Earlier this week I went to Bar Bloc to watch two of this country’s finest acoustic acts, Beerjacket and Reverieme, perform as part of a free night called The Glasgow Slow Club, which takes place every Tuesday. This is how the organisers describe it: “…we like to slow everything down, sit back and relax. The venue will change a bit from normal, some mood lighting, candles, carpets, cake and warmth.”
For Beerjacket aka Peter Kelly, any feelings of relaxation and warmth were swiftly sucked out of both him and the audience. He spent his entire headlining set trying to be heard above the din of chatter coming from the bar area, and every gap between songs saw him become increasingly exasperated as he appealed in vain for a little bit of quiet. There were plenty of folk there to watch the live music, but all enjoyment in hearing these wonderful songs soon evaporated underneath a combination of the rest of the pub’s ignorance and what felt like an on-stage meltdown.
In this post, both Peter Kelly and Aberdeen-based acoustic singer-songwriter Amber Wilson express their feelings on the thorny issue of talking during gigs.
“I can see there are lots of you… and I can hear there are lots of you. But I’m going to play some songs… and they’re kind of quiet… this music is called Beerjacket.”
I see my fingers move along the neck of the guitar but there’s no sound. I’m singing but I’m mute. I get frantic and my foot threatens to break the floor. Around me, beery heads are thrown back, exhaling booming laughter and primal yells. A terrace chant floats in the air. A glass shatters at my feet.
The song ends. Distant applause rests on a shelf below the noise. There is always noise.
And I am compelled to acknowledge it. The crowd noise is not the elephant in the room – it is a herd of elephants… drunken, belligerent elephants, thoughtlessly trampling my beloved words and music under their feet.
I’ve been here a hundred million times before and I’ve never found a solution to the problem or any way to simply cope with the struggle. Friends have advised various socially acceptable strategies to deal with noisy crowds’ socially acceptable ignorance, but one suggestion is especially popular: “Ignore it”.
This I just can’t accomplish. Ignore ignorance? Not me. Once the elephants enter the room, I cannot… no, I will not rest until I’ve pointed them out to everyone else there. The only ones left unaware of the elephants in the room are the elephants themselves. Before long, I’m dropping bitter asides between songs (“technically I’m not being antagonistic if they can’t hear me…”) , twisting lyrics into put-downs (“meet me at the bar that never closes… its mouth”) and eventually saying goodnight and drawing the last dagger of the evening: a sneering “thank you very much”.
So what is the answer? Maybe ‘Silence please’ signs, like in libraries. (Why do books get that respect when it eludes actual living, breathing, singing human beings?) Maybe we should have armed security guards keeping the peace. Maybe the performers should be armed. (Actually, some may already have resorted to this measure; the notoriously noise-sensitive Josh T Pearson reportedly pulled a knife on a rowdy crowd member during a show at SXSW)
Arguably, the most obvious cause of the phenomenon of ‘gignorance’ is alcohol. Without coming off as too pretentious or a killjoy, surely it’s a pretty terrible idea to sell alcohol and art in the same place? It’s long been a bugbear for me that my chosen medium of music carries with it so many assumed licenses of behaviour. If I was a painter, would I be cool with others adding their own careless strokes to my work? The only marked improvement of music-pubs in the past few years is that people can no longer smoke and shout over you at the same time indoors. (Should I count myself lucky?) Does the atmosphere at music concerts really benefit from an injection of alcohol?
But you know what I think the problem really is? Music has become a side order in the dining room of the heart. It’s always there in the background: it’s on your television while you watch Waterloo Road, it’s telling you to answer your mobile phone, it’s on the radio with a loud man talking over it (maybe that’s where pub idiots get the idea)… it’s too seldom at the forefront. Is it not enough anymore to do nothing else, but just listen to a song?
Beerjacket photo © Fiona McKinlay
I get panic attacks before every gig because I am so terrified I won’t deliver and the crowd will think I’m shit and not listen. When they are loud and don’t pay attention, it’s really difficult not to take it to heart. I die inside and just want the ground to swallow me up.
After putting your heart and soul into writing your music and spending hours practising for a performance, only to have to compete with a wall of noise… it leaves you feeling like it was all for nothing.
It also pisses off the people who really have paid to listen. I went to see Iron And Wine in Edinburgh in March and I was stuck in front of a group of noisy drunkards who paid no attention whatsoever. I’d waited years to see him and they ruined it for me.
I don’t understand why people would pay to come to a gig then chat through all of the songs. I mean, you don’t buy a ticket to a movie just to talk through it, do you?
Last weekend I played the Kintyre Songwriters Festival and the organisers really had it sussed. The sounds from the stage was fed through to the bar (which was in a separate room) meaning that the drinkers could stay there if they wanted to and still be able to listen. It was a fantastic gig with a great atmosphere. The Captain’s Rest in Glasgow and Duke’s Corner in Dundee have also been personal highlights for me.
If it wasn’t for my mum, boyfriend and friends egging me on and believing in me, I probably would have given up gigging a long time ago.
June 19, Albert Hotel, Kirkwall (St Magnus Festival)
Amber Wilson – Detlef Schrempf (Band Of Horses cover)
Amber Wilson photo © Ashley Penny