With the unpredictable British weather and high-ticket prices, it comes as no surprise that the Brits have caught onto the idea of coming to Spanish music festivals, or that Spanish promoters have started marketing directly to the UK. You can certainly see the attraction of a festival by the sea to British festival-goers who are still airing out their tent after last years Glastonbury. OK, so Primavera Sound or Sonar may not have the same charm or mythical status as Glasto and the food and toilets are no better, but you don’t get much mud on concrete and here you’re almost guaranteed good weather. This British invasion however, doesn’t necessarily sit well with the locals.
Jostling for position down the front for a festival last summer, I learnt a surprising fact. Catalans don’t jostle. At gigs, they find a spot and stay there. Should you endeavour to squeeze in front of them, they’ll look at you like a horrified six year old who’s just had his first bike nicked by the big kid at school. Time and again over that weekend, I realised that the only people pushing to the front were Brits. Each time they did, local fans threw their hands up in outrage and pulled a face like someone had just been sick on their shoes. We seemed…rude.
What was going on? As a Brit who’s lived here for four years, I know our reputation. I know it’s not good. We’re obnoxious, only English-speaking, drunken, badly-dressed, sunburnt egoists who go for dinner at 6pm; but we’re polite. Aren’t we? We say please. We say thank you. We leave decent tips in restaurants. And yet there we were, taking no prisoners in a bid to get down the front. Have I been out of the country for too long? Have all those collective years of alcopops abuse rotted our brains and destroyed one of our saving graces? We’re British. We make excellent music and television, we pay our taxes and we have impeccable manners. Don’t we?
But I got to thinking. Maybe it’s not a question of manners. Maybe it’s a question of expectations. I remember one of my first concerts. It was New Model Army at Rock City in Nottingham, a band whose fans include punks, goths and clog-wearing vegans. I was only 14 and naively thought how cool it was that my friend and me had snagged a place right at the front. Then the band came on. I nearly got clogged to death and my friend lost a shoe. Bucks Fizz at Skegness Embassy Centre when I was 8 had not prepared me for that. A year later at Milton Keynes Bowl, I got the festival experience in full Technicolor. The weight of responsibility my brother must have felt, charged with looking after his little sister, must have been huge. Down the front there were legs and arms everywhere, fights broke out, men pissed where they stood so as not to lose their hard-fought for spot, all of a sudden you’d get a foot in your face as yet another sweaty body crowd-surfed to the front and bottles flew (not all of them full of beer..). It was brutal. It was carnage. It was brilliant.
Going down the front at a gig is a rite of passage and there’s nothing quite like the first time. Queuing up for hours to be first in the venue. The smell of the crowd. The anticipation. The moment the band first steps out onto the stage. It’s magical. At a rock gig, if you’re down the front and you don’t get your teeth knocked out, drink knocked over or covered in beer and bodily fluids, it just isn’t a good show. It’s that simple.
Live music is big business in the UK. Gig-goers are generally experienced and know their place. If you’re a die-hard fan, hard, new to the game or very young, you’ll be down the front. If you’re a techie, you’ll be standing next to the sound-desk because you know that’s where the best sound will be. If you’re getting on a bit, only quite like the band or are wearing something you don’t want to get stained, you’ll be standing at the side. If you’re exceptionally tall you’ll be standing in front of me and if you’re just there because your mate bought you a ticket, you’ll be in the bar.
At the festival, those pushy Brits looked just as surprised to be challenged as their Catalan peers did to be pushed in front of. They wore expressions that said, ‘what’s your problem? This is a gig’. Maybe we are rude, but maybe, just maybe, we’re simply more rock and roll than they are. When a friend of mine saw The Horrors at Razzmatazz, she got knocked to the floor when the singer flung himself off the front of the stage. Brilliant! That’s what happens at gigs and we should love them for that. Rock and roll is supposed to be slightly dangerous. It’s not just about the music, it’s about the experience too. It’s about being part of the crowd. You shouldn’t expect to be able to lay out a picnic and have reserved seats.
So, I’m terribly sorry to ask, but if you don’t mind, I’ll see you next year down the front?