Is it becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary, decent heavy metal fans to enjoy a quiet drink on a night out with their – sometimes non-metal – friends? If recent experiences – including several by this writer – are anything to go by, then the answer may be more and more veering towards ‘yes’.
In a recent high profile incident in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, a number of heavy metal fans were asked to leave a bar they had been drinking in for a number of years – they claim it was purely because of the way they were dressed. Management later attempted to defend the ejection by claiming that the group of five fans were not drinking – despite photographs taken shortly beforehand showing a table of booze – but later admitted that the bar had undergone a change of image…
It is an experience with which this journalist can empathize – having been on the receiving end of similar treatment. Please forgive the following lengthy narrative, but I think it is important to explain, fully and forthrightly, what happened..
In October 2012, I was sitting in a bar in central Belfast – we cannot name the bar for legal reasons, but it is the only one in the city which is part of a national chain with the initials JDW – having a few drinks with some friends prior to going to a Quireboys gig (I was the only one in the company going to the gig – the rest of the guys included a local butcher, a councillor and a retired solicitor): earlier in the day, there had been a minor altercation involving a group of ‘smiks’ (Belfast parlance for the sort of tracksuit-wearing, drug-snorting teenage scumbag all too prevalent in our modern society – what my English colleagues might recognize as ‘chavs’), complaining about the bar not showing football on a Saturday afternoon, and a couple of older guys sitting enjoying a pint or three of real ale. I know the two guys (one of whom just happens to have long hair) concerned and know they are real gents: accordingly, they got up and left rather than become embroiled in a nasty scene.
A short time later, the ‘door supervisors’ started their shift, with the head gorilla – sorry, ‘supervisor’ – being briefed by the duty manager on any issues. Now, I have a degree in management, and common sense would tell me that such briefings should be held in the manager’s office – not in the middle of the bar, and certainly not inches from a table full of punters… but, hey, what do I know: I only have a feckin’ degree in feckin’ management, so I wouldn’t know how to manage a confidential staff briefing, would I? Ahywho, when apprised of the minor incident above, the gorilla (sorry – to my primate friends for such a derogatory comparison!) proceeded to say – and these words are etched very clearly on my memory – “those heavy metal scumbags deserve everything they get!”. Not a clever comment to make while staring directly at the only heavy metaller (yes, I was in a metal T-shirt, combats and New Rocks and I do have long hair) within staring distance! Now, I’m a mild-mannered type of guy, so a quiet word was had with said manager about the insulting language: the response – the bouncer returned and threatened to put me through a window!
Needless to say, I left. And haven’t been back. Until the other night. A mate was over from Portugal and wanted to meet for a drink. I was at an Arnocorps gig and knew I wouldn’t get into any of the ‘trendy’ bars which have wiped out most of Belfast’s traditional pubs in my metal gear. He persuaded me to give the bar a go. “Things will have changed.” We walked in and up to the bar. Within seconds, the manager and two gorillas (sorry, door supervisors) are at my shoulder. “You’re barred.” “Why?” “You’re barred.” OK. We leave – both the premises and a full round of unpaid-for drink on the bar.
Nice way to be barred: just get insulted and threatened. Don’t throw a punch. Don’t snort drugs in the toilets. Don’t fall down the stairs. Don’t throw up all over your mate’s girlfriend. Just complain about your culture, your lifestyle – no, given the results of the 2012 Census, your religion – about being insulted by an ignorant neanderthal.
Unfortunately, this incident – and I apologise for the waffling – is increasingly typical of the attitude of bars in Belfast, a city sadly known for its bigotry. There are many so-called ‘public houses’ where the door staff immediately look down their noses as metallers walk past – whether or not you have any intention of even thinking about entering the premises, the very fact that you dare to invade their airspace incites a reaction of MH17 proportions!
Let’s look at another example of another Belfast bar. Let’s call it The Elms. It use to be called something else. And that something else was a real dive. All the scumbags of the day frequented the place. There were fights every night. Then, some pretty clever new management took over and tried to turn the place around: out went the dance music, in came the rock. They changed all their DJs and put on live bands. They knew it would be a slow process, but they were prepared to work at it. They were starting to get somewhere – until the company which owned the bar went bust. The suits who took over leased the place out – and the new management quickly stuck the gears into reverse and made it clear that rockers weren’t welcome…
Why? “They don’t make us any money” was the explanation given to your scribe at the time. They obviously hadn’t checked their books, as the assertion flew in the face of a piece of, albeit unscientific, research conducted by one of the previous managers: he compared the takings on a rock night to those on a dance night and found that he lifted FIVE times as much money on the former as the latter. So much for not making money. Oh, and he only had to employ one doorman on metal nights as opposed to four on a dance night![By the way, the banner hanging outside the bar – advertising a music policy which features AC/DC, Tool and Metallica – is still there seven months after the new management took over!]
OK, the two cases above may well be isolated examples (but, I don’t think so), but they represent a situation which is becoming increasingly endemic, especially where traditional pubs are being replaced by the latest ‘must-be-seen-in’ trendy bars which automatically triple the price of a drink as soon as they get the new sign over the door and new wallpaper and carpet. There still are many, mostly independently and family-run pubs, where metallers are more than welcome: these are the bars where they don’t care what you look like (as long as you adhere to the basic rules of any dress code they may employ) but make you welcome as long as you’re buying drink and keeping them in business. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling, as the big Tesco-style chains exert their financial muscle, take over and appeal to the lowest common denominator with their “buy-one-stupid-alcopop-get-one-free” tuppenny offers. Unfortunately, us tax-paying hard-working hard-partying metallers don’t seem to fit into their business models. Just as well there’s plenty of other pubs to choose from…
Middle finger image courtesy of http://pwi-forum.perfectworld.com/