Wednesday 26 June 2019

live music and accessibility

Last weekend I had pretty much the perfect disabled-person's gig experience.

A friend spotted that the buzziest of current UK buzz-bands, Black Midi, were playing at a nearby art venue. Along with another friend, we've been listening to them for the past few months and we were lucky enough to get tickets - they don’t publicise their gigs and have a minimal online presence.

I offered to drive because I wanted to take my wheelchair - pretty handy having somewhere to sit and I wanted to make sure that I wasn't too fatigued for the drive home.

The venue's website states that they "have an accessible building with lift access on all floors". But I've been burned before so on the afternoon of the gig I called them up to make sure that it was going to be ok. (Yes, it was last minute but we only found out about the show a few days beforehand - like I said, minimal online presence).

The person I spoke to could not have been more accommodating, telling me which entrance to use and that there would be somebody waiting in the (closed) shop to take me and my friends down in the lift.

Through past experience I wasn't entirely convinced that it would all pass off so painlessly. But I'm pleased to report that everything worked beautifully. There was even another person waiting for us when we got to the bottom, and once we were down there it was all beautifully flat.

I stood for both sets - using my sticks or leaning on the back of my chair - and both bands were brilliant.

The support act were Nottingham's own Rattle and during their set Black Midi's Tour Manager came up to ask if I wanted to go to the side of the stage for the headline set. I was really pleased to be asked but I'm a bit Old Skool (as well as just generally old) and I like being in the middle a bit further back. It turned out that the position he was offering me was directly behind the drum kit and, as Morgan Simpson beats the crap out of his drums, my ears would still be ringing now, a number of days later.

I caught up with the Tour Manager at the end of the night and thanked him for his consideration and for the fact that they had come to a venue which was so insanely accessible. In recent years, I've had to miss a few of my favourite up-and-coming bands because they've played at a venue which is only accessible by stairs (with toilets only accessible by more stairs). Yes, I can get to Arena venues and bigger spaces but sometimes you want to go somewhere up bit more up-close-and-personal, don't you?

He expressed dismay that this was still going on - "Isn't that sort of thing illegal now?"

Well, yes, technically. It should be the norm that live experiences should be accessible to all shapes, sizes and capabilities. But we all know that this don't necessarily make it so.

I love going to gigs and I don't get to do it as often as I like. It's still mildly frustrating that we have to call up in advance to ask questions and lay out the details of our needs to complete strangers. But this goes to show that it can be totally worth it. And an increasing number of places accept the Access card as proof.

By the way, the gent who let us in at the start of the evening was even there to let us out at the end of the gig. Bravo, Nottingham Contemporary. And many thanks to my lovely mates who pushed my wheelchair for me when I needed it.

If you want, you can even hear a lengthy email I sent into the lovely Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music the following day - it's a long email but he read the whole damn thing (with a few interjections of his own) from 09:20 here.