profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 64 in a continuing series
Sales Director, Avolites Ltd.
Steve Warren of Avolites is a major industry figure, renowned for his love of work, people, partying, talking and "the industry" in general.
Steve was born in London in 1962 and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica between the ages of 1 and 14, when his family returned to England. The young Warren found it exciting to move to a bigger, more developed country . . . but he sure missed the beach!
Originally he fancied a career as a chef, which then changed to that of a technical draughtsman. However, his first working years were spent at the Property Services Agency training centre, drawing up electrical layouts for large government buildings - which proved to be not nearly as grand or exciting as it sounded!
As is often the case, serendipity played a part in Steve's entry to "the industry". In 1982, Nic Lynch a family friend, was running a company called Cause & Effects Ltd (his wife Rowena was a UK ex pat from Jamaica) and was building an automated PAR can. He'd originally founded his company to creating special effects for LSD's legendary AC/DC tours.
This amazing new product - Autoscan - was a Thomas PAR 64 mounted in a small and lightweight yoke, complete with pan and tilt servo motors. In a moment of youthful rashness, Steve left his safe and well-paid civil service career to go and live and work with Nic and Rowena for free, manufacturing and testing this fabulous product.
During this era in 1982/83 he experienced some great times, which included meeting and working with Wayne Howell (now of Artistic Licence), but ultimately ended up with his first - and only - exhaustion-induced Asthma attack, which included an ambulance ride and a week in hospital.
Fighting with no funding, no sleep, no distribution and having to design and build their own control console, Cause & Effects disbanded, and Nic was snapped up by Avolites. Then, when Avo needed extra staff for Michael Jackson's 1984 ‘Victory' tour, Nic suggested Steve join them.
Steve started with Avolites as a production wireman, and loved it from day one. Working late nights at Avo and studying at evening classes for a BTEC Electronics course at Acton Tech in West London, he soon became a console test engineer. In 1988, he left to work briefly for Vari-Lite, wanting more hands-on experience, but was tempted back to Avo and the newly created position of service manager.
This satisfied Steve's need to see more "on the road" action. Providing field service for Avo was "rewarding and gave me huge satisfaction," he recalls, saying being a saviour in people's hour of need involved receiving many thankful and relieved hugs and kisses from LD's after resurrecting their consoles!
There are numerous tales of console and dimmer fixing sessions in far flung places, but the greatest adrenalin rush happened just up the road in Wembley Arena, at a Frank Zappa gig in 1989. Ironically, Steve had bought tickets to see his all time rock idol in concert, but instead was called up there late in the day with his colleague Ric Salzedo (now MD of Avolites Ltd), to fix a console with a minor problem on one monitor output.
After two hours of hard work the console had completely ceased functioning. Doors opened, the console was still in pieces and the stress levels started mounting. This continued right up till show-time, when Zappa's manager himself came out front demanding to know the score, and booming, "Frank's getting really pissed off right now!" With all hell about to break loose, a sudden technical breakthrough resulted in a "Eureka" moment, and they had the console all up and running just 10 minutes later! "I got a warped and huge sense of Wow!" states Steve recalling the story, "with Frank Zappa himself waiting backstage for me to fix his console!"
He's also proud to have worked (as tech support) on Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute at Wembley Stadium in 1988, and in the same year at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, with Jessie Jackson.
Other career highlights include being part of the management buyout of Avolites in 1991, when the four current directors bought the company off its then owners, Carlton TV. Since then Avolites has enjoyed consistent growth, and has expanded its product range every year.
These days, Steve's job as sales director is largely consumed by communicating with all walks of the industry. He thinks the best things about "The biz" are the heterogeneous collection of characters and individuals united by a common thread. He also gets massive satisfaction from looking at crowds, smiling faces and dancing bodies at shows. "We may not be saving lives, but we're certainly giving people a reason to go back to work on Monday morning!"
Look out for the next subject in our Profile series...
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