It’s now a year since the pandemic and its attendant torrent of lockdowns, sadness, stress, worry, boredom and annoying nomenclature swept over Britain. As such that means it’s a year since any of us went to a proper gig. I miss many things but in particular I miss gigs. Hell, I miss just being in a venue. Right now, I would gladly pay just to stare at an empty stage, smell that reassuring foosty smell, drink overpriced beer and go to the toilet while standing in dubious wet floor scum. A change of scene, if nothing else.
But the vaccine is steadily rolling out, and with it hope for the future. Subject to the path out of lockdown progressing to schedule, some outdoor festivals and events in the second half of summer may be allowed, and there’s the prospect of indoor shows resuming by around the same time. Imagine the sheer euphoria! Imagine losing your shit like your shit has never been lost before!
With those imaginings in mind, and in the general spirit of #newnormal and #buildbackbetter, I propose the beginnings of a manifesto. A manifesto for better gig-going. Because for all that gigs with their crap pints and wanton invasion of personal space – oh, to have one’s personal space invaded again! – may represent a near perfect cultural experience, there’s always room for improvement. Together we can, my fellow music fans, #buildbackbetter (gigs).
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1. Tall people
Speaking as a semi-tall person, I like to think I see both sides of the “Hey you tall guy, don’t stand in front of me” debate. Unless you are Krist Novoselic or Brienne of Tarth, there is always liable to be a taller person rocking up at the last minute to ruin your sightline.
If you’re short, almost everyone’s tall. But fact is, tall or short: you can always move. Standing gigs should be, I like to think, a kind of microcosm of a utopian free society, where we are all at liberty to arrange ourselves to our mutual benefit and needs, like atoms in a molecule or crisps in a bag. Little or large, everyone has their place. Everyone has feelings. We can all happily co-exist with some peace, love and understanding, maaaan.
2. People who talk all the time during songs
Should shut up. But never tell them to shut up. Because they will either a) argue with you and/or b) fight you, or somehow otherwise ruin your night. Even if they do shut up, that makes you a nark, and nobody likes a nark. Again, just move! That being said, if you are one of those people who talks a lot at gigs: you should definitely shut up. Or just not go to gigs?
Time was audiences would scream and whoop and stamp the floor and enthusiastically shout things such as, to quote Alan Partridge at the Birmingham NEC in 1976, “Come back on, ELO, and carry on playing!” But in this age of near-enough customary encores, they’ve become an odd sort of perfunctory pseudo-theatrical ritual, whereby bands wander back on from the wings sometimes to lazily weak applause.
I suggest that every venue installs a kind of Opportunity Knocks-style clap-o-meter. Or, more sensibly, that the encore is retired altogether, in favour of squeezing in a whole extra song or two, with time spare for everyone to buy a kebab before the last train.
They’re generally the preserve of posh sit down-type gigs, but I’m a fan. A civilised opportunity to catch breath, refill one’s plastic glass, chat with friends and take care of the things which, speaking as a man nearing 40, need taking care of with dispiritingly increasing frequency. Which reminds me.
5. The gents toilet floor
Seriously, guys. It’s not like you’re being asked to aim a proton torpedo into the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port with your targeting computer switched off. The trough is very long! You are not.
6. Crap beer
I actually have no particular problem with drinking crap beer at gigs – it’s all part of the experience. I do have a problem with the throwing of crap beer, however. No beer, no matter how bad it is, deserves to be thrown, on me or anyone.
7. Emotional speeches by musicians about the pandemic
I suspect this will for a long time become ‘a thing’ whenever gigs resume (big up the key workers!), and correctly so. Just bear in mind, dear overearnest musicians, that we’ve waited a very long time to hear you play your songs again, so keep it short. We came here to lose our shit.
8. Never take gigs and musicians for granted ever again
We’re not out of the woods yet, and if gigs are to come back and stay back then we all need to help, because live music has been utterly devastated. Support campaigns like the Musicians Union’s #InvestInMusicians, donate to the Music Venue Trust’s Red List crowdfunder to bail out grassroots venues on the brink, shop till you drop every #BandcampFriday. Buy and keep tickets for your favourite artists whenever they go on sale, even if the show might be postponed. You’ll get to use them one day. Promise!