ELO Alone in the Universe Tour Wembley

For those lucky enough to have been at the ELO Alone in the Universe tour at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 24th June they will have seen a sight not witnessed in this vicinity since 1978. The classic Wurlitzer inspired flying saucer that has become the talisman of ELO was once again flying above the band as they performed to an ecstatic sold out audience.

Built in short order by Birmingham based Total Solutions Group, the fifteen-metre diameter saucer was the brain child of Misty Buckley who had been brought in by Production Manager Chris Vaughan and show LD and Creative Director Tim Routledge, to add a special something to the proceedings. “Initially Live Nation had booked a standard festival roof for this short outing,” explained Vaughan. “But this was to be such an iconic moment in rock history that a bigger, cleaner statement was required. I asked Malcolm Birkett to merge together the back wall from Muse 200 Harp tour, with the Genesis roof. The Back wall was Mark Fisher’s arrangement of Standard StageCo components to create a beautiful curve, the Genesis Roofette is again simple, functional, but beautifully designed.”

“We had a brainstorming session just close by Euston station about two months earlier,” said Routledge, picking up the story. “We have always had an evocation of the saucer on stage since Jeff Lynne relaunched the band here in the UK three years ago. Formerly that was done with a circle of LED video panels as a backdrop.” Routledge found Buckley’s suggestion ideal for the broad canvas he’d visualised for ELO in the stadium environment.

“Misty’s idea drew on the original Out of the Blue album cover, which came with a pop-out cardboard model. It was but a short step to mount a huge physical saucer on a central pylon, but an inspired one. At a stroke, it became a striking piece of classic sci-fi drama. It’s presence above the widescreen landscape that envelops the stage was the perfect counterpoint and a potent gesture to the band’s history.”

For Mervyn Thomas at Total Solutions bringing the concept to reality was an immediate challenge, “the engineering was simple enough. The saucer is flown off a single Stageco tower. They built a special hub with eight spokes radially symmetric around it. We have then custom fabricated extensions to those spokes that run out to flanges we’ve had built into the fibreglass shell of the saucer. The difficulty is daylight. The show is close to mid-summer’s day and Tim quite rightly, wanted the saucer to look as striking in daylight as it would do at dusk when finally, all the lighting fitted within it began to shine.”

The build coincided with the hottest June in recent history, a factor that brought both benefit and hindrance, as Thomas explained “In this day and age to meet fire regulations you have to use water based paint. Getting it to bond securely to the fibreglass requires two elements, treating the surface so the paint has a key to adhere to, and the right conditions for the paint to dry properly. The heat helped but the humidity did not, on two consecutive days we had temperatures in the high twenties; on one day the paint dried in an hour (that’s when you think you’re finally catching up with the project); then the next day the humidity was so great it took all day.”

Once dry, Thomas and the team fitted an ever-expanding list of special effects and mountings for moving lights and lasers as Routledge developed his design. “The interface between the saucer and the tower accommodate many of them,” said Thomas, “but there are additional clam shell like quadrants sections to the saucer that increase the overall span to 16.5 metres and contain bars of SGM Q7 floods within them. Plus, we have fabricated special mountings to accept sixteen sections of downward facing LED panels. It’s very high tech, inside and out.”

Whatever Thomas’s breathless assertions about the saucer, Vaughan stated himself well pleased. “It turned up at Wembley three days before show day and has fitted together perfectly. I have to say it looks absolutely awesome. They did such a good job with the Big Man for the Take That tour last time around that I had no reservations about asking them to fulfil this project. Misty’s idea to re-create the Out of Blue album pop up spaceship was genius; it filled the space above the screens perfectly. Besides, this is made in Birmingham, just like Jeff Lynne and ELO. The iconic ELO saucer has come full circle in more ways than one.”