Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bad things happen in threes...

Blue Oyster Cult, 20th of November 1975, Newcastle City Hall. The first sign of trouble was when the noise boys balked at the position of the big plywood sheets centre stalls just under the balcony for their mixer. "Put them further back, and way off to the side, you don't want to be sitting there, trust me".

The get-in passed without incident, although they needed some dropping points from the roof to hang something or other. One of us went up into the roof and moved some sunfloods (rectangular floodlight fittings) out of the way to drop ropes, then someone else turned them on whilst they were face down on the timber walkways. (I was guilty of one of them, but I don't remember which one now with the passage of time. My mate Keith was the other culprit.)

Half an hour or so later, we heard a bit of a rumpus on the stage. (We were backstage doing something else).

It turned out that a small fire had started in the roof space and one of the roadies had seen the smoke. He was an ex-U.S. Fireman and he managed to put it out with a water extinguisher. Unfortunately, he didn't know his way round the roof space. Let me describe it to you.

At the top of the stage right stairwell was a half-height door leading into the roof space above the auditorium. When you opened it, you were confronted with a short wooden ladder which led up to a narrow walkway. You then had to duck down through a small triangular gap underneath a large steel roof girder at which point there was a curving timber ladder to your left which led to the criss-crossing ceiling walkways. you were actually traversing the upper surface of the ceiling fibrous plaster cornice and whilst it is very strong, it is not designed to be walked on directly.

(I can't find a decent photo, but here is the ceiling, from their website:

What the firefighter had done was to have scrambled up the light timber frame of the curved cornice the wrong side of the girder- consequently he managed to create a shoe shaped hole in the plasterwork. He was very lucky that he hadn't missed his footing and plunged to his probable death. He said afterwards that he hardly even registered what he had done as he was so single-mindedly determined to put that fire out.

(A week or two later, Jimmy the Joiner fitted numerous asbestos-type sheets all round the possible places plonker stage crew could have possibly put the sunfloods).

During the gig, it was still painfully loud, even with our standard issue Boots fibrous wax earplugs in place. Then something else scary happened in the second half. There was a US Navy ship docked down on the Tyne that week and a number of sailors came to see the show. Some of them managed to get backstage and decided to trash one of the toilets. They ripped the sinks and WC tanks off the walls and left it to flood. Unfortunately, it was a toilet high up on the same staircase as the roof void access and at the bottom was a large metal cabinet housing the stage lighting control panel & house light dimmers. So we had our very own internal waterfall cascading onto the electrical equipment! Fortunately, our House L/X (the Manager's Son) had the presence of mind to grab some black sacks from the (very wet) cleaner's store in a small kitchen below and others knew where the stopcocks were so a crisis was quickly just turned into a drama. We were delighted that the house lights came on again at the end of the evening !

Some time later, I asked the Manager what the damage had been financially after the ceiling hole got patched. He told me a figure with a twinkle in his eye- they had simply withheld some of it from the box office takings on the night and sent them a subsequent supplementary bill which was paid without question, once he had pointed out that the hire contract held the hirer liable for all damage, however caused.

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