This should have been a review of a gig I went to last week. But it isn’t. I left before the main act set foot on the stage. I had too. The venue felt unsafe and overcrowded to the point of danger.
I wasn’t going to write about it. I certainly wasn’t going to mention the venue, band or event organisers by name publicly. I was going to pretend it hadn’t happened and move on. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more upset I’ve become and the more I’ve felt the need to try to understand it.
I emailed Colston Hall, who had organised the show, last Friday. They have not yet replied. I feel deeply hurt by that. I’ve been a very loyal patron of Colston Hall. Many, many times I have sung their praises here.
The venue they chose to use for this gig was The Fiddlers. I shall not go there again. It was hot with horrible acoustics, appalling layout and staff that were at best invisible. It also smelt of damp. If you were to design me a nightmare venue this would pretty much be it. Cramped, crowded, fire exits not kept accessible and far too many people in too small a space. It felt dangerous and unsafe. I am fairly convinced they had sold more than the official capacity in terms of ticket numbers.
I had stayed through the support act, although I already felt very uncomfortable and despite trying to find any tiny sliver of space in a variety of spots I felt trapped, hemmed in and in danger. I left crying and shaking.
At the time I was in a state of high anxiety and I was visibly distressed. I could not see any members of staff to signal for help. Not a single person noticed or offered to help. I was on my own, in a state of distress and no-one noticed or offered to help. Let that sink in. In a crowded room of hundreds of others no-one helped me. Not one person thought to themselves “maybe I’ll just ask her if she is alright.” That hurts. I feel let down. By music. By the one thing that has held me up and held me together and given me a community.
My confidence has gone. I had been looking forward to seeing Hypnotic Brass Band for months. I’d had a complete ball at Youngblood Brass on Thekla only recently and I felt this would be another great gig. Except it wasn’t. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
My plea to those who design venues, to those who promote and put on gigs is this; don’t ignore the needs of those with different needs to yours. Access isn’t just about wheelchair ramps and toilets with grab handles. It’s about making ALL your patrons and potential patrons feel safe and included. It’s about having enough visible staff in a venue, it’s about keeping exit ways clear, it’s about designing the acoustics of your venue to be the best they can, it’s about having clear well designed spaces that allow for the flow of people and it’s about listening to all feedback. Then acting on it.
I felt scared last Thursday night. Now I feel let down, disappointed and lost. I am supposed to be seeing Glasvegas this week aboard Thekla. And Gaz Coombes in Brighton, Cardiff and Oxford. And modern classical at St George’s. Right now I am not sure if I can face going to any of them, let alone all of them.
Live music has been everything to me. The only way I can feel a sense of connection and community. I often go weeks without meaningful adult company. Going to gigs, meeting people there who are passionate about music, including the artists that make it all happen, its my world. Take that away and I am lost. Bereft. Stumbling in an alleyway, crying and hyperventilating like I was last Thursday night.
The trouble with big emotions is how deep and powerful they are. There is no off switch.