A friend of mine works for Attitude is Everything, a charity whose mission is to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music. The charity works with ticket sellers and venues to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from going to gigs, by ensuring things like step free access, accessible toilets, available seating, and BSL interpretation of lyrics. Through Club Attitude they showcase to the music industry how to put on an accessible club night. When I found out that Summer Camp were headlining the next Club Attitude night I decided it was about time I went and checked it out; and from what I saw, they’ve got it pretty sussed.
Summer Camp are one of my favourite bands, and I never fail to love their gigs. However, mid-flare up isn’t the best time to go to a gig because, practicalities of the pain aside, I often feel quite vulnerable during a flare up and almost fear being out and about, especially surrounded by drunk, excited people who I feel are about to break my fragile body with the slightest touch. (“They call me Mr Glass”.) I’ve blogged before about the benefits of finding an intimiate sit-down gig, but even though all the ingredients of this one were right I was still required to leave the house. The question is, was it worth it?
The answer, is most certainly yes. And here’s why…
I’ve been to a fair few gigs in my time, but a whole lot less than I used to since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. During the last five years I have had many memorable gig experiences, some awful and some wonderful. There are three that spring to mind.
The first was a collection of gigs at a city festival in Leeds. This was quite possibly one of the worst gigs of all time. Not really surprising, considering the gigs were spread out across the University’s city campus and I should have known better, but once in the halls there were no chairs and very little support for people with any form of disability. I eventually found a viewing platform in the main hall, but had to explain to the bouncer that even though I wasn’t in a wheelchair I needed to sit upstairs. The conversation was long and difficult and the bouncer was clearly not convinced, but eventually gave in. By that point I couldn’t have cared less about the good view, I just wanted a good seat. When my friends tried to join me later on, they were turned away by the bouncer who explained the viewing platform was for people with disabilities only. Apparently disabled people didn’t get to have fun with their friends and sit down – that was asking far too much.
The second gig was at the Roundhouse in London, where I saw Tracy Chapman perform. I hadn’t been ill for very long and my coping strategies were far from defined. Foolishly my tickets were for the standing area and I fell to the ground fairly soon in to the gig. At the time I was on my own, the boy had gone to the toilet and I had made my way to a pillar to prop me up. I’d barely been on the ground for ten seconds when a group of people came rushing over to me; they pulled at my arms to get me up and talked to each other about me being “out of it.” One of the guys said, “Come with us love, we’ll get you some water. I think you could do with some fresh air too.” I replied, explaining that I wasn’t wasted and that I just had bad legs. They looked incredibly awkward and apologised before leaving me alone on the floor. It was strange; I certainly didn’t want them to apologise, if anything I still wanted their help. Even now I think back to that feeling of, strangely, wishing I had been wasted so that maybe they would have stayed with me.
The third gig was another Summer Camp gig at a pub in Newcastle. The gig was in a small function room above a pub, and we arrived fairly early. I scanned the room for a chair, and after about twenty minutes I went to the guy on the door and asked for a spare chair from the back room. I took the chair into the venue and sat a few metres from the stage, slightly to the left of the room. I chatted to the friends I was with, all the while facing forward and never noticing the room filling up behind me. At one point I looked to my right and noticed that people were starting to form a horizontal line next to me, but I didn’t think much of it until someone tapped me on the shoulder. A guy leaned forward and said, “I’m sorry, but please could you move forward so that more people can fit in at the back.” I was confused, but when I turned around and look back at the room it was full of people queuing up behind me. Why had no one just come to stand in front of me? As I shuffled my chair forwards I was the most embarrassed I have ever been. People started to thank me and in the end I was in the front row with a crowd of incredibly lovely people stood around me, carefully making sure no one blocked my view. So strange, and so wonderful.
With these gigs in mind, I went along to Club Attitude not sure what to expect. I mean, they’re meant to be pros at this stuff so I was quite excited to see what was in store. When we arrived, the compare on stage was talking to the audience about Attitude is Everything and their commitment to making music accessible to everyone. Whilst he spoke, a signer stood stage left for the benefit of the deaf and hard of hearing members of the audience. (I’m always mesmerized by sign language and have, on more than one occasion, decided I want a career as a signer!) I asked a member of staff if there was any seating, and was directed towards a seating area to the right of the hall. I took a seat, but within seconds was approached by a member of security who explained the seating was for people with disabilities and could I please move. However, after a quick explanation he apologised and left us to it. Not only was the seating in perfect view of the stage, but markings on the floor meant the standing audience were unable to stand in front of the seated area and block the view. It was an experience I had never encountered before, but one I instantly knew I wanted to do again and again.
I really can’t explain the difference these things made to my enjoyment of last night. I didn’t sit there pain free, but I did sit there. I sat there all night and enjoyed the entire gig!
The picture below was my view! No zoom, no nothing. Just clear Summer Camp vision.
Inevitably, gig nights are always bittersweet – even this one. I was always a bit of a dancer (a mover and a groover) in my healthier days and I have a real problem watching people in the audience dancing and knowing I can’t get involved. That sucks. As a result, I don’t listen to music nearly as much as I used to and I don’t go to gigs as often as I did, but I know that this is something I will tackle in my own time. I need to find a different way of enjoying live music because, if anything, last night taught me that a huge number of people with a wide range of disabilities are doing this. They’re going to gigs, they’re doing it often, and they’re doing it well. Hopefully, over time, as the attitude of gig venues and festival management changes, my attitude towards going to gigs will change too; and if there’s one thing that last night reminded me, it’s that attitude really is everything.