Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The musical pint

The Elsinore Hotel, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Curmudgeon has written a blog post called The unquiet pint, in which he talks about piped music:

It is, by and large, wholly unnecessary and intrusive, and even if you like it, the odds are that other people won’t. What is music to one person’s ears will be an unholy racket to someone else. While it is claimed to create instant “atmosphere”, almost invariably it detracts from a pub.

Interesting, especially to me, not only as the writer of this blog with its main theme of places you can get real ale and live music, but also as a performer of live music in pubs. Live music and piped music are, of course, two quite different things: the more live the music is, the more attention it tends to get: piped music is the most ignored, especially as it tends to reflect just one person's tastes, followed by a juke box, which is more popular as you can choose what's playing. The pecking order goes on with: a disco, a singer using pre-recorded backing music, then most popular, live performance.

Playing live in a pub, I'm most frequently playing acoustically with no amplification whatsoever. It doesn't dominate proceedings, and in the particular pubs I play in, there are other rooms that people can move to, should they want to, and sometimes they do, often with apologetic smiles and saying they didn't want their chat to disturb our music. These acoustic song sessions take place no more than twice a month in a single pub, and always on weekday evenings; unlike piped music, it's not a permanent imposition.

I have also, much less often, played through a PA in a pub, either solo or with a band. Licensees will put bands on in the hope that they will get customers through the door, and there are some extremely successful music pubs. In other instances, I've seen a band play to a half empty room and wondered what kind of loss the pub will make. It's also quite disheartening for musicians to play to a room where no one seems to be interested, but there does seem to be a critical mass of customers required before people don't feel embarrassed about paying attention. Occasionally a licensee will refuse to pay a band because they didn't draw enough customers in, but this is self-defeating in the long term as word gets around and bands won't accept bookings there.

My nearest pub, The Mount Pleasant, has live bands, often very good, every Saturday; if you don't want the live music, you can go somewhere else on that evening, but in fact the pub is usually heaving. My various experiences suggest that live music tends to be welcome in pubs, but part of the attraction is that it's a change: pub goers would not want live music all the time. It also has to remembered that some pubs are not structurally suited to amplified live music and in others it's not suitable for the regulars.

There were some fears that the deregulation of music licences last year that I wrote about here, would result in problems: the Noise Abatement Society claimed there will be a "dramatic rise" in noise complaints that will "set residents at odds with local businesses", but the economics of having to get enough extra customers through the door to cover the band's fee has ensured the NAS's predicted free-for-all hasn't happened.

This is all very different from the imposition of indiscriminate piped music at all times in a pub, and if you don't share the licensee's taste for country and western, Mantovani or Val Doonican, then it's really going to get on your nerves.

I'd argue that live music does have a place in pubs, although not in every pub and not all the time, but that piped music should really be used quite sparingly, if at all.

An afterthought: I once had a strange experience with piped music. I'd sold one of my band's CDs to a licensee and a few weeks later was drinking in her pub when one of our songs came on the piped music system. I also happened to be drinking with Geoff Parry, who'd written the words to that particular song. As the song was one of 14 on the CD, itself one of many CDs on the music system, and he just happened to be on a visit from London, the chances of him hearing it during a rare visit to the pub were incredibly slim. Where's a bookie when you need one?

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