One of Scotland's most in-demand lighting designers, Gary began his career at Perth Concert Hall and has since gone on to work with many of the country's top artists. He tells us how he got there and we showcase his immense talent with two brilliantly lit tracks from Elephant Sessions, one of the bands he works most closely with,
I am a Lighting Designer and Operator based in Scotland but working worldwide. I have been in the entertainment industry since 2004 and running Lunas, my own company, since 2010. I have now worked with some of Scotland’s best music acts and live events, as well as many international artists. My primary work is in live music, but also includes film, TV, theatre and large-scale corporate events.
Growing up I played a lot of music - mainly drums, and I also played the pipes with the Vale Of Atholl Pipe Band. When I left school, I realised I wanted to keep playing music as a hobby rather than a career, but knew I still wanted to be part of the music industry, so I decided to train as an audio engineer at Perth College UHI. After doing this, I got my first job at Perth Concert Hall as the first crew member on board before the venue had even opened. I was very much thrown in at the deep end and I think that really fast-tracked my development.
I focussed on sound for a year or two but ended up switching to lighting purely by accident. One night, the lighting technician cut his leg open and had to go to A&E just before doors opened and the production manager told me I needed to run the lighting for the show. Having never touched a lighting desk before, I went in the car to the hospital and tried to take in all the information I could from him. I got back to the venue 5 minutes before the gig started and just had to go for it. Fortunately, I didn’t completely mess it up and for the first time I actually realised the creativity and musicality involved in lighting a band. It was a perfect combination for me and everything just seemed to align.
From that gig on, I haven’t really looked back. I became head of lighting and as I wasn’t directly learning from a dedicated lighting person, I had to make a lot of mistakes and work things out myself. Looking back now, I think that intense few years probably set me up perfectly for the future. When I left in 2010, I went freelance and for a couple of years was working between Scotland and New Zealand. At the end of 2011, I based myself permanently back in Scotland and started to pick up whatever work I could. Since then, I have been lucky to tour with lots of acts at events all over the world, including Idlewild, Average White Band, Elephant Sessions, Peatbog Faeries, Treacherous Orchestra and Dougie Maclean. More recently, I have been working a lot with Rich Larkum who is the current Lighting Designer for Biffy Clyro and Bullet For My Valentine amongst others. He has a style I really admire and is a guy I continue to learn so much from. I feel that working on some huge shows alongside him has taken my own work to the next level.
The pandemic put an end to all of that and my last gig with an audience was at the beginning of March 2020. I accepted pretty early on that it was going to be a long time until live gigs came back, and I was aware that I would never really get time off like this again, so I tried to just enjoy a bit of time at home with my wee family. There have been times during it when I seriously considered having to leave the industry, but I’m glad it hasn’t come to that. It’s been a really strange year or so but I’ve tried to adapt as much as I could and I found the experience I already had lighting for camera meant I was in a good position when performances started to get filmed for streaming.
Fortunately, things are now looking more positive and I’m hopeful for a busy end of the year and beyond. I now have gigs in the diary over the next few months of the type that I haven’t had in over a year and a half, so it seems to be going in the right direction.
In the last few years, I’ve been working particularly closely with the trad-fusion band Elephant Sessions in developing the production of their whole live performance. We now have a fully programmed lighting show which we have used on festival rigs all over the world from Australia to the USA, and lots of places in between. For the type of headline act that they are, it really makes a difference to consistently deliver a high production-value show, no matter where you are playing. For many bands, taking a lighting person on the road can be seen as a bit of a non-essential luxury, but the guys have really stuck with it and look at it as an investment. They are always looking to push what we are doing as far as they can and have a real attention to detail when it comes to how they want things to look. There’s a great mutual trust between us which is really important; I understand what they’re trying to do, and they leave me with the creative freedom to achieve that in the best way I can. We filmed this live performance during lockdown last year. We knew that people were going to watch it in their living rooms, but it was important to try and capture the energy of their live show, which I think we managed to do.