Security At Gigs: A Fan’s View
What a week it’s been. Ferguson retiring, a woman being rescued from a collapsed building, and someone being kicked out of a venue for allegedly not knowing the names of the bands songs. Has the world gone mad?
In fairness, the world went mad a long time ago. The story of the poor guys getting kicked out of The Vaccines gig though has struck a nerve with me, and a I daresay with a lot of you. Disregarding whether you like The Vaccines or don’t (I certainly don’t), people shouldn’t be kicked out of gigs because they might be the kind of person who pickpockets someone, or because they don’t know the album names, or the song titles. This kind of thing just shouldn’t happen, and I thought that it didn’t. Guess I was wrong.
Anyway, I’m not here to discuss the (erm) rights and wrongs of Venue Cymru’s actions last week. I think on that topic I’m preaching to the converted, and to be fair there’s not that much to be said. You’d have to be Jerome Ballarotto (look him up) to either want or be able to defend that incident. I think though that this is a good time for a look into the role of security at gigs, and of course, to recount a few personal horror stories from over the years.
“Here to assist you.” That was what was stated on the back of every Rocksteady security t-shirt before they evolved into G4S. Move Festival 2003 at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. The Charlatans were headlining, I was stood in the queue outside waiting to get in. For some reason, there was a massive queue. This queue was not helped by one of the most draconian security staff ever, complete with big muscles, tattoos etc (not that there’s anything wrong with that) conducting the most over the top and unnecessary searches I’ve ever seen. Whilst this was happening, you could see people at the top of Brian Statham Way getting on each others shoulders and climbing into the ground. Paying customers to that event were spoken to in a aggressive and degrading manner. To be fair, they rectified the situation the next day by placing someone in the place where people were sneaking in, although the young student who was placed there looked like the kind of person who would help the people trying to sneak in… if he could’ve been bothered.
However, it must be said that a large scale event with several thousand people needs a security presence. Not just in terms of being granted a license, but to ensure (where needed) a decent flow of people, for people to report incidents to and to rescue the people who can’t quite hack it down the front, amongst other things. It must be asked though why does it seemingly have to be carried out with the level of hostility that it often is? I’m sure I’m not alone in having a relatively organised bag packed, only to turn up at a festival and have it all turned out in case I’ve got a bottle of whiskey in my bag (which I haven’t) and then told to move my stuff and sort it out. Again, I’m probably not the only one who has been aggressively ‘patted down’ lest I be sneaking in a cheeky can of cheap lager.
Clearly, the role of security at massive venues is not to assist the customer, but to ensure that they are in a situation where they have no option but to drink as much overpriced, warm, straight out of a can Tuborg/Carling/other shit weak lager as possible. In that sense, it’s understandable. Stadium gigs and enormo-fests exist predominantly to make money, and there’s a lot of money to be made when you can make £3.50 profit every time someone cracks open a can of lager. It makes sense for the promoter to protect his or her economic interests like that. In addition to that, in a place like Reading Festival, as a promoter you probably don’t want people lighting their own fires. I daresay quite a few customers feel safer without them as well. So I can understand someone walking around with a little fire extinguisher (although wait for next year, when someone tries a light up a cigarette and they get extinguished, quite literally). And the free water when down the front? Brilliant. Lovely stuff.
I think the role of security is more up for debate in the smaller, indoor venues.
Does anyone know what aggressive dancing is? My friend Mick does. For he was kicked out of New Order at Liverpool Summer Pops in 2006 for that very reason.
Liverpool Summer Pops has now changed into a series of events at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Previous it was an utterly horrendous all seated tent with crap sound, no atmosphere and the aforementioned overpriced lager. Those who have seen New Order live will have noticed they have a somewhat boisterous fan base. A bunch of blokes (mostly), usually in their 30’s and 40’s, generally a bit pissed but having a good time. I’ve seen New Order 12 times and never seen any trouble at any of their gigs. So when I heard that Mick has been kicked out for “aggressive dancing” (whatever that means) I was shocked. Remember, this is an all seated venue, so I don’t think that Mick’s dancing was going to cause anyone any serious injury. However, venue security took it upon themselves to remove a paying customer for quite possibly the most baffling reason I’ve ever heard.
But again lets give Rocksteady the benefit of the doubt. Liverpool Summer Pops usually had artists like Elton John, Roxy Music, Tom Jones. Jools Holland. Artists who I imagine have a significantly different type of fan base from New Order. And again, it’s a decent sized venue so a security presence has to be in place.
Let’s look at the intimate venues. The ones which hold a few hundred and no more. I ask the question, why do promoters use external security in these kind of venues. I offer the answer… I have no idea.
Allow me to recount a few favourite experiences from the last few weeks.
At Liverpool Sound City earlier in the month, I discovered a fantastic band called On an On (Playing Great Escape this week, check them out if you can). They came on at 2am and played in front of a near empty Kazimier. The music they played was utterly captivating and it was magnificent. Luckily, I was able to check them out thirteen hours later during Live at Leeds in an utterly rammed Nation of Shopkeepers (whose own internal security I think managed the awkward situation of a full venue at a wristband event really quite well). Again, brilliant. So the next day On an On are playing at the Deaf Institute in Manchester. I thought it would be fun to check them out at their own gig, so after much debate I eventually decide to depart Sounds from the Other City to nip down to the Deaf Institute and catch the set. Thinking I could pay on the door (I haven’t had the time, nor the facility to purchase a ticket online) I’ll catch what’s left of the set. Oh no you won’t! I’d love to sit here and tell you about how great On an On were, but nope, not allowed in. Why? I was too late (no stage times or curfew times published anywhere), then I should’ve bought a ticket in advance (for whatever reason I wasn’t able to pay on the door). After pleading with the one security guy on the door, who “can’t” let me in because “of that camera there.” I then turn around, and say “right” as I resign myself that I’m not getting in, the lone security staff turns around and shouts in an aggressive and confrontation manner “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”
I’ve toyed with this for the last week now. And I still don’t understand why I was turned away. I was on my own, I clearly wanted to see the band, I wasn’t drunk. All I wanted to do was pay my money and watch the band in what is one of my favourite venues. I lost out because I didn’t see the band. The venue lost out because they didn’t get my admission money nor the money for the drink I would’ve purchased. The only person who gained anything was the security person and his camera.
Going a bit further back now… If context is needed then go and read Louis Barrabas’ fantastic review of I Am Kloot at the Ritz in Manchester back in February. Any who was there on either night, or who has heard about the gig will no doubt be aware of the fantastically loud level of crowd conversation during the gig. I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of talking at gigs, it’s been covered before and it’ll be covered again. What would be nice though would be to know that venue security was on the side of the one’s who want to watch the gigs. Not this time! After politely requesting that couple next to me to be quiet, and in response get treated to an absolute torrent of abuse the security guard comes into the crowd, blames me and threatens me with ejection, clearly taking the side of the non gig goer by loudly declaring to the chatterers in reference to me and my friends “they were like this last night.” So by trying to appeal to people’s better nature, and the request of the performer, I ended up being threatened with ejection. Classy. Talk away people…
So where does this leave us as a gig going community? We are faced with draconian legislation and licensing laws, ever growing ticket prices and increasingly over zealous security. Above I highlight a few horror stories which some will say are isolated incidents. Yes, they are isolated incidents, but they are indicative of a security culture where the gig goer is not to be trusted, to be shepherded in and out and be spoken to as if they were somehow unworthy of being spoken to.
I think people will notice a difference between security which is employed directly by the venue and those where it is brought it externally. I always had a good relationship with the security at the Manchester University, who always greeted me politely and with a smile. Similarly, smaller venues around Manchester like Gorilla who don’t always bring in external security are always helpful, polite and never intrusive.
The incident at Venue Cymru last week highlights the deficiency in security and security culture at gigs. We can be trusted and we don’t need to be spoken to like criminals. Yes, most if not all gigs will need a security presence, but as attendees we can be trusted, we do not need, nor do we deserve to be treated as cattle by overzealous and aggressive security staff who have no idea what our culture is about. So please, promoters and venues, if you must employ external security staff please
1) Stop them threatening to kick people out for no reason.
2) Cut out the ridiculous and over the top searches.
3) Don’t barge in to crowds where your presence is not wanted or needed.
4) Leave us alone and let us have a good time. We’re more than capable of taking care of ourselves.
All words by liamcore. You can find the rest of his work for Louder Than War here.