In 1977, Rod Stewart fired his lighting director four days before he went on tour. “They looked around the room [for a replacement] and said, ‘He’s done it,’ ” recalls Patrick Woodroffe, laughing about his big break.
Nearly 40 years later Woodroffe is a sought-after and award-winning lighting designer, artfully illuminating everything from operas to the Olympics, rock concerts to Raquel Welch.
Woodroffe has worked with a star-studded roster of artists including Lady Gaga, Elton John, and Michael Jackson, on his ill-fated “This Is It” tour. Among his longest associations is the 31 years he has spent as the Rolling Stones go-to lighting designer, including for this year’s “50 & Counting” tour, which comes to the TD Garden Wednesday and Friday.
We recently chatted with Woodroffe by phone from his home in Bath, England, about lighting up the Glimmer Twins and other highlights.
Q. How involved does the band get in the design?
A. They’re all involved to some degree. Mick [Jagger] and Charlie [Watts] traditionally have always been the ones more interested in the design elements, but in the end the four of them have to get up there and play, so they have to be comfortable physically and they have to be comfortable about the story they’re telling. And that’s our job, to make up the visual content of that story. They work very hard at it, more than many of the acts I’ve been involved with.
Q. Bigger divas: rock stars or opera stars?
A. They all have their own foibles. (Laughs.) There is a unanimous characteristic about all performers, which is they’re all very vulnerable. Some people behave badly but it’s mostly when they’re under stress and strain. But I would say most of the acts I work with, they’re a pretty decent lot. The ones who are collaborative are the interesting ones, the ones who give you a real understanding of what it’s like to perform and by the same token understand very much what the piece of work you’re doing is.
Q. Who have been the most collaborative acts besides the Stones?
A. Gaga was very collaborative. (Laughs.) She was idiosyncratic. An extraordinary woman, at the age of 26, the most self-assured and most completely tuned in to what it is she’s about and what she wants. I can’t really think of anyone who just says “get up and do your thing.” It’s a very interesting art form, lighting, in that it’s instant painting. It’s a pretty great way to make a living.
Q. Has anyone asked you to do their wedding?
A. No, but I lit Keith Richards’s garden as a housewarming present once.
Q. Do you have any disaster stories from the road?
A. At the end of the [London 2012] Olympics opening ceremony, we were all sitting there, huge relief, and I said to my crew chief, “Well, that went pretty well didn’t it? Did you have any problems?” And he said, “Half an hour before the show started only three of the Olympic rings were working.” And that’s where you realize afterward that I can probably make a big mistake in a Rolling Stones show and get away with it, but that’s an image that will last forever. (Laughs.)