I post­ed this in 2017 but its mes­sage sad­ly rings truer than ever.

“This is a place for music lovers. If you want to talk to your friends when the bands are on, please use the oth­er bar.”

The above sign is plas­tered promi­nent­ly on the venue door at The Trades in Heb­den Bridge, York­shire, one of my favourite small venues.

It’s a wel­come sign; I’m one of those gig goers who gets (inward­ly) grumpy if peo­ple are talk­ing while the band are on. That’s not to say the audi­ence have to be com­plete­ly silent but I’ve had many a gig spoiled by inces­sant yaw­ping. Some­times the chat­ter does­n’t just take place between songs but rum­bles on with­out pause; a low-lev­el irri­tant that always man­ages to make its pres­ence felt, no mat­ter how loud the band. I’ve found myself won­der­ing why peo­ple even both­er to spend their hard-earned mon­ey on tick­ets when all they real­ly want­ed was a good old catch-up which could have tak­en place in the pub. It does­n’t seem to mat­ter either if the band are play­ing at tin­ni­tus-induc­ing lev­els – those talk­ers will just up their own vol­ume in order to com­mu­ni­cate their cru­cial­ly impor­tant infor­ma­tion – lat­est pur­chase from Pri­mark, lev­el of drunk­en­ness the night before.

I have on occa­sion asked talk­ers to keep it down – if I think I’m not going to end up involved in a fight. If the talk­ers give you an icy glare and car­ry on regard­less there’s noth­ing else you can do but slink off and find your­self anoth­er spot.

Avoid the back of the room

It’s where you’ll find most of the lurk­ers and drinkers (and often the guestlis­ters) and they tend to talk more. I recall one Richard Haw­ley gig where he allud­ed sev­er­al times to the noisy talk­ers at the back of Shep­herd’s Bush Empire while he was play­ing. And more recent­ly – in 2022 – Lias Saou­di became extreme­ly irri­tat­ed by talk­ers at a gig at Brix­ton Acad­e­my and called them out.

Seated versus standing

Do a seat­ed crowd behave any bet­ter? Hav­ing sat upstairs for many a seat­ed gig, I would ven­ture to say that yes, gen­er­al­ly they do – per­haps it’s because this area tends to attract the old­er fans, who just might talk a bit less, plus being slumped in a chair can put you in a more placid frame of mind. But you might still get talk­ers – and then you find your­self with no escape. Even the hushed grandeur of the Bar­bi­can – where Steve Mason with orches­tra per­formed ear­ly 2017 – was­n’t awe-inspir­ing enough to sub­due the cou­ple seat­ed behind me. What start­ed as a bit of between-song ban­ter turned into full-blown drunk­en blath­er­ing right through Mason’s num­bers, until the bloke next to me turned round and polite­ly asked them to be qui­et. After this my neigh­bour was assailed by repeat­ed taps on the shoul­der and grov­el­ling alco­hol-fuelled apolo­gies (almost as bad as the talk­ing, but not quite).

The rules

So maybe it’s time to spell out the rules, like the poster at The Trades. There are some events where silence is part of the expe­ri­ence; the one-day fes­ti­val I attend­ed a few years ago called SHHH – the qui­et music fes­ti­val is a case in point. Held in a church in Lon­don, Howard Monk and friends ran this cozy, delight­ful event, the whole point of which was that you sat silent­ly when musi­cians were playing.

SHH quiet music festival poster

Some gig-goers are inter­act­ing with live music in a dif­fer­ent way. Rather than the artists be the focus of the evening, it’s now about the audi­ence mem­bers them­selves. The hap­less musi­cians are reduced to mere enablers of a good night out, a bit of back­ground to enhance one’s evening entertainment.

This sce­nario played out recent­ly when a friend went along to a favourite music-venue pub in Lon­don, one where audi­ences are as a rule most atten­tive – how­ev­er this par­tic­u­lar night some of the crowd weren’t there pri­mar­i­ly to see the band (even though they’d all paid for the priv­i­lege). Instead they chat­ted away ani­mat­ed­ly, show­ing each oth­er high­ly amus­ing stuff on their mobiles to the accom­pa­ni­ment of whoops of laugh­ter. An audi­ence mem­ber who was there for the actu­al music implored the chat­ter­ers to be qui­et, but to no avail. Even­tu­al­ly he exas­per­at­ed­ly asked them to ‘just fuck­ing shut up’ – at which point secu­ri­ty revved into action. But they rep­ri­mand­ed the bloke who’d made the sweary request for qui­et, rather than the noisy after-work drinkers.

Re-estab­lish­ing the rules for good-man­nered gig­ging might be a good idea. There are ongo­ing prob­lems with venues clos­ing; live music needs to retain its stance as an attrac­tive evening out for as many peo­ple as possible.

Thoughts and suggestions…

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