Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve
The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.

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Grassroots Music Venues Are Fighting To Stay Alive – It’s Time To Help Save Them

It’s estimated that 35% of grassroots music venues have closed between 2007 and 2015 and after recent news of yet another live music locale under threat of being shut down, it’s time to take a look at how the UK’s gig scene is being endangered and to explore how new bands can get a break in 2017. Here are the stories of some legendary spots and their struggles to survive.

The Roadhouse

The Roiadhouse

This one still tugs at my heart strings to this day. Another iconic venue, another site of many a legendary gig, including Ginger Wildheart’s stunning show a couple of years back, now sits derelict.

The Roadhouse played host to a number of massive bands over the years and in a “before they were famous” roll-call, Elbow, Coldplay, The White Stripes and Muse have all trodden these particular boards. But in 2015, the 200-capacity basement venue closed its doors, allegedly to make way for a restaurant run by Aumbry’s Mary-Ellen McTague. This never materialised, and despite other bars such as Jimmy’s and Sugar Rays springing up along Newton Street and increasing footfall, the venue remains boarded up and padlocked. The Roadhouse’s closure differs from the others on this list as it’s not necessarily down to development (owner Kate Mountain simply wanted to pursue new ventures), but it’s an absolute travesty that this venue hasn’t been snapped up to help out Manchester’s up and coming talent, although that might have something to do with the £46,000 a year lease that the landlord has placed on it. Hopefully there’s life in this particular old dog yet.

 

Sound Control

Sound Control

Not yet down and out, but on its way, former music shop Sound Control is set to be flattened to make way for yet more student accommodation. The three floor venue feels like it’s been around forever but has only been hosting gigs and club nights for the past eight years. Even so, in this time The 1975, Rita Ora, Helmet, Wu-Tang Clan and Manc sweethearts du jour Blossoms have all played there, showing the variety of talent the place can attract. Located on New Wakefield Street, it’s a great place for a gig venue with plenty of pre- and post-show eating and drinking establishments nearby, and as you’d expect with its moniker, the sound in the place has always been spot on. With three different size rooms it can host all manner of events and all-day festivals and being slap bang next to Oxford Road train station and a short trot from St Peter’s Square tram stop, it’s handy too, especially compared to the Academy whose distance often creates a mad dash for the last public transport home.

Fortunately the owners of Sound Control are vowing to press on with plans to relocate to a bigger and better venue, but you can’t help feel it just won’t be quite the same.

 

The Star And Garter

Star And Garter

One of the more protracted of all of these tales is that of The Star And Garter. Nestled behind Piccadilly Station in Manchester, The S&G is a traditional boozer built in the early 1800s and moved brick by brick down the road to make way for the expansion of the train station a few years after opening. The Grade II listed building has been the venue for the iconic Smiths Disco for a quarter of a century but recent plans to expand the station even further have seen Network Rail bid for the pub in order to knock it down and make room for additional platforms and a new viaduct. The venue’s owner has pretty much described the offer as derisory, especially considering the pub has living quarters and its own parking. Even more importantly, the place is a very convenient venue and one stacked with history that really shouldn’t just be bulldozed.

The area that The Star And Garter sits in isn’t exactly salubrious but recent events have seen the nearby Mayfield Depot re-open and proves the area has potential. If redevelopment could happen around the pub, it’d certainly suit travellers, boozers, foodies and gig goers and make the district a lot more up-market than it is currently, which can only be a good thing for that part of the City Centre.

 

The Fleece

The Fleece

Proving that struggles to keep live music venues open aren’t just isolated to the North West, Bristol has seen similar issues in recent years. The Fleece (formerly The Fleece & Firkin when I was much, much younger) has been in operation for 35 years and has seen bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Ash, Erasure and even Oasis set foot on its stage over the years. It’s another decent-sized venue (capacity is around the 450 mark) that gives young bands a decent shot at playing to a sizable crowd, but in 2014 it was threatened with closure due to the submission of plans to build flats opposite which would no doubt bring noise abatement orders shortly thereafter. After gaining support from Bristol’s mayor, as well as 30,000 signatures through an online petition, a compromise was reached; the flats would still be built but permission was only granted subject to noise insulation being installed on the apartments to ensure any threats to The Fleece are minimised.

An important test case, it’s good to see that sanity can prevail in these situations. After all, what use is a massive surge in accommodation without a decent amount of amenities such as pubs, shops and venues nearby to encourage people to move there?

 

The Thekla

The Thekla

Most recently, HMS Thekla, again in Bristol has come under threat of extinction. As a kid growing up in the South West, there was little more exciting than going to a gig, but what was more exciting was going to a gig on a boat. Yes, that’s right, The Thekla is a floating funhouse originally brought to Bristol in 1983 to showcase music, comedy, plays and poetry.

The former cargo ship helped put Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack on the map and features artwork from Banksy over its bulkheads, but this month it’s seen its future threatened, again by property development with nearby Redcliffe Wharf set to be turned into “affordable housing, offices and leisure space”.

Hopefully Bristol City Council will take the same stance as with The Fleece and save this unique venue from closure, because if it doesn’t it would be a sad, sad day for the West Country’s music scene.

 

So, what can we do about this issue? I’m not naïve enough to think that progress doesn’t need to happen, otherwise we wouldn’t have moved from wooden clubs to fire to the wheel, to skyscrapers and back down again to Donald Trump. But progress should mean that there is something better for all of us as a result and quite simply that’s not the case with many of these venues that have now gone or are under threat. Instead, we’re left with more students in cities with less to entertain them, bands with nowhere to play and eyesore derelict buildings that encourage graffiti and public urination against their doors.

Night & Day Café in Manchester, no stranger to noise complaints previously could soon be challenged by its next door neighbour Dry Bar being converted to a hotel, and as much as the odd new venue does open to pick up some of the slack, they’re not large enough in number to offer a stage to everyone who needs a creative outlet. Time will tell, especially for The Thekla, but hopefully we won’t be left in a decade’s time with only a slew of faceless sports halls and bland world-renowned acts churning out the same old turgid nonsense.

Don’t Stop Loving The Music.

You can follow The Thekla on Twitter to hear the latest on their case, or search for the hashtag #savethekla

Mutation / The Empty Page @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester – 29th October 2017

Mutation

It takes a brave soul to venture out on the first Sunday after the clocks go back. Every instinct tells you to stay indoors, safe from the dark, the cold and the explosion of pre-emptive fireworks. Some may say it takes an even braver soul to leave the house to go and get pummelled by a band promising to make your ears bleed with their racket, but when it’s a trio as intriguing as Mutation, it’s one of those journeys that simply has to be made.

The Empty PageThe calm before the storm at Manchester’s appropriately-named Deaf Institute comes tonight from The Empty Page. Recent winners of Indie Week UK, if you went solely off the band’s debut record, you’d maybe think they were a bit of a “lighter” choice to open up for the brutality of Mutation, but in the live arena the band are surprisingly heavy. Drummer Jim, for the first time front and centre, is an absolute beast behind the kit, keeping things tighter than Scrooge McDuck, while Kel and Giz seem even more animated than usual, putting extra effort into teasing out the power and emotion from songs like Deeply Unlovable and Wardrobe Malfunction. Always engaging and entertaining in equal measure, The Empty Page have been going from strength to strength in recent weeks and are hitting top form as their micro-tour of Canada approaches.

As Mutation prepare to unleash their cacophony, the crowd seem wary of getting too close to the stage for a few reasons: a) It’s pretty high b) the drumkit is precariously placed right at the very front of it and c) Mutation make so much noise they’d get a dead elephant bouncing. In three albums, Ginger Wildheart and his merry band of miscreants (live, this means Scott Lee Andrews of Exit_International on bass and longtime Ginger collaborator Denzel pounding the skins) have created a wall of discordance so dense and arrhythmic that it was certainly an eyebrow-raiser to see a tour announced. 

How on Earth would three people recreate such a sonic maelstrom? Almost effortlessly is the answer to that. Openers Authenticity and Toxins from latest album Dark Black marry a Ministry-sized amount of bile with a strangely cathartic dose of euphoria while Friday Night Drugs and Carrion Blue throw that little Endless Nameless hook at you repeatedly until you nibble.

Arguably the star of the show is Vennart/Young Legionnaire drummer Denzel. Acting as ringleader, his position front of stage makes perfect sense, nodding at both Ginger and Scott to ensure they’re ready for the next onslaught before each and every song. As soon as he brings the guitarists in he transforms into a furious animal, pounding his kit so ferociously that cymbals start to escape from him, only to be brought back under control as white noise washes over us in between each song. Closing on an absolutely punishing Deterioration, there is a suitable finality to proceedings – no encore, no banter, we’re left with just the darkness and our ringing ears.

It’s certainly a divisive sound (interestingly there are only single figures of women in tonight; quite unlike your average Wildhearts-related show), but Mutation really gives Ginger an outlet to experiment and try new things even after 30-odd years in the business. For fans new, old, or of something else entirely, this is an absolute beast of a show that really has to be seen to be believed.

This Is Manchester – We Do Things Differently Here

I’ve just walked through Manchester Piccadilly Station and there’s a sombre mood hanging over us all this morning, armed police at each entrance and on every concourse reminding us of the seriousness of what’s happened.

Exactly two weeks ago, I was at Manchester Arena seeing Iron Maiden. After the gig I remember being herded down long concrete corridors for what seemed an age as everyone shuffled along with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life ringing out from the Arena speakers. I can only imagine how different a scene it was last night.

When the news came through last night we all thought, maybe hoped, that it was a false alarm. A blown speaker or some balloons popping alongside other social media reports of stampedes. It’s only upon waking this morning that the full horror is apparent.

After the Bataclan I raised a defiant middle finger in support of live music. I may have been horribly nervous going back into a crowded public event but I did what we all have to do again now, put our faith in those who protect us and in the vast majority of the human race. A lot will be asked again about how these acts can keep happening, how people’s minds work but there’s important things to remember, Live music will win. Manchester will win. Terror won’t.

At this truth we have arrived, God damn it’s great to be alive.

Greater Manchester Police has established an emergency telephone number in response to the attack. It is: 0161 856 9400.

Peace, Love, Death Metal – How Live Music Can Live On

EODM - Jesse Hughes
Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes @ The Ritz, Manchester, 7th November 2015

It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with what’s happened in Paris. And when I say ‘come to terms’ I don’t think it will ever be the case that I’ll feel in any way accepting of the tragedy that has unfolded.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d been at exactly the same gig only six days previously. Eagles Of Death Metal were playing the Ritz in Manchester, and it was sold out to the tune of 1500 fans in attendance. As similarities go, it all still feels a little bit too close to home.

The show itself was one of the most enjoyable I’d ever seen in over 20 years of gig-going. I’d never seen EODM live before and I really wasn’t prepared for how much pure fun they brought to the live arena. Frontman Jesse Hughes in particular was instantly likeable and endlessly funny, the embodiment of hip-swaying, tache-curling boogie for a good two hours of incredible rock and roll.

The show culminated in a light-hearted duel between Hughes and guitarist Dave Catching that saw the frontman emerge from the Ritz’s balconies to throw down riffs at his partner in crime. The crowd lapped it up too, kids, adults, skinheads and folk on the hairier side of the spectrum all cheering each comedic battle with grins as wide as the stage.

Then only six days later, the Bataclan in Paris sees the most awful tragedy that live music has ever had to witness. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things which band was involved, but there’s something about the fact that it was such a good-time group like EODM and their fans that were caught up in all this that makes it seem all the more awful. I haven’t been able to listen to any EODM songs since, quickly skipping tracks if anything’s been coming up on shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore what’s happened, it just doesn’t seem right at the moment to try to get enjoyment from their music.

But life does go on. On Saturday I was fortunate enough to go over to Huddersfield to see Eureka Machines and Tropical Contact play at The Parish. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, despite having seen both bands loads of times before. I knew that in attendance would be all the like-minded folk I see at so many gigs across the country and that if any combination of bands and crowd were going to help each other get over what had happened the night before it was these.

What ensued was every bit the group therapy that was required. From staff at the venue through to the bands, punters, even other people milling around in the pub out front, there was a good time vibe in that leaky room that simply would not be quelled by recent world events. Even when an obviously emotional Chris Catalyst (the Eureka Machines frontman) took to his mic to pay tribute to his friend who had died at the Bataclan (EODM’s merch man Nick Alexander) it wasn’t with a sense of revenge or anger, it was to encourage and enlighten, ensuring that the show went on and that expression didn’t die along with all of those who lost their lives in the French capital. Needless to say, that outpouring provided some of the biggest bouncing of the night as we all joined together in thanks that we were able to enjoy live music, freely and without fear of judgement or censure.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, as far as I’m concerned, killing innocent people anywhere in the world is wrong, tragic and heartbreaking. What I will say is that I hope live music somehow comes out of this stronger. It’s always been a place where people from all different backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes can come and forget all of their troubles for a couple of hours, united in a shared joy and euphoria that’s difficult to match and without these little pockets of escapism, the world would be a far, far poorer place.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy 2 – 18th April 2015

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy
Therapy? – Hopefully going nowhere.

To get it out of the way up front, Therapy? are my favourite band. I’ve been listening to them on record and bouncing around to them in various states of inebriation live for over 20 years now, whether at Donington, at home in Bristol, at Uni in Sheffield or most recently in Manchester, but as with any band or review, I’ll always call a spade a spade and be brutally honest about any live performance or record.

Many bands that have been around as long as Therapy? will have a hardcore of fans who blindly go along with all that it is put before them but with this particular bunch you’re always challenged. After being at the forefront of the mid-90s rock resurgence, the band made albums that were raw, catchy, bleak and drug-addled with one simple consistency; fight. Therapy? wouldn’t lie down. They wouldn’t compromise. And they’ve certainly never been in the business of bowing to commercial pressures.

So here we are in 2015. Therapy? have recently released album number 12, Disquiet and they’re all set to lay waste to Manchester’s Academy 2 on a sunny Spring evening. Before tonight’s gig, I’m asked in the pub who I’m off to see and my reply is met with the usual “Christ, are they still going?” The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’ and by not realising that, you’ve been missing out on some of the most brilliant music and consistently enjoyable live shows in modern rock.

The venue isn’t sold out tonight as it was for last year’s 20th anniversary Troublegum show, but the crowd is healthy and ready for the first live outing of tracks from T?‘s latest opus. Meeting that need with a snarling ‘Still Hurts’, Therapy? hit the ground running; frontman Andy Cairns is as wide-eyed and psychotically brilliant as ever whilst Michael McKeegan pogoes around, showing no less enthusiasm than the very first time he set foot on stage. The Manc-pleasing ‘Isolation’ is up next followed by Troublegum partner in crime ‘Die Laughing’ and despite many in attendance having heard these songs countless times, every word is still belted back joyously at a grinning Cairns. Even tracks like ‘Vulgar Display Of Powder’ and ‘Idiot Cousin’ are surprisingly well-known despite only being a month or so old, proving that T? can still drive a hook into your long-term memory after only a couple of listens.

With so many tracks to choose between from their long career, there were always going to be some major omissions (namely everything from 1998 to 2012), but Therapy? can’t get away with ignoring their classics and they simply have too many of them these days. ‘A Moment Of Clarity’ gets more harrowingly beautiful with every listen, raising goosebumps throughout a captivating six minutes, whilst ‘Turn’, ‘Stories’ and ‘Nausea’ are anthemic to the ears of the adoring pit.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy
Andy Cairns – Evil Elvis on top.

If Therapy? were to have a theme tune it’d be a toss-up between ‘Screamager’ and ‘Teethgrinder’ as both songs encapsulate what the band have always stood for; the former being the catchiest thing since a particularly hook-loving sea bass whilst the latter will forever stand as a proclamation of the dawning of a new era of heavy music, both danceable yet angular and twisted. So by pairing the two together in the live setting, Therapy? nail a euphoric high you’d struggle to get from sticking a skag jabber directly into your eyeball.

After such a crescendo you’d be disappointed to see on paper the set closing with ‘Deathstimate’ and ‘Diane’ but this comedown simply doesn’t materialise. ‘Deathstimate’ is monolithic in riff whilst allowing a chance for us to cool down and ‘Diane’ is given such a powerfully upbeat reworking compared to the version on Infernal Love that you’d almost be forgiven for glossing over the subject matter.

It only takes a short break for T? to re-emerge and hammer into a violent ‘Knives’, a rare outing for ‘Skinning Pit’ and the familiar ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Nowhere’. All four sound as fresh as they did two decades earlier and screaming about Irish novelists having carnal relations with your siblings has never been more fun.

What we’ve had tonight are 22 songs of brilliance, variety, passion and integrity. I’ve yet to find a band who can equal such consistency and I challenge you to find a show packed with more quality than tonight. Quite simply, Therapy? ooze excellence and long may it continue.

Death From Above 1979 + Turbowolf @ The Ritz, Manchester – 24th February 2015

Death From Above 1979 @ The Ritz, Manchester
Death From Above 1979 – trunk punks.

A few weeks back I’d never heard Death From Above 1979. Great name for a band as it was, I’d missed their first foray into this world a decade ago and I admit their second record last year had also passed me by.

But of course you’ll all know how much I love Turbowolf. Shining, eccentric lights in a sea of mediocrity, the Wolf consistently bang out un-categorisable tunes so effortlessly it makes Jeff Lynne look like a struggling amateur.

So when the two bands joined forces for a UK tour I saw it as a great opportunity; support one of my favourite modern bands at the same time as seeing something new. I’m not sure I quite expected what followed.

Turbowolf tonight are of course as imperious as ever. Mixing a smattering of new material such as the radio-bothering ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ with a greatest hits tour-de-force, they’re always going to struggle to do any wrong, and a makeshift pit for the closing ‘Let’s Die’ proves how effortlessly likeable they are. When that second album hits, things are going stratospheric.

The main event though are such a sonically similar but strangely different beast. The two-piece set up is almost de rigueur these days thanks to Royal Blood’s success, but Death From Above 1979 were there first and tonight they set out to prove it.

Walking unassumingly on stage, DFA launch into a noisy, fast paced set under subdued lighting with ‘Turn It Out’ and ‘Right On, Frankenstein’ hitting us in the face like a particularly angry Mike Tyson.

The band don’t pause for breath until necessity dictates when drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger makes running repairs to a kick pedal three songs in and already sweat and beer are dripping from the roof. Not ones for huge amounts of crowd banter (although when they do engage with the audience there are some golden moments such as suggesting a world record 69 attempt) it’s not long before the duo are back up to full tilt and hammering out modern day classics like ‘Trainwreck 1979’ and ‘Crystal Ball’. Closing with the storming couplet of ‘Romantic Rights’ and ‘The Physical World’, Death From Above 1979 leave the crowd baying for more.

With only two albums worth of material to work from it’s not too surprising when the lights go up only 70 minutes after the opening chords, but what we’ve seen tonight is enough to prove DFA should never have gone away in the first place. An invigorating experience.