Behind the scenes with The Rolling Stones

We got the inside track from The Stones’ backstage team


When The Rolling Stones take to the stage in Abu Dhabi on Friday February 21, it will be far more than just another gig.
For the band, it’s the first date of their new #14 On Fire tour, when so many expected The Stones would wrap it up for good following their double header of performances in London’s Hyde Park last July.

And for the UAE... it’s simply the biggest gig the capital has ever seen, with more than 32,000 people expected to descend on Yas Island for their one chance to see the ‘greatest rock n’ roll band in the world’s’ first, and probably only, Middle Eastern gig.

Ahead of that historic date we got the inside track from the band’s longstanding lighting director Patrick Woodroffe.

What’s the theme and concept of the #14 On Fire tour? How is it different from last year’s 50 & Counting tour last year? Is there anything new planned?
50 & Counting was only performed indoors. The show in Abu Dhabi is outdoors and so we have a created a new set that will premiere there on February 21.

There have been so many iconic tour designs, each with associated props, from the dancing Honky Tonk Woman to Steel Wheels to Voodoo Lounge, and many more, how do you approach a new tour design? What challenges do you face to make it stand out and offer something fresh?
You always want it be new and fresh, but the staging and effects also have to never overpower what happens on the stage. It’s a delicate balance but after so many years we think we’ve got it just about right now.

The tour starts in Abu Dhabi – there must be a lot of both expectation and excitement ahead of this one?
I don’t think that the band has ever performed in the Middle East, certainly not in the time I have worked with them, so a new city or country is always exciting.

Has the set list changed from the last tour? It seems like the band rolled out all the hits at Hyde Park and Glastonbury, perhaps they’ll be a few more rare gems on this tour?
The set list always changes to some degree as the band tries a new song and digs something out from the repertoire. They are currently rehearsing the set in Paris so no doubt there will be something new to surprise us.

How long have you been on the road with the band? Was it a dream come true to get this gig?
I’ve worked with them since 1982 – over 30 years now – and yes of course it is an enormous privilege to work with such an iconic group. Not really like a proper job at all!

What other acts have you worked from, and how do The Stones compare?
All the artists I work with are different, some uniquely so, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed them all – from Lady Gaga to Bob Dylan, from Ozzy Osbourne to The Eagles, and all points in between. But of course there is something special about working with The Stones, and the older I get the more I am reminded of what a joy it has been.

The band have a huge back catalogue of works – one of the biggest of any band ever – and are notorious for mixing up the set list with rare songs and covers. How many tracks do you have a light and design approach ready for?
Typically the band rehearses up to a hundred numbers before a tour and I reckon I’ve lit all of them at one time or another.

Have you ever been faced with a surprise number you’re not ready with a design? What happens then?
Yes it happens and somehow you fake it.

Does anyone every talk about the end? Surely there’s a feeling that every tour could be the last one?
Of course it could be the last one, but then again all of us who have worked with this group for many years have asked ourselves the question many times. We’ve given up thinking about it now…

Are The Stones the best band in the world?
They will be the best in Abu Dhabi on February 21, that’s for sure.

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