The late Mark Fisher on the construction of the U2 360° tour’s notorious “Claw”.
ROLLING STONES STAGE lighting supremo Patrick Woodroffe and U2/Pink Floyd set designer Willie Williams have expressed their sadness at the death of Mark Fisher, the man who revolutionized their craft with his designs for the Stones’ 1989 Steel Wheels jaunt.
“It’s certainly the end of an era,” Williams told MOJO, “and in ways we haven’t yet even begun to appreciate yet. I’ll be honest – I’ve found myself thinking over the past few days about, ‘What happens now?'”
Described by Mick Jagger as the man who instigated the “Star Wars” arms-race era of rock’n’roll spectacle, Fisher was an architect by training and used his engineering knowledge to rethink stage presentations from the ground up.
“He had this combination of courage and expertise,” said Woodroffe. “He had this enormous imagination, but everything he proposed was possible. You know, anyone can take an envelope and draw a picture of a pyramid, and say it’s 200ft high, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you can actually build it.”
Mark Fisher’s sketch for The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels set design.
Fisher designed or co-designed sets for Pink Floyd’s 1980 The Wall tour, the Stones’ Steel Wheels, Bridges To Babylon and A Bigger Bang, and U2’s groundbreaking ZooTV, PopMart and 360° tours. Other Fisher projects included Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Ball and 2000’s Millennium Dome show with Peter Gabriel. Fisher died in his sleep at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, London, on June 25, but was working on Robbie Williams’ current show right up to the end.
“I remember attending a presentation with him once which was utterly rejected,” Williams fondly recalled. “Whatever we proposed was just a no, not even a retrievable no, just a no. After we came out someone said to us, ‘You must be so disappointed, after all that work you put in.’ And Mark said, ‘No, you don’t understand – I just like designing things.’ Mark just loved the process.”
The list of Fisher’s unique achievements as a rock designer includes the “zoomorphic cladding” of U2’s 360° tour “Claw” canopy and the monster low-res LED screens of the group’s legendarily eye-boggling PopMart shows.
“In scale of engineering, U2’s 360° is obviously the crowning glory,” said Williams. “We called it the Beijing Olympics of rock. But even though it’s the pinnacle of something it’s also the end of a journey, because nobody in their right mind is going to attempt something on that scale again. But PopMart was the pivotal moment. We were interested in LED technology and Mark had come back from Japan having seen blue LED in production at a reasonable cost, and with red and green already existing he realized we could now produce video. He postulated from scratch the idea of this massive low-resolution video screen that could fill one end of the stadium. At the time it was science fiction.”
Fisher worked closely with musicians to match their thinking with visual effects, and enjoyed a fruitful symbiosis with the Stones. But a 25-year creative relationship is now at an end.
“The Stones were all very upset,” said Patrick Woodroffe, “particularly Charlie. Charlie did at lot of work on the shows with Mark, Mick and myself and had very much the same sensibilities as Mark. Mark was a quiet, gentle person.”
A sketch for the Bridges To Babylon set’s 150ft cantilevered pontoon.
Clients and colleagues are agreed that, with the waning of rock’n’roll’s imperial phase, we may not see Fisher’s like again.
“I always thought of Mark as this explorer, a 19th century explorer,” concluded Woodroffe. “You’d see him on some foreign field, striding along with his panama hat and his sketchbook, looking to change the world on behalf of England and the rock business, and he did.”