Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 1998
* One Man's Meat *
What is music to the ears of one person may be an unholy row to someone else, and that's why piped music in pubs can be such a controversial subject. To my mind, there's a lot to be said for the music-free quiet pub, and there are plenty of pubs where they just play the radio or have anodyne background music, which would be much improved by turning it off altogether. But it's unrealistic to expect that in every pub, because many city-centre pubs need the "instant atmosphere" that music gives, and it can't be denied that music does attract customers to pubs.
Sometimes the licensee plays his own choice, and that can be a good way of defining the mood of a pub. If one establishment plays jungle (or whatever is the flavour of the month on the dance floor) and another classical, then they probably won't share a single customer. But, on the other hand, it takes choice away from the customers, and if you're not careful you can end up limiting your potential market. While I enjoy classical music, I'm not convinced that it's really appropriate for pubs - but it can be an excellent way of keeping your establishment free of trouble.
If you are going to have music, surely the best solution is to have a CD jukebox with a wide selection of different stuff - including a few classical ones. It's not good enough to have "Now That's What I Call Music" Volumes 14-37. There are, though, a number of points on which there's much room for improvement.
The bar staff should never be allowed to play the jukebox themselves, either with their own money or out of the till. If the customers want to sit in silence, then that should be respected. And, if they're prepared to pay for silence, then they should be allowed to do that too. That's a feature often requested, particularly by the older generation, but rarely if ever offered. You can imagine Harry Enfield's Old Gits taking great pleasure in forking out a few quid to inflict a couple of hours' silence on a kiddies' fun pub on Friday night.
Also, why can't jukeboxes play the tracks in the order in which people have keyed them in? It's pretty irritating to select a few songs and then find they haven't been played by chucking-out time, while others have come up which were entered much later. And the machine ought to tell you how many tracks are in the pipeline so you know your song will come round before you leave.
Licensees could even try asking their customers what they would like to have on the jukebox, although listening to your customers is maybe rather too radical an idea. Next thing, they'll start asking for different beers!
And me? Well, I'm all in favour of quiet pubs, and there should be a damn sight more of them than there are. But music does have its place, and I certainly remember one occasion when I went into a strange city-centre pub, heard "More Than A Feeling" by Boston playing over the jukebox, and immediately felt at home...