“I could see he was a star in the making”: Chris Marsh is the Gaffer 2018
When a small PA company in Wiltshire, UK, took on its latest crew member in 1997, neither party could have imagined the career trajectory that would follow.
From helping tribute acts with their sound requirements in tiny clubs and pubs dotted around the rural west country of England, Chris Marsh has scaled the production crew ladder like a bionic rigger, learning a number of specialist tech roles along the road before finding his way to the exalted level of production manager for, arguably, the biggest star on the planet. “I know that Chris took a significant pay cut to come and work with Ed,” reveals Sheeran’s agent, Jon Ollier at CAA. “But Chris has been integral to everything that Ed does live: even when he started out working with Ed in 2011, he was vastly experienced, so it’s great that we’ve all been able to grow together and achieve everything that we have so far.”
Sheeran ended his 2018 touring commitments in early November when his sold-out North American leg came to an end at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. That gig was his 94th stadium show of 2018, including 25 in North America, 47 in Europe, 12 in Australia, six New Zealand dates and four across Japan and the Philippines. Marsh is already hard at work on the next leg of the tour, which begins in February by dominating the ‘souths’: five shows in South America, four in South Africa, one date in South Korea, and then two in Southeast Asia. From there, the ÷ tour returns to Europe for a mix of 35 outdoor dates – the majority in stadia, but with a couple of festival headline slots and some outdoor greenfield sites thrown in to keep Marsh and his crew on their toes.
Not that those different venue settings keep this year’s Gaffer Award recipient awake at night. “One of our biggest achievements on this tour was when we wrapped up the European shows in Poland, loaded out onto trucks and loaded into two 747s, then played the same show in Los Angeles less than a week later,” says Marsh. “That flexibility is one of the joys of working with a solo act, I guess: we could not have cut it any finer between the Rose Bowl and the shows in Warsaw.”
“Chris has been integral to everything that Ed does live”
Born in Southampton, England, and raised in nearby Romsey, Marsh was heavily into music at school and followed his father into the church choir. “I was a chorister at Romsey Abbey from an early age, and I also learned piano and played French horn in the school orchestra, too,” he says. That love of music saw him join a number of bands in his younger days and take on double O-levels in music at South Downs College, where any ambitions of becoming a rock star quickly evaporated. “I discovered at college that I was among a bunch of phenomenal musicians and that I wasn’t good enough. But I started to love the technology side of things and could see another avenue into working in the music business.”
Marsh found work at a small PA company in Salisbury called Midas Sound & Lighting, where he found himself loading and unloading gear for tribute bands and other local acts, while in the summer he would be involved in supplying equipment to small festivals.
Around the same time, in 1999, Marsh met Lars Brogaard and the duo started working together to build an audio subrental company that would eventually become Major Tom Ltd. “It meant that I stopped being on the road so much, but it was great to work with Lars, and we eventually also launched Colonel Tom for the video side of the business and, because of that, I started doing more than just sound. “Lars has been something of a mentor to me – he’s been there from very early on in my career and has put my name forward for some great jobs, so I’m eternally grateful to him and I’m delighted to have him in my corner.”
That feeling is definitely mutual. Brogaard says, “Chris started working with me over 20 years ago when he was just 18 or 19 and he has done fantastic – I’m very proud of him and view him like a son.
“I can remember him telling me that he’d met this young artist that he thought was really special and that we should get involved, so we helped out with equipment on that first Ed Sheeran tour and we’ve been with him ever since.
“Chris is a great production manager and sound engineer and he could get a job with anyone at any time he wants, so I’m beyond happy and grateful that he’s remained as my partner at Major Tom.”
“He’s unflappable in all manner of situations”
Everything has changed
Enjoying his career as a freelance sound engineer, one of Marsh’s early gigs saw him working on a Michael Ball tour, where he witnessed a difficult relationship between the production manager and the artist. “Phil Bowdery was managing Michael and during a conversation with him I just happened to mention that it shouldn’t be that hard to make the artist happy. That’s when Phil suggested I step up to the production manager role, and in 2003, I did my first UK tour around 2,000- to 3,000-seat theatres.”
As president of touring international for Live Nation, Bowdery has nothing but praise for Marsh. “Whenever I want him to work for us, he’s too busy with Ed Sheeran. He’s unflappable in all manner of situations and when you work with Chris, it’s service with a smile.”
Recalling how they first met, Bowdery adds, “Chris was running everything for Lars Brogaard at Major Tom, dealing with the logistics for multiple tours, and it was fairly evident he was a very together guy, as well as a bloody nice bloke.
“He joined us on a Michael Ball tour and did a brilliant job as sound engineer, so I wasn’t surporised that he was also able to take on the role of production manager. I could see he was a star in the making – and now he’s mastered stadium shows. I like Chris a lot – I’ve got all the time in the world for him – and the Gaffer award is well deserved.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 81, or subscribe to the magazine here
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.