Rock on shaky foundations (CORRECTED)
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Friday 14 October 1994
AS THE house lights went down and the lasers darted across Earls Court, few of us in the arena heard the cries among the 1,200 people in blocks eight and nine as their seating collapsed.
An accident at a rock concert is a psychedelic nightmare. The sound is so loud that it drowns the screams of the injured. In the dark and the noise, the collapse of a whole block of seating can go unnoticed by the rest of the audience, if it is right at the back of a vast arena, as it was at Earls Court.
The injured on Wednesday night waved helplessly to the technicians in the lighting rigs above, but that could have been high spirits. Fortunately, the security men with walkie-talkies sent the message backstage to halt the show immediately and turn up the lights.
The striking aspect of the Pink Floyd accident was not so much that it happened, but that it has not happened before, and that it was not a lot worse. Nevertheless, the sight of people being carried out on stretchers was a sobering one.
A rock concert accident has been waiting to happen. Fans are notoriously badly treated. Often, the seating is cramped and temporary stands are used, the acoustics poor, the view blocked, the advertised starting times wrong, the security men thuggish, and so on.
Pink Floyd has made pounds 125m from their world tour so far, but such artists rarely ask how many of their fans have proper sightlines for their shows, how many are sitting in comfort, how many are sitting in safety.
A rock concert needs an element of electric tension and excitement. But bands and promoters have a duty to care for the safety and comfort of their audience.
The Health and Safety Executive, in a guidance document on rock concert safety last year, urged that every venue should have a safety co-ordinator. An Earls Court spokeswoman could not confirm yesterday that they had such an officer.
But the real answer is a purpose-built national rock arena. A rock audience tends to be more boisterous than an audience for the horse of the year show. With the national lottery about to release hundreds of millions of pounds to the arts, a purpose-built venue for one of the few art forms in which we indisputably lead the world is a pressing need.
David Lister's article on 14 October, 'Rock on shaky foundations', questioned Pink Floyd's commitment to the comfort, safety and enjoyment of fans following the seating collapse at their Earl's Court concert on the previous day.
David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd have pointed out to us that they take an active interest in all aspects of their performance to ensure the comfort, safety and enjoyment of their audience and employ a very experienced team. They have also pointed out that it has been accepted by all involved with the concert that Pink Floyd were in no way responsible for the seating collapse at Earl's Court; and that the entire profits from the 14 shows are to be divided between 13 charities. We are happy to make this clear.
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