Backstage life

Queens of the Stone Age by Martin Ross

By Martin Ross, production technician and in-house photographer

The first four hours of a rock ‘n’ roll concert day could be described as organised chaos! My colleague and I usually arrive at the Hall at 7am and open up, ready for the early crew call and catering load in. The rest of the crew arrive for 8am and the first truck pulls up at stage door. Access is limited for vehicles at the Hall and we must manage truck movements carefully throughout the day.

Rigging equipment is first into the venue and we meet the touring crew and local rigger on stage to confirm the plans for the show. We operate our house trusses to allow the touring crew to hang their equipment. We also plug in the 400amp heavy mains power supply for their lighting. Other tasks include routing internet connections backstage, supplying towels to the dressing rooms and directing truck drivers to the nearby parking location.

PA (the sound system) loads in next and is often assembled out in the auditorium due to their size.  Once the sub speakers have been placed in front of the stage, we build the crowd control barrier to create ‘the pit’. I’ll be back here later!

After we’ve built the barrier, it’s lunchtime. The local crew continue to help the bands roadies with backline amplifiers, drums and other instruments. We check in with the promoter, touring production and catering staff to make sure they have everything they need.

When soundcheck comes around, I start to think about how I will capture the performance on camera. Soundchecks are also lighting checks and this allows me to see what the lighting will be like for the show. I only get to photograph the first three songs, so a quick look at a set-list always helps!

I hand over to my colleagues on the backshift and take some quiet time before the show.

I used Canon 1d cameras before the pandemic. These older professional press cameras are very sturdy and they can shoot at a very high speed which is useful in a concert environment. Having two camera bodies is essential for covering concerts. This allows almost instant switching between wide-angle and telephoto lenses. The 11-16mm wide-angle enables me to capture the whole stage whilst the 70-200mm telephoto can pick out emotive portraits from most positions in the pit.

My favourite gig at the Hall so far was the first show I photographed. Queens of the Stone Age specifically chose to play at Usher Hall and rocked the house for nearly three hours! The energy in the Hall was intense! A true rock show which looked and sounded fantastic.

Working with contemporary neo-classical composer Max Richter was a special moment for me. In my capacity as house lighting operator, I programmed and operated the lighting for his show: ‘From Sleep’. The performance was a selection of pieces from his record breaking 8 ½ hour album ‘Sleep’.

The best band I have photographed so far at Usher Hall is Papa Roach. This Californian nu-metal 4-piece bring so much energy to their performances and are dedicated to giving their fans a brilliant show. Lead vocalist Jacoby Shaddix is very animated on stage which is great for some dramatic photos!

See more photos by Martin on Instagram @martinrossphoto

Photos © Martin Ross, Edinburgh