James Blunt Makes New Fans on a Summer Guest Star Tour

James Blunt - All The Lost Souls"James Blunt, who has quickly developed into a nearly ubiquitous touring presence, spent the summer opening for Sheryl Crow. The lighting was designed by Paul Normandale, who has handled Blunt’s previous tours. As Glen Johnson, the lighting director notes, Normandale basically made use a portion of the rig designed by Paul “Arlo” Guthrie for Crow. “Arlo has been very generous in giving us all the moving lights to use,” says Johnson. “He kept the LEDs, which was fair, and he added some VL3000s to the front truss for us.”

Johnson says he met Guthrie a year ago, while on tour with Crowded House, another Normandale client. “Arlo showed up, because he use to design Crowded House many years ago. We chatted briefly that night—and now we’re working together.”

The rig is heavily slanted towards spots units, including 16 VL3500s, 19 VL3000s, and 14 Martin MAC 700s, with 12 VL5 Washes placed upstage on the floor to provide colorful low backwashes. With such a rig, it’s almost inevitable that the design should be stark, theatrical, and full of moody colors. But that’s just fine, says Johnson: “Paul’s favorite thing is ‘The darkness comes for free.’ Rather than using every light on every song, he likes to let the darkness fill in the gaps.  His lighting always has a lot of depth, and there’s lots of modeling on the faces, usually from one side.” He adds that Normandale worked well with Guthrie’s layout, which placed many units upstage on T-bars.

Even the use of the VL5s on the floor “is something that Paul has always done,” says Johnson. “It was a feature of the Crowded House design, when we got some very odd angles from the floor units. We’re going the opposite way—everyone is used to seeing the light coming down from above.” Overall, he adds, “My job is to make James look as good as possible. On this tour, it’s all-new people who are seeing him, so we want him to make the best possible impression for an hour before Sheryl comes on”

Since this is a shed tour and Blunt plays first, it’s often relatively light out, so Johnson, says, “there aren’t any cue-heavy songs. We let him do the performance—and he puts his heart and soul into it.”

The tour is controlled by a grandMA—an interesting choice, as neither Guthrie nor Johnson is that familiar with it. (Guthrie chose it because he felt it was high time he learned it.) Johnson, noting that Normandale is a devotee of the High End System Wholehog III, nevertheless says he’s enjoying the grandMA. “We’re doing some small shows in casinos in between the shows with Sheryl Crow, and I’m speccing a grandMA on them, in order to learn it better. It’s a very good desk: I do prefer the faders on a Hog 3, because they’re smaller and neater. But the grandMA would be my number-two choice.”

By the time you read this, Blunt will have departed the Crow tour and decamped to Europe, to prepare an arena tour that will play Europe and Canada. Still, Johnson says the summer tour was a easy and pleasant diversion. “There were no major challenges,” he says. “Arlo is fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a nicer person to work with.”