We arrived at the South Pier around noon. It was grey and it was raining. The radio had been announcing which of the planned displays had been cancelled due to the foul weather. The fireworks display by Skyscenes was scheduled for 10:00PM, and the prospect of ten hours on the end of a pier in the North Sea in this weather was not pleasant!

The lads from Skyscenes had already begun to unload the mortar racks when we arrived - setting up takes a long time in the best of conditions, and these weren't! The rain stopped after a while and the serious business of positioning and securing the mortar tubes began.

- You can click on any thumbnail to view the full sized picture -

The wet and depressing view when we arrived!
No time to sit around though, on with the setting up!

The firing site was basically flat concrete, so stakes were out of the question here! All the mortar racks had to be battened and screwed together for stability. The candle fans and large cakes were fixed into strange wooden constructions resembling canoes for stability. Everything had already been wrapped watertight and labelled before arrival on site. It never fails to amaze me exactly how many man-hours preparation is needed for a 10 minute display (and that's without all the clearing up afterwards)!

Above: Steve loading some shells.

Steve assembles some mortar tues.
Andy works on some candles and cakes.
Simon loading some shells into their tubes.
And some even bigger ones! Sizes up to eight inches were used.
There were a lot of Blue Moon shells including 43 Gold Brocades for the finale.
Simon gets on with some fusing.
Steve loading some more shells into their tubes.
Gerry works on some candle fans.
Steve and Simon discuss the shell set-up while Pyro Pete noses about (top right).
For this display Skyscenes said they preferred lots of smaller bore shells rather than few big bore ones, but there was a really nice mix of both.

The weather improved as the day wore on, the tubes were loaded with shells starting from 3" upwards. To make sure I didn't take any more pictures of Simon fusing up the finale rack (something like 40+ golden willow shells fired simultaneously in a huge fan) he asked if I wanted to complete the last 3 or 4 racks of tubes in the fan!!!!! After a quick lesson in splicing quickmatch, I was left to it! Who cares that the Red Arrows were roaring overhead and that I was missing a ringside seat - I was getting my hands dirty on the largest single set-piece in the show!

Pete B holding more pyro than many of us fire in a whole year!
And now he's down to work, trying his hand at some fusing under the supervision of Simon.
While Pyro Pete meanwhile takes the opportunity for some shut-eye. Just like his old days, sleeping on benches!
The Blue Moon stash - over forty Gold Brocades for the finale. Snooping through boxes is part of the fun of covering a pro event.
There were some surprisingly ordinary looking fireworks too - such as these Flashing Thunder candles. The trick is to use lots of them at the same time!
More lovely boxes full of exciting munitions.
One of several connecting boxes.
An electrical firing box. This display was a mix of both electrical and manual (portfire) firing.
Most professional displays are actually planned down to the last second. Here is Skyscenes master firing list, showing the full order. This advance planning is essential to ensure a tight and effective display.

We seemed to be very close to the action in the airshow - The aircraft have to stay at least 400m from the spectators on the beach, which put them pretty much directly overhead for us!

Above: The harrier goes through its routine.

Steve tries hard to concentrate on his fusing while a VERY LOUD harrier hovers over the sea. It was just after this point on Day Two when the pilot went for a swim.
Now the Sea King is at it!
Steve on the phone to the organiser. "Hello? Can you please stop the aircraft flying over the pier. PARDON CAN YOU REPEAT THAT? I HAVE A NIMROD FLYING TOWARDS ME!"
The Sea Plane was hilarious. At one point we thought it had mistaken the pier for the runway it came so close. Here Simon expresses his "feelings", heheh...
You had to be there to appreciate what a distraction this was although at the same time it was a front row seat to spectate.
At last the Sea Plane comes over the Pier on a landing run...
... touchdown. Thanks and goodbye!
A close-up shot of the Nimrod. No telephoto lenses required from where we were standing.
The Defender, in a simulated battle...
... being strafed by a helicopter and firing its machine guns back. More on this - a lot more - in Day 2.
No air/sea display is complete without a lifeboat (ironically needed for real the next day).
And of course the Sea King helicopter...
... and the old winch/rescue routine. Good stuff.
Despite the weather loads of people turned up. This really is a great two days of airshow and pyro if you can beat the traffic.


Downloadable Video Clips

Windows Media format, Zip compressed. You must "right click" and "save target as..." (or equivalent on your browser) as these cannot be streamed.

Helicopter diving at the Defender (582Kb) An example of the mock battle we were due to take part in the following day.
Sea Plane flying over pier (395Kb) Check out the Skyscenes team :-)
Harrier pass direct overhead (94Kb) This is how distracting it was!

While having a crafty smoke with Steve's dad over one side of the pier, there was a mighty BOOOM!!!! and cloud of white smoke obscured the other side - made me jump so much I nearly lost me roll-up!!! Seems that the others wanted to try out some ground maroons on the water, as Skyscenes were due to provide the pyro for a simulated air-sea battle for the following day and had lobbed one into the harbour to see what the effect would be! As the smoke cleared, I could see a lot of activity at the fence holding the public back from our firing site, and there were two or three Police beckoning us over - presumably to explain why we were setting depth charges off in the marina! I made out that I had smoke in my eyes and ignored them, and they wandered off after a while!!!!

Ready to try a ground maroon in the water. Simon and Andy get it ready.
BOOOM!!! Holy smoke, they neglected to warn us they would be THAT loud.
Shortly after this a Soviet sub did an emergency surface just outside the harbour (joke!).


Downloadable Video Clips

Windows Media format, Zip compressed. You must "right click" and "save target as..." (or equivalent on your browser) as these cannot be streamed.

Depth charge! (393Kb) Well worth a download, the ground maroon in water. Test firing for the following day's battle re-enactment.

Once the shells were all fused and waterproofed, it was time to work on the `opening number` for the show. A large box of ground maroons appeared (These are like plastic coffee jars filled with flash powder and an electric igniter). They were to be mounted on long stakes, and pushed through the drainage holes along the side of the pier. Fired simultaneously they would produce a huge flash/bang along the length of the pier. As a demonstration, one of the maroons was carefully opened and the flashpowder poured along the top wall of the pier in a long powder train. The igniter was connected and we all retired, cameras at the ready. Once fired, a brilliant white fireball ran along the top of the wall, along with a huge puff of white smoke. It was so impressive that it was decided to start the show this way! A long powder train of flash would be laid along the top of the pier wall - To start the show it would be lit at each end electrically, causing the two fireballs to race to the middle of the train. As the fireballs met, the line of ground maroons along the pier would be fired and the first shells launched!

Simon working on the maroons to start the show with a bang.
Simon about to demonstrate the bright effect of the powder...
Look at this, a blinding fireball. This looked so good, they decided to start the show with it.
Ground Maroons! Yummy!


Downloadable Video Clips

Windows Media format, Zip compressed. You must "right click" and "save target as..." (or equivalent on your browser) as these cannot be streamed.

Fireball test fire (311Kb)

Final preparations completed, Pyro Pete and I wished the lads well, and took our cameras to set up positions about 150m away on a neighbouring jetty to film the show. At 15 minutes, 10 minutes, and 5 minutes before the show was due to start, a single comet-tailed titanium salute shell was fired to bring the spectators down onto the beach.

As we were packing up ready to go and film, Pete B took this long exposure picture of the beach.

The Pier itself at night with various pretty lighting effects.
A last minute appearance by a jellyfish. An omen for our adventures on Day 2?
Over on the other side of the pier complex, various final equipment checks are complete. Here Pete B gets his trusty SLR ready.

Showtime! The flashpowder trains worked perfectly! Two blinding white fireballs rolled towards each other along the pier and when they met - WhoooompH! The line of ground maroons lit up the pier, beach and most of the town! Wave after wave of shells, candle barrages and cakes followed. The brief to Skyscenes had been `noisy` and they didn't disappoint!!! The finale, 40+ shells fired within a second, forming a huge hanging cloud of golden glitter which hung in the sky right down to sea level, was perfect (much to my relief, having fused part of it up myself earlier in the day!) My only grievance was that my shutter release cable snapped halfway through the display and in resetting the camera I lost track of how much film I had left and actually ran out before the finale. Never mind- we had a repeat performance due tomorrow and I was sure I would get it then!

- Long exposure pictures by Pete B -

Loads of aerial shells here captured in one frame.
Cakes and candles were used to brilliant effect as you can see here.
Stunning cake and mine action while ring shells break overhead.
Bright red stars over the pier while bigger shells explode higher up.
A superb shot showing wriggling, screaming serpents and ring shells.
A don't think the pier has ever seen as colourful a display as this one!
Strobing effects here portrayed as lots of white dots.
Some MASSIVE colour breaks.
What a nice mix of colour and different sized effects.
A long exposure shot of a ring shell.
A huge gold to blue tip shell explodes over colourful stars.
Coloured comets.
Another huge break. Despite the relative smaller size of the big items compared to a land-based display, Skyscenes really picked out the best combinations.
A saturated column of effects and glitter.

- Video grabs by Pyro Pete -

The applause of the crowd on the beach made all the day's trials worth it. As we lugged the cameras back to the firing site we got some comments from the crowd nearest us, which included "Did you make all those yourselves" (Yeah right!), and "What the hell was that blast in the harbour a couple of hours ago" (referring to the ground maroon!).

Downloadable Video Clips

Windows Media format, Zip compressed. You must "right click" and "save target as..." (or equivalent on your browser) as these cannot be streamed.

Opening flare sequence (196Kb) The opening flare on its own.
Opening sequence (1.5Mb) The opening flare followed by shells then coloured stars.
Comets and ring shells (1.4Mb) Various comets, stars, ring shells and some screeching top effects.
Screeching effects (424Kb) The screeching effects on their own.
Mine Cake (1.1Mb) Stunning gold to blue crackling stars mine cake then aerial shells.
Reports and flares (1.1Mb) Multiple reports (Flashing Thunder bundles) then brilliant coloured comet tailed flares then hissing sound effects.
Mixed action and silver serpents (1.3Mb) Hissing sound effects to gold brocades with coloured stars, silver serpents and stars lower down, followed by some very loud reports.
Mixed action and ring shells (724Kb) Action at all levels. Coloured stars, comets, sound effects, ring shells and screeching serpents.
NOISE! (952Kb) Screeching serpents, ring shells, aerial shells then heavy reports.
Spinning silver (992Kb) Incredible sequence of spinning silver comets breaking to colours creating an aerial column of silver and colour action, a mine too, then shells.
PRE-FINALE BARRAGE (700Kb) Stunning pre-finale barrage of every shell effect and the kitchen sink. Well worth a download.
Gold Brocade finale (379Kb) The finale sequence of gold brocade shells (not picked up well on camera).

Back at ground zero, The lads were already starting to clear up. We were able to give them an instant replay of the whole display thanks to Pyro Pete's video footage. As usual with a Cat4 display, the firers get to see very little of what is going on overhead, and Pete collected several orders for copies of his footage! We thanked everyone for putting up with us for the day, and arranged to meet again on the pier for the second display the following day.

Report by Pete B. Picture and video captions by Pyro Pete.

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