Igniting explosive effects

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
November 2013

Firework displays are a hugely popular way of marking a celebration whether it be large or small, and one Lincolnshire based company is helping to make sure some of the country’s biggest events go off with a bang.
Pyrovision has masterminded some magnificent displays for events in all manner of unusual and challenging locations. These have included the 2002 Queen’s Golden Jubilee – when Queen guitarist Brian May rocked out on top of Buckingham Palace – the Edinburgh Festival, the Brit Awards, the Lord Mayor’s Show and Pyrovision was the first company to work on the London Eye as part of the capital’s extravagant New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Its explosive effects also featured in Coldplay’s 2005 Twisted Logic Tour, the Royal Windsor Horse Show and last year’s Visit Scotland ad campaign, where its famous waterfall effect, cascading down the steep rock face of Edinburgh Castle, took centre stage.

All its displays are individually designed, from the smallest bonfire night event, to bigger corporate shows, weddings, concerts and even funerals.

Since the company was founded in 1994, design director Keith Webb has also staged displays in overseas locations like Canada, Hong Kong, China and Monaco, as part of international competitions and festivals; at the latter they won the Concours International competition.

Mr Webb, who is based at the company’s Deeping St Nicholas offices, started working in the fireworks industry when he was just sixteen years old, thanks to one of his dad’s contacts. Living in Kent at the time, he was roped in to help out on a display in Battersea, London, and although it ignited his interest, he didn’t envisage making pyrotechnics his career.

“At the first show I did, there was all this burning debris raining down on us. There were one or two moments I wasn’t particularly happy about, but I came away from the whole thing with this euphoria – it was quite amazing,” he recalled. “I still wasn’t minded to go into it though, but I was offered a job and stayed with the company for eight years where I learnt the old traditional skills.

“Fireworks have moved on quite a substantially since I started – how they work, are designed and the types available to us.”

In the following years he worked for several big pyrotechnic companies up and down the country and on shows like the Edinburgh Festival, which he was involved with again this year, as well as ones on the continent.

Mr Webb set up Pyrovision in partnership with former colleagues Rodney Clark and Wilf Scott, who has since retired, and the firm has offices in Surrey as well as Lincolnshire. Just two years after its launch it became the first European company invited to Hong Kong to organise its explosive New Year’s display, which took five months to design and today remains its biggest coup.

A regular event on its books is the impressive Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, held at the end of the Edinburgh Festival, which is the largest annual live fireworks concert in Europe and involves months of precision planning.

“A lot of the work we do is to recorded music but with a live orchestra, this is where it comes down to tenth of a second split timing,” said Mr Webb.

“It makes it very difficult as the composer can speed up or slow down. We are working with a set sequence of fireworks meant to last thirty minutes so we have to build in little leeways.

“Edinburgh generally involves about 100,000 fireworks – although that’s not the biggest we’ve done; there can be 665 shots a second on a big show.

“An event like this takes months of planning. I have two to three weeks listening to the music while I’m driving about in the car before working out what to put to it. Things come into your head, like whether it’s going to be a quiet effect or several together, then it takes at least two weeks to design the show and then a further four to prepare the fireworks – we import them and they come in sectional form for us to put together.

“Then there’s the setting up, ensuring everything is in the right place and sometimes we’re asked to do a dress rehearsal.”

The majority of fireworks used by the company are imported from overseas, mainly China, with popular fireworks including Roman Candles – a traditional firework which ejects stars or shells – the Wheatsheaf, Catherine Wheels and Gold Brocade, which creates a long-lasting effect of gold stars hanging and dropping through the sky.

Over the years, through his work, Mr Webb has rubbed shoulders with many big name musicians, providing effects for tours involving Pink Floyd, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and even the late Michael Jackson. The company picks up a lot of its bigger shows through production companies, Mr Webb explains, who in turn hire in their own favoured contractors.

Like many industries it can be fickle, he said, with production companies chopping and changing which in turn means it’s very much about who you know, rather than what you know.

Another, more surprising area, where the Pyrovision does a lot of work is funerals. As well as organising displays to celebrate a life, there is also a growing trend for people requesting their ashes be put into a firework and fired into the sky as a last wish.

“We get requests for them to be let off at certain times or in specific locations and sometimes to the accompaniment of a particular song – ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams is a popular one,” said Mr Webb.

“What’s strange is that at a normal display there are people cheering and shouting, whereas these events are very different.For those left behind, it can be very comforting, as they know, that at a particular moment, that’s their loved one.”

And despite their success, gauging feedback still leads Mr Webb to try and make each show better than the last.

“I’m always striving to do better, and often score my shows out of ten, and think I could have done that better,” he said.

“But it’s always great to watch children’s reactions, and when members of the public come up to you and say ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ or ‘I couldn’t believe you could do that’, it’s great to get that acknowledgement.”

For more information about Pyrovision and its work visit www.pyro-vision.com

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