One night out

credit: katjohnston.com

So, having done the equivalent of move a mountain – ok, maybe not a mountain, but a broken down car – yes, having done the equivalent of moving a broken down car with my own two hands (which, in this case, means prevailing upon my dear friend Anne to look after Rosie until an unknown time), I go out to see my first proper gig since I moved to London 17 years ago.

I think: This is it, I’m going out, I’m seeing a real, live, indie band, and I’m going to love it. YES!

The first thing that hits me when I open the door to the venue is the unmistakeable stink of (apologies to the faint-hearted amongst you) PISS. Please understand that the anodyne words – wee, pee or urine just don’t work in this context. It’s PISS. I nearly faint. As I move towards the actual hall where the band is meant to be playing, I notice there is a bar and then the second noxious odour of the night thunks me over the head: beer.

Finally, I open the door to the hall and am struck not just by piss and beer, but B.O.   The floor in the hall is carpeted. The ceiling is chandeliered. But the overall combination of stink suggests a stained corner under the stairwell of a Parisian train station.

I take a velour-cushioned chair. This is going to be one of those lovely, laid back type of concerts: a man and his guitar, soothing vocals, a violinist, double bassist, pianist… all making mellifluous sounds that lull you gently into –

I can’t get comfortable. I am knotted up on the chair, fingers over my nose, bum clenched because I’m now thinking that with all this carpet and velour and general lack of hygiene, there are bound to be bedbugs. I get itchy. I change seats.

As the minutes tick by, I check my phone several times, texting Anne to tell her how disgusting it is here and emailing my friend in Florida to tell her the same. She is also a fan of the guy I’ve come to see, and I want her to understand that she should in no way feel envious of me right now. I am definitely not enjoying myself.

In fact, time is dribbling by and he has not even mounted the stage yet. There are two opening acts, who have started ridiculously late, so it isn’t until 10 minutes to 10 that the main act – the guy I’ve come to see, Neil Halstead – finally comes on. He does a quick sound check, finds his mic doesn’t work, and gets off. As he walks by, I find myself screaming at him inside my head, saying: You spend your life surfing in Cornwall, writing songs and drinking beer. How would you even UNDERSTAND that some of us here have children we need to pick up, jobs we need to go to in the morning. GET ON THE F*@!!ING STAGE!!!!!!!

I guess you could say I’m tense.

Anyway, eventually he does get on the stage, along with his band, and although I am initially repelled by the fact that there is a beer bottle at his feet, which he dips into every now and then, the music he plays is stunning. His voice is stunning. It’s all just too beautiful. For a moment, I forget everything and duck inside the music. I am there, surfing on those moonlit vocals, lifting my face to piano notes that fall like rain.

And then the other smell starts asserting itself – cigarette smoke. It’s illegal to smoke in public places in the UK, but this is clearly a lawless space and people are lighting up in the foyer. I start coughing and wheezing, and by 10:30, I’ve had enough.

I run down the road, heading straight for Shepherd’s Bush Market station, making sure to avoid eye contact (this area is dodgy). Just over an hour later, I’m back home, Rosie is snoring gently, and my clothes are in the washing machine.

I’ve come away with the realisation that I have really left this kind of thing behind. In my youth, I went to gig after gig, watching every band there was to see (The Smiths, the Pixies, the Jesus and Mary Chain, The The, the Sugarcubes, David Bowie) the list goes on and on. I braved smoke and mosh pits, crowd surfers and screamers. But I can’t do it any more.

I want things to start on time and end on time. I want clean seats and smoke-free venues. I want excellent acoustics. And I don’t want to have to negotiate smells that are better left in a toilet. Above all, I don’t want to be around the stink of beer. I can’t be around that smell. I can’t be around alcohol. Period.

So, next time the bands come to perform, it will be the Purcell room for me – or some other rarefied venue. I guess I’ve just reached that era, hunh?

And for the curious among you, here’s a track from the man, Neil Halstead, playing with his old band Mojave 3. Enjoy, hopefully in the sweet smelling comfort of your own home.

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13 thoughts on “One night out

  1. Just your description of the place, with the smells…I could picture it. I could almost smell it. It would have made my skin crawl and I would not have made it very long at all! I can’t stand the smell of beer, I’m allergic to smoke, and honestly… who DOES like the smell of pee?!!? Not even sure why someone would skip the bathroom and use the carpet instead. I suppose at one point in time, we all put up with a lot more than we should. And as we grow, we realize that we don’t have to (or shouldn’t have to). Glad you were able to enjoy the music-if only for a fleeting moment. Thanks for sharing, he has a very calming sound. Hope all is okay with your car… and your back for having to push the car!!

    • hey cakes, yeah, beer, pee and BO – yuck. I’m asthmatic, so cigarette smoke is a no-no. Btw, the broken down car was a metaphor – I didn’t really push a car! I can see I might not have been clear enough in my writing. Woopsie! ; )

  2. I’m the same way. I can’t see gigs the way I used to when I was younger. Though I have noticed that my musical tastes have changed and that most of the musicians I will pay to go see now-a-days play in decent venues. Also, the no smoking laws in the States are really enforced. Clubs no longer reek of cigarette smoke and depending on where you go, the beer smell is kept to a minimum, too. The last live act I saw were Keane. It was a general admission show and, yes, I waited in line to be in the front row. But Keane are really nice guys, they care about their fans a great deal, and the fans are also very considerate to each other (from what I’ve experienced). Sorry your first night out alone was so bad. Maybe next time it won’t be?

    • Hi Simple Heart Girl, yes, I know what you mean. Well, Neil Halstead is actually a nice guy… I just think his promoters aren’t that professional. Nowadays, my taste has slipped into the baroque – so works for cello and such like. But I did see an awesome electronica performance which featured Aphex Twin, Square Pusher and works by John Cage and other modern composers. Truly jaw dropping. And not a cigarette, beer or wee-smell in the mix. It was at the Royal Festival Hall, one of our major concert venues in the UK. Very civilised. I’ll be opting for something like that next time. : )

  3. Omg that’s me. My ex always whined that I had become boring, that I was a mere shadow of my carefree and fun-loving youthful self. But why-oh-why did I want to sit in a smoke-filled room with people that didn’t care what my day had been like? Why did I want to stay up all night consuming large amounts of alcohol which meant that tomorrow morning when my youngest wants breakfast at 6am, I will struggle with my head and stomach? Why did I want to break out sneezing because I am allergic to smoke?
    Now I ironically work in the entertainment industry. People think my job is exciting because bands perform here. Nope. I just want to go home to my kids…my people. My eardrums won’t hurt from the noise (most of the time) and I won’t be exhausted (most of the time). Okay, well the odds are better.
    I guess I would just assume listen to the music in the background while I lead the life that I want to lead.

    • We just know what we want and that’s that. It’s great getting to this point in my life. We don’t have to apologise or pretend we’re something we’re not. Wonderful. Ah, the entertainment industry. You must tell me more one day. …

  4. I am soooo with you on this one! My husband and I buy movies to watch at home, rather than go to movie theatres. Our big screen tv works great for football and hockey games. We buy music online or buy Cds rather than going to ‘gigs’…unless the performer is at a fancy auditorium….no more stadium concerts for us. Perhaps it is a sign of old age (I’m 52) or as you and others mentioned above, we realize that we just don’t have to put up with piss, smoke, beer smell, gross carpets, and upholstery, dirty bathrooms, drunks nearby, etc.etc. And to think, as you said, we used to consider heading out to ‘gigs’ as a real night on the town! Once young and stupid, but now old and boring (as our son tells us we are!). I’m happy being old and boring!

    • Yeah, the older I get, the less tolerant I am of all this stuff. It’s not that I don’t want to go to gigs any more – I just don’t want to be in some cess pit. I can’t cope with that kind of thing any more. I like my comforts. The only time I can compromise on these things is when I’m travelling. If the adventure is big enough, I can forego the usual amenities. I don’t mind simple, as long as it’s clean.

  5. My bar-hopping, band-groupie days are over too. That used to be my priority…seeing and being seen at the top spots. Then I went to college (I went late, starting at 24) and realized there was so much more to life. Quite the opposite of most, I suppose, I drank & partied before I went to school rather than doing them at the same time. Now I’d much rather see the wee hours of the morning after a decent night’s rest; I can read about the night before in the news.

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