It’s Tuesday 24 March at Islington Assembly Hall, and renowned psych rock group TOY is rocking out on stage, electric guitars blazing, vocals hauntingly echoing through the hall. Stage left, standing slightly forward, is a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, furiously signing the lyrics. On both ends of the stage are large screens, the words of the song meticulously appearing on screen as they are sung.
This is not just any ordinary gig, this is Club Attitude – a live music night run by the charity Attitude is Everything. It aims to promote best practice in the live music industry, by showing how to put on an exemplary gig that is fully accessible to deaf and disabled music fans.
All photos: Sara Amroussi-Gilissen
“Deaf and disabled people want to experience live music just as much as anyone else.”
Graham Griffiths is the business and operations manager of Attitude is Everything. He stresses that what the Club Attitude nights demonstrate more than anything is that it isn’t hard at all for gigs to be fully accessible.
Even if you remove some of the things we pay for like the sign language interpretation and the captioning, there are ways to use the venue that are completely free, easy things to implement.
“We’ve got an area that we’ve marked on the floor and that is stewarded, where people that are seated or are wheelchair users can have a clear line of vision, so that they can see the stage without people standing up in front of them.
“It’s just about how you lay out the venue.”
Club Attitude also provides free tickets for personal assistants, so that “disabled people who require assistance in order to have an equal experience don’t have to pay for two tickets”. They also make sure to publish venue access information well in advance, so that people know what to expect when they arrive at the venue.
Gig-goers Kevin and Becky have both come to see TOY and (supporting act) Hatcham Social perform. They hadn’t heard of Club Attitude before they arrived, but both support the idea of making gigs more inclusive.
“It’s a bit weird seeing it all deconstructed on stage (with the BSL and the lyrics). It makes you really concentrate on the lyrics, because normally you don’t really pay attention to them.
“It’s quite brave, to have your lyrics up there for everyone to see.”
WATCH: TOY performing a sound check with “You won’t be the same”
This is the second year that Club Attitude has been held at Islington Assembly Hall, which is a council building. A rock concert is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of town halls, but it works, in a weird way. The stage is on a high platform and thus easily viewable by all, and as a local authority building it has level access and accessible toilets.
Currently, about 100 venues across the country are signed up to Club Attitude’s charter of best practice, which requires venues to “have level access, accessible toilets and that basic access in place” according to Griffiths. This might not be possible for smaller-scale venues, which cannot input these changes whether due to financial reasons or otherwise.
But Griffiths is adamant that putting on an accessible music night is not just about catering to wheelchair users. He believes that one of the reasons that a lot of live music venues don’t implement even small changes is because they think that because they aren’t accessible to wheelchair users, they can’t be accessible full-stop.
“I guess what we are trying to get across is that disabled people aren’t just wheelchair users. Only 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users, and even if your venue is physically accessible there is a huge amount that you could be doing to improve your accessibility.”
LISTEN: Hatcham Social’s “Give me the gift”
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing is that this gig night does not feel extra-ordinary at all. There may be a sign language interpreter on stage with the band and screens (provided by captioning charity StageTEXT) blazing by the sides of the stage – but ultimately the evening just feels like any other live music night. The band rifts on stage, the crowd sways and sings along, the atmosphere is buzzing and vibrant. Just another great gig. Just how it should be.