Singer or Torturer?
Last night I was really looking forward to my jazz duo gig at a French style bistro. My last performance there had been a great success; the people who had pre-booked tables had been into the music, the diners who had arrived as passing trade were also very appreciative, all the staff were great. To add to the buzz, people passing the restaurant were pausing outside, the place was full and the maitre de had to turn people away who had not booked.
So, onto last night. The Blackwall Tunnel was clear, there were no other delays en-route, I arrived in good time, I found a parking place close to the Barbican and approached the venue. Outside was Dave (my musical partner for the evening) with his acoustic (nylon strung) guitar. He is not only a virtuoso jazz guitarist but also a superb accompanist so I was thinking, “I got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night”.
From the pavement I could see the restaurant was nearly empty. There were more staff than customers…oh dear. A new manager approached me, apologised for not having more customers and said there were only a few tables booked. It had been quiet all week and the pavements were empty. With a friendly smile, he told me not to worry because he had heard reports of what a good night we had had previously so he was sure that people would turn up. Even if people didn’t turn up he and his team would enjoy the evening.
The only people who were in the restaurant had finished their meals and were about to leave so the manager said we could delay the start of our performance until more arrived, but within a few minutes he came back to say one of the couples had asked when we were going to start, so we started our first set. After the first song the couple applauded (quietly) and ordered drinks, they were going to stay. A few more people arrived and although the restaurant was still very quiet those who were there were digging the music. I forgot about my set list and responded to the customers’ requests. They included, “anything by Michel Legrand”, “Autumn Leaves”, “some Cole Porter” and “can you sing a Nat King Cole song?”.
The gig is a very relaxed one. We end our performance no later than10:30 but other than that we take breaks as and when we feel appropriate. Although we had an “intimate” gathering, the punters looked like they were there for the duration so it wasn’t going to be an early finish. So at around 9:30 we decided we would play a couple more songs then take another break. Our penultimate song was “Foggy Day”. During this song the climate changed and a low depression with a cold front entered the restaurant. A group of five people came in, all very smartly dressed three in their late 60’s and an attractive couple in their late 20’s. The older guy flashed me a glare that reminded me of a line from “Games Without Frontiers”. It did not look like these people were going to have a good time. Before they had removed their coats they had called for the manager. As I was about to start my last song of the set the manager told me that the new arrivals had complained that the music was far too loud and had asked for us to turn down. The manager had qualified his request by stating that he didn’t think we were too loud but had to pass on their request. I told the manager that we were on our last song of the set and would keep it very laid back.
During our break the ‘cold front’ that had arrived further chilled the air. The diners who had helped create the warm, intimate atmosphere were glancing across at the new arrivals because they were very loud. The three older people seemed intent on broadcasting their conversation at such a volume that the previous warm and tranquil hum was snubbed out, they were not shouting but were unnecessarily speaking at a volume you would expect a teacher to use when addressing a noisy classroom.
During the break I thought that the last set was not going to be as pleasant as the first two but never mind. We had less than 30 minutes to play and I would try to ignore the raucous table and concentrate on pleasing the nice people. I approached the performance area, as if in response, one of the new arrivals approached the manager and bent his ear. I waited, as I thought we had problems. I was correct. The manager came across and told me that the new arrivals had told him that he was to make sure that we did not play too loud as they wanted to enjoy their meal in peace. It was obvious the manager did not like the new arrivals but it was also apparent these individuals were practised in the art of intimidation and were used to deploying their skills to ensure that they got what they wanted.
We started the final set. I positioned myself so that I was facing away from the intimidators. Dave played some beautiful chords, that, with great feeling introduced “What are you doing the rest of your life”. We kept it quiet. I sang without a mic and Dave’s amp was turned down very low. The song ended and the small audience in front of me applauded. I felt the presence of her behind me before she tapped me on the shoulder. It was the younger woman. “My father is asking can you please turn it down. He and my mother can’t hear themselves speak”. I was truly surprised as we were performing at such a low volume I thought that surely there would be no more complaints. I thought that the lady seemed like she was only doing as she was told and seemed quite polite so I said to her, “I am really sorry that your dad thinks we are too loud. I am now singing without a microphone and the guitarist’s amp is turned as low as it will go, I think the volume of conversation is higher than the volume of the music. Do you think we are too loud?” I got such a surprise when her politeness turned in to open hostility. She took a deep breath and at about 80 decibels said, “We came here tonight to enjoy a meal. My mother’s friend has a problem with her hearing and your singing is so loud it is not only spoiling our evening but it is physically causing her pain. You are seriously hurting her ears. The volume of our conversation has nothing to do with it because it’s your frequencies that are causing the problem. If you really don’t care that you are distressing, torturing an elderly lady then you just carry on”. As she walked away she said to herself “so selfish”.
The restaurant fell silent, the manager offered to move the sufferer and her companions to another table but told them that the other diners had come to the restaurant specifically because there was live music. I sang two more songs (very quietly) and then thankfully it was 10:30, time to finish.On the way home there was a hold up at Blackwall tunnel and I sat for 40 minutes without moving an inch forward, but at least Radio 4 was there so all was OK with the World.