This year, he has new and exciting plans for the audiences at the WOW shows in Wellington.

Lately, Shane Clayton has been imagining dramatic sounds – from the vibration of thunder rolling across a dark, cloudy sky above to the screeching of seagulls circling overhead.

Whatever noisy scenarios he cares to imagine, it’s now possible to bring to the ears of the large audiences that fill the TSB Arena for the WOW Shows every September and October. “The possibilities are huge. It would be so authentic – just like being there,” he says.

By the end of this month, much of his sound-control and delivery equipment will have been shipped from Nelson to Wellington for the 25th Anniversary performances. As always, he will man the sound ‘control deck’ for every live show. But for the first time, he is sending a computer to Wellington for the rehearsals – a computer which he can control remotely from his home-studio in Wakefield, 30 kilometres south of Nelson.

“I can make the necessary changes, instantly,” he says. “Gone are the days when I would make changes and then drive from Wakefield to Nelson as fast as I could, packing CDs to Wellington on an overnight courier, which often didn’t get there overnight anyway.

His latest passion is perfecting the time-code and synchronisation technology. “It’s now possible to trigger pyrotechnics and robotics and I’m looking at the possibilities of integrating this with wireless, mobile and new technologies.”

Five years ago, Shane Clayton was not so excited. As the 2008 show season came to a close, he sat down and did some sums. When he had finished, he decided to resign – bringing to an end a 12-year working relationship with WOW.

“It wasn’t that I was tired of the job. Not at all – though I calculated I’d been the sound guy 369 times,” he explains. “It was that I had actually sat down and bothered to add up how many live shows and how many rehearsals I had done. I thought, ‘why am I doing the sums?’ and then I figured that was a pretty big signal – it was time for me to take a break.”

That Shane had even managed to design and stage the sound process that year, is still “a little bit of a miracle”, he says. Just months earlier, he and his wife Gillian lost their 14-year-old son Asher to complications from a congenital heart defect.

“I barely remember that year’s production. Somehow, Suzie (WOW’s founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff) managed to guide and cajole me through the sound design process and she made provision for our whole family to be together while I was in Wellington, operating the sound for the show.

“Despite being in an extremely fragile state, the whole production team had faith in me to fulfil my role professionally. I think I relied very heavily on my instinct to know what to do.”

The show was mostly a blur, he remembers. But he has one clear and very special memory from the Awards night. “Inside the programme book it was mentioned that the show was dedicated to Asher, but Suzie affirmed that dedication in her public speech that night, which we hadn’t been expecting.”

With Christmas fast-approaching, a still grieving and weary Shane submitted his resignation, assuring Dame Suzie the job “doesn’t require a genius – just someone who is on their toes”.

While the job is undeniably complex and ‘high-stress,’ Shane says it’s an exhilarating kind of stress. And he quickly realised he desperately missed it. In less than a year, he was back.

“I’m not sure I really ever left completely. I did the sound design for the 2009 show as per normal and set up the system in Wellington and then I supervised the new sound operator. But not doing the actual shows was a bit like I’d had a limb removed.

“The build-up and preparation for the WOW Awards Show becomes an obsession – ask anyone who has been involved with it,” he says. “It’s addictive and I know now, I would suffer severe withdrawal symptoms without it as part of my year.”  

– Victoria Clark