Monday 22 June 2009

A Nation Cowed?

We Puddlecotes went for a grand night out at the O2 in Docklands on Saturday for War of the Worlds Live. The show was excellent, highly recommended, but that is from an afficionado of Jeff Wayne's masterpiece since the time, in 1978, that my unconventional rugby-coaching english teacher decided to break up a lesson on The Go-Between, by getting his record player out and introducing us to Eve of the War instead (although the relief from class-based romance was tangible, it was compensated by being set a 500 word composition homework based on what we had imagined while listening ... the bugger).

Ex-Moody Blues singer Justin Hayward might more resemble Ken Barlow these days, but he can still belt out Forever Autumn with gusto, complete with falling leaves from the arena ceiling when viewed live. Of the other originals from the 70s recording, Chris Thompson's voice isn't as hot on Thunderchild but his enthusiasm can't be faulted, whilst the two guitarists, Chris Spedding & Herbie Flowers, can still fire a note right into your solar plexus at times.

Alexis James was superb as the Artilleryman, Jennifer Ellison surprisingly good in her role as Beth, while Shannon Noll did his best to emulate Parson Nathaniel's madness, a difficult job after the incomparable Phil Lynott nailed it so perfectly on vinyl.

So, why was the whole experience so underwhelming?

Well, because the whole experience was.

OK, it wasn't a good start that the Jubilee Line was shut, making it incredibly difficult to get to and from the venue. No grumble about that though as the work has to be done sometime, I suppose. But as a concert venue, the O2 makes a bloody good library.

It was striking that during the performance, I could easily hear the people next to me talking to one another. Not shouting, just talking. I'm not having a pop at them as they are entitled to do as they please, but it illustrates how low the sound level must have been for such to be audible. One can only assume that health and safety had a hand in it.

• There is evidence that exposure to live music can cause hearing damage
• Noise Regulations require each employer to manage the risk to their employees and, where possible, freelancers
• Control, reduce and monitor exposure to noise
• Many of the controls are simple and cost-effective
• The audience can still enjoy the performance with the controls in place

Perhaps, just aurally, that might have been possible, but health and safety are there before you again when it comes to vision too.

Long gone, it seems, are the days where your focus was fixed on the stage by blackened lighting. In fact, thanks to the large amount of emergency illumination and the many exits remaining open during the performance, lights ablaze outside, it was perfectly possible to pick out facial features in the crowd, not only in the close environ, but throughout the auditorium.

And considering that it was £50 per ticket, one would have thought that there would be a nodding head, a tapping foot, or some such amongst a 20,000 crowd of WoTW fans? Not that I could see.

Admittedly, the make-up of the crowd was more middle-age than young, but it just seemed that the atmosphere was stifled. Exhiliarating music with not even a flicker of passion from the audience. Was it the airport-style security on the way to the escalator entrance which calmed the party mood? Or were my fellow concert-goers anaesthatised by bellies full of homogenised fare from Nandos, Zizzi, Hertha or Pizza Express?

Finally, as the cast were being re-assembled for the 'curtain call', a lone female broke rank and jumped up, dancing to the strains of the triumphal ending. Not in her seat, of course, instead she leapt into the aisle to release what can only assume was her pent-up enthusiasm ... to be greeted initially by the bristling of four 'safety wardens' (not stewards or ushers anymore).

This is the generation which embraced punk and new wave. Where did the passion go? Have the righteous cowed us so much that abandonment to sound and vision is too dangerous to contemplate for fear of potential tutting and dirty looks?

Or maybe not. Perhaps it was just me and everyone else is quite happy with it all. I'll just turn the lights off, crank the volume up, and watch the DVD at home next time.


Ian B said...

Very well said, and a very sad read. I was thinking about this the other day- in my yoof, an evening out might be at the dark, sticky original Marquee on Wardour Street. I'd drink beer from a bottle- a glass bottle, surrounded by smoke (of both kinds), and the next day I knew I'd been to a gig because of the state of my hearing. This was little more than 20 years ago. So much has changed, that is, been banned, in a single generation.

"The audience can still enjoy the music with controls in place". No, not really. Not as much. That's why music got to be loud in the first place. It's supposed to be an all-enveloping experience. Loud is better than quiet. Could rock'n'roll or metal or punk have developed and become what they were in the modern world where safety must be prioritised over enjoyment every time? I doubt it.

And it's the generation who lived the freest youth imaginable- the boomers- who got old and did this to us. It is they who had their fun and decided that those who followed them would not be allowed to do the same. Could the counterculture have ever flowered in such a stifling environment? It would seem unlikely.

Fun's over, kids.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Dick, we are cowed.

I've just posted on the Forest site that defiant smokers on train platforms have been bullied into behaving like naughty kids behind the bike sheds.

Do they still allow rice throwing at performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show or has that been banned in case someone is hurt by a grain?


Unknown said...

I saw this at the NIA. Slightly better audience reaction than it sounds like you got at the O2. Never been to the O2 and never want to. I have stopped going to the NEC as it is, in my opinion, an airport hangar beside the airport....

However, what made me laugh is that my friend and I decided to buy a 30th anniversary mug. During the break we stood in line only to find, on asking for a couple of mugs, that we couldn't buy them until the show had finished. Yup, more elfin safety. I have to say that after spending that much on a mug, I would be wrapping it in cotton wool rather than throwing it at anyone.

I tell you, the world has gone stark raving bonkers.

Anonymous said...

I am of the generation that had the most wonderful free living style ever. It is not my generation that are now the po faced elf & safety health freaks that ban everyting. We are now in our 60's and coming up to 70 as we were the teenagers of the late 50's and early to mid 60's.
It is the next generation of the 40-50 year olds that are the puritans and nazis. NOT US.. We are mostly the free thinkers and rebels still. So why are the people that were BORN in the good times the ones that hate it so. Could it be jealousy that their parents had such good times ?

BTS said...

The Go-Between? I still bear the psychological scars from reading that piece of crap..