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Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Mark “Springo” Spring

Kevin M. Mitchell • FeaturesJanuary 2020 • January 14, 2020

From Sha Na Na to Sir Paul, a Wildly Diverse, Eclectic Career

The one thing everyone says about Mark “Springo” Spring is that he can be counted on to do whatever needs to be done. He’s also admired for his sense of humor almost as much as his skills on a tour — and what a catalog of tours he’s been on. Also notable is the varied artists he’s worked with which include Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Seal, John Fogerty, Garbage, the Spice Girls, Madonna, Simon & Garfunkel, and finally, Paul McCartney for nearly 20 years.

Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. “Posh” Spice with Mark

“I first met Mark on a Yes tour in 1984,” says Richard Fernandez, longtime tour manager for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and recipient of the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. “Mark was head carpenter and covered a lot of ground. I saw right away that Mark was always willing to do whatever was needed to be done in order to make things go smoothly for the performance.”

A table of PMs doing what they do best

“I love Mark Spring,” says Marty Hom, another longtime tour manager for Fleetwood Mac, who has also worked with Barbra Streisand, Shakira, Bette Midler, Lionel Richie, The Eagles, Alicia Keys, Shania Twain and Janet Jackson. “I have been fortunate to work with some of the best production managers in the business including Jake Berry, Chris Adamson, Bill Leabody, [Dale] Opie [Skjerseth], and Malcolm Weldon, and Springo is in that group of top-tier professionals. My only beef with him is every time I want to work with him, he’s busy with that Beatle.”

“He’s consistent with who he is,” says longtime friend Skjerseth. “He never misleads you, and he never f***s around with you. From the moment I met him, I could tell he had a strong personality and would be forthcoming, and that’s who he is.”

“It’s been a good career and I’ve been happy with it — there’s been a lot of variety in terms of acts and what I’m asked to do — which is just about anything,” Spring says.

‡‡         Early Daze

Spring grew up in the Boston suburb of Needham, where he and his twin brother, two younger brothers and three sisters were raised by parents Al and Shirley. Mom was busy with all those kids while dad was an electrician. “There happened to be a stage lighting company in Needham called Capron Lighting & Sound, and when I was in high school, my guidance counselor said they needed a kid to work after school.” When they heard he had worked for his father and knew the basics of electricity, they hired him. Through high school, then college, the company “gave me a good education in the business — they were really good to me.” Then, this kid ended up at a college as far from Boston as you could get: University of California, Long Beach. Between what he learned from his father and the lighting company, his skillset was such he earned a scholarship, and would graduate with a degree in technical theater.

It was through Capron where Spring got his first taste of touring, most memorably Sha Na Na, where he met a couple of friends for life, including Skjerseth (PM for Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC, among others). He was so valuable that he would take semesters off to work, thus completing his degree a little later. But in exchange he loaded up on learning impossible to find in a classroom. “My real touring education came with going out with Sha Na Na when I was 25,” Spring says. “I was a lighting designer, so to speak, and then production manager. It was different times and didn’t require the skill sets any of those jobs need today. We were totally winging it a lot of the times, and sometimes we talk about those days now and wonder how we’re still alive! We had some crazy nights,” he says, with a laughs. “It was a great experience all around, because Sha Na Na were always good guys who treated me well and I was sad to leave them.”

“I met Mark in 1982 at a Holiday Inn in Jersey when I became involved with Sha Na Na,” Skjerseth says. “We clicked right away. He was immediately good at what he did and always willing to help me out on whatever was needed. He originally was headed for a career in television, but going out on tour seemed to change his mind.”

While Spring finished up school, Skjerseth got a job at Showlites, a large lighting vendor in Los Angeles [led by 2013 Parnelli Visionary award winner Eric Pearce]. Once he graduated, Skjerseth got him on at that company, and the two plus John Cossette lived in Venice, CA. “John Cossette also worked on Sha Na Na, and his dad, Pierre Cossette, who is credited with being the first to put the Grammy’s on TV, really helped the three of us out a lot.” (John Cossette would follow in his father’s footsteps.) As for Spring, he worked in the shop and did one-offs until 1984, when he got sent out on his first real Showlites tour, Hall & Oates. “They were hot then, and it was a big show with a big crew. I was number seven on the ladder out of six lighting guys,” he jokes. He would go out on subsequent tours with them, leaving Showlites in 1988. (The firm closed in 1991, and Pearce went on to launch SGPS.)

Son Michael and Mark on site Fenway 2010

‡‡         Stepping Up to the Plate

Skjerseth says their career has run “parallel,” and while they worked on similar acts at similar levels, they actually haven’t worked together that much (though today they live within blocks of each other in Phoenix). An exception was Don Henley’s 1984 “Building the Perfect Beast” Tour. “That was our first big tour, and we took a lot of pride in it,” Skjerseth says. “We were working with Steve Cohen, who was the lighting designer, and already absolutely amazing. We all clicked and worked really well together, and there’s really not been anything else like it for me. To this day it’s one of the best tours we’ve ever done.”

Barrie Marshall and Mark in Pittsburgh, circa 2010

Fernandez hired Spring to be the stage manager for Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour” and has one particular story of when Spring came to the rescue: “In 1990, the day before we left for Brazil, I found out that our production manager had a family emergency and could not go to Brazil, and then onto Europe,” Fernandez says. “I called Mark up and informed him that I wanted him to be the production manager for our shows in South America, Paris, and London for this run. Mark stepped up to the plate and did a great job. Since then, he has continued to help artists get their shows up and running on time.”

In 1992, Spring got onboard with Def Leppard, working with them through the band’s Slang tour in 1996 and 1997. Years of really big shows made him itch to do something on a slightly smaller scale for a while. Hom would hook him up with his next couple of important gigs starting with one of Journey’s Steve Perry tours. “I remember going out to meet [Perry] and some of his people in L.A., and Steve turned out to be a really funny guy who had a lot of great people around him — great people I still work with today.” That positive experience was followed up by some equally successful work with Seal, who shared management companies with Perry. “Seal is great. He and I really got along and saw eye-to-eye, and there was a lot of mutual respect.”

“The first time I worked with Springo was on a Seal tour in 1995, and I subsequently hired him as ‘stage manager’ for Ricky Martin’s 1999/2000 tour,” Hom says, explaining that “stage manager” was in quotes because he and Weldon ended up taking on some production management responsibilities as well. “They initially needed a stage manager, and then Marty needed some additional help,” Spring says of that groundbreaking “Livin’ la Vida Loca” tour. It was a complicated tour “with cars and set pieces that went up and down.” Next up another big one: When longtime Madonna production manager (and 2015 Parnelli Lifetime Award recipient) Chris Lamb couldn’t do her 2001 Drowned world tour, Spring stepped up for that one too. Meanwhile, a call came from Metallica, and he took care of one of their tours. “It was with them that I met Diane Eichorst, who is still my assistant after all these years. Without her, I’d be a bigger mess than I am now — she has mastered all the stuff I can’t be doing and is the best production assistant out there. And then there is also Scott Chase, who I met on the ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’ tour, and he’s been on almost every tour I’ve done in the last 20 years.”

Paul McCartney Freshen Up Tour 2019

‡‡         That Beatle

Another key person in Spring’s career has been Barrie Marshall: “He was instrumental in getting me to where I am now,” Spring says. “I was first hired by McCartney via Gerry [Stickells, Parnelli Lifetime Achievement honoree in 2007], where I met Barrie. He and I got along immediately and began a lifelong relationship. Due to Barrie, [the mob] and I, we had George Michael for nearly three years. Then the Spice Girls. Without Barrie I’d be nothing.” He adds that McCartney’s financial director, Thierry Pouchain, is key to that McCartney touring machine. “Barrie, Thierry and I go on all the site visits around the world, and he’s the one that speaks several languages.”

That first tour with McCartney happened in 2002. “I got hired over the phone on that one, because I had just done Madonna, so I didn’t need to be vetted,” he says. The team went to work building the show, but Spring would not meet Sir Paul until the first day of production. When the two were finally introduced, McCartney said, “Hi, I’m so happy as I’ve been really wanting to meet you.” A slightly stunned Spring said, “I think it goes the other way, Paul!” And that was the first, but certainly not the only, laugh they shared.

Mark introduces his parents to a Beatle

Spring’s time as McCartney’s production manager has been constant since that first meeting, interrupted only when McCartney takes a break from touring. On one break, he took a completely different kind of challenge and went out with a Spice Girls reunion tour. This was interesting because he was suddenly dealing with a lot of dancers, which “requires a whole different philosophy — you need to be a lot more sensitive with them,” he says, laughing. “But it was a good experience, learning how to deal with different people and circumstances.” Otherwise, “Paul has mostly kept me busy eight months a year, so I haven’t really needed to do anything else.” He’s grateful for his long relationship with the former Beatle. “There’s a lot to be said for working for one guy — there’s nothing else in the way,” he says. “If I need to talk to Paul, I talk to Paul. With Metallica, there’s a whole management style. With the Spice Girls, there were like 10 people [in the room]. With Paul, there’s just three or so of us in the room making decisions.”

Springo with Paul and the band and crew

As far as working with McCartney, “it’s old-school, and I like it. He gets us all in the same room, looks us in the eye, and we work it out. There’s no email BS and phone calls not being returned. He’s very much in charge, but he wants to see what you got.” Mixing it up and keeping these tours fresh is always the goal. “We do mix it up, and then polish it each time. He likes to add bells and whistles and, frankly he has a f-ing catalog of so many great songs that it’s a matter of direction. Then when plans for a set and technical issues are being formed, he’ll look at me and asks me if I think it will work.” At this point, Spring says, he’s fine with more time off, spending it with friends and family, including his fiancée, Gay Lee.

With a steady, experienced hand in the production manager role, what usually happens is a team of talented, no-BS crew is attracted to be part of the team — and they stay. That is certainly the situation with the well-oiled machine that is McCartney’s touring family. “I’ve got great riggers, stage managers, carpenters — everybody. It’s all them that make you look good. I have vendors like Clair, Tait, and Upstaging who stick with me, and they always give me the best people they have. I have a difficult schedule, and they all make it good, and then we all get paid well.”

Upstaging’s John Huddleston, Jake Berry and Springo

Tellingly, members of his inner team have been stuck with him a long time — some longer than two decades. “I haven’t figured out why they stay with me!” Spring says with a laugh, adding that “most are closer than some family members. Everyone gets to know what not to do and to know how to keep each other from being pissed off. I have been lucky that someone else is there to pick you up when you need it.”

“His intelligence and attention to detail are two traits that make Mark an extremely good production manager,” says Fernandez. “Mark is also one of the funniest people that I know. Mark gets things done and has the ability to motivate his crew. For these reasons, I feel that Mark is so deserving of the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award.”

“I am privileged to be in with such an amazing group of people,” Spring says. He will receive the 19th Annual Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award at the Parnelli Awards gala set for Jan. 17, 2020 at the Hilton Hotel next to the Anaheim Convention Center during the NAMM convention.

Metallica Crew flipping off

For more information about the Parnelli Awards, go to www.parnelliawards.com.

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