In the autumn of 1988 Jean Michel Jarre staged Destination Docklands – two concerts of lights, lasers, fireworks and music set amid the derelict Royal Docks of east London.
The concerts nearly didn’t happen though. After what seemed like months struggling against council bureaucracy and satisfying concerns over safety Team Jarre were faced with another nightmare on the day: the Great British weather. A howling force 7 westerly hampered preparations for the first concert on the morning of October 8th – a day which turned out to be the wettest day of 1988. Nearly an inch of rain soaked the grandstands and dock area – but the water was the least of production crews worries…
The floating stage, a giant 30m by 40m ‘battleship’ constructed on top of 16 huge steel barges towed down from the north of England especially for the event, was supposed to move from one end of Royal Victoria Dock to the other. But with 400 tonnes of material on board it was thought safer to leave it locked in its berth – leaving whole sections of the crowd in temporary grandstands wondering where the Frenchman was twiddling his knobs. Not that it mattered.
Jarre’s outdoor son et lumieres have always been about the spectacle as a whole with searchlights, lasers and fireworks exploding in time to the music. As with his record-breaking Houston show two years prior giant hand-painted Panni images were projected on to buildings – this time the freshly-painted Spillers Millennium Mills building.
If anything the constant wind and intermittent rain added to drama of the show that took the spectator from the Industrial Revolution through the Swingin’ Sixties up to the 1990s. Jarre was joined on stage by Hank Marvin for London Kid and Rendezvous IV. Mireille Pombo and a choir from Mali also joined Jarre on stage for September, a piece he dedicated to Dulcie September, a South African anti-apartheid political activist, who was assassinated in Paris, France, in March of that year.
The concerts were watched by 200,000 people in the Royal Docks area and thousands more in the surrounding streets and parks.
The Royal Docks have come a long way since the concert. Where the crowd stood is now home to the excellent ExCeL exhibition centre. The fledgling London City airport has grown into a convenient European hub. The small STOL planes bound for Edinburgh and Rotterdam have been joined by BAe 146 jets – even though the airport’s initial promise was to refrain from using jets.
There’s some footage of the months of preparation that went into the concert on YouTube. The Making of Destination Docklands sets the scene of the difficulties of putting the show together – and includes some fascinating footage of a wasteland that was the Royal Victoria Dock.
Part One of the Mike Mansfield edit of the concert can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z88QqTskJ4c