guys came backstage to one of the rooms which was used for guitar tune up. 4pm in the afternoon they came to me and said Colin we’ve got a huge problem. ’There seems to be water coming in the room where we’ve got the guitars. Do ya’ wanna go an’ have a look ?’ I opened the door and found there was nothing in there. Then door get’s shut behind me, a water hose get’s pointed through the window and I get drenched from head to toe. It’s Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘innit. So I’m dragged out, put on the shoulders of the band and ran around the hall (laughs).

At the end of the night they gave me t-shirt’s, a tour jacket and left me two cases of Jack Daniels.

That’s a great gesture from the band… Yeah I was the only one on that tour that made the extra effort for them. The Skynyrd would have paid a fortune to be on that tour and part of that deal is sound and lighting. I thought it was so unprofessional of the other band, if they were getting blown off they should of played a bit harder.

How did you get involved with TV and in particular The Tube ? There was Geoff Brown, Chris Phipps and me sharing an office in Newcastle. What happened was they, as producers, had applied for this music television show and asked me if I was interested in joining the team as stage manager. You see from years at City Hall I knew the acts, the crews, the managers and they were all glad when they knew a familiar face and voice was going to be there running the stages in the studio. I had left the City Hall by the ‘80s and went and done a bit tour managing. Funny thing was I left on the Friday and by the next Thursday I was Rick Wakemans tour manager. And the gig was at you guessed it… the city hall.

What was your time like at The Tube ? Just five years of sheer magic. First off started with two stages, ended up with four and I did the deal with ENTEC who were a big sound company. They ran Reading Festival and owned The Marquee. It was a smooth operation with them providing all the sound and crew. It was flown in (hung from ceiling) off the stage making it easier for cameramen to have floor space and no big speakers in their way. Also a lot of the bands had done Reading festival so they could easily organise equipment with ENTEC.

Earlier on the blog an interview with Chris Phipps talks about bands that broke on The Tube. Can you remember any ? Yeah me and Geoff Brown were sent to London to check out Grandmaster Flash. It was the first time The Tube were going to have on stage a set-up of a band playing all the scratchy stuff. We get to the venue and there was a support band on so we went to a Steak house but it was dreadful, we didn’t eat it and went back to the venue. The support act were still on and it was Paul Young and the Royal Family. We listened in this time. This was good stuff.

We got back to Newcastle and in a meeting with one of the head guy’s at The Tube, Malcolm Gerrie, I banged the table and said ‘let’s get him on’. And we did. But Malcolm and I felt Paul didn’t get a good crack of the whip so we invited him back on again and the rest is history. So not only got him on twice and broke his career but in 1991/92 I was his tour manager…it all follows on.

Did you work with any North East bands while on The Tube ? Yeah Prefab Sprout. We used to do the Mid-Summer Specials on The Tube and unfortunately one show was cancelled on us. There was a boat parked on the river Tyne near the bridge called Tuxedo Princess. I had the boat all set up for them but it didn’t happen. There was an electricians strike.

I went on and done loads of music television shows, one of them was Big World Café in the Brixton Academy and Prefab were on that. I just saw Paddy last week with his long white beard. Lovely to see him.

 

You seemed to be constantly in work in what can be a fragile career working in the media ? Here in the North East in the early ‘80s I put on Rock on the Tyne festivals at Gateshead Stadium. We had three big generator trucks parked at the back of the stage and somebody had put a big sign on it saying ‘Do not switch off. Colin’s hairdryer in use’ (laughs). The crew had a laugh with me. You’ve got to get on with people.

I got invited down to Knebworth where I’ve stage managed 15 shows, last one was Genesis. I’ve been so many times there is a rumour that on the stained glass window of Knebworth Castle there is a painting with planes on and Queen in there, plus me in the corner and a glass of red wine (laughs).

But you have to be an affable person and getting people to work for you. You get a reputation. I’ve stage managed the Brits, MTV Awards countless other shows on reputation alone.

Have you worked abroad ? Yes many times, once I ended up having dinner with Boris Yeltsin in the Kremiln. There was a big cultural show in Russia, orchestra’s were on, ballet, all sorts. We got the TV trucks parked and set up in the heart of Moscow Red Square when some heavy looking Russian men approached. We all had walkie talkies and they asked us for them ‘Because they need to be configured’. Three hours later they brought them back. We asked what was wrong with them. Apparently they were interfering with their big red button below ground in the their military bunkers. Right under our trucks. Cudda’ went boom !

What you up to now ? Apart from writing my book and meeting my publisher soon, I still dabble in event production. We formed The Showblokes and worked with Sun FM, Century Radio, Newcastle Opera House, Stockton Council a load over the years. It’s my passion to still be involved. I’ve been in more hotels than living in my house so I don’t do any tour management but have for the last 9 years managed the Carlisle Blues and Rock Festival. Yeah still keeping my hand in.

Interview by Gary Alikivi 2019

3 thoughts on “ACCESS ALL AREAS in conversation with Stage and Production Manager, Colin Rowell

  1. Been waiting for this one Gary 👌
    NOW;
    You need to interview his predecessor, MOOSE who was at the Hall when Zeppelin, The Stones and many fading stars (Chuck Berry, Traffic etc) and many more rising stars (Bowie, Elton John, Queen etc) we’re regular performers.
    Thanks to Moose, I got my foot in the door 😁

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