A letter to Alexandra Palace – The Vaccines + Dream Wife / 14.04.2018

I’ve been in two minds over whether I should write a blog post about this. It’s undoubtedly the worst experience I’ve ever had at a gig – if you’ve read this blog, my bad experiences are vast and include having my tube pulled out. It wasn’t good. On the one hand I totally wanted to share what happened. I blog about live music and access and this was quite a significant event. On the other hand, I don’t want to become a serial complainer and I don’t want this blog to be an outlet for that. Also, being completely honest thinking about it is enough to induce tears and all I want to do is sit under a blanket, drink tea and feel bad for us.

However, I decided to write an email to Ally Pally. I gave them ample opportunity to fix this and they made it quite clear that they have no intention to do so. Therefore, in lieu of a blog, I’ll post that here instead.

To whom it may concern,

On 14th April 2018, I visited Alexandra Palace to watch two of my favourite bands – Dream Wife and The Vaccines. Having purchased an accessible ticket, I was led to believe that my access requirements would be met. My disability means that I cannot enter crowds due to a complex health condition. My condition means that my joints can become dislocated very easily when knocked (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) and I am also attached to a feeding pump via a tube in my stomach (Enteric Neuropathy, a form of Intestinal Failure). This has been pulled out in crowds before and is very vulnerable in busy areas. If my tube is pulled out, it requires surgery to be replaced. Whilst my condition means that I get tired and need to sit down for regular rest breaks, it does not restrict me from standing up or having a dance – I attend a lot of live music events and often use the viewing platform as a safe area to do so. My condition does not disable me from enjoying live music, but the policy that your staff implemented on the night of my visit did.

My party held two accessible tickets with personal assistants plus one standing.

On arriving at your venue, we presented our accessible tickets. The staff member scanned it and another staff member very politely searched my bag containing my medical equipment and cleared us to go through. We asked a member of staff on the door where the accessible provisions were and he looked at us blankly. I showed him our accessible tickets and he said ‘What is an accessible ticket? Do you mean you’re disabled?’ Two further staff members then asked us ‘Are you disabled?’

The first change that would improve the experience of your disabled customers is providing your staff with training on appropriate language to use when referring to people with disabilities. Please use ‘accessible ticket’ (not ‘disabled ticket’ since a ticket cannot be disabled) and never ask a person ‘are you disabled?’ Instead, ask them what their access requirements are so that you can best meet their needs.

At the information desk, the two accessible ticket holders and our personal assistants were given gold bands and told this would give them access to the viewing platform. We found the entrance to the viewing platform well signposted and after purchasing merchandise, headed towards the door. On presenting our bands, the staff member had not been informed about the gold bands and again we were asked ‘are you disabled?’ The staff at the bottom of the viewing platform were also unaware of the purpose of the gold bands.

We were the first people to arrive on the viewing platform and decided to sit on the back row so that we could get up and dance without obstructing anyone else’s view. At some venues, a white line is used at the back of the platform so that people who need to or wish to stand up can do so in a designated area without disturbing seated customers.

As Dream Wife were getting ready to come out we got up and stood at the back of the viewing platform. We were then approached by a member of staff who told us that the viewing platform was a sitting only area for safety reasons. Your venue is the first venue that I have come across that enforces this rule. I asked the staff member if there was a safe place that I could stand since the venue was very busy and he said only the crowd. At this point, I headed back to the info point and asked to see the policy and find out more information on the reasoning. Like the rest of the audience, I like to dance and have fun when I buy tickets to a gig – had I known that disabled people were not allowed to join in like everyone else, I would not have bought a ticket. The staff member on the information point informed me that the rules were down to individual staff members and that there was no policy as such. He told us that there was a white line at the bottom of the viewing platform and that I would be able to stand in there. He said that this area was only for accessible ticket holders, so it would not get too busy. This was completely acceptable, and we headed back. We enjoyed watching the first song that Dream Wife performed before we were approached again and told that we could not stand behind the line. By this point the crowd was far too busy for me to stand in and I had nowhere else to go.

I headed back to the info point and a supervisor was sent over to enquire about the policy that was being implemented. After speaking with staff, the supervisor told me that those were the rules and implied that it was my choice to be disabled. Disability is not one size fits all, and access requirements are diverse. Some people can stand through a whole event, some people can stand through part of an event. Some people use wheelchairs (less than 5% of disabled people). Some people have seizures or chronic pain or mental health conditions. Enforcing a sitting down policy, with no safe space to join in is discrimination against those who do not need to sit down. Your staff member said this: ‘Where you fall between sitting on the platform and standing in the crowd is entirely up to you.’ My disability is not a choice and it is your legal duty to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made so that people with all kinds of disabilities can access the events that you provide. You cannot pick and choose whose access requirements your venue meets.  

The Equality Act (2010) protects me from unlawful discrimination as I have a physical impairment which has a long-term impact on my ability to carry out normal activities (such as attending concerts). The equality act describes discrimination as being treated unfairly because of something arising from a disability. If you cannot prove that enforcing a policy that requires me to sit down (whilst not enforcing this on able bodied members of your audience) does not achieve a legitimate aim of safety (as quoted by your staff) then you have unfairly and unlawfully discriminated against me.

Having no other option, we went to sit back on the viewing platform. Not long after sitting down again, we were approached by another staff member who asked me to step outside and speak to him. The staff member repeated the same things that had already been said and I found him to be patronising and intimidating. I told him that I didn’t want to complain, and I invited the opportunity to speak after the gig so that they could make the experience better for their disabled customers. I offered to inform him of policies that took place at other venues as this was certainly the only venue that I had experienced this sort of treatment. To this he very patronisingly replied ‘Right, I’ll take your word for that.’ It was not only the unfair policies that were being forced upon us but also the inappropriate and disrespectful way that we were spoken to.

At this point both my friends and I were very stressed and upset to the point that it induced some very uncomfortable ticcing fits in my friend who has Tourrette’s Syndrome. I saw only two songs that Dream Wife performed due to the disturbances by your staff members. I saw very little of The Vaccines as I spent most of the night in to the toilet vomiting, a symptom of my intestinal failure, exacerbated by stress.

The accessible toilet was operated by a radar key, held by a staff member on the audience side of the door. On the other side, key holders also included paramedics and those with backstage passes. This meant that whilst I was using the toilet, people were continuously opening the toilet door from the other side. This seriously compromised my privacy and dignity whilst I was unwell, and I suggest you implement a procedure to combat this. I was not the only disabled person who went through this as another customer came out and told me that they had the same happen to them.

Not only did the treatment completely ruin the enjoyment of the night for me and my friends, who had spent around £300 (each) on travel, accommodation and tickets to the gig, but it was also a distressing, unpleasant and traumatic night for us all.

I doubt that I will be returning to your venue, but before making a formal complaint, I would like to do what I can so that other people do not go through the same experience that we did. I do not want an apology, I would like to see change. Disabled people have the right to enjoy live music just like everyone else.

I’d be very grateful to speak with you and assist where I can to ensure that improvements are made.

 Sincerely,

Hannah McKearnen

 

 

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Album Review: The Vaccines – Combat Sports

The Vaccines are back with their fourth studio album Combat Sports, charting in at #4 and nobody could be more excited than I. Releasing a new indie album can be a fairly thankless task. Journos, bloggers and fans are pretentious, reserved and obsessed with asking bands to prove they are not the Strokes or the Arctic Monkeys. So how are The Vaccines fairing?

After a rocky couple of years (including the departure of their drummer, Pete Robertson in 2016) LP4 seemed like a distant dream.

By summer of 2017, The Vaccines had successfully sourced themselves a new drummer (Yoann Intonti of indie power-pop band, Spector) and crowned the much loved Australian live member, Timothy Lanham, an official member of the band. From three members to five, the band were ready for a strong come back and a glimmer of hope emerged as they played brand new material at several festivals last year. Footage of the new material was devoured and fans desperately anticipated an album.

In November, the album was given a name, a date was set, album art was published, and a very long-awaited tour was announced.

Over the past 3 months, one by one, The Vaccines have drip-fed song at a time from Combat Sports. Their first single, I Can’t Quit came accompanied with a gritty music video featuring Staffordshire terriers, blood, fresh linen and culminated ominously with one man down. As is the Vaccines way, it coupled upbeat melodies with a darker underlay. In addition to this, each of their following singles was released with a very special 80s style Top of the Pops live music video, delivering not only a delightful sound but a full package of aesthetics and influences. What a treat!

After releasing 5 delicious singles from their upcoming album, the full collection finally arrived on 30th March – and what a Good Friday it turned out to be! I would be lying if I said I didn’t wait up for a listen in the early hours.

Euphoric power-pop

Whilst rumours hinted LP4 may see a stylistic revisit to the snappy indie pop of their debut, there’s certainly no repeated material here. WDYEFTV? was a collection of rough dance-worthy garage whilst Combat Sports is clean-cut, sharp and triumphant. It’s undoubtedly their most poppy sound yet.  The melodies aren’t just catchy, the lyrics are also punchy and depressingly victorious with every ingredient of a classic anthem.

It’s hard to pick out a climax on the record when nearly every track is bulging with euphoria. The album opens with Put it on a T-shirt, admittedly, more power-croon than power-pop but no less infectious than its consequent tracks. The record speeds up as it delivers their elated first single I Can’t Quit followed by Your Love is My Favourite Band, a blind profession of love and possibly the most addictive track on the album. Surfing in the Sky is confidently fierce and maintains a quick tempo before Maybe (Luck of the Draw) brings us down a peg – floaty, reflective and dazzlingly synthy.

When interviewed for Radio X, Justin said that his favourite track from the album was Young American. This will never be a classic power-pop anthem, but nonetheless it is an extremely important track. Young American is the sort of track that wouldn’t usually make a Vaccines A-side, but I’m so glad it did. On first listen, the lyrics are hard hitting and a touch surreal yet intensely emotional (‘suffocate me in between your thighs and take me swimming naked in your eyes). Whilst the band have proven they’re more than capable of pulling off slower tracks (such as Wetsuit and English Graffiti) Justin’s ability to perform such a delicate vocal range is rarely showcased. Young American is the sound of an open wound and yet insanely comforting. It’s no easy listen, but it’ll be there for you when you’re feeling tender.

With the arrival of Nightclub, the album turns from self-absorbing comfort to an unexpected punch in the face. Much like the ear-ringing assault of hangover, Nightclub is a sonic boot camp; an aggressive riff, an ominous bass, a fierce vocal delivery and a brutally rhythmic drum assembly. It is a fast-paced delivery of chaotic thoughts within a focused soliloquy. This track is the epitome of Combat Sports.

If Nightclub is a boot camp, Out On the Street is an apologetic muscle rub.  And like any post night-out hangover cure, it’s a back handed apology if ever there was one – ‘I thought of her, I thought of you, I thought it through and then I called you’. Listen to this track with a sensitive ear and you’ll hear an open and innocent vulnerability, but it can also be enjoyed by carelessly belting out the lyrics in the early hours of a house party or on the long, cramped drive to your next festival. A true Vaccines anthem.

On first impression Take it Easy was my personal favourite. It encompasses all that is good about both classic nostalgic power-pop and current indie-pop. Sonically, it’s a cross between Status Quo’s Rocking All Over The World, and Metronomy’s The Look. Whilst The Look takes me right back to folding away a wet tent in the dark at Glasto ‘17, Take It Easy takes me back to Saturday afternoons in the 90s, dancing around the back room on a beige floral carpet. It reeks nostalgia and yet it’s as original as they come. Take It Easy is a self-conscious track (that’s the problem with people like me) that gives a nod to naïve ambition (I wanna be a star and I want to make it rain/ give me words of wisdom but don’t let me take the class). The tone is self-deprecating (standard Vaccines) yet bashfully accepting of youthful, try-hard ignorance. It’s a salute to everything that we once thought cool and permission to chill out and forgive ourselves. In five years’ time it will comfort me as I look back on my sincerely chosen hipster glasses. And this very piece of writing.

The penultimate track, Someone to Lose is another glorious track, riddled with relatable nostalgia, to belt out your car window, though an incredibly humbled predecessor to the finale. Rolling Stones, is more of a victory march than an ending. The melodies are wholly triumphant with a sound that incorporates a synthesizer turn church organ, a solid base drum and most importantly an absolutely gut-busting guitar riff. It’s the closest thing to a power ballad that the band have ever put out. If the bombastic Give Me A Sign ended English Graffiti on a question mark, Rolling Stones confidently ends Combat Sports like a self-written eulogy to their most colourful album yet.

Pre-sale bundle

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Image description: the contents of The Vaccines – Combat Sports album bundle laid out on a golden wood background. Top left, a square vinyl record sleeve featuring the top half of a man led down holding the hand of a person who is out of shot. He has two rings on his hand. His face is out of shot except for his mouth. He has dark brown curly hair. He wears a leather jacket and a t-shirt that says ‘combat sports’. Across the top of the album it says ‘The Vaccines’ in orange. The top left album is signed five times. Top right is a audio cassette with the same cover as the record sleeve and bottom left is a CD with the same cover again. The CD is also signed five times. Bottom right is another vinyl record sleeve, the identical to the first, without signatures.

The Vaccines offered some delightful packages to choose from on pre-ordering Combat Sports including tapes, CDs, limited addition coloured vinyl and a special .zip file of demo tracks. I ordered one of everything, not least because it gave me* access to pre-sale tickets to Ally Pally and their tour. The demos are pretty interesting, so if you didn’t pre-order… unlucky.

*should have given me access.

 

 

 

I’ll be seeing the band live at Manchester Academy on Monday and Ally Pally on Saturday – gig review inevitably to follow!

 

21st January 2018: Frank Turner @ Lancaster Town Hall

The last gigs of 2017 felt more of an endurance than a treat. I just wanted them out the way. Perhaps I was finally suffering from Gig Fatigue. My lack of enthusiasm was reflected in my lack of blog posts. Sometimes I drafted blogs but on reading them back I found they were all so negative. Whilst I don’t want to sugar coat, I don’t want to be overwhelmingly discouraging. I hope that last year was just unfortunate and don’t want to paint a false picture. I have faith that, although there are too many uneducated morons out there, those experiences are not entirely reflective of the live music business.

I’m no less in love with live music than I ever was. I’m just feeling a little worn out with access politics, public humiliation and bad attitudes. After resisting a rash urge scream ‘I’M NEVER GOING TO A GIG AGAIN!’ I decided to take a year off.

On week 3/52 of my year off, I strayed from the path I intended to follow and found myself in Lancaster Town Hall waiting for Frank Turner to play an intimate acoustic set to only 650 people. Rosie managed to get tickets during a fifteen-minute frenzy that took place between release and sell out. There was no time to search for access info, so we took a gamble and hoped that something could be sorted.

There was little information to be found on the accessibility of Lancaster Town Hall or the layout of the gig, let alone any hint of if there would be an accessible viewing area. Rosie managed to track down the promoters – From the Fields – and I shot off a message via the online enquiry form. I waited for a response but as is often the case, nothing materialised.

In any other circumstances, I’d have my access information/email replies in advance of buying tickets and if I don’t get any response, I don’t buy tickets at all. If these tickets hadn’t been so hot, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but we decided to go and hoped that at worst we’d be sat on the floor at the back.

We were one of the first in and we found our spot at the back and sat down. As it began to fill, I approached a member of security and asked if there were any access provisions. I had to briefly explain my access needs – which I hate, hate, HATE! It’s the number one reason I like this sorting in advance.

We were passed on to a lovely lady called Meds from From the Fields who asked if we had booked the viewing area in advance. I explained that we’d struggled to find any information but that I had sent an email to From the Fields without a response. They were very apologetic, sorted us some access bands and took us up to the balcony. They showed us the nearest toilets and checked up on us throughout the night. For me, it went smoothly and worked out ok but in ordinary circumstances, had I not heard back from them, I wouldn’t have booked tickets and I wouldn’t have gone.

Unfortunately, another of my friends who was there on the night wasn’t so lucky. When they enquired about access, they were told they ‘didn’t look disabled’ and had to book in advance to access the balcony. This is my worst nightmare. It’s unacceptable and these attitudes are the reason that I hate talking about my disability. The reason that I don’t book tickets for an event unless I have confirmation of access is because I never know what I’ll be met with on the night. Disabled people shouldn’t have to face this sort of anxiety or judgement.

It shows the need for awareness of schemes like the Access Card amongst both disabled people and businesses and event providers. I rarely whip out my card unless I know that it is recognised by a venue or promoter because on the odd few times that I have, it’s just been met with confusion.

I’m glad I did book tickets and the usual bad attitudes aside, we had a roaring night. The event was organised by Frank Turner’s sister, for two local charities – Lancaster Boys and Girls Club and Morecambe Bay Food Bank.

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Rosie and I, waiting for Frank
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Blurry but not underwater – catching up with our friend Jet at the bar.

Supporting Frank this time round was flamboyant and fabulous Felix Hagan (of Felix Hagan and the Family), and local Lancaster lad Joe McCorriston.

Felix left the family at home on this occasion but serenaded the Town Hall with a cocktail of punk-pop jigs with an upbeat, colourful twist. His wardrobe pickings included a pair of black and white geometric leggings and a faux-fox-tail scarf – a very acceptable mix of lost boy and yoga instructor. Felix unleashed a 40-minute set of high energy numbers which consisted of more pop than punk, a helping of musical theatre and a hint of folk. The night was off to a flying start.

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Felix Hagan

Joe McCorriston introduced a familiar indie anthemic sound to our ears with a selection of self-written songs inspired by heroes, books and his family. Joe’s love and enthusiasm for the story behind each song was evident. A crowd-pleasing choice for an intimate gig with fellow locals.

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Joe McCorriston

Frank Turner finally hit the stage at 9.20pm and maintained solid energy throughout a set that lasted almost 2 hours. The Sleeping Souls were assumedly doing just that. Therefore, it was just Frank, a guitar and a town hall filled with passionate northerners.

We were treated to a seamless sequence of classic Frank anthems and brand-new material, with new tracks received as gratefully as the old. In between tracks Frank regaled his small crowd with tales of the last 10 years whilst maintaining a sincere charisma.

It’s no surprise Frank Turner has done so well when the hits are lined up. Four Simple Words, The Road, Recovery and Get Better were covered early on. Glorious You was humbly dedicated to the staff and volunteers working at Morecambe Bay Food Bank and There She Is was dedicated to his girlfriend. If Ever I Stray was saved until later, followed by a generous encore of 4 songs which included a cover of Find Me Somebody To Love, Photosynthesis and finished with a euphoric and epic rendition of I Still Believe.

 

And pop goes my Frank Turner cherry. Rosie is a veteran to Frank Turner gigs and has promised to take me along to the next Sleeping Souls tour which, I eagerly anticipate. All-in-all, not a bad night to kick off my year of no gigs.

Let’s talk about presale…

As soon as my favourite bands announce gigs or tours, I’m resigned to bag my ticket. For me, this isn’t as simple as choosing the closest venue, tapping in my card details and having tickets in a handful of clicks. First, I must find a venue that can meet my access needs and one that I feel I can trust. Then I have to get my hands on what is sometimes a limited number of accessible tickets. This means I might have to travel to a trusted venue or even one that has accessible tickets left, instead of going to the closest or easiest gig to get to.

I’m subscribed to all my favourite bands as well as many venues and promoters (largely owing to the 1413 emails currently in my inbox). This gives me the best chance to be first in line for tickets. As well as being an absolute gig-aholic and getting a right buzz on hearing a tour announcement, it’s important to keep my eye on the game because accessible spaces can be limited. This is why presales are a great opportunity for dedicated disabled fans to secure tickets.

But that doesn’t happen.

Vaccines screen grab
My invitation for pre-sale tickets for The Vaccines at Alexandra Palace.

Last year I was not surprised to hear that many disabled fans missed out on tickets for arguably the biggest tour of the year. Whilst the Ed Sheeran tickets sold out quickly and many non-disabled fans didn’t get their hands on any either, at least they didn’t spend 7 hours in a phone queue. Unfortunately accessible tickets are rarely available online. This not only means lengthy queues, but disabled fans often have to ring premium rate numbers in order to get tickets. Take a look at these Peter Kay fans who, on top of their ticket price, paid £39 for the phone call! You can read about the absolute nightmare my friend Emma had when she failed to get accessible tickets for Adele last year. Buying tickets is a nightmare and too often disabled fans will go through a stressful ordeal only to come away empty handed.

Last year I blogged about fantastic venues, great communication and good practice at venues. This year has been a challenge; from inappropriate staff members, to bad communication, to bands, promoters and venues sharing equal responsibility in forgetting that disabled people exist.

However, without a doubt, this year’s biggest bugbear has been an on-going battle with presale tickets.

Presale tickets are supposed to be a treat for loyal customers or fans. It means that keen or regular live music fans can secure their tickets without having to compete at general sales. Sometimes they come with extra goodies – for example, you might get some discounted tour merchandise if you buy at presale. Sometimes you have to buy something in advance to get access to a presale, like merchandise or upcoming material. Either way, presales tend to be bought into one way or another.

As a loyal subscriber to several of my favourite bands and venues (not forgetting o2 priority perks!), I’ve been eligible for presale tickets to some very exciting gigs and tours this year. Out of six or seven presale emails that hit my inbox, only one allowed me to purchase accessible tickets (thanks to Manchester Academy using a system which over-rides any access lapses). I was a loyal subscriber in all cases, either to the band or promoter. One case involved purchasing merchandise (which I didn’t purchase on discovering in advance that no accessible tickets were available) and one involved pre-ordering an album bundle (which I purchased in advance for £50 before finding out I could not access tickets).

Sundara Karma at Manchester Academy
Sundara Karma performing at Manchester Academy back in October. Manchester Academy have always done their bit to ensure disabled customers have an equal experience.

I sent emails to find out if anything could be done but most were ignored. Perhaps some people like to pretend it isn’t happening. Maybe they feel embarrassed. Maybe they just don’t care. As long as people turn up to shows, who cares if disabled people are there or not? Can you imagine if non-disabled people couldn’t access tickets? Nobody would let it happen because the live music industry would die.

It’s been an eye-opener, and it demonstrates that access is not just the venue’s responsibility, but everybody’s; the band, the promoter, and the ticketing vendor. It’s not good enough to just put tickets out there without ensuring equality. There is no excuse. Whilst nobody goes out their way to exclude disabled people from accessing presale tickets, this is a classic example of simply forgetting that we exist. Intentional or not, it is discrimination and it is illegal.

In one case, the artist themselves raised the issue with their management for me and I was able to engage with Red Light who liaised with their promoters and put in some investigation work on the issue. This was the only time when anyone responded to me. Despite best efforts, there was nothing that could be done about the issue on that occasion, but they have assured me that provisions will be put in place when launching future presales.

Engaging is the best way to make change and ultimately, it restored me a bit of faith in the industry. But it’s still very poor that only one company cared enough to even acknowledge the problem. This is not about sides and should never be a case of disabled people vs. the industry. I don’t want to complain, I just want the same chance as everyone else.

Attitude is Everything have recently launched their DIY Access Guide and it’s certainly worth a look at for all involved in the live music industry. Access doesn’t have to be expensive and accessibility is so much more than ramps, toilets and lifts. It’s also tickets, advertising, lighting arrangements and the performance itself! Not only is the guide full of useful tips but it also emphasises that there is something that everyone can do to make a difference. It’s available online, but I also have physical copies so hit me up if you would like one of those or want to chat about it.

DIY_Access_Guide_cover-002_500_500

Whether you are a band, promoter or venue – access is everybody’s responsibility. There’s no excuse for discrimination in ticketing and after this year, I desperately feel the need to point it out and sort it out. Please do your bit and don’t let it happen!

Festival Preparation – my top tips

With only days until my last camping festival of the year, I thought I’d write a blog post about how I prepare for a festival. Preparation is pretty much the busiest part of the whole process especially if you throw health needs or a disability into the mix. With my medical supplies, my load is at least doubled. I went in very unprepared to my first festival and still learn from mistakes each time. Here’s how I prepare, now I have five festivals under my belt.

I BOUGHT A PALACE

In total, I’ll have spent three weeks in a tent this summer and so I decided to look for a nicer tent. I’m hoping to take it to a campsite next year (and I’m open to recommendations). I found a few tent sales online but I was keen to see one in a shop before buying. I went to a local camping shop called Kool Camping in Blackpool where they had a good selection of tents on display. As what I wanted was generally out of my price range, they offered me a demo tent that was in my price range and I came home with the very luxurious Hayling 4. As it was a demo tent, I was able to have a walk round it in the warehouse and it was absolutely massive. I’m a girl that has suffered tent envy at every festival. Last year for Leeds we bought a cheap 6 man from Sainsburys that we could stand up in. And that seemed luxury when I bought it. But when we got to Leeds, all the other tents trumped even the six man. I still had tent envy. This time, I have a palace. It’s so lush that I’m taking an airbed because I want the full luxury camping experience. I am full on glamping.

Before each festival, I try and get the tent out and put it up to remind myself how it’s done, check it’s still alive, that it has all its poles, enough pegs and that there’s no old crisps surfing the bedrooms. I didn’t have to worry about crisps this time with my brand new tent, but it is the biggest tent that I’ve ever bought, so I had a go at putting it up in the garden. I was unsure whether it would fit in the garden with it being so big and although it was a squeeze, we managed. It was more cumbersome and heavy to put up, but it has the same amount of poles as my other tents and was simple enough. Here it is:

IMAG4240[1]
My massive palace of a tent, up in my back garden on a practice run.

I am very excited to live in this next week!

 

MEDS AND FEED

At least a week before any festival I have to do an order of meds from the chemist and feed from my supplier – Abbott. I count up what I have in and calculate how much I need before I leave, whilst I’m away and when I get back. If there’s capacity then taking extra supplies is a good idea but it’s already a struggle with the bare minimum, from carrying it across the festival site to finding somewhere to store it all. I start at least week early because I have to make sure everything is there and packed in good time. I also need to put fresh extension sets on my button (I also pack spares) and change the water in my balloon.

I pack my feed in a cool-bag and hope that I can find a fridge or somewhere cold to store it when I get there. I left them in the tent at my first festival and they went a bit clumpy. It was so hot at Glastonbury that I even had to keep a cool-block on it as it was running in my bag and had to change it more frequently. When it’s hot, I conduct a regular sniff test of my feed to check it hasn’t gone off, and throw it out when it’s done. It might mean I get less calories if I can’t bring spares but I always bring dioralyte and enteral fluid bags which I can run for extra sugar/electrolytes and hydration. I’ve been looking at getting my own fridge for festivals but one that would fit all my feed in wouldn’t fit in my car. It can be a bit of a faff finding somewhere to put them when I get there, and somewhere big enough. Nowhere is ever as prepared as they say they are, even when I tell them in advance.

The last thing I do for medical prep is to charge my spare pump which I leave until the day before so that it doesn’t lose charge. When I’m at home, I charge my pump whilst I’m attached to it next to my bed but I can’t do that at a festival so I take a spare pump and whilst I use one, I charge the other and swap them over every night.

 

IMAG4262
All my feed, medical supplies and meds

 

THE LIST

For me, a list is essential to make sure I have everything. There’s so much to remember and I have a very unorganised brain. After I make a list, I figure out what new bits I need to buy. I end up buying new torches each time but one packet of wipes has done me two festivals this year. I’m not a scruff, wipes go further than you think. I took three packets of wipes to my first festival – what a waste of bag space! Here’s my full list:

IMAG4264
A list of everything I take to a festival. Yes my knickers are on there.

 

I pack the car up the day before I leave, just leaving out my feed and any food that I’m taking until I set off. I have a really small car so I have to make sure that everything fits in, and leave enough room for anyone else who’s coming along. Sometimes I end up having to take stuff out. I need a bigger car.

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All my personal and medical bags

LAST TIPS

  1. Bin liners are arguably the most useful item you will take. They are versatile – rubbish bag, welly mat, welly holder, laundry bag, waterproof liner for your bag contents, good for putting your hands inside them to touch muddy things. If you don’t have bin liners when you get to the festival gate, turn back (don’t, there’s probably a supermarket nearby).
  2. MYTH: ‘You can never take too much toilet roll’. Yes, you can. Make sure you take some with you and keep some on you at all times because the majority of portaloos don’t have any in. But clutter is your enemy. Space is golden. Too much toilet roll ends up unravelled and muddy all over your tent. No-no.
  3. Don’t take loads of money, but take enough and don’t leave any in your tent. I know it’s not the norm to walk around with £50+ on your person but it’s the safest way. Keep it in a tight, closed pocket or a bag that you can see such as a bum bag or a small over-the-shoulder bag.
  4. Tips for tube feeders: take sterile water. If you don’t usually use it for hydration you can ask your pharmacy to order you some in. Don’t risk flushes with festival tap water especially if you’re a jejunal feeder like me. If you feed into your stomach you could probably use bottled water but sterile water is the safest. You don’t want to come home with an infection. Additional tips for tube feeders: don’t store feed in a tent, take an extra pump and charger, buy a waterproof back pack cover and also wrap your pump in a plastic bag if you take them out the tent.
  5. UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT! I know eating sausages round the campfire seems cute but it’s not really practical. Go and buy a sausage sandwich for £7 if you’re that desperate. £7 is definitely worth the fuss of keeping sausages fresh from home to campsite and then starting a fire and cooking and dealing with a messy pan/grid. Please be informed that I don’t eat sausages or rely on normal person food. But I still think I’m right. Food that can be kept in a tent include: long life milk, dried food such as cereals, crisps, biscuits, pretty much anything that you keep in the cupboard at home, fruit/salad will last a few days if it’s warm or the whole festival if it’s less warm, anything tinned. Unless you’re a professional with a camp fire or stove, stick to things that can be eaten cold. Many accessible campsites have hot water available, so check, and if they do pack plenty of pot noodles and pasta pots. Festival food is expensive but saves an awful lot of time and effort so weigh that up. There’s usually plenty of choice at most festivals. Glastonbury can serve whatever your heart desires.
  6. HAVE FUN. Go and do stuff that isn’t music related – fair grounds, comedy, indulge in the roaming performers. And treat yourself to shit. When you’re at a festival you can throw responsibility out the window. Get a henna tattoo, or your face painted. Buy some over-priced merchandise to bring home with you. You don’t realise how fun those things are until you leave a festival. You don’t get to spend your money on such enjoyable and sentimental rubbish in everyday life.

I hope this is helpful. At the very least, I’ll be able to look back on this and take my own advice at the beginning of future festivals. See you on the flipside of Leeds!

#MusicWithoutBarriers Weirds @ Gullivers, Manchester 31.05.2017

VENUE

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The venue space at Gullivers

Gullivers is situated on Manchester’s Oldham Street, right in the heart of the Northern Quarter. The 19th century ale house is bursting with a charm that is both distressed and charismatic. In previous lives, Gullivers has been a hotel, a brewery a jazz club and a transvestite bar, perhaps each leaving a ghost of character, creating an aesthetic that could well be a scrapbook of its history. The current owners have taken the pub back to its roots, restoring a green tiling that screams 19th century gothic. Like its sister pubs The Eagle and The Castle, Gullivers maintains a shabby traditional elegance, contrasting with the punk basement vibes emitted from its Northern Quarter neighbours. Gullivers is an atmospheric small venue space, great for catching exciting early intimate gigs with up and coming artists such as Weirds.

ACCESS

There are two venue spaces at Gullivers, the acoustic lounge and the ballroom. I’m going to assume that the space we visited was the ballroom, which was up a flight of stairs. However, the downstairs pub area does have step free access. There is no access or layout information on the Gullivers website and so I’m going to struggle to sell what they could potentially offer in terms of access. The week prior to this gig, I had headed out to Dot-to-Dot festival and attempted to find out a little more on access with Gullivers being one of the venues involved. I didn’t have much luck so I headed to the gig a little blindly.

The staff were friendly and approachable and I found a ledge to sit on in the venue space so I didn’t have to make any fuss. I think there is an advantage to having a few chairs available in all standing venue spaces, allowing customers with mobility needs to help themselves without making too much fuss.

It doesn’t seem like Gullivers have considered accessibility which is a shame – they could well have a lift or other accessible facilities but I have been unable to source info on their potential. Despite it being up a flight of stairs, it still had a lot to offer. A little online information and awareness of their potential and limitations would open it up to a lot more customers.

MUSIC WITHOUT BARRIERS

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Aidan Razzal, lead vocalist of Weirds, holding the Attitude is Everything placard to support #MusicWithoutBarriers

In the lead-up to the gig, I’d contacted the band to see if they would be interested in supporting Music Without Barriers. I was made up that they agreed. We met lead vocalist Aidan before the gig and spoke to him about accessibility for deaf and disabled people and the impact that artist support has. It’s always great to meet musicians that are so supportive and using their influence to break down barriers, raise awareness and make a real difference to their industry. Aidan was really pleased to do just that. The voice of the artist is so powerful in reaching both fans and industry professionals so that more people can enjoy live music without barriers. Not only do unnecessary access barriers mean that deaf and disabled people miss out on all that the live music industry has to offer, but the live music industry misses out on everything they have to offer to it. I recently wrote a post about why access to live music is so important to me, you can read it HERE. Nobody should be shut out or excluded from live music – it’s such an incredible and important thing to be a part of. It was great to meet Aidan and so cool of him to put his name and face to such an important campaign. Thank you so much Weirds – you are awesome!

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Aidan and I supporting #MusicWithoutBarriers with the Attitude is Everything placard

WEIRDS

 

If the Creature from the Black Lagoon made psychedelia, it might look and sound like this. As I’ve said before, each time I’ve seen this band I fear they set the bar too high. Each time they monumentally prove me wrong. I’ve written previous reviews of Weirds – the first time at The Ferret in Preston and the third time at Truck Festival. This was the second. I don’t do things in order. A prominent feature and highlight of a Weirds performance is their confidence to bring the performance to their people. Each time achieving communal wow. As someone who always stands at the back and has to avoid the main crowd, this an amazing way to connect with the music. It’s not classic mosh-pit involvement (ugh!) either. They bring their presence, aesthetic and spirit and effortlessly inject it through their physical selves. Gullivers saw the entire band and drum kit reassembled mid track amongst their audience for their finale.

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Weirds performing right in the middle of the audience at Gullivers

They don’t really need to go to any lengths to make what they do good (and what they do is more than what you might call ‘going the extra mile’), the material is standalone brilliant. It’s hard to put into words what their style brings. Certainly nothing that has been imagined by existing alternative-psych bands. They are unreseverdly and in the most literal sense of the word, alternative. Weirds take risks in all aspects of their creativity and seem to exceed ‘getting it right’ each time. Highlights from their debut album Swarmculture would include ‘Old World Blues’ and ‘Things that Crawl’. Along with ‘Blood Test’ from their 2016 Weird Sun EP, they have the foundations for exceptional live translations. And it does. If they caught our attention at The Ferret, they had us hooked at Gullivers. They get better each time.

I can’t recommend the Weirds experience enough. You can stream their debut album through Spotify, or buy it at a gig! Go and catch them, they’re playing quite a few festivals in the UK and Europe before the season is out! You can tell them I sent you.

Accessibility politics and the inevitable day I lost my tube to my love of live music

THE BEGINNING

I am not sure if anyone has heard but I have spent the last 2 years harping on about the risks of doing my favourite thing – watching live music. The crowds, the dark, the drunkenness. I haven’t explained this part for a while, so for the sake of anyone new: I rely on a special formula (feed) delivered through a feeding tube, over 20-24 hours on average. It sits in my small intestine and exits my body through a hole in my stomach. I have a litre of feed and a pump in my back pack and then a longer tube (called a giving set) connects the pump to the tube in my stomach. The tube is anchored to my abdominal wall by a balloon in my stomach. Here is a visual which I have replaced with my own (better) labels:

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Diagram showing how a trans-gastric jejunal tube looks in the body

 

Two years ago, in a field in Staffordshire, I was almost touching the front barrier during the sets of Calvin Harris and Sam Smith (for clarity, the musical choices of my friends). I clutched my tube, huddled up to the gals and prayed to the high heavens that me and my baggage would come out alive. And still connected to one another. I felt so battered and sore that I couldn’t stand up straight walking back to the tent. I thought I would never even make it back to the tent. It was genuinely terrifying. What if my tube did get ripped out? I’d be a heap buried within tens of thousands of people with a gaping hole in my stomach, probably bleeding, definitely messy and definitely exposed to infection. In addition to my feeding tube, I have a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which means I can dislocate any of my joints at the slightest knock and often struggle to stand for too long.

So in a slightly wordy nutshell, that is why my favourite thing to do is a risk.

ACCEPTING HELP

As painful and terrifying as my experience in a field in Staffordshire was, I survived. But I decided that I would never do that again. Accepting some sort of help can be tricky, especially when you’re used to being independent. There was a time when doing things like everyone else meant a little bit too much to me. It’s probably something I will never completely let go of. I didn’t want to be seen as letting my differences get in the way. But I decided to ask for help, so that I could carry on doing what I loved. And that’s when everything got complicated. If I thought that accepting it in my own mind was tough, I was about to discover that the live music industry had even bigger issues. I’ve often described accessibility as a little bit like an exclusive club, and often, I’m ‘not disabled enough’ for it.

LIVE MUSIC AND THE BATTLE WITH DISABILITY POLITICS

What it means to ‘be disabled’ is a never-ending discussion with an infinite array of answers. I’d never considered myself to be disabled, but attending events like everyone else has serious implications for me. If that makes me disabled then I am undoubtedly that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great experiences at some fantastic venues and events. People who have ‘made up’ protocols to allow me to attend and venues that already have everything in place for people with all manner of disabilities. But unfortunately, I’ve also had a lot of crap. Some people seem to think people with disabilities don’t exist. Some people don’t care. Some people go out of their way to make things as difficult as possible.

Sending emails to a venue is a big old game of Russian Roulette. Some people reply, some don’t. Some are helpful, some are rude, some are grey. Dot to Dot, Truck Festival and a list of other venues that I wanted to attend this year have left me feeling utterly deflated. The pre-event stress of finding information, of sending a million emails to multiple addresses and being passed from one phone number to another. The eventual stress of getting in and explaining yourself to 6 members of security on the way. It’s demeaning.

Lately, I admit that I have become lax. I’ve stopped sending emails, I’ve stopped asking. I’m doing something that I said I’d never do – winging it.

 

THE INCIDENT

As well as the lead up to Truck festival being horrific, we encountered a really unpleasant member of staff on the platform on the first day which meant that I didn’t really want to use it. I was really looking forward to seeing Sundara Karma and since I’d struck the platform off, I’d decided to just join the back of the crowd. I’d watched Sundara Karma from the back of the crowd at Glastonbury and it was fine. Truck Festival turned out quite different. One minute I was stood at the back of the crowd and then quite quickly, people joined behind. And quite quickly I was squashed in. The most squashed in. Worse than Calvin Harris squashed in. We’d watched the Big Moon from down the front and when it started to get rowdy, we left to watch somewhere safer. But this time there was no way I could get out. The usual knocking and tube tugging ensued and although I made it out eventually I was pretty sore. But since everything seemed intact, I assumed I’d been lucky. Again.

However when I got changed at night I noticed it had been bleeding which wasn’t a particularly great sign.

 

THE CONSEQUENCES

It did not get any less sore as the week went on. It was getting worse and on Wednesday, I took my clothes off to find an explosive bleed. The out of hours helpline sent the district nurses out at 3am on Thursday morning who cleaned me up and I saw my GP later on in the day. He said it was bruised and agreed that it was probably displaced. On top of that, he diagnosed a Staph infection, initiated by the trauma. He did me an urgent referral up to the hospital and told me to go home and wait. On Sunday, my tube fell out.

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My feeding tube is currently being held in my body by medical tape

This is where I now find myself, from doing the same thing that a thousand other people were doing just over two weeks ago. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m making a massive song and dance (pun intended) over nothing and now I feel a bit stupid for not being careful. There’s no winning this game! I haven’t had any feed for over 24 hours and my tube is scrunched up in my stomach in an attempt to keep my stoma tract open. I feel dehydrated, I have a headache and the pain is the same as when I’d had the stoma freshly created 5 years ago. My tube has broken and fallen out plenty of times before and waiting to get it replaced is the most frustrating thing. But waiting when I know this is partly my fault is even more frustrating.

I’ve spent the last two years kicking up a fuss about making music safe for everyone. It’s been undignified at times. I have recently toyed with the idea of packing in my gigging days. Constantly justifying my disability has made me notice my differences in a much more negative light. But being at a gig is the biggest distraction and my favourite feeling.

Leeds is in two weeks. I’m crossing my fingers to be fixed and healed in time. I hope to see Sundara Karma again at Leeds, and this time I will definitely be watching from the platform.

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Sundara Karma playing Truck Festival