Putting the cigs back into rock ‘n’ roll

Marah's Dave BielankoAs someone who’s often stepped out of a venue and gasped in wonder at how good the cold, fresh, night air tasted, I welcome the ban on smoking in public places that’s recently become law in England. Though before I get tarred and feathered (mostly tarred, I’d imagine) by smokers, I’ll add that I’d have been quite happy for there to be smoking and non-smoking pubs, if that’s the way the vote swung, and in some ways it’s sad to see a sweeping, law-enforced sanitisation of England’s dens of iniquity. (Translation: I have friends who smoke whose opinions matter to me – and I love them all dearly, even though they stink.)

Live-music venues are different, though. As a rule, visitors don’t get to choose the venues they frequent. That’s most often dictated by the bands that play there, so the choice comes down to either: see the band in a smoke-filled atmosphere or miss out completely. As gigs are primarily about people playing and enjoying music, I feel it’s only right that the comfort of people who dislike breathing second-hand smoke wins out.

Of course, the ban extends to the artists performing too. And this is where I’m starting to feel a twinge of sadness. The thought of never seeing a guitarist lighting up and popping his cigarette in his headstock, before rattling off the perfect slide solo, is a bit unsettling.

Rock ‘n’ roll has a long and much-admired history of musicians whose cool is at least partly linked to their ability to dangle a ciggy just so between their lips while fingering frets. The Georgia Satellites’ Rick Richards, Marah’s Dave Bielanko (pictured) and The Crybabys’ Darrell Bath are masters of the smoking solo, in both senses of the term. And seeing Keith Richards on stage with a nicotine patch dangling from his arm just isn’t going to be the same.

Understand this: guys like Keith smoke so I don’t have to.

Which is why I propose an amendment to the smoking act – one that allows musicians in good-time rock ‘n’ roll bands to puff away to their heart’s content on stage. And I stress the ‘good-time’ aspect – bands will be asked to prove their mettle in this area, in case introspection tries to sneak through a loophole.

The result of this amendment will, I feel, benefit everybody on three counts. Firstly, rock ‘n’ roll’s daft-but-cool traditions will be preserved. Secondly, the audience will still gets its vicarious fret-and-fag thrills. And thirdly, more good-time rock ‘n’ roll bands will spring up, lured by the ‘licence to dangle lit cigarettes precariously from bottom lips in the presence of adoring fans’ – something they could do legally in no other genre.

Sorry, what’s that? Have I got a light? Yes, sir, I have – a cartoon bulb flashing above my head. Stick that in your gob and smoke it.

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