How you got into doing Light Shows & when?
I was stage manager at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham and, as such, had the responsibility of instructing the young people of the City in the subject of stage lighting – among all the other stage-craft required.
Inevitably we started experimenting with the state-of-the-art lighting equipment we had in the Studio Theatre (the latest Strand Electric equipment), particularly using ‘light’ in the place of scenery in the small stage-space available.
The two most able ‘students’ were Fred Smith from Aston University and Simon Barron (now a ‘Producer’ in Hollywood).
The experiments we tried and innovative effects we produced were particularly useful when the Theatre hosted concerts for the Pop –groups of the day; on one notable occasion Jimmy Hendrix performed and, notably, danced on our Bechstein Grand.
One of the concerns I had as ‘Staff’ was the effects that ‘drugs’ were having on some of my students and I determined to find a less harmful solution in order to give them the out-of-mind experience they so obviously craved. It was because of this that I researched ways of producing a substitute using sound (lots of it) and light (as a distraction).
After a short time I wrote/produced/directed a sound/light/dance spectacular – ‘LX84’ – as an experimental exposition, the finale of which included an attempt at producing a ‘pure psychedelic’ experience for the invited audience. This was so spectacularly successful that I determined never to repeat the experience as I deemed it too hazardous for the general public.
Soon after this event I started up the independent firm of ‘LX84’ as a commercial venture specialising in ‘Hytesenemic Light Shows’, or ‘visual sound’, to enhance the music scene in Birmingham at the time. I note that now-a-days the term coined is ‘liquid light’, an apt description for producing the effects; however when it comes to ‘interpretative light-shows’, the word ‘Hytesenemic’ is more apt.
Where did/does your Light Show operate?
We operated in Birmingham and its environs, wherever we could get a gig. Sadly there was not much money around and, in order to survive, to facilitate ongoing experiment in the medium and to be available at any time for any suitable work, I made what money I could by hiring-out of an evening in what we referred to as ‘the Escort Game’, among the night clubs and entertainment establishments of the area.
It kept the wolf from the door and allowed me to concentrate on the job in hand, although its significance was not immediately apparent. Still, at around a fiver a night, it was a useful income.
Who was your main influence, if any?
I took no influence from anyone at all. The last thing I wanted to do was to simple ‘copy’ what others were doing and so I shunned any outside influence and concentrated on developing my own ‘take’ on the medium. Fred Smith was a huge help here and the equipment he made for LX84 was groundbreaking and importantly innovative.
Once we did manage to go and see Pink Floyd in action, getting into the backstage area and witnessing their light-show (with their ‘operator’s kind permission, of course). It was interesting to see what they were doing but it was only part of what we were already using from our own development and research.
Later, when we reckoned that we had cracked the genre, we took a trip down to the mecca of the light-show at the time – the Roundhouse in London. We were appalled at the paucity of their showing, particularly by the lack of correlation between the music and the light.
There was the sound and the effects, but little beyond the ‘beat’ to connect the two. Further, they were still using effects that we had long since discarded as ‘just not good enough’. So, all in all, we came away with the enthusiastic belief that what we were doing was right at the top of the art-form and a proper exposition of the Hytesenemic light show we envisioned.
What Bands have you worked with?
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, Jimmy Hendrix, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (“I am the God of Hell-fire....”), The Who, The Yardbirds, The Small Faces, Judy Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity (twice a week at Birmingham’s ‘Elbow Room’ night-club), The Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and The Nice, Small Faces with P P Arnold,
Ten Years After,
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers,
Victor Brox Blues Train,
T D Backus Powerhouse,
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.
There were others, like The Varsitymen, but I forget their names.
What other Light Shows have you worked with and/or Cooperated with?
None at all. In order to preserve our new effects and equipment, we kept very much to ourselves and had no communication with any other Light-shows at all.
In fact I did not come across any other concerns doing the same thing.
We only took a quick peek at Pink Floyd’s show and made a flying visit to The Roundhouse (just to see how we equated in the effects stakes) and that was it.
So everything we did came from my, Fred’s and Simon’s heads.
Where did the name(s) come from?
The name ‘LX84’ came from the sound and light extravaganza I performed at the Midlands Arts Centre and is: ‘LX’ – the theatrical abbreviation for all things electrical and; ‘84’ – from George Orwell’s ‘1984’, the dystopian story set only fifteen years ahead of our time.
Hytesenemic comes from the words that we thought best described what we were doing in those early days: hypnotic, terrific, sensual, emotional – with an ‘...ic’ on the end.
Having achieved the true psychedelic experience and discarded it as too dangerous, I was keen to coin a word to replace it, lest the meaning of ‘psychedelic’ became demeaned and altered – which, indeed, it has been.
Hytesenemic came to mean ‘visual sound’ and the ability to mentally gather together all the inputs (mood of the audience, atmosphere, meaning of the song, intensity of the music etc) and interpret them into visual stimulant via the mechanics of the light-show equipment.
I still believe that it is the right word for the art-form.
When was your Light Show formed?
Really quite briefly in 1967/8.
How long did it run for? (is it still going or maybe back after an interval?)
It ran for a year and folded when I was never paid for the Bingley Hall Rave (£3,600 at 2021 prices).
I had to sell everything I possessed (only hanging on to the hard core lighting equipment by chance – everything else having been taken away [another story] in order to pay my operators the substantial wages I promised – and paid.
The work was physically and mentally exhausting during the ten hour gig and I felt that my people earned better than the meagre theatrical wage for their effort. As it was, I was going to come out of the event out of pocket but gambled on being able to find backers, based on the unique event and the fabulous showing we made.
As it happened, Dave Dee asked me to be their ‘permanent’ light-show but, by the time that offer came in, the nastiness of the situation (connected with equipment hire with no capital to back it up; crippling loan rates; having nothing further to sell) had resulted in my hurriedly leaving Birmingham - with a warning never to come back. I never did return.
Any personnel changes within the Light Show(s)
LX84 was based solidly around myself, Fred Smith and Simon Barron. We were the ‘movers and shakers’ and the core of the ‘firm’.
As the occasion demanded, I offered employment to the students who frequented the Midlands Arts Centre and to whom I taught the rudiments of stage-craft, lighting, sound-effects, mime and direction. They were all young (I was only just 21) and enthusiastic and bursting with ideas. It was a golden time.
Can you supply behind the scenes photo's of the equipment/shots from live shows/Light Show Handbills etc?
We did not take photos much in those days. The recording of the actual light-shows was completely beyond our capabilities.
Even the BBC, who I approached with a view to enhancing their music programmes, declared that it was all too difficult; although, like the established theatres who likewise did not want to know, I suspect that it was all too new and that they did not understand it.
They probably looked upon it as a threat to their long established and closely guarded ‘guild’.
Can you share any amusing/interesting Light Show related stories that wont land you in Court?
Yes, I could do so, but not many. One concerned two super-high-society young people who got their fingers inky at a top-flight private event – much to the enthusiastic reception from the guests.
What equipment you started out using, why you used it and what you changed to?
We used whatever we could find in the junkshops of the area. Ordinary slide projectors, carrousels, over-head projectors and (still available in those days) ancient ‘magic-lantern’ projectors.
These last had excellent and large lenses which became the basis of Fred Smith’s enhancement of other, more mundane gear. He inserted quartz-iodine light sources and added more powerful fans. The ‘overheads’ were initially enhanced with extra lenses but then Fred found that he could make much smaller, yet more powerful ‘overheads’ himself – and so he did.
He made up ‘optrasonic’ banks using domestic ‘spot’ lamps but controlling the effect through a box the size of two cigarette packets. Further, the lighting impulses could be selected from: high volume, low volume, no volume, high/medium/low pitch and manual (using an adjacent ‘keyboard’ made from an old, push-button radio set).
Eventually we discarded the standard optrasonic set up and reverted to purely manual input, as we found this suited our interpretive options best and we were not shackled by purely electronic automata.
Fred’s ‘strobe’ light was so powerful that we could actually control how people felt. This was a little worrying in its power and, when ‘strobes’ were made illegal, Fred happily smashed his up on the spot and we reverted to the more certain results achieved by ‘interrupter’- gear and colour-wheels to achieve ‘safer’ effects.
Eventually I was able to afford a ‘Rank Aldis 1000’ upright slide projector (with wide-angle, normal and zoom lens sets) and this became my number one projector of choice.
This was not the ‘Tutor’ but a larger, heavier affair. We still relied for the most part on vertical-tank projections and found that the many variations (limited only by our imagination) were supreme in the general light-show.
Overhead techniques tended to be saved for specialist work or as part of a five-projector (+1) ‘ultimate’ show – as in the final song at the Bingley Hall Rave, Dave Dee’s ‘Xanadu’, that was No 1 at the time.
The +1 was a speciality of mine which over projected on the other shows and was only ever used twice. It was a black’n’white portrait of a US soldier in Vietnam, showing quarter-front-view of the head (with helmet) in total exhaustion. The effect was to take the twenty foot image and make it appear to be turning clockwise – yet it never did.
Particularly for those days, this was a supremely powerful image.
I also employed the standard theatre lighting equipment of the day but used it in innovative and surprising ways – anything from ‘blinders’ to ‘exploding’ fire-balls. All a lot of fun.
What non standard objects/items were used in the quest for 'better effects'?
Many of the items we used from the start were obtained from the local hardware store (glass, moulded glass, expanded zinc sheet etc); from the chemist (hypo-syringes/needles, eye droppers et al); from the electrical shop – particularly ultra thin tubing; car accessory store (Isopon – the only substance with which to make glass tanks that would not fall apart).
Right at the end we were experimenting with a completely new effect genre – that of vibratory projection. Unfortunately it all fell through before we could get it up and running.
How many projectors/slide machines you started out with?
I started with two straight-throughs, one overhead, one carrousel and an 8mm cine-projector. This whole business was quite fluid and new projectors were being made, modified etc all the time. I suppose that at the final Show I had upwards of thirty light emitting machines of one sort or another.
How many projectors you finished up with?
By the time that the final nastiness was over, I finished up with just the straight-through Aldis and the Elite overhead. I still have them.
Where has your career taken you if you are not still in the Lighting Industry?
I ran away to sea by joining the Royal Navy. I became a bomb-disposal diver, mountaineer, boxer, canoeist, professional mountain guide, parachutist and commanded two warships.
I was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross during the Falklands war for taking ‘live and ticking’ bombs out of ships (see ‘Falklands UXB’ on YouTube) and defused by hand the first unknown ‘enemy’ sea-mine since Korea.
I was the first to successfully find by high-definition-sonar an unknown ‘enemy’ ground-mine in the Red Sea clearance of 1984 and was made MBE for doing so.
Later I was the Sailing Master for four years in the Sultan of Oman’s tall-ship ‘Shabab Oman’.
I have written several books, am a singer/songwriter and published poet (proper poetry, that is).
Having left the sea, I attempted to re-vamp the LX84 brand and, for a time, worked with ‘Polar Star’ (Dillon/Lakeman) but nothing came of it. It was not the right time.
I now live in France and travel a lot on my motorcycle.
Nigel Bruen - March 2021