Cameras at concerts

Hands up, then. Who has a ticket for one of Kate Bush’s London shows? Make those of us who don’t jealous.

Now, who’ll admit to taking photographs or recording videos at concerts, and who still intends to do so at the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo from next week against Kate’s wishes (boo, hiss, etc.)?

We have purposefully chosen an intimate theatre setting rather than a large venue or stadium. It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows. I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras. I know it’s a lot to ask but it would allow us to all share in the experience together.

— Kate Bush, Thanks and Concert Update, 19 August 2014

The reaction to this has been interesting and amusing, with many strong views both for and against.

I accept it’s a sign of the times that people now document their lives to such an extent. Enjoying an event has almost become secondary to capturing it and showing it off to everyone as quickly as possible, it would seem. Now that most people, of all ages, carry cameras with them wherever they go, it’s very easy to take a picture or record some video footage and quickly upload it for others to see. Social media has revolutionised the way we see the world and how news is reported and digested, which, on the whole, has probably been a good thing.

I realise that fan-made videos are popular. Some people like their sound tinny and camera shaky so long as they get it before anyone else. Personally, I find it impolite, selfish and disrespectful to take photos during a concert. As Johnny Marr put it, ‘I don’t mean to be unkind but I think you should put your phone down because you’re just being a dick.’ I think he’s right.

So how do you stop this?

Some suggest extending the rule press photographers must obey, which is allowing pictures to be taken during the first several songs before clearing off. This sounds like the perfect compromise if only everybody would comply, but I don’t think they would. There would always be an annoying minority who feel the ever-increasing cost of a ticket entitles them to take that little bit more away and would wilfully flaunt the rules, however seriously enforced, in dogged pursuit of yet more YouTube and Facebooks ‘likes’.

I’m reminded of the people who captured the moment an unfortunate child found his head inside the mouth of a large mammal, which became a popular social media meme. Instead of dealing with the situation as you’d expect they might, they chose to first photograph it, possibly in the hope of becoming an internet sensation. Some take and publish photos, which they and many others find amusing once they know the reason for the tears, of their kids crying, for goodness sake. If they don’t care about their own children being ridiculed so publicly, I’m not sure they care much for the wishes of Kate Bush.

(Please don’t get me started on taking babies to concerts. That shouldn’t be allowed, either.)

Perhaps there need to be separate sections at large live events, for those who want to sit quietly and those who want to behave like banshees, yet this would mean splitting groups of friends. Awkward.

Like the quiet carriage on a train, there could be an area set aside for people – call us boring grumps, if you must – who just want to sit, switch their phones to silent, smile and nod politely wherever necessary, not be a nuisance to anybody and simply relax. With the shortest people down the front, those who might need the toilet before the interval in the aisle seats, and nobody under the age of 14 allowed. This sounds wonderful to me. (Admittedly, I don’t want people to dance near me, need to pass me for any reason, rustle sweet wrappers, chew or suck noisily, even sing along tunefully. I don’t want to hear babies bawling or their parents trying to quieten them. I don’t really want venues to sell alcohol, ice cream, T-shirts, programmes or anything else that encourages needless movement, noise or mess. Just please sit and stay and be quiet until the break, then return to your seats promptly for the second half and behave just as impeccably as you did earlier, then we can all smile and nod a bit more on our way to the exits. It will be lovely.)

Additionally, there would need to be an area set aside for those – call them what you will, I can’t use the word I’m thinking because it’s very rude – who can’t help but pump their fists and shout and cheer; loudly and smugly identify the songs as soon as they recognise them; hold their smartphones and tablets high in the air; spill drinks over others without even realising; kiss and cavort when the people sitting behind cannot avoid the repulsive show of affection that they never wanted to see; engage in shouting conversations with the person several seats along (which way should we all lean to make it easier for them?); and generally exhibit a rowdiness that those over in the other section find so disgusting and would, if only they ruled the world, Lord, decide punishable by a lengthy spell in the stocks. That ought to teach them.

Which of these two sections do you think would be biggest?

Perhaps the venues need to do more, be clear about the rules, print them boldly on the back of tickets and have their increased staff enforce them rigorously. This will mean people being warned, then ejected or their equipment confiscated, which still would mean distraction and irritation for those who have already been annoyed enough to complain in the first place. Furthermore, add the influence of alcohol and remove all faith in most of the staff doing their jobs properly and the risk of an altercation increases, so it’s often safer to say nothing and silently seethe instead, anyway. How frustrating.

If people only reached for their cameras between songs it would be something. We should all be allowed to capture for posterity a view of the stage from our seat before the show, or ask someone in the row in front if they mind taking a picture of you with arms around your friends and family before the lights go down. Nobody minds this.

But we really don’t want to smell your armpits or get elbowed in the ribs or have to keep straining our necks to look beyond your twinkling light. We just want to enjoy the performance, please let us?

Artists shouldn’t need to deploy manned spotlights at the stage edge, as was done at recent Prince gigs, to shine in the direction of those offending gadgets in order to get the message across.

For a performer, particularly one who effectively retired from the live stage in 1979, looking out over a sea of dazzling lights must be a tremendous distraction. The cost of tickets, as steep as they are, does not give anyone the right to create an environment which is undesirable to many, including the one everybody has paid to see.

I fail to understand why anyone would choose to experience a concert through a screen, or why those who do not appreciate the additional dancing light before them should not be able to express in no uncertain terms how they feel about the horrible combination of bright blur and smelly armpit so near to the small space they paid a comparable fortune to occupy for the evening. It is precisely because of the cost of tickets that I favour any action, however heavy-handed, to stop selfish people from ruining an evening’s entertainment for all those who do not lose their self-control or forget how to behave politely the moment they get their ticket handed back to them at the door.

I can be cynical, too. There are always issues over copyright. There could well be a concert DVD to follow, for example, or a television deal struck to broadcast one night of the tour. If ticket sales are anything to go by (22 nights sold out in 15 minutes), a DVD will almost certainly sell well. The many people whose livelihoods depend upon musicians being successful want nothing to jeopardise this, although at the same time, know they daren’t alienate a fanbase by trying to dictate what they may or may not bring to a gig.

Roger Daltrey, for example, has expressed his irritation and disbelief at how people spend much of the night with their phones held aloft, but that could have something to do with the fact that The Who sell, or at least used to sell, soundboard recordings of their concerts.

Manchester United banned ‘large electronic devices (bigger than 150mm x 100mm)’ from Old Trafford ahead of the new football season. MUTV, their offical subscription channel, costs £6 per month.

But does it matter? In the case of Kate Bush, it’s her show, the first in three decades, and she’s asked nicely. I can believe that she wants it to be just so. Being publicity shy, one would want to protect their image and their work.

To their great credit, the people around her placed restrictions on the reselling of tickets to stop touts from profiteering and genuine fans from being exploited. To my mind, anything that helps ensure that those who most wanted to attend these gigs were able to is admirable, and asking the audience to refrain from using devices to make sure the concerts can be as perfect as possible is fair enough.

I hope people take heed of her wishes, but doubt enough will.

I’d be interested to know what you think about this and how you feel the problem can be addressed, if indeed it need be.

I’d also be interested if you care to remind me of your favourite Kate Bush songs. I think we’ll hear many of them over the next few weeks.

A reminder for anyone who can get BBC Four: David will be on tonight – The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill starts at 9.10pm (UK).

Have a good weekend, everyone.