A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

I'M A SOUL MAN


Recently, whilst drinking with a friend in a real grown up pub, he asked: "when did women in this country start to whoop?" At the other end of the bar there were indeed a group of young women whooping at that moment, behaviour not seen twenty years previously, and possibly not even ten. Whooping women came in with tattoos, alcopops, tramp stamps and muffin tops and its becoming difficult to remember when this wasn't the case.

My reply at the time was something like this: 

Whooping was unknown in the sedate Britain prior to the introduction of The Price is Right. The producers of The Price is Right (a programme targeted... to quote Oscar Wilde... for those who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing) were keen to install the ambience of the American original by coercing the audience to behave like crazy arseholes. And therein lays the problem in that the average British contestant is typically bland and unused to displays of outright exhibitionism. And in their attempts to comply, they would invariably get it wrong, and as they self-consciously rose to their feet they had the habit of hunching their shoulders on standing, and never quite getting their arms fully above their heads on the descent, whilst glancing around nervously, unsure if they were performing as instructed. And if the experience was painful to them performing, it was even more agonising to watch; like some kind of Island of Dr Moreau on prime time.

Twenty years later, I was watching Big Brother. It was an eviction night and the presenter Davina McCall (probably the whoopiest woman of them all) announced that they were going over the scene outside where the audience awaited. The audience were unaware of their cue, and we next saw a bunch of bored, rain-sodden mugs muttering amongst themselves, until someone alerted them to their presence on live television. In an instant, they immediately sprung into to life, acting like someone put Sunny D in the reservoir, with one previously inert young male even throwing himself at the camera and screaming like a crazy bastard. 

Something had clearly shifted within our society, in that a whole new generation had arrived that had acquired the sufficient pavlovian reflexes sufficient to provide the broadcast executives with their raw material.

Equally this became apparent at the televising of football in pubs. During the 1998 World Cup for example, there were people watching football who would have previously pretended that they didn't even know such a tournament existed. Rupert Murdoch had succeeded in making it trendy, and over the following years we witnessed the Beckham phenomenon, where it was no longer necessary to know anything about the game, as long as Posh Spice's Golden Balls was playing (Posh spice is the one who looks like a basted chicken by the way).

In 2002, I witnessed a crowd watching an England qualifier in a pub in Manchester, where half the audience were busy chatting amongst themselves, whilst a couple of women from New Zealand (a Rugby nation, with no notion of football) tiresomely persisted on shouting out "come on Becks!" throughout the game. There was a guy next to me, stood clutching a pint to his chest, watching the match, obviously with some intent, whilst a friend stood in front of him, with his back to the game, wittering on about his problems at work. Then England scored, and everyone who had being chatting unconcerned with the game, found time to stop and leap in the air cheering; and no-one more avidly than the previously disinterested problems-at-work guy. His paroxysms of joy were typically in complete contrast with his previous demeanour. It was easily apparent by now that they weren't here for the football at all, they were here for the jubilation, the celebration, the sense of occasion. They felt nothing at all for the game, and clearly didn't even wish to watch it, but they wanted to take part in ‘The Good Bit: THE WHOOPING’.

Likewise, I'm not one for gigs anymore, and not just because there's hardly anyone worth seeing these days, but I'm also a lot older, can't be bothered to go out, gigs are expensive, and you have to buy tickets from an agent etc. When I was a kid, when gigs were a third of the price of an album, (and when did that change?) it was possible to phone the Manchester Apollo, order your tickets on trust, and they would be held in your name until you turned up to collect them. No additional fees, just the face value. And you collected them several days before, or even at 6.00pm on the night, to ensure you got in the hall early, because you were excited: that's why you were there after all.

So I'm partly unprepared for the post-modern concert experience, particularly now that the bulk of ticket sales appear to be going chiefly to marketing firms who tout them on to corporate hospitality dealers, or put them up as competition fillers, and consequently our theatres and venues are full of disinterested people who are merely up for a free night out. Indeed, this is how I got to be at the Shepherd's Bush Empire watching Isaac Hayes on Friday 3rd August 2007, when a friend called me up looking for someone to share his competition tickets.

But first of all I had to witness THE QUEUEING. My pal, the guy who had won the tickets, didn't actually have the tickets; he had a sheet of A4 paper with an email printed on it with his winning ticket details, just like everybody else. There were hundreds of us, and everyone had had the same idea. It was clear that no-one in the queue had actually bought tickets for this gig; no-one was that interested in Isaac Hayes, and EVERYONE had found out that the band started at 9:00pm, and had therefore decided to go to the pub until show-time. No pre-gig anticipation, no getting in early to get a good slot, this was not going to be an atmospheric night.

Well it was tedious queuing for half an hour, and at least the house manager had the sense to grab a roll of tickets (for something else entirely, probably somebody that NO-ONE wanted to see, even for free!) and walked the queue just handing them out, just to get an audience inside before the gig was over.

When inside, the sound was awful, you couldn't hear anything, there was no definition and Hayes had turned up with a row of keyboard players, replacing the brass section, the strings etc. Not that the crowd seemed to care; they stood there holding their mobile phones aloft taking photos that no-one would want to see. And although the sound was bad, and the groove was non-existent, there were people there who believed the poster that Isaac was the godfather of soul, and were giving it their all, impersonating the kind of dancing last seen in crap films from the seventies, where Starsky and Hutch get to visit a discotheque.

And then... of course... there was the whooping.

The bass player did a two-minute solo (there would be a lot of solos; Isaac knows how to pad). However, although the only thing that could be detected above the mud-bath of a mix was the click of his slapping, the crowd didn't mind at all, they knew their job, and when the session guy finished, they duly obliged with a rousing round of whoops and whistles. 

It was worse still with the guitarist. The audience knew that the lead guitarist has mythical status in popular music. He is the wild man of pop after all, and as the septuagenarian stood at the front of the stage wasted our time with a series of tedious blues scales, the crowd cheered every cliché, but saved the worst 'til last, when the complacent "axeman" ran the strings across the mike stand; JUST LIKE JIMI HENDRIX! They went mental!

But then they automatically switched off again and went back to chatting. I noticed that there was an audible babble across the hall that was the sound of people conversing above the noise on stage. They were all talking between their little bouts of crazy arse-holery. Every time the band did a showpiece moment, the audience rewarded them with a yelp, and then the band went back to their complacency and crowd returned to their own little worlds.

I admit that I wasn't that keen to see Hayes to begin with, although I had assumed that I might see a good band, and was prepared to be pleasantly surprised, even with the outside chance of an opportunity to actually GROOVE for the first time in years... Wrong on so many counts.

But my fellow concert goers: what are we to do with them?

It seems that the post-modern experience is one of vicarious living. Unable to actually create anything new for itself, a generation has risen that has made a study of the past with the belief that it is theirs to own. If someone was great in the sixties; they're good now! But is it really possible to recreate the experience of the music when it actually meant something, even if it’s now totally out of context, and that the last thirty years has watered the experience down through over-familiarity?

If you want to believe Isaac Hayes is the godfather of soul, then go-ahead. If you want to dance like Isaac Hayes is the godfather of soul go-ahead too. It doesn't really matter, because as long as you believe what the marketing world tells you, and that you are having a good time, nothing can stop you from believing it. Not the cost, not the fact that Isaac Hayes hasn’t sold a record in years (apart from Chocolate Salty Balls; but he didn't even write that!) not even the fact that you couldn't actually hear anything through the din because they couldn't be bothered to do anything about it, because no-one was listening anyway. 

What a bag of shite!


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