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Me, Myself & I: Eddy Smith

The former technical director at Southbank Centre looks back at 26 years in the iconic London venue.

HELPING HAND I got into the industry because a friend of mine asked me to help them unload a truck for a Roberta Flack concert. They had a problem with their keyboard and I had one, and I knew how to fix it. Roberta Flack’s manager said, ‘I want you here for the gig’, and then it just snowballed.

MAFIOSA The Southbank Centre was stuck in the ‘50s and ‘60s, not just infrastructure-wise, but mentality-wise. The building was run by what I can only describe as an electrical mafia who used to hiss at me as they walked past me.

MODERN MINDS If a light had to be turned on, it had to be an electrician; if a stage lift had to move, again, an electrician. And that was very frustrating. But on day one I vowed I was going to drag the venue kicking and screaming into the 21st century. 

LET THE LIGHT IN When the infrastructure in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery was put in, Pink Floyd was still touring in a two-and-a-half tonne van. We were using that same infrastructure up until last October, so that’s why the Let the Light In campaign is really important – we’re going to take it into the 21st century.

MELTDOWN Doing Meltdown Festival over the years has been quite an experience, because I got to know the artists incredibly well. Like with Lauri Anderson: I worked with her for about six weeks in total, one-to-one. That was a really good Meltdown, because she really got the concept, which is to bring contrasting things together and see what happens. 

ROMANTIC RIVALS I got into slight trouble because I got on so well with Lauri that in the last week, Lou Reed turned up – who was her partner – and he didn’t like it. He was like a jealous schoolboy, and he had a gig in here, and he tried to do everything he possibly could to trip me up. It was hilarious really, but at the time it was like, ‘Oh, I’m on the wrong side of Lou Reed’.

MEETING MERYL We did another great show with the Coen brothers and Charlie Kaufman, where we did this radio play. It was a play about an actor being interrupted mid-performance by a woman with a mobile phone in the audience, and Meryl Streep was playing both parts. She delivered this tirade at this supposed woman in the audience directly at me because I was the only one in the room. It was terrifying – but she was a lovely woman.

AN EVOLUTION Twenty-six years just feels like a few months because it moves so quickly. Particularly in the last 10 years since current artistic director Jude Kelly’s arrived. It’s completely changed. The free programme has got massive, as has the festival concept. I got into trouble at the beginning of that. I said to Jude, ‘I think you’ve got too many festivals’. She wasn’t very happy.

COME TOGETHER When we reopened in the Royal Festival Hall, nothing worked. We had 22,000 performers and 250,000 ticketholders over that weekend and we got through it. We didn’t lose a show. The main reason was that the crew were fantastic; they were determined we were not going to lose a show. 

BRUTALISM VIBES Walking into the Royal Festival Hall, the first time I walked in there, it reminded me of my mum and dad’s cocktail cabinet. It’s iconic 1950s architecture. I don’t think there’s anywhere else like it. Some people love it, some people don’t love it – I love it myself. 

COMING HOME I definitely want to come back and keep an eye on the refurbishment and make sure that’s all running smoothly, and when it reopens. But we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m gonna make cider.

Southbank Centre’s Let the Light In campaign – to refurbish the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery – is currently ongoing. Donate by visiting letthelightin.southbankcentre.co.uk.

This interview originally appeared in the September issue of Access All Areas, out now.