The Clapham Grand was at the forefront of live music venues’ efforts to show they could stage socially distanced gigs safely, so it was quite a shock to be at last night’s first full capacity show for 16 months, with the protocols around temperature checks and choreographed exits gone and the sweaty euphoria of a rock gig back with a bang.
The line up of Frank Turner, Beans on Toast, Gerry Del-Guercio and Ciara Haidar was the same as for a fundraiser held at the Grand last year under lockdown conditions, when singing along with Turner’s lyrics was banned. But last night there was a mosh-pit and crowd-surfing, including by Turner himself, who has held 21 benefit events for independent grassroots venues during the pandemic.
There was politics too. Turner set his sights on the government: “No one had any idea what was going on, least of all those meant to be in charge of us, who seem to blame everything that goes wrong on live music culture and youth culture.”
Your intrepid correspondent kept his mask on and bounced around on the balcony. As the Grand’s tireless venue manager Ally Wolf pointed out, it’s now all about personal responsibility: “It has to be, hasn’t it? We can’t enforce anything”. He added that whenever full capacity and relaxation of restrictions had happened, someone would be affronted.
There were plastic-enclosed compartments in the Upper Circle. Perhaps 10 per cent of the crowd downstairs wore masks during the sets and rather more did in the balconies and boxes. Turner’s tour manager said that although the main body of the crowd was tightly packed, fans at the edges and on the balconies were being unusually respectful of each other’s space (several times, Turner asked the audience to be kind and considerate).
Outside, Jack, in his early thirties, said he wouldn’t “normally wouldn’t” join a mosh pit but on the night “went in for a bit and went out again”. Retail worker Stevie Bartholomew, who was at Wembley last week for the Euro 2020 Final (“fucking intense”), stood up front. “It’s surreal” he said. “It’s the before-times”, said his friend with a lip-piercing. Newly-graduated Christian Sargant and Alex Cottom from the West Midlands remarked on the collegiate spirit of Turner fans. “There’s no bad eggs” said Cottom. Sargant, who has recently recovered from mild Covid, thinks that extends to taking precautions about the virus: “It’s basic decency to do a test”.
Turner told the crowd he cried twice before going on stage. Welcoming Wolf to join him, he offered a paean to live music. “If you’re watching a livestream you might be able to see better, get better sound, get your own beer from the fridge” he said. “But it’s not even remotely the same thing. And you know why? Because there’s no sense of community. It’s not just about getting sweaty with your friends, it’s about getting sweaty with people you don’t know and making new friends”.
DJ Steve Lamacq thought the Grand “couldn’t have had a better start” to resuming full-scale live gigs. As for public concern about big crowds of gig-goers, he believes “the more the live music scene can prove it can make safe spaces for crowds up to 1000, 2000… it will be very hard to stop that”. Turner, meanwhile, is incensed at what he sees as a double standard of ministers and officials querying nightclubs as an infection risk, despite encouraging results from the pilot in Liverpool, while not worrying about sports events. How attitudes evolve from here will be interesting.
Photograph: Joshua Neicho.
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