I am but a fool

My last post gained some unexpected traction, which made slightly galling a scattering of rather obvious uses of words which, despite some similarities with the desired word, were clearly typos.  I believe these have now been fixed but as the author and proof-reader share a brain (or what remains of one) this cannot be guaranteed.

Given the above, you may chose to believe that the title represents a charming bit of self-deprecation by the author or, perhaps, some long awaited self-awareness on his part.  If you wish to retain either of these beliefs, I strongly recommend that you stop reading now.

With a scant fortnight to go until the most heavily-freighted bank holiday in the local calendar, I find myself forced to face up to its imminence (it has been immanent, at least in the retail sense, since September).  This post could be considered a form of displacement activity particularly coming, as it does, after the completion of a number of domestic chores.  Nevertheless, I insist that it is thematically relevant as it will cover a couple of Christmas themed gigs I have been to over the past extended weekend.

The first concert was a celebration of the Oxford Book of Carols, originally published in 1928 (the Oxford Book of Catherines is yet to see the light of day and anyone hoping to see the Oxford Book of Zadies must be planning to live well into the next millenium).  Our guide was the gloriously enthusiastic, even eccentric, David Owen Norris who really made the book, and unusually its preface and notes, come to life.  Among many lessons, we learned that carols are not just for Christmas but there are examples for many times of the year: especially harvest-time and May.  The audience were encouraged to join in with several of the carols – all of them new to me (while simultaneously being very old) – with surprisingly pleasing musical results.  In fact, the book appeared to contain very few carols with which I have any familiarity (perhaps none) though the older members of the audience seemed to remember more than me.  Nevertheless, it was a wonderfully enjoyable way to spend the early part of my evening, rendered even better by the provision of free mulled wine and mince pies to the singers after the show: tackling unknown carols can be very draining and current medical advice strongly advocates that participants should seek warming sustenance as soon as possible after any such undertaking.  I left the event filled with seasonal spirit and festive cheer, not bad for an outlay of a fiver! I am rather tempted to acquire a copy of the book and to try and bring a few of its gems back into more frequent circulation (at least chez moi): though I am slightly daunted by the authors’ expectation that the user should be able to transpose a complex piano part from C to E in their head while playing! (I shall have to rely on the use of tighter kecks to keep singer and accompaniment in a common key.)

Last night, I ventured by bike and train to darkest Netley (and boy was it dark!) to the recently restored Royal Victoria Hospital Chapel.  Despite it dominating the country park in which it now sits, it was remarkably hard to find by bike from Netley station.  As it transpires, my route was pretty direct despite being based on a combination of dead-reckoning and guesswork having briefly checked a map on leaving the station.  Even more surprisingly, I managed to find my way back to the much less obvious station in the pitch black relying on vague memories of trees and fencing with only one minor mis-pedal.

The chapel was once part of the world’s largest hospital but is now the only element that survives: but what a survival!  It is a very impressive building – with a lovely little cafe – and the new interior decor sounds a huge improvement on the previous brown (which I never saw).  I was there to attend the Christmas-timed (if not themed) Sofar Sounds gig.  I’ve been to a few Sofar Sounds gigs now and rather enjoy them, though recognise that they are not for everyone.  You have to book without knowing either where they will be held or which musicians you will be seeing (though I do sometimes have some insider information, though for legal reasons I never trade on this).  They are often held away from traditional venues and are designed to put the music and its purveyors at the heart of the experience: which is not always the case at music gigs.  Usually, most of the audience have to sit on a cushion on the floor, which I tend to do as part of my more general raging against the dying of the light despite the protestations of various of my joints.  I am always pleasantly surprised by the ability of Sofar to sell tickets for these gigs, given the general reluctance of people to go out and even more to go out and see something new.  I assume the international brand name must count for a lot of this success: visitors to a city (and more than 400 of them take part world-wide) might be more willing to try the relatively known quantity of a Sofar Sounds gig than to experiment with an unknown local venue.  Interestingly, the guy who started the whole thing was there last night and got introduced to me for his pains (an unexpected downside of his otherwise successful project).  I wonder if his examples offers any lessons here for more traditional venues…

Last night’s bill of fare offered four local bands – at least one of which I had, disgracefully, never seen before (I’ve almost seen them several times but that really doesn’t count).  They covered a diverse range of musical styles but happily the audience seemed to be there to enjoy themselves and there was a really great atmosphere.  A ‘good’ audience can really help to make a gig a night to remember, it’s a real boost if they are an active part of the experience rather merely being physically present (in which role they could be replaced by a similar number of cardboard cut-outs or a single matte painting).  I had an absolute ball and even, egged on by Route2Roots (the last band), ‘danced’ to the last of the songs (and not just as an excuse to stretch my legs – though I’ll admit that did act as a spur).  Only one of the bands played a Christmas song and Wild Front‘s rendition of We Three Kings was one of the best, and most haunting, I have heard in many years.  It also marked the third time I’d seen their lead singer perform in the last ten days: though I wish to make clear that I am not stalking the poor chap, it is purely a coincidence.

There will likely be more music with at least a nod to the season over the next couple of weeks and there will definitely be more dancing as I am at a ceilidh on Saturday.  However, for now I really ought to return to putting some festive preparation into my own life or Tuesday week will find me playing the role of a woeful, modern-day Æthelred.  As I wave adieu this wordy procrastination, I shall leave the explanation of my choice of title as an exercise for the reader: it is not just at gigs that the audience should be an active participant!

I don’t do much during the day, I’m a double bass player

I think today’s post wins the prize for the longest ever title.  It also represents a use of ‘found language’.  Yes, GofaDM is now handling stolen words in an attempt to generate some much needed ‘edge’.  The victim of my lexical crime may be revealed later in this post or you may have to pry that particular secret from my cold, dead hands.

While I will admit this post is all about its title, I shall be attempting to add some intellectual heft (or roughly 1000 words, as others might call it) to the whole enterprise by considering the topic of barriers to entry.  This is quite a broad topic, so I shall focus my gaze – using a series of purely metaphorical lenses (which fortunately do not suffer from either spherical or chromatic aberration) – onto the narrow field of what keeps people away from the fun that culture can offer and in particular the idea that it is “not for me”.

I have largely found my own way to the broad range of cultural activities which now dominate my life.  As I frequently find myself an outlier in the audiences of which I am a part, I suspect that I am willfully going to things that are not for me – but, as yet, no-one has tried to stop me.  I think broadly I don’t really care for whom any piece of culture was made – if indeed its maker actually knows or is qualified to decide – but work on the principle that if I enjoy myself or gain something from the experience than I am a valid audience.  Even if something turns out not to be my ‘cup of tea’, I will at least have had an experience (which is what you get when you don’t get what you want) and either an anecdote or material for a post.

For live culture, I will admit that the people I’ve seen on the stage (whether real or imagined) are like me, i.e. they have generally been between the ages of 15 and 95 and human (though I have seen the occasional dog and, once, two piglets!).  They have come from a wide variety of countries, enjoyed the full range of skin tones, had a range disabilities and have certainly covered a reasonably broad portion of the gender spectrum – though I will admit that statistically rather more will have been from privileged, white cis-gendered backgrounds than is true of the planet as a whole.  A lot of this will be path-dependent, a lot of culture was originally made in the even less enlightened past and occurs in institutions that are products of the past: and we are all, ourselves, products of the past.  A lot will also be down to economics, an issue which seems to be growing both more acute and chronic.  However, I suspect a lot of culture is made by and for the people that are expected to comprise its audience – as this seems to be a viable way to stay in (show) business. This seems to offer an opportunity for us – the audience and especially the potential audience – to affect our culture and its institutions.  Our feet – and more importantly our buttocks (and their presence or otherwise on seats) – will affect the economics of cultural events and venues and if there is a market for something, eventually the Arts sector will notice and start to try and satisfy it.  If you leave the audience to people like me, the world will tend to produce stuff I like or think I might like – which is a fairly broad church, but will still leave a terribly culturally impoverished society.  I’m not really into hip-hop, for example, though I think I might be starting to weaken in some areas: I have caught myself enjoying it in public spaces so it may go the way of olives, Sibelius and jazz before it.

Well, that last paragraph certainly went in a direction I wasn’t planning: still, ‘better out than in’ as I often say.  It was supposed to be moving us all gently towards my unwillingness to dress up to go events, but instead I have been forced to use this horribly clunk segue.  Except in very extreme circumstances – once a decade sort of territory – I will not go to any event that requires me to dress up.  I am expected to wear a suit for work – though would drop that convention instantly if it were socially acceptable – so prefer not to do so for leisure.  Many years ago I learned, I think via the television (possibly not a documentary), that Italians only wear black shoes at funerals and basically haven’t worn black shoes since: I have also been very careful never to fact check Italian footwear conventions.  Indeed, there are very few events to which I will not wear trainers.  I do have some standards as to when and where I will wear shorts or a sleeveless top, but otherwise dress to suit myself.  Many years ago, I was offered a loan jacket and tie at the Hotel Bristol in Vienna but I have yet to be turned away from anything but the dodgiest of night clubs.  I lack to imagine that I am passing as an eccentric millionaire, but it is probably just that no-one much cares.

I have noticed that performers tend to dress up for classical music, though am pleased to see far fewer bow ties (terribly impractical for violin or viola) and a lot more trousers on stage. I suspect this will cause some blustering from military Blimps in Kentish spa towns, but as long as their disgust remains safely between the sheets of the Daily Telegraph it need not detain the rest of us.  I can see some value to the whole band wearing black (or similar) as it reduces visual distraction but given that even quite sizeable jazz ensembles seem to get away dressed casually (and sometimes in ‘gardening casual’) I think audiences would quickly get use to a more demotic dress code in even the largest orchestras.

Congratulations anyone who has stuck it out this far, we have finally made it to the actual subject matter which launched today’s post.  I think taking 1000 words to reach the point is a record even for me!  One of the things that put me off jazz for many years was the feeling that it was a terribly po-faced endeavour carried out be very serious men.  I am a terrible, but frivolous, man and I’m not sure where this idea originated – but it was firmly held.  I wonder if it had more to do with the audience that the performers?  Whatever its provenance, the last couple of Sunday’s at the SMJC have firmly disabused me of this notion.  The Baker Brothers – plus friends, to make a septet – celebration of the not quite 40th birthday of the SMJC’s éminence grise was a joyous riot of jazz and funk.  Last Sunday’s gig with the Matthew Read Trio also contained a lot more laughs than the younger me would ever have guessed possible – or appropriate – at a jazz gig.

I bought the latest CD from the MRT, which was appropriately named Anecdotes II.  Every song was introduced with an anecdote which purported to explain its inception, but any links were tangential or fully surreal with tunes inspired by a Guardian Sudoku and a breed of hen (go Burford Browns!) among others.  It was the trio’s eponymous leader who provided our title and I can’t help feeling that this kind of strapline would attract a lot more young people to take up his instrument.  As well as being a lot of fun, the trio – and especially the guitarist – were wonderfully relaxed.  His movement along the fretboard never seemed even remotely hurried and yet has relaxed fingers were always where they needed to be.  I fear this is a long way off for the author, but my fingers are starting to land the right chord shapes in the right place a bit more often – so there is hope.  I shall resist his use of the capo at fret 10 or (as a joke) 12 for a while longer yet.

If this post has a moral, and let’s all hope that it doesn’t, it must be that we all need to become the audience we want to see!  Also, you can mostly dress how you like and go to anything and you’ll probably get away with it: ignore the tutting (I use headphones).

What’s the Deal?

Audiences regularly baffle me.  Sometimes in terms of their composition, but more often in terms of their numbers.  I rather suspect this is because I extrapolate from myself and, despite attempts to correct for my musical (and other cultural) tastes (broad though they may be), I am clearly not coming up with a decent model for the general public.

Most of this post will be about the Southampton scene, but I thought I’d start in the nation’s capital.  On Saturday evening, I went to a folk gig in a London venue I assumed to be somewhat famous to see a pair of musicians I also assumed to be famous: I was anticipating a fairly packed 200 seater.  I think I may have been confusing the concepts of “known to me” and “famous”.  The music venue at The Harrison was a surprisingly small cellar with dangerously low ceilings (well for me, my mother would have had nothing to worry about).  While the cellar became moderately busy by the end of the gig, I think I was in a very small minority having booked ahead and I suspect the only person to have travelled even a fraction of my 70 odd miles.  It was a lovely gig and Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss (footwear sponsored by Adidas) do some amazing work with viola and melodeon (I am listening to Laguna as I write this post).  Even better, the boys finished in time for me to catch the 22:35 train home (albeit with some fast footwork across the Waterloo concourse): an important aspect of any night out in London!

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Moore & Moss: too formally attired?

I have been to some stunning theatre in Southampton, often very highly reviewed by professional critics (rather than random, self-obsessed bloggers like me), but very rarely in a mid-sized theatre even as much as half full.  This fact has proved quite handy for me as I can book very late once I know I will be at home, rather than over the Irish Sea, but can’t be ideal for the funding of the arts.  I also feel that lots of the folk of Southampton and its environs are missing out on some reasonably priced treats: I can generally go to the theatre half-a-dozen times locally for less than the cost of one trip to the west end (and this is very much what I do: there’s nothing wrong with thrift!).

However, the main thrust of this post will be about music and my totally inability to guess how busy a gig will be.  Part of this must be down to my rather sketchy musical knowledge: especially in regard to the popular music of my lifetimes.  There would appear to be large number of touring bands of yesteryear that visit Southampton, perhaps with some changes from the original line-up, of which my memory can deliver no recollection whatsoever.  I have, for instance, noticed that there were a lot more punk bands than I have any memory of and can also observe that the years have not treated the fans of these bands kindly.

I do have a feeling that a significant audience prefers to go (or only goes) to see musicians they fondly remember from a formative period of their youth.  Luckily, I don’t do this – or I’d never go out.  My youth seems to have been formative in non-standard ways, if at all…  Recently, in an unexpected (and now forgotten) context, I heard a JFK quote about not looking to “the safe mediocrity of the past“.  I’d been planning to use this in a savage indictment of the recent politics of both left and right – and perhaps typified by Brexit.  However, I shall instead – and perhaps more in keeping with the character of this blog – apply the principle to being culturally adventurous, with particular application to music.

I do wonder if there may be a certain lack of courage when it come too programming music – though, there may be some financial wisdom to this cowardice as I suspect audience caution robs them of experiences they would love.  Just this Sunday, I went to see the Armida Quartet playing at the Turner Sims.  My reading of the audience – including a few I chatted to over cake at half-time – was that the most enjoyed piece was the least safe choice in the Bach, Mozart and Beethoven: the third string quartet ‘Jagdquartett’ by Jörg Widmann.  It was the presence of this piece (well, that and the free half-time cake) that was my trigger to book the gig, but I suspect I was in a tiny minority (if not alone in this).  I was not disappointed: great music and visually exciting to watch as well – particular snaps to the acting skills of the cellist!

However, sometimes I am positively surprised.  Last Tuesday, I went to my Sofar gig – as part of Sofar Southampton.  These were traditionally held in people’s homes, with the venue announced only 24 hours ahead of time.  This has been an issue in the past, when I have been dependent on public transport or my bike.  They also have tended to require booking ahead of time, which has also been an issue with my rather variable availability midweek.  However, I now have a car and decided to take a punt.  As well as not knowing the venue, the artists performing are not announced at all: you find out who they are when you arrive at the gig.  So, no safety net: you are entirely relying on the skill and judgment of the local Sofar team (I will admit I do seem to know several of them).  I always feel slightly ambivalent about music taking place in unusual places: it is always great fun to see new places (I’m as nosy as the next man – more, if you’ve seen my face), but I feel I should be supporting established venues which have a hard enough time financially without the nation’s reception rooms filching their raison d’être.

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This is not the droid you’re looking for, it’s busy enjoying the music!

No cause for guilt last Tuesday as the ‘front room’ was upstairs at the Art House (a music venue I have often visited).  However, they maintained the usual Sofar vibe by having much of the audience (including me) sitting on cushions on the floor: I’m too old for this, I have come to realise and next time I’ll sit on a chair with the old codgers.  All four acts were great fun: Tom Pointer was originally from Southampton, Djuno are a local band and Ciircus Street had come from exotic Reading.  I enjoyed all of these, in each case sat underneath the neck of some sort of guitar, and would certainly seek them out again.  The headliner (or at least he was on last), Will Varley, claimed to have come all the way from Deal, however, post-gig conversation (as I was buying CDs) revealed he actually lives in Kingsdown (but he did have a range of Southampton gigging experiences, so I think we might still claim him as a son of the city).  I spent chunks of my youth in Walmer (I lived there for four years, as a blonde!  All natural!  Where did it all go wrong?) and regularly walked over Kingsdown with my grandparents and their dog.  Apparently, the area has changed somewhat and is now trendy and possessed of a vibrant music scene (in my day, I think the music scene was limited to the Royal Marines Band).  I now have a hankering to return to the places of my youth, walk the cliffs and prom and take in some live music: might wait for the weather to warm up a little first…  Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress!

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Will Varley with an almost JJ Abrams vibe, viewed from beneath.

Despite the uncertainty about location and musical fare, the gig was fully booked – and I believe this is not unusual.  Clearly there is an audience in the Southampton area with a sense of adventure, but where – I found myself asking (as I didn’t recognise most of them) – are they the other 29(ish) days of the month?  I’ve been to many gigs with three or four acts unknown (to me – and I suspect many others), often at lower cost than a Sofar gig, but been part of a sadly tiny throng: most of whom later turn out to be in (or related to) one of the bands on the bill.  What is Sofar‘s secret and how can we spread it more widely around the local music scene?

Every time I go to update (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide (as I did this morning) I find yet more music and other cultural treats in and around Southampton.  I think I might have to establish a new page to capture details of the potential audience so that we can (together) do suitable justice to our cultural riches!  It’s either that or some experiments of very dubious ethical standing to clone myself – and nobody wants that!

Poker Face

Having thought up this title, I found myself musing on recognition for my services to blogging in the New Year’s Honours.  If I were elevated to a baronetcy, I could (perhaps) chose to become Baron Gaga of Madingley (or similar).  Were I then to produce via some method (or adopt?) a heavily X-chromosomed offspring, she could legitimately call herself Lada Gaga.  Whilst several forms of infinite universe make these events basically certain, it seems like a lot of effort when the option of a Statutory Declaration is available.

I suspect I would make a very poor poker player: I am far too risk-averse and (as we will soon discover) may face is far from a vizard to my heart (to paraphrase Lady Macbeth).  However, I have twice in the last 24 hours seen doors with an unparalleled ability to conceal their heightened emotional state without obvious effort.  In each case the door bore the legend “This door is alarmed”, but in not the slightest way did either betray its agitation.  They were the very models of Stoic wooden virtue.

Earlier yesterday, I had been at the Finborough Theatre to enjoy The Sweethearts by Sarah Page.  A play both funny and shocking and graced by excellent performances and clever staging.  Afterwards, I was enjoying a pint of session ale in the Finborough Arms and composing the post which preceded this one into the world, when the cast started filtering down the stairs dressed in their workaday mufti.  I recognised most of them, though not always immediately (my ageing brain is easily foxed by a costume change), but one of them recognised me rather quickly.  It would seem that my face and body language had done little to conceal my deep involvement in the play.  Apparently, according to Jack Derges, I make for good audience and they need more of me (in this latter assertion he was, of course, wrong: one of me is more than enough for any universe).  I am unrepentant: I refuse to sit stony-faced when up close and personal with the Arts – despite the (apparently) prevailing opinion that this is inappropriate for a man of my age and station.

Being recognised by the talent is becoming a rather too regular occurrence.  Only the previous night, while buying a CD, the band had recognised me from the last time I had seen them play (several months before).  The previous weekend, the talent actually briefly confused me for a musician before successfully placing me in an earlier audience.

I don’t think I’m that odd looking (or acting, at least while seated and delivering my rapt attention stage-wards), so why do I seem to be so memorable?  I’m not sure whether this is a boon or a curse, but I can see that I can no longer rely on anonymity to shield me when in the public realm.  Is it time to wear a mask to protect my secret identity?  (Or should that be to create one?)

Always talk to the bar staff

I am currently enjoying Incarnations, Sunil Khilnani channelling Neil McGregor and taking us through the history of India via 50 lives (rather than 100 objects).  I had previously read an overview of Indian history (many years ago, when there was less of it) but the series is full of surprises – in particular, how many supposedly modern ideas arose (or also arose) in India in the distant past.  We have reached the 15th century and the life of Guru Nanak – the founder of Sikhism.  I have had a soft spot for the Sikh faith for many years and this episode only added further reinforcement.  If I understand correctly, the Guru started a system of inviting people of all religions, castes and genders to come to the temple and sit down together for a free meal: which must be one of the finest ideas ever generated by a major religion.  I have a strong feeling this work continues to this day here in the UK, supplementing the role of food banks in these parlous time for many families.  I worry that society is becoming ever more segregated into groups that never meet each other which can’t be a positive for the future of the (only semi-mythical) social contract.  Perhaps we need to take this Sikh idea on board much more widely, tackling some of the worst aspects of deprivation and improving social cohesion at a stroke.

But what has this plug for Radio 4 and the Sikh faith to do with chatting to barmen?  Well, I was just coming to that – but feel it is important in this era, so often characterised by instant gratification, to allow for a more gradual unfolding of today’s thesis.

I have, for many years now, been the bane (OK, a bane – the long hours, poor salary and working conditions might also be considered banes) of those working in service industries by insisting on engaging them in conversation, normally against their will, during any face-to-face transaction.  I have just enough self-awareness to recognise this is probably all about me and my desperate need for human contact to fill the howling pit of loneliness at my core, but I also like to imagine that it might enliven the working days of those unfortunates I pick on.  It is also good to treat people as such, not as some sort of robot lackey.  Some (maybe most) fend off my conversational advances through some combination of disinterest, embarrassment and terror, but enough engage with the process that I keep on going.

Actually, proof-reading that last paragraph has led to a minor epiphany.  As previously established, what I most want in life is an audience and the poor folk serving me are (for a brief moment) a captive audience – constrained by their professionalism (or fear of disciplinary action) from fleeing my company (which would be the response of most right-thinking folk with a greater degree of freedom).

For most such audiences, my one-man-show is a fleeting, never-to-be-repeated experience and the trauma fades with time, but not for those working at my regular haunts.   The most frequent victims of my attempts at verbal intercourse are the staff at 10 Greek Street and at the bars of the Nuffield Theatre and Turner Sims – and it is the latter which will detain us here (and justify the title).  There are now a few staff with whom I have chatted on multiple occasions: not only providing me with some bonus pre-show (or even interval) entertainment but also some valuable information.  Most of the staff are (I assume, or by now know) students – which is very much my core demographic (I like to view the near 30 years since I left university as having been spent perfecting my student-hood) – and so have shared local cultural tips, including pubs!  This may have reached its peak on Sunday afternoon when I was given a hot tip for a combined CAMRA-recommended pub and music venue – and even an upcoming free gig.

So it was that yesterday evening I cycled down to the Talking Heads – just a little beyond Waitrose in the wilds of the Portswood Road – to watch (though not invigilate) an examination.  As part of their final exams, music students perform (no huge surprise there) and the public are allowed to watch for free.  For the jazz/pop students their ensemble exams took place in the backroom of a pub – which strikes me as excellent preparation for later life and provides a great deal more atmosphere than any of the exams of my own youth.  The Talking Heads seems to offer live music almost every night – so I shall definitely be adding it to my roster of local, cultural haunts.  Three ensembles performed across the evening, with the ensemble size growing as the evening went on – and with the final one borrowing some forces from both of its predecessors.  The evening was enormous fun (and did I mention, free!), though I did observe that no-one else in the audience or on stage seemed to have direct experience of the first half of the 1990s (I have no idea where the examiners were hiding).  I felt very old –  like someone’s dad (or worse) – but did re-learn the applause rules for jazz-inflected music (rather different from its classical counterpart) and was surrounded by music students (to copy off) when rhythmic clapping was required.  All three acts seemed pretty good, but my highlight (by a jazz mile – like a country mile, but less depressing and more freeform) was the evening’s final ensemble Muteight (snaps for the name!) – which did have eight members (we didn’t have to count the ship or computer) and at least one mute.  This was good news as my bar friend was the keys-man (if that be the phrase) for the band, so I can honestly say (next time we meet) that I loved them.  I have a significant birthday in the annoyingly near future and, if I mark this with some sort of “event” (other than sobbing alone into my beer), they would be an excellent choice to close the evening.   Last night, even I was tempted to dance: fear of being judged – and found wanting – by a large group of people nearly thirty years my junior stayed my dancing feet (the young can be so judgemental!).  Still, unlike the rest of the audience, I could remember the seventies influences that informed a fair chunk of their music and could wallow in a nostalgia denied my fellows: sometimes age does have its benefits!

The Missing Demographic

Continued issues somewhere in my digestive tract, coupled with meetings in London, have caused a brief (but, much appreciated by its readers) lacuna in the relentless stream of drivel emanating from this blog.  Seasoned Fish-watchers will know how serious matters had become if I admit that I have been off my food for several days – though normal (even enhanced) service has finally been resumed.

Prior to this haunting of my alimentary canal by a particularly vexèd poltergeist (or such is the diagnosis I am choosing to believe), there had been a brief alteration in my pattern of external, evening entertainment.  As you will know, most of my nights-out involve some sort of musical production (very much not of the form traditionally thought to be favoured by the Friends of Dorothy).  On the few occasions I go to see music for the young, I find myself feeling like some sort of revenant as the entire audience is under 25 (except for the few parents, or those acting in loco parentis, who still seem younger than me).  On the far more frequent occasions when I am enjoying (soi disant) classical music, the vast majority of the audience is over 70 (and usually well over) bar a few people in their late teens or early twenties that I assume (on the basis of almost no evidence) to be music students.  There has, as a result, been some mystery as to what the folk of Cambridge do of an evening in the long years between 25 and 70.  I know, in my (unelected) role as an uncle, that children can be quite time consuming, and anecdotal evidence suggests they can be quite reluctant to leave home these days, but 45 years stuck indoors “sitting” one’s issue does some rather a long time.   Where were the missing demographic?

Last Thursday, I finally found some of these missing generations when I went to see Punt and Dennis at the Corn Exchange.  I guess the audience were mostly Radio 4 listeners – though, perhaps oddly, no-one apparently over 70 and a surprisingly large scattering of the under 25s.   Perhaps the BBC Trust should take note, I suspect Radio 4’s reach into the allegedly all-important youth market may be larger than their “study” has indicated – though I note there was no corresponding push from the Trust to force Radio 1 Xtra to improve its offerings to the over 70s (which I, for one, think would be much more entertaining).  However, I seem to have digressed (again), the key matter of note was that the vast majority of the audience were from the missing demographic.  The middle-aged (and, I assume, middle-class) have little interest in music but are willing (and able) to push the boat out and pay for child-minding if Radio 4 stalwarts come to town.

Could this be a money spinner for the Beeb in these times of declining licence fee income? Some of its shows already tour the country – but others remain firmly fixed to their studios.  The PM Roadshow anyone?  And surely it is long past time for You and Yours to hit the road?  (And never come back).