Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Eardrum Buzz

It took a little getting used to, but over the past three years, I've gradually become accustomed to the everchanging dawn chorus around these parts. A variety of birdlife tweeting, clucking and squawking. Horses snorting, whinnying and neighing. Cows mooing out on the marsh. No two days are quite the same. One noise, however, is audible every day - morning, noon and night. It's the sound inside my head, my constant companion - tinnitus. Sometimes an unoffending background whistle, way off in the distance, while on days like today, the piercing insistent screech is upfront and personal.

There are many contributing factors to tinnitus, but all those gigs over the past 42 years can't have helped matters much. Prolonged loud music in an enclosed space can never be a good thing for the old lug'oles. And some gigs were much louder than others.

Surprisingly, one of first to really knock me back on my heels was Rockpile in 1979, not a band immediately associated with excessive volume. Considering by that time I'd already seen a fair few rowdy blighters (Hawkwind - loud, Black Sabbath - even louder, Uriah Heep - teeth-meltingly loud), the unexpected nature of the torrent of sound produced by Nick, Dave, Terry and Billy that night at Colchester University was a bit of a shock to the system.

Husker Du at The Electric Ballroom in 1985. Bloody hell. The room was dark, dank and packed to the rafters. When the band took the stage I was wedged in the middle of the crowd towards the front of the hall, but the sheer ferocity of their concrete slabs of noise pummeled me ever backwards until, after just a couple of songs, I found myself pinned against the back wall, which was already a pouring waterfall of condensation. Bob Mould's next band, Sugar, provided a similarly solid sonic swathe of sound at the Cambridge Junction a few years later. 'What did you think of the cover of 'Armenia City in the Sky'?' asked a friend after the show. It's a song I know well, but one which, on that night, passed totally undiscerned in the midst of the onslaught.

My Bloody Valentine at the Norwich Arts Centre in 1991, was not only mind-bendingly loud, it also ranks as one of the foggiest concerts I've attended. The venue is very small, but thanks to a relentless wall of dry ice, I only caught fleeting glimpses of the band through the murk, usually drenched in a bank of red light. After the gig, we, the audience, staggered like siege survivors, coughing, spluttering, confused and disorientated, out into the night.

Lee Perry and his band were deafening at the Norwich UEA in 2003, but were as nothing compared to the Rebel Lion Sound System beforehand. You know that simultaneous feeling of excitement and terror you experience when standing on a platform as an express train thunders through the station just a couple of feet away? That was how it felt to be in the same room as Rebel Lion - except the experience lasted for a couple of hours instead of a few seconds.

How I loved Swervedriver. And what a force of nature they were onstage. Much like the famous Maxell advert, I felt my hair and clothing flap in the wake of their magnificent racket. The year was 1991, the venue, once again, the downstairs hall at Colchester University. Unfathomably, one of my party crashed out on the side of the stage, directly in front of the band's bank of speakers - a remarkable achievement. I was lip-reading for days after the gig.

There have been many other bands of course, good, bad and indifferent, all contributing in their small way to my tinnitus. How I used to smirk as sensible friends stuffed cotton wool into their ears on the way to gigs (remember when ringing in the ears the morning after a concert was embraced by fools like me as a badge of honour?), but, all these years later, I suppose they've had the last laugh. I wouldn't change a moment though.

I'm sure there are exceptions and maybe it's a measure of how my musical tastes have changed, but these days, gigs just don't seem as loud. Of course, it could be my ears.


C said...

Great post, The Swede! The tinnitus sounds awful (if that in itself doesn't sound like a bad joke) and I'm so sorry to hear that you sometimes suffer from it so badly. But the gigs! Well I suppose that is some kind of trade-off! I recognise that feeling of aural onslaught - remember once standing too close to the monitors at one of Mr SDS' band's early gigs and for the rest of the night everything sounded as if I was underwater; I was young and daft - but recovered. I saw Swervedriver too, btw - loved them, the volume was under control that night though. My sister saw Motorhead and described the volume as painful, I think she was lucky not to suffer permanent damage. There must be a fair few people around our age who have this problem... the price of buzz, eh....
Always love a bit of Wire (happily not too loud live to my very tender young ears at the time!)

Anonymous said...

Really feel for you, my friend. Thus far, I seem to have escaped with just a degree of hearing loss. I only go to a few gigs a year these days and more of ten not they are quieter affairs than in the old times. I really don't enjoy that level of noise any more. The first gig I ever went to was Deep Purple, who were then touted as the loudest band in the world. I could not believe what I was hearing and actually found it a little frightening at first. Prefer Lambchop levels of sound these days but do occasionally still find myself in the middle of some kind of aural onslaught. Eh?

Erik Bartlam said...

Sorry dude...my daddy deals with it and he doesn't seem to enjoy it much at all.

I've been to shows you could hear...most of them were at the Schwimmbaud Club in Heidelberg Germany. Come was audible and Unsane were loud-ish but it was Killdozer that almost made me vomit.

Where the bands played was tiny and the stage wasn't three feet off the floor. I was ready for it. I climbed up on a bench and got right up to the stacks.

"F*** You! Bring It!"

They brought it. I lasted about two minutes before the room started to spin. I stumbled to the back wall and slumped down with my head between my legs.

Killdozer 1 Me 0

John Medd said...

Stop me if you've heard this before. In 1976 I saw The Who at Charlton and it was loud: so loud, in fact, that it was recognised by The Guinness Book of Records as the loudest gig ever.
Fast forward 30 years and I'm in The Flowerpot in Derby to see The Wholigans - that's right, a Who tribute band. One of many, I guess. And when they came on it was 50 X louder than Charlton ever was. And it was a low ceiling venue. I was deaf for days.

The Swede said...

Thanks C. I have good and bad days, but the weirdest things agitate it - sellotape for example! The sound of it goes right through me. Ironically, the one thing that will always make the screeching 'go away' is music...and so the cycle continues! Regretfully, I still haven't seen Wire live, though had a near miss last year. They're still making great albums.

Singing Bear. I never saw Purple, but I know they never held back volume-wise. How come there's never been a band called Aural Onslaught? A good name for a traditional folk duo.

Erik. I only got close to barfing a gig twice. Both times I was struck down with a migraine and both times the bands were very loud and bass heavy, which didn't help matters one jot. Aswad (early on, when they were still strictly reggae) and Massive Attack, when I really did pray for the lord to take me, I felt that ill! Killdozer sound scary! I used to have a couple of Come albums - a good band at the time.

John. Loud is dangerous enough, but loud in a confined space is worse (as Erik can also confirm). If Husker Du ever reform I won't see them anywhere smaller than an aircraft hanger, preferably open at one end.

Anonymous said...

Massive Attack? I've never had that problem with 'em but I can imagine, depending on venue etc.

Old Pa's Corner said...

Brilliant Post TS...can you remember all the gigs you have been to. That was a pretty good selection there. Well done to you. That titinus thing seems to be a horrible thing and you have my sympathy. I have a few little ailments which I put down to excessive dringing all my life. But what the hell you only get one shot at it and there is no time for regrets.
I used to go to an aunt for a couple of week in the summer when I was young and never forot the sound of being wakened by rooks in the morning Plus a very loud cockerel.I love it.
P.S. I watched ep 1 of the Shield...oh! yes!

Ramone666 said...

My worst gigs volumewise were the UK Subs, the Melvins, Bad Brains, and indeed Sugar's first tour. Feel for you, as I had a mild case of tinnitus myself ten years or so back, which really sucked. Made me stop going to gigs more or less, which helped, as after 3 years it was gone and stayed away for good.

The Swede said...

I remember a lot of them Old Pa, but there are a few I wish I could forget! Perhaps I'll write a bit about them one day. Glad you're enjoying The Shield - beware, it becomes a little addictive!

Ramone666. I've had tinnitus for over three years now, much of the time I can put up with it, but some days it just gets me down - hence the whinging post! Good to hear that yours lifted, perhaps there's hope for me yet.

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