I've been stuck at home with a filthy cold, so last night I went neither to the English PEN concert nor to hear my pals in Oi Va Voy doing their klezmer-rock stuff at the Roundhouse. Instead, I was indoors trying to watch a terrifically good gangster movie...with the undesired and unwelcome addition of music from the beyond.
Namely, a Beatles tribute band playing in the Kew Gardens Summer Swing festival - more than two miles away, yet so loud that I could sing along with 'Hey Jude'. Often when music is intrusively loud you hear only the bass. If you can also hear the melody, it must be b****y loud.
If you've been reading JDCMB for a while, you'll know this is a bugbear of mine. I love Kew Gardens, and I adore the Beatles, and Abba, and the Gypsy Kings (who are playing Kew tonight) - even if they haven't anything to do with Swing as such - and I'd find it fun to go along. I enjoy plenty of pop music and hanker to hear live performances by favourite singer-songwriters such as Annie Lennox, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Tanita Tikaram et al - but I don't go, because I do not want to damage my ears. Why is there some unwritten law that if you go to a pop concert, you must risk the health of your hearing in the future in order to be cool?
Whatever does Health and Safety have to say about pop concerts? Can anyone offer enlightenment, please?
They've already got to our orchestras. The LPO, for one, has regular visits from an ear doctor who checks people's hearing; some orchestras have been lectured in a very unwelcome way by experts who tell them that the brass should play narrow-bore instruments from the 18th century instead of their nice modern ones with valves because they are quieter (you can imagine how that went down), or people deciding how to tweak the programming so that there is quiet music to counterbalance the loud. It may look annoying, but it's a crucial issue, they take it very seriously and that is a good thing.
But where does this leave pop concerts? Isn't anyone going to have a go at those? Because that is where it's needed! It may be loud to sit in the middle of Bruckner 7, but I'd love to measure those decibels as compared to the gig in Kew last night. I reckon it would be way off the Sviatoslav Richter scale.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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