Countdown is on as stage takes shape

The Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On stage under construction.  PIC BY ROB LOCK 30-8-2016
The Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On stage under construction. PIC BY ROB LOCK 30-8-2016
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The countdown is on for this year’s Illuminations Switch-On as the massive stage takes shape on the Tower Festival Headland.

Bristol-based company Richmond Event Management (REM) is building the structure which will host tomorrow’s night entertainment before TV and film star Dame Barbara Windsor flicks the famous switch.

The Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On stage under construction.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'30-8-2016

The Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On stage under construction. PIC BY ROB LOCK'30-8-2016

A crew which will total 90 people including electricians, stage engineers and stewards, began work on constructing the 15 metre performance area on Monday.

A huge video screen hung above the stage will be able to project pictures across the headland, while an array of high-tech lights has been fitted to the roof.

Meanwhile state-of-the-art weather monitors are measuring conditions including wind speed in order to ensure the temporary structure is solidly secured.

Mike Richmond, managing director of REM, said: “We are used to working at seaside resorts but the location does make the work challenging and we monitor the wind speed in particular.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake

“However we have been fortunate with the weather this week and by Wednesday most of the stage was complete.

“It is a new stage we are using this year which is one that we can put more equipment into the roof, in terms of lights and video.

“There will be a video screen above the stage which should be visible right round the headland and is almost the same size as the aperture of the stage itself.

“The Illuminations Switch-On is a national, iconic event so we have to make sure everything works properly.

“It’s the same pressure as every event we work on but there is added value because of the media interest.

“If I wasn’t nervous before any event, I wouldn’t be doing the job properly.”

Friday’s celebrations will kick off between 5pm and 7.30pm with a ‘Blackpool Introduces’ showcase featuring the best of talent from local venues including Verity Kinnon, James Edgar and Axi Wild, prior to the start of the main show.

The line-up will also include Blackpool’s own Stacey McClean, formerly of spin-off band S Club 8 and special sets by Club MTV.

Crowds will be entertained from 7.30pm with sets from The Vamps and Fleur East before Diversity led by Ashley Banjo take to the stage.

The highlight of the night will be at 8.45pm when Dame Barbara will officially launch the 2016 Illuminations.

As part of a weekend of events, the Slimefest is also taking place at the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens, with free family events on the Tower Festival Headland on Saturday and Sunday.

And there will be a stellar theme maintained throughout this year’s Lights season thanks to a collaboration with British astronaut Tim Peake and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Chasing Stars is one of three new digital mapping projections created for the 2016 LightPool show which sees spectacular 3D animations projected on the Blackpool Tower buildings.

Ross Ashton, creative director, and Karen Monid, audio designer, have created an eight-minute galactic tour to entertain and inspire the next generation of would-be astronauts and engineers.

They travelled to ESA’s astronaut training facility in Cologne to record an exclusive welcome from Tim Peake to visitors to the LightPool show and to Blackpool.

Ross said: “We wanted to create something that reflects where we are right now in space exploration.

“We were very pleased to have the full support of the ESA from day one and we have worked closely with Mark McCaughrean.

“ESA and the UK Space Agency were also instrumental in arranging for us to have Tim Peake as our star. It was incredible working with him and a dream come true.”

Professor Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s senior science advisor, said: “It’s a huge pleasure to work with the iconic Blackpool Illuminations as a stage to present some of the most exciting space missions of European Space Agency, including Tim Peake’s historic stay on the International Space Station, the Gaia spacecraft surveying our Milky Way galaxy, the ExoMars visits to the Red Planet, and of course the famous Rosetta mission, the first ever to rendezvous with, escort, and land on a comet.

“Our hope is that kids and adults alike will see this amazing show and be inspired to think of how they can go on to explore the world and Universe around them.”

The team also spent three days in Blackpool with Dr Nick Lister of the Lawrence House Astronomy and Space Science Centre, Rossall School, Fleetwood.

They spoke to three groups of children from Blackpool schools asking them to imagine what it would be like to live in space, to visit another planet or to meet an alien. Their ideas and drawing have been incorporated into the show.

Chasing Stars is one of three new 3D projection shows that will be displayed on to the front of the Blackpool Tower buildings from the start of September.

The other two shows are Down the Rabbit Hole by Czech digital art collective The Macula and Enchanted Blackpool, which has been created by film-maker Cecile Llewelyn-Bowen, using designs by her father, designer and friend of Blackpool Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

The show is a fairy-tale journey around Blackpool’s classic architecture, as the goddess in the Tower Ballroom comes to life.

The Illuminations will shine until Sunday November 6.