Restricted view are two words that strike fear into the heart of every theatre-goer. But at least in the theatre you are usually warned about restricted views, and the ticket price is reduced accordingly. At rock concerts a restricted view is pretty well the norm. Four people took the promoter Harvey Goldsmith to court this week claiming damages as they could only see two of the five members of the Cure at a concert in Birmingham. The amplification system obscured the others. They lost the case, but will have gained a friend in the disgruntled punter who, 10 years ago, took legal action against Goldsmith after the Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert at Wembley Stadium. (He could see both Paul and Artie OK. He just couldn't find anywhere to sit down and see them.)
Goldsmith is, in fact, one of the more thoughtful and considerate rock promoters. And rock, though it gives the audiences easily the worst deal, is not the only art form at fault.
My Culture Charter would give money back not just for restricted views but restricted hearing. A few years ago I saw Peter Hall's production of Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre, but could not hear Anthony Hopkins properly. When I mentioned this to one of the NT's most senior executives, he asked me where I was sitting. In the front row of the dress circle, I replied. 'Ah,' he said, lifting his hands with a gesture that marvelled at my navety. 'It pays to know that Sir Denys Lasdun's design leaves an acoustic hole at the front of the dress circle.'
At the National's studio theatre, the Cottesloe, beware of the upper tier: nice sound, shame about the view. I watched a performance of Angels in America from that vertigo-inducing vantage point, looking straight down on the actors' heads. There were two cast members whose faces I never saw the whole evening.
At the Royal Opera House, meanwhile, it is nice view, nice sound, shame about the legroom. I tend to sit in the stalls circle (price around pounds 80). Here the legroom is so tight that any tall opera or ballet lover will spend most of the evening in severe discomfort. The ROH's multi- million pound redevelopment plan does not address this problem.
Despite their Victorian horseshoe design, most of our theatres and opera houses have reasonable sight lines and acoustics. At least compared to rock venues. Although the rock audience has grown up and includes fans well into their forties, and although prices hover around the pounds 20 mark, concert-goers are still treated like undiscriminating teenagers.
When Harvey Goldsmith promoted Tosca at Earl's Court, he put cushions on all the seats. The bottoms of rock fans are not noticeably different in texture from those of opera fans (they increasingly belong to the same people). So why the different treatment?
At Wembley Arena, in the one tier where you can see and hear properly and in comfort, many of the seats are bagged by the record companies. This is also where the critics sit. In front of the stage, audiences automatically stand up, and those under 6ft who sit in comfort at the Royal Opera House get their come-uppance. They can't see a thing.
Fans, when booking their tickets, should be given the choice of being in front of the stage and standing, or of being at the side and sitting. The number of a complaints hotline should be printed on the back of every ticket - the judge this week ruled against the Birmingham rock fans as they had not made their complaint on the night of the concert. (If he had been to a rock concert himself, he would know that is virtually impossible in the frenetic atmosphere of a show.)
There are other ways promoters could be more helpful. The correct time on tickets, for instance. Rock concerts tend to start up to 90 minutes after the scheduled time despite the fact that promoters know to the minute when the concert will start and finish.
Rock-concert goers now know how to make their irritation felt. In the words of a Who song, 'it's a legal matter from now on'.
David Lister is Arts Correspondent of the 'Independent'Reuse content