Edwin Shirley Dies

Edwin Shirley, one of the pioneers of live music touring, died of cancer April 16. He was 64.

The former Cambridge University student – and keen supporter of its Footlights drama club – had a theatre, live music and TV production career that spanned four decades.

He was also a keen supporter of the National Youth Theatre, of which he’d become a member in his teens.

During his college days at St. Catharine’s, the drama critic for the Cambridge Evening News described him as “the university’s best actor.”

After spending six months in Los Angeles, where he developed an interest in the film business, he returned to the UK to work as a van driver and lighting engineer for acts including Paul McCartney and Wings, Ike and Tina Turner, David Bowie, Curved Air, and Melanie.

The experience he gained in those early years would lead to him setting up such global companies as Edwin Shirley Trucking, Edwin Shirley Staging and Rockit Cargo, all of which revolutionised global touring.

The trucking company began in 1973, after The Rolling Stones encountered transport problems while on tour.

Shirley and Roy Lamb, a friend from his NYT days who was with him on the Stones tour, went to Brian Croft and John Brown of ESP Lighting and suggested starting a specialist rock ’n’ roll trucking company – the first in Europe.

A partnership with U.S. stage-builder Mike Brown and their growing number of major clients meant Shirley needed to be able build and supply equipment on a global basis, which led to the formation of sister company Edwin Shirley Staging.

Once achieved, the companies began working side by side and at least one of them secured major outdoor stadium tours for Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, Queen, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and The Rolling Stones.

“He was the kindest, most generous, selfless man and a great friend,” said tour director Peter Buckland, who met Shirley in the mid-’70s and hired EST to handle trucking for Rod Stewart.

Soon EST would be hauling equipment for most of the major touring acts, literally from Abba to Zappa.

Meanwhile, ESS grew to the point that it built the stage for the London leg of the Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium in 1985.

However, Shirley’s generosity of spirit wasn’t matched by his business acumen, which led one former colleague to (affectionately) nickname him “Shambles.”

He sold his interests in the staging and trucking companies to co-directors in order to finance two new projects, neither of which turned out to be successful.

The two companies he’d let go became ES Group, still keeping Shirley’s initials in its name, which traded until going bust at the end of 2010.

It was subsequently split up and sold in bits, with the trucking going to UK-based Transam and the staging to a consortium headed by Al Laith, a multi-faceted production and supply firm based in the United Arab Emirates.

Shirley’s next ventures included trying to create what another former colleague called “a rock ’n’-n-roll hotel.” He started renovating the old Sandgate Hotel near Folkestone, Kent, a drawn-out project that eventually went bust.  The production house he set up at East London’s Three Mills Island Studios folded in 2001, an incident that tested even Shirley’s ever-trusting nature.

“Eight years of my life and my business has been taken from me by devious methods and I think they’ve been planning it for a couple of years,” he told Pollstar at the time.

“We’ve been forced into receivership by our landlord with the object of them stealing our clients,” he said.

The landlord was Workspace Plc, on behalf of The London Residuary Body. The LRB was a body set up in 1985 to dispose of the assets of the Greater London Council after the council’s abolition in 1986.

The studio complex had been successful and was home to TV reality game show “Big Brother.”

Shirley was also working with Peter Fluck and Roger Law, creators of “Spitting Image,” the British satirical puppet show that aired on ITV from 1984 to 1996.

“Spitting Image’ was based in the East End of London.  Edwin Shirley was running Three Mills Studios, also in the East End,” Law explained.

“We did a number of projects together and I quickly realised that Edwin was a one-off, and one of the good guys.

“Edwin made a lot of worthwhile but insane ideas possible.  I simply adored him and he made hard work fun.”

Shirley leaves his wife Diane, from whom he was separated, and children Rebecca and Raphael. He also leaves new partner Mary Pascoe and her children Emma, who worked closely with him at Three Mills, Sarah and Daniel.

The family and Transam, which now owns what was once EST, have received so many messages of condolence that funeral arrangements were still in progress at press time.

Emma Pascoe and both families are working together to arrange a private funeral for family and close friends, followed by a larger memorial service for the huge amount of people wanting to attend.