The stage is set, Sir E

Andy Cheeseman, head of ACP Productions on the festival headland preparing for the Elton John concert.

Andy Cheeseman, head of ACP Productions on the festival headland preparing for the Elton John concert.

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Meet the man who will get a rocket if it all goes wrong for the Rocket Man on Saturday night.

Andy Cheeseman has the responsibility of getting all the staging, seats, power, lighting and other facilities in place for the big name concert which will establish Tower Festival Headland as the definitive open air venue.

Andy, who runs ACP (Andy Cheeseman Productions) is the big cheese in the concert world, rigging up major events, festivals, roadshows across the globe, anything and everything which calls for powerhouse production.

But Blackpool, he admits, is something else. Tower Festival Headland is not an arena, nor a stadium, or a concert hall proper.

It is a large and usually public space. Outside. On a promenade. The busiest promenade in Britain. It presents similar issues, says Andy, to hosting a concert at Trafalgar Square. He’s done those too.

Some 30 giant articulated trucks – seven of them carrying Sir Elton John’s must-haves – have to brave buses and trams and white- eyed fellow Shared Space users to carry all that’s required to the location.

So has the curiously-shaped but golden Festival House been pressed into service as the blingiest dressing room in Britain – while Sir Elton watches the footie on the Sky satellite telly which is one of his must-haves ahead of that concert?

Alas, no, says Andy, for six or so weddings are already booked in for Saturday.

Including, as he points out, “a biker wedding with about 200 bikes”.

Only in Blackpool, eh?

Andy’s adept at working around such challenges.

One of the greatest rock legends in the world visits Blackpool to effectively concert christen the biggest most central headland of them all, and it’s Andy that Blackpool turns to help make it all happen.

He concedes: “I was consulted five years ago about the headland, with a view to the Lights switch-on being here, too – but I think most of what I said went ignored.”

He takes it all his stride. “It’s part of the fun – not quite knowing what to expect or what the elements or the design will throw at you.”

Andy’s already uprooted some street furniture. Giant pebbles doubling as seats. Hard to negotiate when sticking 2,000 seats and other facilities in place ... and a health and safety hazard for crowds.

“We were told they wouldn’t, rather than couldn’t, move,” he explains.

“Then we found they could.”

Great sail-like windbreaks have been hoisted into position. They’re not as big as Andy would have liked, but they Do The Job, he says.

It’s bright and sunny when we drop by to check on progress. “It’s the wind we dread in Blackpool,” says Andy. “We can cope with it, but it doesn’t make things easy. We can put up with rain.”

Blackpool is tipped to be merely bracing rather than blowing a gale on the big night.

Andy knows Blackpool like the back of his hand. He’s handled the Lights Switch-on for 16 years – through the Radio Two years to the present day. It was Andy who made it clear, after the West Life switch-on in Talbot Square, that a better location was needed.

“We couldn’t have done it like that again. Too many people, too confined a space.”

This year for the first time the main switch- on event will take place on the headland. Now there’s another “challenge.” Sir Elton, John Barrowman, McFly and The Wanted are the appetisers in crowd terms for the main event – the Illuminations opener. “We’re on a learning curve,” adds Andy.

He’s also back for the Olympic torch relay.

Now even Elton John can’t hold a candle to that...

Most of the niggles have been minor. The big headache has been the shortage of power on the site.

“We’re having to bring more generators on than we ever envisaged,” he admits.

Andy is reinventing ACP’s already winning format in the resort.

The team is small, but micro managed by the company’s founder and managing director – on the spot. While the stage is up for Sir Elton, back to the sea, against a backcloth of those vast windbreak sails, Andy’s debating the best spot for the switch-on.

“I’m still undecided on where the stage should be,” he admits. “We’re working on it.”

That’s his maxim for Blackpool.

He relishes the work here for the quirks it throws up.

“We don’t believe in disrupting the place.”

It’s why he’s keeping the Comedy Carpet accessible for visitors for as long as possible before seats begin to cover the punchlines.

Andy’s presented acts himself, and used to work as a roadie.

He much prefers this side of the stage, indeed anywhere other than on the stage. He went to drama school, but left after a year.

Home is now the south of France, but Britain is the bastion of live entertainment.

Andy gets a night off to take his wife to Lakeland for their 25th wedding anniversary, before both head back to Blackpool to top and tail preparations for the concert.

Having once gone from Sussex to Blackpool and back in a day to honour two commitments, it’s a walk in the park...

“I see myself as a plate spinner,” he concludes. “It’s all about people’s perspectives. It’s up to us, and all the others involved, to ensure the concert doesn’t just live up to, but exceeds, expectations.”

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk