Tonight I was meant to be reviewing Drenge's NME tour show for a well-known music website, but I have nothing to write home about. This is not to say it was uneventful, it was probably fantastic, I simply didn't see any of it. Blame stairs, health and safety and my wheelchair. In that order.
Before we go further, let's get one thing clear. I am not writing this for sympathy, rather simply stating fact and my perspective. Hopefully it can enlighten and wake people up.
If you've been to the Tufnell Park Dome you’ll know what I didn’t until arrival - the main gig space is up a flight of stairs. Troublesome. Unfortunate, and a barrier apparently so severe in the eyes of health and safety that it would be “illegal” for me to enter.
As a fairly experienced journalist and live gig-reviewer, I follow due processes to make sure I avoid nasty shocks. However, tonight’s opportunity was an urgent, last minute affair – I emailed the venue, rang without success and lastly checked the websites’ access policy. I found it as ambiguous as it is clear.
"We offer a free ticket for a personal assistant of registered disabled customers that we can safely admit to the premises" suggests to me they will do everything to assist. Further on, reference to a lack of ‘welfare facilities’ hardly screams a flight of unconquerable Everest stairs. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary defines welfare as "organised practical-help...to help people in need".
A case can be made to say I must accept responsibility for what happened and see it from the manager’s viewpoint; not just of the Dome but every stair ridden hotspot. If there’s a fire, the venue would be held responsible. If I were to be harmed their council licence would be taken away. It’s so out of their control, all they can do is offer me band merch. I hear this line of argument - from my legally savvy mother more than most - but don’t accept it. It doesn’t make any damn sense. Especially when tonight’s venue argued I didn’t have enough people to help me.
You see, flip the perspective – see it from my side. I write for a living and have a huge passion for music. So much so that I review for little or no pay in the hope of catching a break. It’s also exactly why I spent two hours rather than one getting myself to the gig (thanks to the inaccessible Underground). So, whilst I bear no grudge towards the management or staff, please, don’t tell me it’s impossible to carry my chair up some stairs. Difficult maybe, a challenge definitely. But nowhere near as impossible as it is for me to walk.
As for the worry over me being a fire risk, what about the drunk, dubiously high people at gigs the world over? Are you really going to claim a sober reviewer is more of a risk than someone flying with Lucy in the sky? Give me a break.
And there's another point. Of course I could lay blame at the door of NME for hosting dates on the tour in inaccessible venues. But I understand why they pick places like the Dome; they represent the lifeblood of grassroots music: sweaty, cramped, drink stained, yet in the dark light of night, exhilarating. The perfect home for trying to spark, and lay witness to, the true values of rock and roll in all its abrasive urgency – detached, if only slightly, from this age of corporate image management.
I don’t want to limit that.
This is in part why I was keen to see Drenge tonight. I saw them tear up Shepherd's Bush so God knows what must have gone on last night in a room full of a few hundred. The group's energy and raw aggression is a rare and beautiful sight, especially at this stage of their career, on the cusp of a wave. Sure, some of the riffs don’t stray too far from a worn track, but April’s new album suggests new variety.
I’ll end this here, as I have some explaining to do to editors in the morning. Perhaps I should be honest. I don’t have any copy, boss, because people wouldn’t allow me in due to my wheelchair.
Never before has Drenge’s angst resonated so. Funnily enough if I wanted merch I’d have entered a bloody band competition. Go see ‘em on tour.
I’ll leave you with THE MUSIC.