Friday, January 20, 2006
John Cale's smokefree tour
Someone from the Smokefree London yahoo group I've set up, has written an excellent article on John Cale's smokefree European tour and smokefree gigs in general. It really speaks my mind in many ways and it'll be interesting to see whether it will create some further discussion among gig going punters and promoters. The Garage really is a terrible smokehole IMO, and I've been avoiding it for a while. I almost walked out of the excellent Deerhoof show there a little while ago just because of the smoke. For now, well done, John Cale and Gab Starkey!
The return of Nosmo King
John Cale is about to set out on a smoke-free tour. Gigs in Digs organises fresh-air concerts. Gabrielle Starkey is de-lighted
John Cale is recalling his youth. “Pneumo is a word that rings a bell in Wales. Pneumonoconiosis. Black lung. Because of the mining. In the still calm of a Sunday morning, when people were shuffling to and from chapel, you could hear the wheezing coming down the road, you know, from pneumo. And then these people would be smoking.”
The veteran art rocker is explaining why his European tour to promote his new album blackAcetate will be a smoke-free zone. Apart from growing up among black-lung sufferers, Cale had bronchitis as a child which left him sensitive to cigarette smoke. “If people are smoking my voice disappears. And all the remedies in the world won’t put it back together.”
In the live fast, die young world of rock, Cale’s position is literally a blast of fresh air. When he plays the Garage on Wednesday, North London’s premier rock fleapit will ban smoking for the first time in its 13-year history.
For my part, I’m ecstatic about Cale coming to town. My boyfriend is just as sensitive to smoke since giving up five years ago. It puts the kibosh on nights out down the pub (smoking areas, he says, are “like having a p****** area in the swimming pool”), and means that he’s never seen me perform in my alter-ego mode as a singer-songwriter. Cale’s concert will be the first rock gig we’ll have been to together. Sure, there are bigger, smarter venues that are smoke-free, but they are fully seated affairs, hardly the cramped, sweaty experience of a proper rock gig.
But if non-smokers move in restricted circles, it seems as if we’re in good, and increasing, company. Paul Chi, a Brighton-based music promoter, became so sick of the ever-present haze of fag smoke in bars that he founded Gigs in Digs, where the artist comes and plays in your own home. Its most famous proponents are Nizlopi, that exuberant duo whose JCB Song got to No 1 just before Christmas. “I came up with this whole idea of putting on gigs that had an ethos," says Chi. “And the ethos was low noise, non-smoking, the choice of whether to have alcohol or not, and child-friendly. I got into the whole idea of them being accessible."
So Chi’s concerts are a healthy option for the under-18s, which is another leap forward, because teenagers are continuing to take up smoking at an alarming rate. Kids copy their musical heroes, and if they hang out in smoky bars, then smoking and drinking is what teens will aspire to.
But the image is misleading because only about a fifth of the adult population actually smokes and, according to Chi, the idea that all musicians are slaves to the weed couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I know many musicians who hardly drink and don’t smoke, but they’ll play anywhere because it’s the only way they’ll get any work."
Another, more puritanical, group of anti-smokers also targets the younger generation. The Straight Edge movement, which grew out of the 1980s American hardcore punk scene, encourages teenagers to avoid all types of culturally condoned “poisons”, including alcohol, nicotine and even caffeine. Luckily for Cale’s fans, he is not quite so hardline: “If someone’s in the front row and blowing it in your face, you can say: ‘Look, either you are bad mannered or you’re nuts. I’m trying to work and if you keep doing that it’s going to be a much shorter night than anyone would like’.”
But in Spain, where smoking is almost a national trait, there was one audience that didn’t quite get it. “The first thing I said was: ‘Thank you for not smoking this evening,’ and they were pretty good about it. And then when I went offstage they were going crazy, they wanted an encore so I went out again.
“And in that gap they’d all lit up and when I went back out I was confronted by this wall of blue smoke.” He laughs. "It was amazing, just like this wave coming at me.I couldn’t do the encore."
John Cale’s tour starts on Jan 24 at Manchester Academy (0161-275 2930). www.healthyconcerts.com/artists/gigs_in_digs http://www.ash.org.uk/ http://www.freshaironline.info/