High Fives 2020 (12) – Isitjustme

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We try to keep him out of the way for most of the year, but a sudden bout of Christmas generosity has prompted us (probably unwisely) to let the curmudgeon have access to a laptop and share his highly debatable and probably scurrilous opinions with you. Just a reminder for you that the views of our correspondent don’t reflect the values of MusicRiot or possibly anyone else in the world. You’ve been warned. This is the return of Isitjustme.

You’ve been warned. Indeed. You would think that they were expecting me to say something controversial but I’ve mellowed and I’ll be sticking to the party line by looking at the positives of the COVID pandemic. As a response to Steve Jenner’s piece, I’m sharing some of the things that I definitely haven’t missed about live music.

Soundchecks

I know, I know. The soundcheck’s vital to getting the sound right so the artist can sound good. There’s an insider joke – ‘When does soundcheck end?’, ‘Ten minutes after doors (scheduled opening time)’. How many times have you stood outside venues on nights when brass monkeys are looking for welders waiting for the doors to open, while the door staff tell you that the soundcheck’s still going on. It doesn’t build up anticipation, it just winds people up. I know it’s a radical solution, but why not start soundchecking a bit earlier. And it happens from the biggest to the smallest venues. At the Steve Miller/John Fogerty Bluesfest at the O2 (and I hate the O2 and all the other enormodromes) doors opened about 45 minutes late and they were still soundchecking. To add insult to injury, even after a bang-average opening duo, the sound was still terrible – the drums sounded like a filing cabinet being thrown down a lift shaft and the keyboard player might as well have been miming for most of the set. And why do VIP packages include soundcheck access; it’s the most tedious part of the live process. Nobody likes it and it’s just something the band has to do before getting stuck in to the rider.

Bar Queues

It’s all about the profit margin isn’t it? You deliberately under-staff the bar and boost your margins by keeping your costs down. Maybe you could increase your margins by selling more drinks (by having more staff to sell them)? It’s a bit of a difficult staffing problem because there are periods (when the bands are playing) when there isn’t a lot to do (gig expert tip – that’s the time to go to the bar). So with no gigs at all, that’s not a problem and with socially-distanced gigs it’s a different problem – table service. There are two ways for this to fail – you’re either constantly being hassled by over-eager staff to buy more drinks or you’re so thirsty you’re tempted to go down the Sarah Miles route (just google it). Don’t do this in a group, you don’t want to pick up the wrong glass. And while we’re talking about the bar…

Craft Beers

When I were a lad, you went to gig and you had a choice of bitter or lager (or a short if you’d screwed the leccy meter that week). You got a pint in a glass (a real glass that smashed when you dropped it or threw it at the support act, maybe after doing a bit of a Sarah Miles). It was cold, fizzy gnat’s piss but we loved it. So what happens now at a gig? Unless you go to The Picturedrome in Holmfirth (which sells real beer), you get floor-to-ceiling chiller cabinets packed with cans (cans?-when did that happen?) of beers that you’ve never heard of even if you could read the branding through the condensation on the doors. So you take a random stab at something that’s in a can you like the colour of and flick your credit card at the reader, just about registering that you’ve paid the equivalent of a main course in a restaurant for a 330ml can. But that’s not worst thing. The can describes the dubious fluid inside it as pale ale – that can’t be bad, can it? You can’t beat a good IPA with a big stick. But it’s either an American pale ale or a British copy – it doesn’t really matter, they’re both specifically brewed to be undrinkable. The ingredient that gives beer its bitter taste is hops and it’s perfect when used in moderation. Craft beers are brewed on the principle that more hops equals better beer – honestly, no, it doesn’t. The first taste is mouth-puckering and it doesn’t get any better – this is when you thank whatever gods you believe in that it’s only a 330ml can. Of course, you might get lucky and find a plastic bottle of Doom Bar on display. You might, and it ight even be chilled.

Background Music

It’s not really background music that naffs me off. It’s part of the night out (or entertainment offering, if you like) and it’s an important part. It’s not difficult to get it right with a bit of musical knowledge, so why do so many venues totally screw it up (even the good ones). Ever been in a venue that you visit regularly and you know exactly what’s coming next on the playlist – sort it out folks, it’s boring. Have a bigger playlist, set it to shuffle – you can thank me later. The other classic is the inappropriate playlist randomly chosen by one of the barstaff or the sound engineer. You know the kind of thing – thrash metal at an Americana gig or a Christmas playlist in November. Take control of it and give the punters what they deserve. You could even get a DJ to ‘curate’ your background. Just sayin’.

Rude punters

We’ve all been hacked off with them at gigs and we’ve let them know and it still makes no difference – they’re oblivious to criticism. You want examples – there’s the obvious one that wants to talk loudly at an acoustic gig. For your information, I don’t give a flying one about how busy the Northern Line was on the way to the gig and I care even less about what your bonus was last year – I just want to hear the gig I’ve paid for. How about the one person at a seated arena gig, right in the middle of the auditorium that wants to hippy-dance standing up and blocking the centre-stage view for about 200 people behind them – that’s way beyond selfish. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to go to gigs.

My only wish for 2021 is to get back to normal gigs again. If we can do that, I’ll put up with all of these things (for the first gig).