Bella Union founder Simon Raymonde feels that incessant, rude chatter at gigs and concerts is symptomatic of a wider social issue – and says the talking must stop.
There is more than a general air of malaise hovering above us – indeed, we are wholly engulfed in a seemingly terminal thick black cloud of it at the moment. And I freely admit that I am wavering.
55 is an interesting age to be, and of course, like most people of that vintage, I feel 20 years younger than that in my head. But having lived through Thatcher (not sure why, but I always think of Bob Carolgees and Spit The Dog whenever I think of THAT woman), then having been hypnotised and hoodwinked by the pseudo-socialist Voldemort Tony Blair, it’s clear to these failing eyes that we have gone backwards as a nation and as a planet – and that we are now paying for a lesson we still haven’t learnt.
In government, as in music, we elevate the mediocre to pass as genius; and the truly exceptional minds are regarded as dangerous, subversive and superfluous. The whole concept of society, as defined by our ‘elected representatives’, is based on lies, corruption and deceit. And we all go blindly along with it, because we are so busy paying the rent and raising the kids that we are literally too tired to even hold up a wavering hand in protest.
Being involved in music can be both blessing and curse. Diversions and distractions amidst downright denial are some of the creative tools of the musical mind. Burrowing deep into the ground and creating music, poetry, paintings and literature, some of us can drop below the surface and isolate ourselves from the agony of acceptance of our plight. When great art comes out of this, it’s time well spent. When nothing comes, however, it feels like a dereliction of duty. This anxiety is not andropausal; not brought on by advancing middle age, nor is this distaste reserved solely for governments, institutions and barely elected heads of state.
Even at a celebration of music, in congregation with others at a gig – and, let’s face it, half of my life is spent thus – my enjoyment is often diluted by audience members who feel it both necessary and acceptable to talk loudly during the performance. Were it only during the loud passages, it would perhaps be more forgivable. But when the performer is solo, or the band have ambient or delicate breaks, the monumental disrespect and disregard for the artist AND the rest of us that some people show, night after night, is depressing. This is not a new problem, but to me, it seems worse than ever. I used to tolerate it in irate silence, but now have no hesitation in confronting the incessant perpetrators – one of the few unexpected delights of middle age is being able to say exactly what you think, without worrying about the response.
The extraordinary Jambinai played a blistering set in Totnes at Sea Change festival in late August this year (quite how anyone would want to be talking, let alone scratching, thinking or even breathing during one of the gigs of the year is beyond me) and yet a couple halfway back just couldn’t shut up.
I walked up to the ‘gentleman’ and whispered to him: “I have no interest in your penis size, but if you don’t stop talking, I am going to enlarge your nut sack by 200%. The band did not come 5,700 miles to listen to your woefully uninteresting life story.” I walked back down the front and closed my eyes, as the music resumed casting its spell over me.
I regularly mourn the closing of the Luminaire club in Kilburn, London, run by Andy Inglis – where talking during the shows was forbidden. Signs hung on all walls with the following admonition: ‘No one here paid to listen to you talking to your pals. If you want to talk to your pals when the bands are on, please leave the venue’.
This was no idle threat. I have a CD recording of Midlake’s headline show there back in 2006, with support from Fionn Regan, and there’s a moment during his set where the talking becomes noticeable. Firstly, you hear a few “Sssshhhhh!”s and then it goes quiet; then after the next song, when the murmur starts and the chatter returns, you can hear: “Will you just fucking SHUT UP!” (Listening back, I am now certain that is my voice).
With the state our planet is in, I realise this is hardly of pressing concern, but it’s just one tiny fragment of a whole wider disintegration of values. The irony is that, at a time when talking is needed, we fall silent and when we need silence, we can’t keep quiet.
SIMON RAYMONDE was the bassist and keyboard player in Cocteau Twins and founded the independent record label Bella Union.