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RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Preview Evening 2010

Fireworks for the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Exclusive Preview Evening 2010

The Hampton Court Flower Show is one of The Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship events and a real honour for Alchemy to be involved. The last couple of years had seen 2 different companies produce the display for this event, and without going in to too much detail both didn’t quite hit the mark with both the audience and the event organisers. In that respect it was similar to the first year we fired Leeds Castle, because our client knew how important it was to get back on track and meet their audience’s expectations: one poor show can be a singularity, but several consecutive ones can affect your audience’s perception of the overall quality of the entertainment, and even make them think twice about attending.

Add to the mix the historic nature of the venue, the sensitivity of local wildlife, and the constraints of a firing site where the wind almost inevitably blows towards the audience and you have to choose your material carefully: no big material, no drossy material. But it has to be spectacular, don’t forget. The best ever.

So, clever choreography was the order of the day, as well as designing the display with the right balance (and type) of shells to cakes and candles, so that we could fire a continuous display without any shells if strong wind forced us to pull them. In the event the wind was light and the skies were clear, too clear, in fact, as we had to wait an extra 5 minutes after the scheduled firing time in order for the West-facing audience to benefit from a darker sky and therefore a more impressive spectacle. After the last 3 summers I think we can argue that the weather being too good and delaying the start of the show was an unforeseeable problem!

Greenwich and Dockland Festival Fireworks 2010

Gravity, Greenwich & Docklands Festival @ the National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will always hold great firework memories for us, as it was where both Glenn and I were firing on Millennium night. We’ve been back quite a few times since, and it’s a beautiful venue for pyrotechnics, either in the snow as it was just before Christmas for a wedding display, or on a warm and sunny summer‘s day as it was on Thursday for the opening night of the 2010 Greenwich & Docklands International Festival. It was the first time that we’ve worked on the festival and it was a delight to be involved in such an interesting, fun and prestigious event. Challenging, though. But as you know already, we enjoy challenges…

The material had to be just right for an historic venue. The design had to be perfectly synchronised with not just the music, but also the video and the dancers (including referencing the colour palette of the dancers’ clothes). And of course we had to impress the audience despite a maximum material size of 30mm and restrictions on where we could fire in relation to the buildings… It was no ordinary fireworks display – more of a combination of over 500 fireworks, stage effects and arena pyrotechnics, all fired by time code, locked on to the music, including dancer and pyro chases back and forth across the site – a human and firework Mexican wave! OK, so it’s difficult to explain, but believe me, it was clever stuff, fun stuff and it worked perfectly. Our thanks to all involved – creative, production, festival team , venue-side and Alchemy crew – you know who you are!

“Sorry that I didn’t manage to catch you after last night’s show, but just wanted to let you know how delighted I was with the pyro and its integration into the overall show. The display was meticulously designed and presented and had terrific impact. I particularly appreciated how well the collaboration worked between you and Jules, leading to such a sophisticated crowd pleasing finale! Also, a real result given the challenges of working in such close proximity to those buildings – well done!” Bradley Hemmings, Artistic Director, Greenwich & Docklands International Festival

Florence & The Machine

Confetti Effect for Florence + the Machine, University of Hertfordshire

No, not Florence the place. Florence the Lungs. And what lungs they are, and what a performance she gave. The Forum was absolutely packed and absolutely rocked. The end of a hard year of study was celebrated in style and for the first time the University of Hertfordshire Summer Ball took place at the new Forum – the heart of UHSU’s recent redevelopment.

It’s a fantastic venue, and it was really brought to life by an exhilarating show from Florence Welch and her band. Our role was to add a bit of extra visual spectacle to the occasion by filling the air with gold confetti during one of her most famous and popular tracks, Cosmic Love. At the given moment after the mid-track breakdown both blasters jetted into action, pumping out 6kgs of metallic gold confetti in under a minute. It looked especially good under the impressive Forum lighting rig, with the reflective confetti taking on the hue of each lighting state in turn. The crowd went wild, and you could see that the lady herself loved the effect. At the end of the track she even encouraged the crowd to catch the last falling pieces in their mouths – thanks Florence, something else to put in the risk assessment for next time 😉

We’re looking forward to our next rock and roll experience, and thanks to Confetti Master Will Matthias for working alongside Alchemy on this high-profile gig. Maybe some stage pyro or dancing flames too next time Florence?

Lambourne End

Pyrotechnics, Confetti & Streamers at Lambourne End, Essex

Sometimes we forget how lucky we are, and at Alchemy we’re certainly guilty of not giving a high enough profile to some of our smaller events for community and charitable organisations. So here’s a start to make amends.

Lambourne End is an outdoor activity centre in Essex, run by a team of dedicated, enthusiastic, caring and brilliant people. The centre has the sort of aims that would trounce any politician’s empty political pledges or any corporate outfit’s mission statement: it promotes respect and freedom for all, works for tolerance and understanding, encourages an active care and concern for the community and unites efforts by people of different traditions.

That sort of stuff makes fireworks seem pretty frivolous, so it was nice to know that they could find a role for us in their work, and that we could contribute to their success in our own little way. So it was that Glenn, Will and I headed over to Essex early on a bright, warm, still Spring morning and set about rigging a series of outdoor pyrotechnic, confetti and streamer effects to celebrate the completion of the centre’s new 60′ outdoor climbing wall. Donning harnesses and helmets, we set about taking some of the kit to the top of the tower (come on – did you really think we were going to miss an opportunity to fire from the top of a climbing wall?? You should know better by now!) while GP rigged the VIP moment for the Lord Lieutenant of Essex as well as some other ground-based effects.

It being a daylight show we were tested by 11.30am and the opening took place at lunchtime, complete with Mission Impossible soundtrack, besuited abseilers and plenty of pizzazz from our pyrotechnics as well as clouds of colourful confetti and streamers. And what did the client think to our daylight effects?

“That was brilliant!” – Claire, Event Organiser, Lambourne End

Alchemy Fireworks useful links: Lambourne End

Glenmorangie Burns Night Dinner

Glenmorangie Burns Night Dinner 2010, Whatley Manor

I’ve never been much of a whisky drinker, and I think I’ve only ever had haggis once, so it was good to experience a proper Burns Night, albeit this one was in Wiltshire (at the amazing Whatley Manor) rather than Scotland. The event was organised by Glenmorangie and Alchemy were commissioned to come up with a 5 minute quiet firework display choreographed to music by Scottish performers.

It was a beautiful crisp and clear day – one of those days when it’s a joy to be out in the fresh air doing something you love – and the team of Glenn, Rob and Simon soon had the show rigged and tested, before moving on to set up the PA system (also supplied by Alchemy) and hook up the FireOne digital firing system which was controlling both the music and the fireworks. We take it for granted now but it is an amazing piece of kit, locking the firework cues to the music via timecode and giving the choreography a punchiness of accuracy and rhythm that really does put it in a different league to an old-fashioned manually-fired push-button display… not to mention the real old-school of hand-firing… (i can scarcely believe it but some professional firework companies still hand-fire big shows, although i think that’s due to over-stretching themselves over the Bonfire Night season and not having enough firers and kit to rig everything electrically… rather you than me!)

Nowadays the expectation of firework audiences is heightened by seeing digitally-fired major international displays like London New Year’s Eve (by Groupe F, from France) or the opening of Atlantis in Dubai (by Grucci, from the USA) – remember the big aerial shots of fireworks covering the man-mad “Palm”? So even smaller shows, such as weddings, private parties or smaller corporate events, expect more than they used to – and rightly so. The technology is there, so we use it as much as we can. Digital shows require more time and effort, and digital firing systems reward talented show designers, but we’re also confident that our show design abilities make these endeavours worthwhile… well, let’s put it this way, people seem to say nice things after our shows…

“The display you performed last night was absolutely wonderful and during the course of the evening many of our guests were giving a wonderful feedback…We found the balance of sound and visual attraction of the fireworks extremely well coordinated.” Peter Egli, General Manager, Whatley Manor

Alchemy Fireworks useful links: Whatley Manor

Olympic Dinner

Olympic Dinner, Leeds Castle, Kent

Apparently something called the “Olympics” is coming to the UK soon – anyone know anything about it? Of course. How could you miss it? It’s everywhere. The funding is debated in Parliament, the buildings are rapidly sprouting out of the East London soil, and the psychedelic logo (i like it, actually) emblazens everything from Coke Can’s to accountants’ email stationery. As you might imagine it’s also the subject of much debate in the firework world – the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games really are as big as it gets for pyrotechnicians, so let’s hope that those in charge appoint a UK company to produce those shows. After London defying the doubters and pipping Paris to be awarded the Games there would be a certain sad irony if Groupe F – famous for their ground-breaking Millennium display at the Eiffel Tower – are on the roof of the Olympic Stadium in East London on 27th July 2012…

But however much we personally get excited about the Opening and Closing Ceremony Pyro, for the rest of the world the real fireworks will take place on the track, in the swimming pool, in the velodrome etc, so who are the rising British stars who could illuminate the London 2012 Games and push the host nation up the medal table? Well here’s a name to watch out for – Jacqui Gould. She’s a young archer from Maidstone who has fought back from serious inujury to compete at national and international level. Judging by the impressive way she started the firework display by firing a flaming arrow from Castle Island into the moat she certainly knows how to handle her bow, and we all hope that the golden fireworks inspire her to a gold medal in 2 years time. And, if you’ll permit us to dream some more, we might even be watching from the roof of that stadium as she triumphantly carries the flag into the Closing Ceremony.

“Amazing!” Victoria Wallace, Managing Director, Leeds Castle

Leeds New Year’s Eve 2009

Leeds New Year’s Eve 2009 Fireworks

Our return visit for Leeds New Years Eve fireworks and no industrial fog-clearing fan required this year – just some thermals and plenty of hot tea and coffee to keep us all from freezing! The cold snap preceding New Years Eve had left a fairly thick film of ice over part of the firing site which needed to be shifted before anything could be placed onto it. We like our fireworks to stay firmly in place when they’re going off and not resemble someone from Dancing On Ice! Sledge hammers, rock salt and spades at the ready Robin and I set about clearing a path to lay the fireworks onto and had soon cleared an area large enough to take the arsenal of fireworks we had set for this show.

Glenn had come up with a concept for the show based around Space and it had been divided into four distinct sections taking in Earth, Meteors and Asteroids, Saturn and the Sun. Huge lifts of stars and reports from 5” mines and 6” shells got the show off to a resounding start. Incorporating go getters, ring shells, meteor shells and our ever popular lightning shells the crowd were treated to a sensational display. A favourite sequence of mine was using silver strobe shells to fill the sky with twinkling stars and firing through it dozens of Saturn shells with colourful centres surrounded by the most perfectly formed rings.

To welcome in the New Year we fired an astonishing 2010 projectiles in 30 seconds as the display built to its hair raising crescendo of maroons and titanium willow shells. In hindsight the display was very aptly titled ‘Space’ because it really was out of this world!

Gibraltar National Day 2009

National Day Fireworks, Gibraltar, 2009

I fired my first fireworks display in Gibraltar in 2003, and since then have fired there on a pretty much annual basis, whether it’s New Year’s Eve, a summer concert, or the Straits Games (the Olympics for the Straits of Gibraltar!). However, until this year we had never previously had the opportunity to pitch for the biggest firework display that takes place annually in Gibraltar – the National Day fireworks. A joint pitch with Events UnLimited finally opened that door for us, and that was when the hard work really began.

The next few months were spent sizing up and overcoming the numerous challenges involved in producing this display: designing a soundtrack for the show to be played on live radio and TV; designing the show itself for an audience of tens of thousands spread over many miles; organising the export, transport and import of the fireworks; organising the kit to meet us out there; sorting out the necessary permissions with police, fire brigade, port authority etc – thanks Odette!; and getting out there early enough to prepare it all and get it out onto the Detached Mole. No mean feat.

Thanks to all the planning, the whole thing came together pretty smoothly, so thanks to all involved, from the crane drivers at Blands to Odette at Events UnLimited, the chaps at the Port Authority, the team at GBC (thanks for the calmest, clearest cueing to start the show George!), and the team at Patagonia who kept us fed (entrañas) and watered (cañas): – and of course the Alchemy crew. It really was a team effort from start to finish. And the show, it has to be said, was a stunning success, and beautifully captured by Roy McGrail’s stunning photography.

“Magnificent… a fitting end to Gibraltar’s National Day celebrations”, The Gibraltar Chronicle

Leeds Castle 2009

Leeds Castle Fireworks 2009

It’s no secret that I love working at Leeds Castle. In the past 7 years I have built up a strong working relationship with them and I’d like to think have formed some lasting friendships. Maybe that’s why, more than ever, I want them to LOVE what we do there. Just liking our shows isn’t enough anymore! We decided fairly early on that we would drop the narrated displays this year in favour of a continuous show. These seemed to work much better for their audience and momentum wasn’t lost during the narrated parts. We set about creating the soundtrack early on in the summer of 2009 around the theme of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ to broadly encompass music from the musicals. We batted ideas around and I produced the first draft of the mix for approval. After a couple of changes and re-edits the mix was done and the show was ready for the design process.

A 30 minute continuous display certainly needs a lot of variety in colours and effects to avoid repetition! I went through our entire artillery of stock and bought in specific effects where we didn’t have anything that quite suited what I wanted to achieve. I worked closely with STL lighting to compliment the colour washes and shapes which would be projected onto the castle walls and eventually came up with a display that I was very excited about. Programmed and fired using our digital FireOne firing system, we arrived at Midday on the Friday and by 3pm on Saturday we were ready to roll. A lucky Ebay auction winner gave the countdown over the PA and the firing site erupted on cue to the opening bars of Phantom of the Opera. The show was certainly one of the most enjoyable and slickest I have ever produced and this is borne out in a quote from their Chief Exec…..

“Congratulations and thanks to all staff who worked so hard over the events weekend to contribute to one of the best weekends we have ever had for fireworks. The preparation and planning was excellent, the customer service great and so far, the feedback fabulous! And as for the fireworks – astonishing” Victoria Wallace – Chief Executive, Leeds Castle

Alchemy Fireworks useful links: Leeds Castle website

Twinwoods Classical Concert 2009

Twinwoods Classical Concert Fireworks 2009

Producing a firework display to live music is a welcome challenge. It requires creativity, reliable material, an ability to think on your feet and follow the changing tempo of an orchestra. Coping with the English weather is a very unwelcome challenge, that requires determination, a perma-smile and some decent waterproofs. So how efficient it was to combine all of this at Twinwoods, near Bedford, for Mark Harrison’s Proms in the Park summer classical concert. The weather held until the early evening, so just as the hardy Proms-goers were unpacking their tables, champagne, candelabras, union jack table cloths and kitchen sinks from the car boots the heavens opened. In true British style though, the Dunkirk spirit kicked in and before too long all the marvellous people and picnics were all in their rightful positions, just with a layer of waterproofing over the top.

And the same was true of our fireworks. Rain doesn’t affect them. At Tynemouth in 2007 we fired shells through waves whilst they landed on top of the firing positions, and even the vast majority of that went off. So a heavy summer downpour it just sends the firing team running for the van to find their waterproofs, or the nearest food stand for a warming cup of tea.

“I am writing to thank you and your colleagues for the spectacular fireworks fired in live synchronisation to our orchestra. New venues bring with them challenges, which your company surpassed, with the result being a thoroughly enjoyable show.” Mark Harrison, The Full Effect.

Alchemy Fireworks useful links: The Full Effect website