Monday, December 10, 2012


Illustration: John McGowan
I was in a pub the other night. Not spectacular news I grant you, but I don’t get out much and was enjoying night of idling, beer and uninterrupted conversation. It was hard not to feel a little crestfallen, then, as the end of my chat was signalled by the appearance of a microphone stand. Clearly I hadn't looked carefully enough at the excellent gig listings provided by Viva Lewes, and had accidentally stumbled on some unanticipated (and unwanted) live music.

Please understand: I don’t dislike gigs and am as fond of a tune as the next man (if the next man listens to music only when he has nothing to read). Neither am I the kind of simmering cauldron of misanthropy who rides on the quiet carriage of the train. The trouble is though that, unlike the background noise of a jukebox, live music ALWAYS pumps out at a level that stops you doing anything else but engaging with it.

This seems a little off to me and I’ve often wondered whether I’m alone in finding a band striking up akin to someone peeing in the swimming pool. Fine if that’s what you’ve signed up for, but otherwise maybe not so good. It was a moment of validation the other week when, at a do with live music, all 200 guests instantly rammed themselves into a quieter room. Leaving the band’s egos aside, is this simply an isolated incident?
It seemed worth conducting a more rigorous survey. I therefore recruited a sample of the public (in the form of my Facebook friends) to whom I put the following choice:

If you're in a pub and a band started to set up would you:
A) Sit back and enjoy it?
B) Grin/grit teeth and bear it
C) Complain relentlessly till your companions agreed to go elsewhere?
D) Clear out before the first note?

Evidently this question taps into one of the great human divides. Some are Celtic and some are Rangers; some like Marmite and some have healthy taste receptors; some say potato some say potahto (except of course no-one does really). It turns also out that some (a slender majority) choose A and others (a minority but only slightly) choose D. Even I am normally only a C. Passions run unexpectedly high on the matter of pub music. One respondent suggested waiting around to see if the band were any good (an option that hadn’t occurred to me, I’ll admit). I got the impression that, for the silent minority, even a reforming of the Beatles with guest numbers from Dusty, Frank and Elvis, would be unlikely to detain them.

It does make me wonder where this leaves pubs that book gigs to get the crowds in. Of course, my friend group may be likely contain an over-representation of people who share my prejudices. It could be that your average pub goer is more tolerant and, if not in the A camp, is at least prepared to give it a go. However, the answers suggest some rebels in our midst. Next time the amps appear, keep an eye out for people drinking up and sidling away. And maybe if you feel the annoyance that dare not speak its name (and even if it could no one would hear over the noise of the bass) you might feel freer to head for the exit. I’ll see you at the Lewes Arms where extraneous noise (beyond the thump of darts and the clatter of toads) is seen as the province of lesser establishments. Admittedly too quiet for some, but at least we’ll be able to hear ourselves complain.

John McGowan

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