A few days ago, I went to a club to see one of my favourite artists. For much of the first set, I stood near to the bar (making up about half of the venue) where a group of men who, even after the gig had started, continued a very loud, intense and raucous conversation without any let up. This was even more pronounced between songs when the artist couldn’t be heard introducing his songs. It suddenly occurred to me why I stopped going to this particular club in the first place.
Chatting away is deeply disrespectful to artists, who can actually see and hear when audience members are talking. And if you’re a fan of the musician you bought tickets to see, ignoring them while they’re doing their job is downright insulting.
Talking during gigs seems to be a happening more and more nowadays. Nothing frustrates me more than ‘talkers’ spoiling my night out when I’m wanting to enjoy live music. So I thought I’d pen an article (rant) about my frustrations.
It feels as though more and more people chattering through concerts is a rule rather than the exception. Even veteran bands playing their hearts out onstage are background noise to a group of people having a night out with their friends. Ask anyone who has attended British Summer Time (BST) at Hyde Park or an event at the O2.
Though, I have to say, that wasn’t true of the Country 2 Country festival where fans enjoyed their favourite artists in quiet appreciation. I don’t think I’ve experienced such a respectful atmosphere at any concert (The famous Bluebird Café in Nashville have a ‘Shhh policy’ and request that audience members keep their talking to a minimum – perhaps this is where Country fans sitting quietly originates).
A ‘Shhh policy’ really does enhance the experience of live music. I’ve acquired a reputation for gathering an appreciative audience at gigs in Billericay for people who simply want to listen to an artist and their songs and this is much appreciated by the artists who perform – many of whom are more than willing to return because of this.
And it’s not just large venues like the O2 or BST where excessive noise spoils the occasion. It seems to affect smaller venues too. I attended a gig late last year where mid-concert the band asked the audience to stop talking as their songs were written to be listened to and said if people wouldn’t do so they would stop playing. It had some impact but it didn’t last longer than a couple of songs. The irony at this event was that it was a ‘home town’ gig and those who were making the most noise were family and friends who, I guess, were enjoying a family reunion at the band’s expense.
But all this is nothing new. Joni Mitchell famously berated the crowd during her appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight concert when she stopped playing to give the audience what is now considered, in Joni lore, as the infamous angry lecture:
Listen a minute, will you? Will you listen a minute!? Now listen, a lot of people who get up here and sing, I know it’s fun, you know, it’s a lot of fun. It’s fun for me, I get my feelings off through my music, but listen. You got your life wrapped up in it and it’s very difficult to come out here and lay something down … It’s like last Sunday, I went to a Hopi ceremonial dance in the desert, and there were a lot of people there, and there were tourists. And there were tourists who were getting into it like Indians and Indians who were getting into it like tourists. And I think that you’re acting like tourists, man. Give us some respect!
Whilst the vast majority of music fans are passionate and attentive gig-goers, their experiences are marred by the discourteous actions of other people. Buying a ticket to a gig doesn’t give you a free pass to act however you want and everyone else be damned — and people shouldn’t be afraid to assert their right to enjoy a concert.
Though to ask a group of people to be quiet is tantamount to putting your life in the line. It’s just not worth it. You either put up or shut up or leave – as I did during the interval at the gig I mentioned at the beginning of this article (rant!).
Cynics might say that this sort of behaviour is indicative of society where people are becoming more self-centred and more self-absorbed. Whilst that might be true in some cases, concert talking also feels like a reflection of music’s changing role in society.
I say that because music is not the all-consuming passion it used to be ‘back in the day.’ For some, going to a gig is a nostalgia trip where they are waiting to hear the big songs they remember rather than sitting through a bunch of other stuff which they don’t care about. That was the issue at the 1970 Isle of Wight concert when Joni Mitchell was performing.
But with the rise of streaming, downloading and iPod playlists, people are also consuming music in ways that make the art of music nothing more than a passing trend. Vinyl, Cassette and CD boom aside, albums or singles aren’t necessarily things you hold in your hand and treat with great care. In fact, people rarely listen to albums anymore and with it goes the appreciation for the musicianship and art form of the artist and music itself.
And it’s not cheap to see live music. Throw in travel, parking food and drink and other expenses, and it becomes a pretty expensive night out. Why someone would spend a fortune attending a gig to spend it jabbering throughout (rather than, say, going to a bar or restaurant to hang out with friends) is a complete mystery to me.
So, where is this article (rant) going? It’s simple …
If you want a night out with your mates, don’t go to a live concert. Get yourself along to the nearest bar where you can laugh and chat and banter to your heart’s content.
If you do go to a live gig, please enjoy it quietly and give the artists the respect they deserve and be good company for those around you who want to listen.
And finally, spare a thought for support artists (who would want to take on this task in the current climate of indifference?) and make a point of listening to them, rather than going to the bar or arriving late.
PS. I feel so much better after all that!
PPS. Don’t get me started about popcorn at the cinema!