David Lister: The Week in Arts

What good is a barcode as a souvenir of a gig?
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The Independent Online

No joke. Mobile phones became the way to get into a rock gig this week. The show by Guns N' Roses in London was the first ticketless concert. To attend, you had to have a barcode sent by text message to your mobile phone. And that is just the beginning. The O2 Wireless Festival later this month in London and Leeds has sold £100,000-worth of "mobile tickets". For the Wireless Festival, unlike Guns N' Roses, it is just one phone network that is selling mobile tickets. Old-fashioned paper tickets are still available for users of other networks.

These things, though, have a habit of spreading. If barcode entry does spread, at least it should certainly mean a long overdue farewell to ticket touts. Unless they are going to offer a highly complicated transaction whereby they purchase your phone and sell it on to another punter, I can't really see how they can survive. That's the good news.

But, what about those fans who don't have mobile phones? There must be some phoneless music lovers somewhere.

And there's another problem. It may not be a problem for the phone networks or the concert promoters or the venues for whom the switch to ticketless gigs will no doubt mean a more efficient procedure. But it's a problem for me, and for music fans like me. I'm referring to those of us who rather like tickets. We have an emotional attachment to them. They are part of the concert-going experience. They are part of our memory of an event. They are part of the thrill, even down to them arriving at the house in a chunky envelope.

I like touching them. I like looking at them for days and weeks before a gig and seeing the name of the artist written on them. It almost makes a connection between me and Bob Dylan or David Bowie or U2 or Arctic Monkeys or whoever. I have them in the palm of my hand.

In fact, I'm sad enough - and I suspect I'm far from alone - to have a file labelled "Tickets" in which I keep the tickets from my most treasured rock gig experiences as souvenirs. How on earth am I to file away a barcode?

That's the weird thing about rock music fans. Rock is a very modern art form - centuries younger than theatre, opera, dance or classical music. Yet, rock fans love memorabilia. How else does one account for the prices paid at auctions for instruments used by stars who were performing just a few years ago, or even for lyrics on scraps of paper?

Tickets, too, are memorabilia, private memorabilia. They conjure up an occasion and the excitement of that occasion. Perhaps it is too romantic to say that when you look at them you can smell the sweat and see the faces and hear the chords. But perhaps it isn't.

Mobile phone networks and venue managements are many things. But they are not romantic. For all their business acumen, they don't understand the simple fan. They don't understand those people who sprint to the front of the hall waving their tickets in the air as soon as the doors open. They don't understand the enthusiasts who like to gaze on their memorabilia and wallow in their memories. They don't understand why a piece of paper with a band or artist's name and a venue and seat number on it can quicken the heart, and a barcode can't.

Credit where it's due

An intriguing exhibition opened this week. Intriguing because it is by Jann Haworth. Intriguing because her sewn cloth sculptures were part of the pop art movement in Britain in the 1960s; intriguing because Jann Haworth is a name that every fan of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band should know - but virtually none does.

Haworth, once married to the redoubtable pop artist Peter Blake, co-designed the cover of Pepper with him, and shared a Grammy for it, but for some reason seems to have been written out of pop history. I have remarked before how every mention of the album always says "designed by Peter Blake". Haworth references the iconic cover in her exhibition at London's Mayor Gallery. The figure Old Lady 2 - eerily reminiscent of the "mother" in Psycho - is actually one of Jann's lovable grannies. Another was on the Pepper cover. Haworth wanted an old lady to have her place in the era of youth culture.

Let's hope that now all future references to the cover give Jann Haworth a mention.

* The news that The Who are to return to Leeds University to play at the site of their legendary 1970 gig has prompted reflections that student unions once had far more pull than they do now with the top bands. Rock, at least as far as the big international bands are concerned, has, of course, become far more corporate and stadium and arena based.

One difference with college gigs was that they were access all areas for both punters and stars. The Who's Pete Townshend remarked after that famous gig that he was in the college toilet after the show and overheard two students talking. "What did you think?" asked one. "Good," replied the other, "but not as good as Free," which prompted Townshend to investigate a band he had been hearing a lot about.

Bands should get back to the habit of the after-show toilet visit. They'll learn a lot.