Mark Fisher: Designer who created stunning sets for Pink Floyd, U2 and the Rolling Stones

 

As bands like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Genesis moved into arenas and stadiums in the 1970s, stage design became an important part of the fan experience.

Starting with the inflatable pigs and fireworks of the Floyd's Animals tour of 1977 all the way to the mouth-shaped backdrop/screen and tongue-shaped walkway of the Stones' current 50 & Counting dates via the elegant curve of the custom-built stage for the Genesis 2007 tour Turn It On Again, the British stage designer and architect Mark Fisher devised spectacular shows and created stunning sets that transformed the landscape of outdoor events.

Using pen and ink before finessing the designs on a computer, Fisher proved adept at translating the highfalutin' notions of the Floyd's Roger Waters and the U2 frontman Bono into extravaganzas like the various productions of The Wall and the U2 tours Zoo TV, PopMart, Elevation, Vertigo and 360°. Those, and his sets for AC/DC, Cher, Janet Jackson, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Metallica, Muse, Pink, Take That, Tina Turner and Robbie Williams, made the most of escalating budgets and improvements in technology. "It has to do with the way a rock show is a sort of tribal event in our culture," he said. "It's preparing everyone for the arrival of the high priest."

Fisher also created the Millennium Dome Show with Peter Gabriel and was appointed OBE for his work. He was appointed MVO in 2002 for his contribution to the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations, including the Party At The Palace, with its memorable opening as the Queen guitarist Brian May played "God Save The Queen" on the roof of Buckingham Palace. He also designed the wrap-around stage that was erected outside the Palace for the Diamond Jubilee concert last year.

He designed the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics as well as sets for the Queen musical We Will Rock You and Cirque du Soleil productions in Las Vegas. He was also an executive producer of the 2012 Olympic ceremonies.

Born in Kenilworth in 1947, he was the son of a schoolteacher, attending the Architectural Association School in London. In December 1966 he booked Pink Floyd, then yet to make a record, for the Students Christmas Carnival there, paying them a smaller fee than the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. After graduating, he stayed on at the AA School as Unit Master, a position that provided a perfect grounding for his presentations to clients.

He began experimenting with inflatables for exhibitions and parades as well as structures for stage shows like Jesus Chris Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show and also worked on Zardoz, the 1974 sci-fi film directed by John Boorman and starring Sean Connery. He was then tasked with applying his skills to the Floyd's staging of their 1977 album Animals.

Waters and Floyd drummer Nick Mason had studied architecture at the London Polytechnic, and Fisher admired the group's dedication to moving away from the proscenium arch and creating "a massive environmental statement that dominated the whole of the stadium. It was this highly aspirational endeavour that attracted me to this rather curious life," he reflected last year of a career that included three Brit Awards ceremonies, the Nelson Mandela Tribute concert (1990) and Live Earth (2007), both at Wembley.

Fisher's flying pigs helped reinforce the idea of the Floyd as a brand, even if they occasionally exploded because of the volatile gas used to inflate them. On the last night of the tour in Montreal, Waters raged and spat at a Canadian fan. This planted the seed of the idea for The Wall, the concept album about abandonment and isolation, and Fisher's next challenge. For the 1980 staging, a 160ft long, 35ft high wall of white cardboard bricks was built, enabling Gerald Scarfe animations to be projected on to a giant screen. He designed inflatable puppets of various characters from the story, including the mother and the schoolmaster, based on Scarfe's drawings.

In 1990, The Wall – Live In Berlin, designed by Fisher with Jonathan Park, with whom he had set up the Fisher Park partnership in 1984, attracted an audience of close to half a million and was shown in 52 countries. Also designed by Fisher, the spectacular production of The Wall Waters has been touring since 2010 is one of the most amibitious and complex rock shows ever, costing close to £40 million to stage. The current schoolmaster puppet is modelled on Fisher, who enjoyed Scarfe's caricature of him.

His first Stones tour, 1989's Steel Wheels, "turned the stage box inside out. The weather protection and the PA systems became expressive elements of the architecture." Fisher worked with lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe as well as Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts to devise the Voodoo Lounge tour but found himself at loggerheads with Keith Richards over his literal interpretation of the Bridges To Babylon concept in 1997. He won him over with a computer animation. He also masterminded the staging for A Bigger Bang, the last big Stones tour.

He found a kindred maverick in Bono. "The idea behind the Zoo TV tour was to create an absolute bombardment of the audience with videos," Fisher said of U2's groundbreaking early '90s spectacle. Debuting in Las Vegas in 1997, the band's PopMart tour was, he said, "a satire on consumerism ... I have to admit it's not very green," he said of the ecological footprint behind such gigantic touring productions. "It's debatable whether anyone will try to do anything as crazy as the U2 360° Tour."

Fisher was comfortable with his anonymity: "The audience don't care about the amazing stuff that goes on in the background. They go there to see the band." He died after a long illness. Watching Fisher tweak shows during rehearsals was a joy. While tempers flared around him, he remained calm, and usually found a solution that made the staging work even better.

Pierre Perrone

Mark Eliott Fisher, stage designer and architect: born Kenilworth, Warwickshire 20 April 1947; OBE 2000; married 2009 Cristina Garcia; died London 25 June 2013.

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