profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities

No. 32 in a continuing series

Caricatures by

David Lewis

Andy Blackwell

Partner, Dial Sound & Lighting

Born in Keighley in West Yorkshire in 1946 - a place he dryly describes as ‘The Land of the Living Dead' - Andy Blackwell's first love (that old thing) was music. His first 78 was Volare by Tony Dali, and his régime in keeping up with the Pop charts was via New Musical Express and listening to the muffled sounds of Radio Luxembourg coming through from the radio hidden under the pillow after lights out in the school dormitory. 

Russell Harty was a school master during Andy's 10 years at the famous Giggleswick School and Andy featured as a pageboy in two of his stage productions - Joan of Arc and The Merchant of Venice. However, acting was not for him - nor the tights - and he feels sure he was the one who asked: "Do people with small parts really have to wear tights?" He duly regressed into painting the scenery, refusing to touch the lighting controllers as they sparked violently as one dimmed them up and down.

After a couple of years out in the real world at Hull College of Art and a holiday job at Butlins Skegness in their photography processing department, Andy got a proper job at his grandfather's textile mill. However, this was not for long as a position on the old ‘Oriana' called which involved a trip round the world as a ship's photographer. "Say that fast and you've got it right," says Andy. When Oriana hit an embankment in the Panama Canal a three-month lay off in dry dock enabled him to hand in his notice, something he now regrets.

Having no clue as what to do next, his father came up with the idea of cold-calling pubs and clubs with an eight track stereo background music system. This bold scheme worked for five years until in 1976 he formed ‘Shipley Disco Instruments Amplifiers and Lighting Ltd' (Shipley DIAL Ltd) with entertainment agency friend Mark Jordan. Andy ran his disco installation company and Mark Jordan Agency and Shipley Dial Ltd and found that after a year starting with nothing he had minus nothing - and no partner. But things were to improve within a very short time. "In 1977 I married Kristine who joined the company and pushed me up the ladder of success."

"On 3rd January 1980 I had the bright idea of inviting the then ‘Disco Industry' to a suite in the Hilton Hotel in Leeds and sent invitations to local club owners with the message ‘How can Electronics help you in the 80's'," explains Andy. "It wasn't a bad idea as Malham Lighting, Citronic, CCM Cabinets and Dial filled the room with disco sound and lighting and I got my first really big installation project for The Frontier Club in Batley as a result of that Exhibition."

Now based in Bradford, Dial went on to install and service equipment at numerous bars and clubs for entrepreneurs and Plc companies and in due course were given the opportunity to put together a specification for a shopping mall centrepiece at the Bond Street Shopping Centre in Leeds. With a touch of  innovation and forward thinking, Andy came up with a 24 hour clock via 132 channels of PMX/DMX from a BBC Micro and a further 260 channels of DMX using the newly introduced Oska controller from Pulsar. 36 Clay Paky HMI 575 Sapphire fixtures were used to project cloud, rain and snow and a Bose 302/802 sound system supplied the necessary thunder and other desired effects. The scheme was an industry first in many ways.

"Our experience at  this type of installation work gave us a very good grounding for our present day operation as distributors to the trade," says Andy. Today, still looking to stay ahead, Dial is now the exclusive distributor for ShowMagic - the PC based Sound + Lighting + Video Playback Controller. "I decided to invest in the future yet again and recent success has proved me right. ShowMagic is a very easy to use very impressive and very reliable Show Control system. It is a product that enables you to totally automate and schedule events and actions."

The list of leading products distributed by Dial is too long to list here, and Andy is rightly proud of his present showroom and operation. A visit is always worthwhile, if at least for a touch of Andy Blackwell's welcome - and Yorkshire humour.

Look out for the next subject in our Profile series...

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