With a Rictus Grin and Another Pint: Surviving The Totally Democratic Bar

Should we complain if a lot of very average bands and soloists carry on in the belief that they are special?

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R
ight, now. You know a lot about music. I want to ask you a question… come with me.

I want to take you to this really neat place I’ve found. Let’s call it the Totally Democratic Bar. The beer is great: good selection, cheap mixers, excellent food and bar snacks and the staff seem to know what they are doing. The place is filled with loadsa right-on interesting hip dudes, seriously cool lighting and the vibe is hot… at least it says so in this free trendy Places To Be Seen guide.

And here’s the clincher… it says on the chalk board outside that they’ve got LIVE MUSIC! Oh yeah, Give Me A High Five! Let’s Party!

OK so far? Just down this side street, follow that rather worrying and insistent bass drum noise and the wailing guitar feedback. Free admission? Just gets better, my friend. Mine’s two pints of Old Fred’s Armpit and I’ll have some of those really expensive crisps in an arty bag. No change from a Tenner? WTF?

Do you know this group playing? Nope? Neither do I. They seem to have a lot of their mates and relations here judging by all the children shape-throwing at the front.

OK. Settle back, my friends. The beer is fine and the bar staff are indeed pretty good – but….

Rather quickly we exchange glances and our eyebrows move in unison. The band is awful. Terrible. Unspeakably bad. They are hopeless. They are so bad I can’t even recognise the cover they said they were playing. They are also dialled to Eleven. The singer is out of tune. The three chords the band are playing seem to be the wrong three and the beserker drummer’s mother should not have let him out of his bedroom.

Let’s hang on a bit and see if they get better. Go on, you know you want to.

Sorry. I don’t think I can do this. My ears are bleeding. I fear I am being fatally damaged in the taste department. I can no longer think coherently as this sound has damaged my hearing brain. I’d rather listen to a mash-up of Lee Marvin’s ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ and Richard Harris’s ‘MacArthur Park’ done by Tiny Tim than listen to this stuff. My grandad did an accordion version of ‘Donald, Where’s your Troosers?’ that’s better than this. I am too young for the seventh circle of hell.

But we do nothing. They don’t stop. We say nothing.

Often we will vote with our feet and move on. Occasionally, we will mutter and grimace to the barman who will nod in sympathetic agreement and give us a Gallic shrug. It is, after all, The Totally Democratic Bar and that’s not his Department.

Why do we do that? Why does no one get up and stop them? In parts of the U.S we would lob our beer bottles onto the stage (or at the pre-emptive chicken wire). Once in France I saw a punter walk on stage, to huge applause, and unplug the amps. On a football terrace they would get twenty-three verses of ‘You’re Crap and We’re Not Paying’. Even in Milan nowadays the opera fans boo rubbish when they hear it.microphone

Here in the Totally Democratic Bar, we just continue to be Britishly Phlegmatic. I did once attend a gig at the Royal College of Art where everyone piled on stage and had a fight… but that was an early Clash gig and it was part of the performance. Now, I fear the norm has become ‘grin and bear it then move on’.

We have or lauded sense of Fair Play. Every musician has to start somewhere. Why offend someone when you have the option of ignoring them? It’s easy for our esteemed radio DJs – if it’s bad, (or even just not very good) it doesn’t get played. It’s not too difficult for reviewers either… you have to kiss a lot of frogs that come through your letterbox or appear on a small stage at a festival, but you don’t have to review them. Move on, tomorrow is another day and nobody dies.

Now wait a minute. Maybe you should try and advise them. Would it be better to have a quiet word and tell them to get some vocal tuition, some instrument lessons, to go away and not come back until they are through the worst? How damaged would you be if you were giving it your all, in the confident and possibly misguided belief that you were good, and someone told you not to bother? The argument goes that, if it were someone whose view you respected, that would be OK – but what if it’s just someone from the audience and you had no idea who they were? Not so easy, eh?

The blues world is, for the most part, extraordinarily tolerant. We like to give everyone a break, a decent hearing, a proper go, all in the knowledge that practise and talent have together continually polished and honed the goods. We have seen the emergence of stars who never fail to deliver on a public stage. You know them well, you remember their faltering first steps and you can list them as I write.

That, though, does not solve the problem of the genuinely deluded: those people who have been thrust forward by their friends and relations into an X Factor/live performance dream that doesn’t and couldn’t possibly exist for them – because they are just no good. The gap between the pretend bedroom microphone, the karaoke bar, the cruise ship and the real live attentive and knowledgeable audience is a million miles and will never be bridged.


(Half Deaf Clatch – waaaaay over on the right side of the talent gap)

Perhaps you are one of those special people who feel they have a mission to put others out of their misery, however much pain is inflicted. ‘It’s for their own good’ you will say. Nul Points, sunshine, you’re rubbish. There’s the Door. Please don’t cry. Next.

There are not many of us who can, or even want to do that. I suspect that for most of us The Quiet Life and Moving On are the chosen options, even if that means a lot of very average bands and soloists will carry on in the belief that they are special. Is that such a bad thing if you don’t have to listen to them? Surely, market forces will prevail and eventually they will fail. In the meantime – you go over and tell them. No, you go. No, I’m not going to… that would be unfair and I don’t want to upset anybody.

Let’s just go to another bar….

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