Kate Bush plea: Put that phone down

BERNARD ZUEL
Last updated 09:06 21/08/2014
Phone Fans

COMMON SIGHT: See, here: Fans brandishing phones at a concert in Edinburgh as long ago as 2005

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OPINION: Is it really so strange that Kate Bush has asked those attending her 22 concerts in London over the next two months to "refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows"? Is this some kind of civil liberty assault or just common sense and common courtesy?

Yes, the last time Bush performed on stage - in 1979 - a mobile phone was one with a long cord you could walk into your bedroom when you didn't want your parents listening in. And the only people who took cameras to shows were hollow-eyed rock photographers weighed down by a bag of equipment as they ran about in front of the audience for two hours.

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But you don't need to be a fossil who remembers all the words to Wuthering Heights to have a sense of why Bush, who pointed out she'd chosen a modest theatre holding about 3000 rather than an arena or stadium for these shows, said eschewing the now ubiquitous camera phones would "allow us to all share in the experience together".

It probably has something in common with Ian Brown of the Stone Roses who two years ago told the crowd at a reunion show: "If you put your cameras down you might be able to live in the moment. You have a memory there of something you've never lived."

Being "in the moment" is no longer the point of a live performance for many; instead it's as much about reliving that moment later, in all its blurry, caught-from-a-distance glory. Seeing someone you've admired for months, years or decades needs documentation, proof you were there.

You may never watch it again, and if you do you'd be hard pressed to work out what was being sung or even what is happening given so many photos end up as bursts of lights and a cast of shadows. But still, it's there, on the record and way cooler than an autograph.

Like talking through every song or wanting to wear one of those funny lanyards that say VIP and allow you into an arid pre-show drinks event, it's just the way it is now. Which doesn't mean it's a good way - "I paid for my ticket and I can do what I like" is hardly a basis for a pleasant society - but does mean it's probably too far gone to change.

Not to mention trying to stand in the way may earn you opprobrium rather than approbation, as anyone who has asked the boofhead next to them to be quiet, only to have a hail of abuse rain down, can attest.

So it's probably wise Bush has asked rather than banned even if her audience, filled as it will be with people who can't say her name without sighing wistfully, are likely to do as asked.

Nonetheless, the wags and cynics have come out already on Bush's request. She doesn't want to be photographed because she's old/fat/ugly; it's all about the vanity not the music; her audience probably struggle to work out how to use their phones to make calls let alone take a photograph. But such a request is hardly confined to ye olde artists and ye olde audiences.

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Last year, avant garde New Yorkers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had signs at gigs asking "Please do not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera. Put that shit away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen and Brian."

A few months ago producer/writer/singer Chet Faker, aka Melbourne 20-something Nick Murphy, suggested to a sold out Enmore Theatre audience, primarily made up of 20-somethings, that for one song everyone could put down their phones. As he said, if they wanted to see a distant, poor sound quality, shaky video of him performing No Diggity later there were plenty online they could find.

The audience cheered its approval and, having watched the first three songs through someone else's phone held in my line of sight, I joined in. It was a good moment. And the song, unfiltered by screens, was an even better moment.

Mind you, the woman in front of me who had filmed the whole show until then, and roared happily when Faker requested the camera-free song, put her camera right back up as soon as the song started. Baby steps, I told myself, baby steps.

Amid the talk of feeling the art not the equipment, there is the issue of control that can't be ignored when it comes to artists' request. The days when a photographer could spend a whole show shooting from anywhere in the room, and sometimes even on stage, are long gone. The chance for some natural photo, some image that hasn't been anticipated, prepared for and controlled, are almost non-existent.

Most artists these days confine professional photographers to the front of the stage - and sometimes to the mixing desk halfway down the room - and limit their time to three songs (no flash) or sometimes one song. Or, as with Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga, no songs at all. And if you don't play ball you don't get in, or you get walked out very promptly by heavy security blokes.

Even before the show some artists attempt to enforce a pre-print approval clause. Some demand the photo is used only once and deleted soon after. Some bar photographers other than their own and then distribute those carefully vetted photos to media.

It's not subtle and it's not trying to be and it's edging closer and closer to the ultra control many film publicists/agents exert. Still, the worst excesses are resisted or curbed by the stronger media outlets - usually.

But then with fewer and fewer photographers on staff at newspapers and magazines, having someone shoot a concert is a luxury and supplied photos from the promoter are likely to become the norm soon enough.

So that blurry picture you took above your head with hope more than technique might be the last free image at a gig. But even then does it come close to the actual, right there in front of you experience? I don't think so. So why not put your camera down, watch the show, make a memory: it will be yours and not the artists' or the publicists'.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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