Light up and miss out

Simon Price examines the effects of the smoking ban on the music industry
Click to follow

The smoking ban has changed British club and gig-going culture forever. Now that punters – nicotine addicted or no – have settled into the habit of nipping outside to the patio, or merely a railed-off section of pavement, to gossip and drink and flirt (oh, and to smoke), the entertainers inside no longer have a captive audience. Cigarette sales may have fallen by seven percent and the cold winter months may be approaching, but this newfound love of Mediterranean-style socialising, coupled with the Brits' traditional refusal to acknowledge the harshness of the climate, means that hard times lie ahead for unknown support bands, who often play to a crowd-depleted abyss, and for DJs, who know that a misjudged tune can empty the dance floor for an hour.

For the public, however, it's a golden age. That's partly down to the smoking ban, too. For example, you can now nab a vantage point near the stage and you no longer go home smelling like Dot Cotton's laundry basket. It's also down to a major recession in sales of recorded music (of which the recent collapse of the Fopp chain was a telltale symptom). The music industry, having belatedly realised that they should have embraced the file-sharing possibilities of the internet instead of trying to shut it down, made a disastrous miscalculation. And, after decades of inflated CD prices, it's hard to feel any pity. We live in a time when, to be frank, only a sucker would buy their music from iTunes when they can get it over Soulseek or Limewire for free. Musicians, therefore, are wising up to the fact that the only surefire way to make money is touring and the live scene is booming.

The next few months see the return of prehistoric veterans like the Police, Brian Wilson and Beastie Boys, the more youthful New Young Pony Club, the Gossip and Maximo Park, and the in-between Gwen Stefani. Not forgetting the Rolling Stones who this week got into trouble for smoking cigarettes onstage in London, 40 years after they were arrested for puffing on a different type of leaf. Some old habits die hard...