Keith Webb

31st August 2012 at 01:00
The man behind the Edinburgh Festival fireworks finale had his enthusiasm sparked by a dishevelled master of field trips

It takes me about two weeks to design the fireworks concert (the spectacular finale to the Edinburgh International Festival), just sitting here with the music going through it. But before that, I listen to the music for about a month on and off in the car when I'm driving around. Because I know all the fireworks that would work well, ideas come to me and subconsciously a plan starts to form.

For the whole of August and the last week of July - four or five weeks - we carry out the preparation in workshops when all the fireworks have to be put together in sequential patterns. Say I want 28.5 seconds of red chrysanthemum bursts in the sky, the individual fireworks have to be put together using clever delay systems. Over a week before the concert, we head to Edinburgh.

This year I don't think it's giving away too much to say we're using Greensleeves - what colour do you think I might do it in?

When I was at school I had no interest in fireworks - that was just 5 November and possibly New Year - I wanted to be in the Navy but I didn't make it. My father ran a bike shop and got to know a guy with a firework company. He was looking for a spare pair of hands for a day and that was the start.

My best teacher was a physics teacher, who taught not only physics but car mechanics. It was an interesting school from that point of view - there was even a mini-farm if you wanted to do rural studies or animal welfare. I never did any of that, though; Mr Harrison was memorable for me because he was always along on the field trips.

We had a geography trip to Devon and he knew some boys were planning on going to the pub, but he was happy to let us do it as long as we were there at breakfast. He understood as young people we needed to do our own thing and he was relaxed about it. A lot of other teachers were just so rigid and inflexible. We responded to being given a bit of freedom and not being shackled all the time.

Mr Harrison was quite old with a slightly dishevelled look - he had glasses and scruffy black hair. When we went on school trips he would drive this dirty Land Rover and we all wanted to go with him instead of in the school bus, because we'd always have such a laugh on the journey.

Although he was my favourite teacher, physics wasn't my favourite subject. I liked biology - probably because of the practical element. It's that old thing of not understanding why you are having to learn something, until later on when you're in the work environment and it all starts to fall into place and suddenly you've got a use for it. The other day I was using Pythagoras' theory, because I needed to work out the angle of a firework.

For about six months I went to school in Scotland. I was meant to be going to secondary but because of the different education systems, when we moved up here, I ended up back in a primary school in Cramond. I found it easy because I knew it all already. But my parents didn't manage to sell their house in Kent to be able to buy in Scotland, so I ended up back in Kent at Longfield Secondary.

That was quite hard, because in effect I had missed six months of my first year of secondary school and it was a massive catch-up.

The spectacular finale to the Edinburgh International Festival, the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert on 2 September at 9pm, combines passionate music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with breathtaking pyrotechnics, choreographed by international fireworks artists Pyrovision. Keith Webb was talking to Emma Seith


Born: Kent, 1961

Education: Middle Park Avenue Primary, Kent; a brief spell in a primary in Cramond, Edinburgh; and Longfield Secondary, Kent

Career: Began as floor sweeper and general dogsbody at Phoenix Fireworks; now a director of Pyrovision, a professional firework and pyrotechnic display company.

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