Friday, 9 September 2016

A Quiet Pint?

The Pub Curmudgeon beat me in posting this story, which surface yesterday, but as it’s a topic I feel very strongly about, here’s my take on it.

The story revolves around the vexed question of “background music” in pubs; as according to The Good Pub Guide 2017, which was launched a few days ago, “Pub-goers have said that background music is the thing most likely to spoil a nice quiet pint, closely followed by noisy children running riot.”

Now I’ve no intention of getting embroiled in an argument about the latter; especially as I’ve done my breeding and now have no personal stake in the matter, one way or the other. The prevalence of music in pubs though, is a different matter and one which I find extremely irritating. Unfortunately it is becoming more widespread, but if landlords want to attract me into their pubs, then turn the wretched volume down; or preferably turn the music off altogether!

A decade or so ago the Daily Telegraph published a guide called “The Quiet Pint: A Guide to Pubs with no Piped Music”. I picked up a copy, several years ago, in a second hand book shop. It was a good idea, but coverage was patchy at best, and given the fickle nature of the pub trade, and the time between surveying and publication (something familiar to Good Beer Guide buyers?), the concept was doomed to failure. There have been several half-hearted attempts since to launch an online guide to quiet pubs, but again the same problems have surfaced.

Speaking at The Good Pub Guide launch editor Fiona Stanley, said: “Piped music, canned music, muzak, lift music, airport music - call it what you will, it’s there and our readers loathe it in any shape or form. It enlists bitter complaints, and has done so ever since we started the guide 35 years ago.”

One pub-goer who contributed to the guide, advised: “At best it’s bad manners foisting a random choice of music on you that you have not chosen and do not want to hear, at worst, it interferes with people’s hearing.” 

Now that’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, as I find I have increasing difficulty in hearing what is being said in pubs, and if there’s some “foreground music” blaring away, then it makes matters ten times worse. It’s probably ironic that a mis-spent youth, listening to overly loud rock music at concerts has contributed to the problem, but that was my choice; unlike being forced to listen to what the landlord or the bar staff want to hear.

Of course it is not just pubs where customers are forced to listen to piped music. Supermarkets, shopping malls and railway stations are just some of the places where shoppers and travellers are subjected to music they would probably prefer to do without, and there is a whole science which has grown up around piped music. Studies have shown that certain types of music encourage shoppers to spend more or move through the store faster, but anyone who applies this sort of logic to a pub wants his or her bumps felt.

A pub is a static environment which does not need such unnecessary distractions. Pubs are about conversation and socialising; they are about having a good time. People go to pubs to meet their friends, be sociable, have a drink or a meal and discuss the problems of the world and attempts to artificially induce that most intangible element; namely an atmosphere, are ultimately doomed to failure. Many publicans though appear immune to these criticisms and believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that music plays a positive part in their business. 

If I go out for a drink with friends, or take the family out for a meal, the last thing I want is to have to shout in order to make myself heard above the amplified music wafting out from every corner of the room. Equally I don’t want to keep leaning over so my companions can speak almost directly in my ear. So what are these crazy people thinking when they inflict their own, often dubious tastes in music on me and their other hapless customers. Surely a case of big egos and small brains!

Let’s give the final words on the subject to The Good Pub Guide editor, who quite clearly states, “Of all the thousands of pubs we have visited over the many years of producing the Guide, it’s pretty rare for us to feel our pub experience has been heightened by what is being played through the speakers above our heads.”

She concludes, “It’s clear our readers agree so surely it’s time for all publicans to take note and turn off the music, as it’s driving customers mad”. 

Hear, hear!


Curmudgeon said...

As I said in the comments on my blog, there is a bit of nuance to this issue. Obviously if it's music you personally like you won't mind. I'm usually listening to music when working at the computer, but I appreciate that Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Rush won't be to everyone's taste.

It's also less objectionable when specifically chosen to suit the mood and the clientele. What I really don't like is when it's played for the benefit of the bar staff, not the customers, and when there's a total mismatch between the type of music and the customer profile.

Matt said...

One of the most surreal experiences I've ever had was sitting in Hebendanz in Forchheim drinking Franconian beer from a stone mug amid pine tables and benches while listening to the Motown compilation tape being played by the landlord. I like Motown but it just seemed totally incongruous in that atmosphere.

Paul Bailey said...

“Obviously if it's music you personally like you won't mind.” This is true, to a point, Mudge, but I don’t expect everyone to share my tastes in music, just as I almost certainly won’t share theirs.

Even when the music is “specifically chosen to suit the mood and the clientele”, there is a danger of it resembling “lounge music”, of the sort favoured by international hotel chains. It is NOT what I want to hear in a pub, and if the Good Pub Guide survey is anything to go by, it seems the majority of pub customers don’t want it either.

There was no Motown being played when we called in at Hebendanz, Matt. Instead we were “entertained” with some rather drunken “singing” in the almost unintelligible local Franconian dialect, by a few of the pub regulars. It was quite close to closing time, though.

Much as I like music, of many different sorts, I find it difficult to write when listening to it. In such instances, the sound of silence is much more conducive to getting the creative juices flowing.