Ian Knight, 1977
Ian Knight, 1977

Showco Visual Effect and Lighting Technician

Ian Knight, who has died of cancer aged 69, was a leading backstage figure who used lighting and stage technology to put on elaborate rock spectaculars for Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Rod Stewart. In the 1970s he developed memorable technical effects, including the use of lasers and large-screen projections at summer concerts at Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire. He provided art direction and lighting design for Led Zeppelin's film The Song Remains the Same (1976), in which he also played the part of the ferryman rowing the band across Loch Ness.

By the end of the 1970s, concert tours had become big business. Ian worked with Genesis on stage shows that made use of a new, computer-controlled moving spotlight, the VL1, the first of a new generation of moving lights using dichroic glass which produced richer, more saturated colours, and metal halide lamps, which produced a much higher light output than had previously been possible. The spotlight was launched at a bullring in Spain in 1981.

Ian was also involved with the first installation of theatre productions on cruise ships. He had a roving brief from the theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh's office to take notes on US productions of his shows to ensure that high production standards were being maintained. In 1981 he worked on Ronald Reagan's inaugural ball as US president, at which Ian surreptitiously introduced a troupe of transvestite trapeze artists.

Ian was born and brought up in Eastcote, West London. He went to Harrow art school, and from 1960 to 1964, worked as a stage designer at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, Surrey, and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. His interest in jazz, combined with his anarchic nature, led him to Ronnie Scott's club, London, where he became a regular.

From late 1964 he was based in central London as a freelance stage designer and prop-maker for West End theatrical productions and trade shows. When I first met him, in 1967, he was gradually becoming more involved in London's underground arts scene. He took on the role of road manager to the progressive rock band Soft Machine and worked as a designer for the London clubs UFO and Middle Earth. Between 1966 and 1971, he staged concerts at the Roundhouse for Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John.

In 1969, Ian arranged the staging, sound installation, and lighting for Implosion, a series of Sunday concerts at the Roundhouse, to raise money for Release, the drugs and civil liberties charity. That summer he also worked on two memorable concerts on the same day – the Rolling Stones afternoon concert in Hyde Park in the aftermath of Brian Jones's death, and the final night of the seven-day Pop Proms series, across the road at the Royal Albert Hall, with the Who and Chuck Berry, which he stage-managed in the evening.

The following year he took on a series of festivals including the Holland Pop Festival, Phun City in Worthing, West Sussex, the Great Medicine Ball Caravan, near Canterbury, and the Krumlin Festival in Yorkshire. He also met and married Anne-Marie Barton, who was working with Release. They lived, appropriately, in Rock Street, in Finsbury Park, north London.

In 1971 Ian put together a crew to transform the Finsbury Park Astoria into the Rainbow Theatre, building a new stage, hanging lights, and installing sound systems. That year he also stage-managed one of the first charity fundraising concerts in a sports venue, with the Who and the Faces performing at the Oval cricket ground, raising money for the Bangladesh famine relief fund. In 1972, Ian set up four Sundown theatres across London for the Rank Organisation and worked on the Bickershaw Festival, Lancashire, headlined by the Grateful Dead in one of their rare early concerts in the UK. The festival, a multimedia event, featured circus and novelty acts from around Europe.

Ian moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s and worked for several years with Showco, a concert-tour supply company, as head of creative design. He toured the US and Europe as a stage designer for Led Zeppelin, Wings, and Genesis.

From the mid-1980s onwards, Ian was an integral part of the design team for Rod Stewart's world tours. In close collaboration with Stewart himself, he would devise a storyline for each tour and build a series of models until the perfect design was achieved. Stewart loved the fact that Ian would create these models in the H0 scale – the same scale as the singer's model railway. The designs for Stewart's 2007 tour incorporated an enormous portrait of Stewart hung behind PA towers. At the start of each show, Stewart's in-the-round stage was concealed by 1,500 yards of tartan curtain.

His marriage ended in divorce, and by the 1990s his work was taking him around the world. He developed an affection for Thailand and, in 1999, married Ngeon Khprjunklang. They built a house there, from where he traveled to his various projects around the world.

Ian always had a nose for talent, believing that great artists brought with them an element of danger. He was an innovator, artist, and teacher within an industry he helped to invent.

He is survived by Ngeon and their son, Alistair.



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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

January 09, 1944 - James Patrick Page was born in Heston, Middlesex
January 03, 1946 - John Baldwin was born in Sidcup, Kent
January 02, 1946 - Led Zeppelin Tour Manager Richard Cole was born in Kensal Rise, London, England
January 05, 1967 - Jimmy Page begins recording Little Games with The Yardbirds at De Lane Lea Studios in London.
January 17, 1969 - Led Zeppelin released in the US
January xx, 1970 - Led Zeppelin now play without support acts in order to perform longer sets
January 09, 1970 - Royal Albert Hall gig filmed and recorded for documentary that is eventually scraped. (But was recalled for 2003’s DVD)
January xx, 1971 - Recording continues at Headley Grange
January xx, 1972 - Page has a studio built into his home
January 02, 1973 - Plant’s car breaks down and Bonham and he barely make the Sheffield City Hall gig
January 22, 1973 - Led Zeppelin record a live gig at Southampton University
January xx, 1974 - Recording Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange
January xx, 1974 - The band resigns with Atlantic and forms their own label
January 03, 1975 - Jimmy breaks a finger at Victoria Station just a week before the European warm up shows
January 17, 1975 - The band rehearses in Minneapolis for the upcoming US tour. Bootleg "Johnny Kidd And The Pirates" evolves out of this rehearsal
January xx, 1976 - Jimmy contemplates the release of The Song Remains The Same film but, continues work on the soundtrack
January 01, 1976 - In Paris, Robert takes his first unaided steps since his car accident
January xx, 1977 - Rehearsals for US tour take place at Manticore Studios in Fulham
January 24, 1977 - Bonham and Plant watch The Damned perform at the Roxy in London
January xx, 1978 - Media still claims Led Zeppelin have broke up
January 21, 1979 - Robert Plant is now proud father to son Logan Romero
January xx, 1980 - Zeppelin donate Candy Store Rock to a benefit album to benefit children
January 31, 1995 - Jimmy Page escaped being knifed when a fan rushed the stage at a Page and Plant gig at Auburn Hills, Michigan. The fan was stopped by two security guards, who he knifed instead. After his arrest, he told police that he wanted to kill Jimmy Page because of the Satanic music he was playing.
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