Jubilee Fireworks - preparing for the UK Festival of Fireworks at Catton Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 September 2015
Jubilee Fireworks is internationally recognised for its spectacular displays which include the major annual festival at Catton Hall every September and the Bonfire Night extravaganzas at Alton Towers each November
FIREWORKS have been part of festive celebrations ever since they were first developed in China in the seventh century but thanks to advances in digital technology we are now in the golden age of pyrotechnics, according to Chris Pearce.
And Chris should know. His company Jubilee Fireworks is internationally recognised for its spectacular displays which include the major annual festival at Catton Hall every September and the Bonfire Night extravaganzas at Alton Towers each November.
He says: ‘We have such an incredible range of products available to us that it is hard to see how displays could improve beyond this point. Something may come along but they have almost reached the pinnacle of achievement.’
The 2015 UK Festival of Fireworks takes place in the grounds of Catton Hall, in South Derbyshire, on 5th September.
It’s a chance to see four world class displays in one night as a quartet of award-winning companies show off their pyrotechnic skills, often using the event to try out new techniques for the first time.
It’s the 16th year that the festival has been held and it attracts thousands of enthusiasts from near and far who bring a picnic, and sit back and enjoy the displays in the spacious grounds of the Catton estate.
As well as putting on one of the displays, Jubilee Firework organises the event and managing director Chris always looks forward to the festival as one of the highlights on his busy calendar.
He says: ‘What we try to do is bring together four very good companies and let them show off a bit. It’s not like your average 5th November fireworks event. The display teams have won major international competitions and have a good history and they present displays in their own characteristic style.
‘It’s like an art gallery showcase – but for fireworks companies.
‘People enjoy coming and, because it’s a ticketed event that people pay for, we have to maintain very high standards, or they wouldn’t come back year after year.’
As well as Jubilee, Sirotechnics and Dragon Firework from the UK will be taking part alongside HC Pyrotechnics from Belgium.
Chris says: ‘We all put on pyro-musical displays but the companies can chose whatever themes and music they wish and often choose to experiment. They have a total free rein to do whatever they want.’
The UK Festival of Fireworks dates back to 1999, transferring to Catton seven years ago.
Chris says: ‘It’s a good venue for us. There’s plenty of space and you need that for fireworks because of the safety distances required. It’s also well established as a venue and creates the right atmosphere. We have a good working relationship with Catton Hall.’
Jubilee Fireworks was founded in 1987 and has been named Champion of Champions in national competitions and has taken international prizes in places like Monaco and Manila. In 2015 it has been chosen to represent the UK in the most prestigious fireworks competition in the world, held in Montreal.
So Chris should have a good idea what makes a great pyrotechnic show.
He says: ‘A very good fireworks display is a work of art in my opinion. Most are set to music and so it’s the choreography, the choice of material, the balance of colour. There are a lot of factors. With the advent of electronic firing systems in the last 10 to 15 years, it has liberated the designers who have produced fantastic choreographed displays which really are in time to the music.
‘It’s hard to see what the next major step would be. We have terrific colours, wonderful chemistry, we are improving the environmental impact and after the introduction of electronics, it’s hard to see what the next quantum leap could be.’
Fireworks have become a big part of festivals, opening and closing ceremonies for sporting events, and celebrations of all kinds but it wasn’t always the case.
Chris says: ‘If you go back to the 1950s and 60s there weren’t that many public displays. If you did see them they would last maybe 30 minutes with a lot of ground works going on. Now the average is about 15 minutes and they cram an awful lot more into that time.’
It takes an enormous amount of pre-planning and preparation for even a short display.
One of Jubilee’s biggest contracts is for the annual Alton Towers fireworks which mark the end of the theme park’s season around Bonfire Night. Those displays last 18 minutes but take many days to design and a team a week to assemble on site.
‘It’s very labour intensive and each individual firework has to be wired into a panel,’ says Chris. ‘The Montreal show has 5,000 individual circuits to wire in, so it’s quite a task.’
Fireworks are dangerous in the wrong hands but public displays organised by companies like Jubilee are incredibly safe these days.
‘It’s as safe as it can be,’ says Chris. ‘It’s not true to say that accidents never happen and very, very occasionally things do go wrong. We have to remember that fireworks are explosives. We have to be extremely careful how they are handled and set up. The key thing is that the company firing the display understands the products and where and how they should be used.’
Demand is continually growing for firework displays across the globe with no major event complete without one.
Chris says: ‘It’s not just outdoors but indoor displays now. We did the Isle of Wight Festival this summer and at festivals like that some of the bands choose to have close proximity pyrotechnics to support their act so it has gone beyond just the standard outdoor, night-time fireworks. The use of fireworks is far more extensive than it was 15 years ago.’
There is also still a powerful sense of wonderment about a fireworks display, with people of all ages loving them.
Chris says: ‘I think it comes back to the fact that they are powerful explosives but presented in a safe way so there’s always that element of shock and awe in any display – that’s what characterises a good display and being able to stimulate an array of emotions from the audience. We often have very soft, sedate music and at other times very climactic pieces and the job of the designer is to work that through.
‘When I watch displays, I do it from a very critical viewpoint, we look all the time for quality of performance, symmetry, whether a firework was missing because of a wiring fault. The way we view displays is similar to how a dance choreographer watches a ballet – it’s very analytical.
‘The interpretation of the music is vital. In Montreal the displays are 30 minutes and they judge you on the choice of music and how successful you are at interpreting that music.
‘When we get all that right, it’s truly special.’
The UK Festival of Fireworks takes place at Catton Hall on Saturday, 5th September. Advance tickets are £25 for adults, £23 for under 16s and £70 for a family ticket. Go to www.festivaloffireworks.co.uk
ALTON Towers theme park’s annual fireworks are rated as among the best Bonfire Night attractions in the country, drawing big audiences.
Jubilee Fireworks is responsible for the displays and is proud of the reception they have received from visitors.
Managing director Chris Pearce says: ‘Alton Towers displays are more than just a firework show – they are total multi-media productions. We integrate lasers and lights and last year we had flame jets. It’s an immersive experience for spectators. It’s not the same as seeing a normal Bonfire Night display, enjoying it and going home. There’s a whole storyline with the Alton Towers displays, they are much more than just fireworks.’
In fact so good are the displays that Chris’s biggest job is thinking how to top the last one. He says: ‘It’s like a theatrical performance, you are always looking for something different, something unique, but it gets harder. The key thing is to maintain the high standards. Every firework display is different, often dictated by the music. Improving standards is difficult because we are already at such a high level but we can leave people with a different impression each time.’
Alton Towers Fireworks displays take place on 6th, 7th and 8th November. Book tickets at Altontowers.com