Notes on audience behaviour


Occasional Writings

There are a number of occasions when I have experienced unusual or extreme audience behaviour. Here are a few examples, which I list in no particular order, nor with any sense of hierarchy.

In 1969, when John Tilbury and I were performing in Rome the concert included a piece of mine for pre-recorded tape and live performers. The piece – since discarded – was called “Some of the interesting places you’ll see on a long-distance flight” and the tape included a sequence of verbal phrases, along with an ostinato rhythm track. I made the mistake of printing the texts in the programme (thinking to help a non-English audience). This meant, however, that the audience could see just how long this was going to go on – around 25 minutes – as each phrase slowly passed by. Eventually members of the audience screwed their programmes up into balls of paper and started to hurl them at the stage. This was the first time (though not the last) that I have been attacked by an audience.

In 1990 I was giving a concert with my ensemble in the amphitheatre of the Paris Opera. At the interval I had just gone backstage with my musicians to relax before the second half of the concert, when a man, a member of the audience, walked up to me in very determined way. He said, (in French) “Sir, are you responsible for this music?” I answered politely that I was, to which he said: “Sir, your music is not BAD, it is NOTHING!” And performed the manoeuvre known as ‘turning on his heels’ and walked away. I was a little shaken, but even more amazed to see him still there, sitting in the front row, during the whole of the second half.

In 1993, when I had just recorded the second and best known version of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, I performed the piece with my ensemble at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in June of that year to coincide with the album’s release. This was the final piece in the concert. This version lasted about 40 minutes (compared to the 74 minutes of the CD) and as the last notes of the music died away and a hush fell over the hall, a man ran down from the back of the hall (and the QEH has a long and quite steeply raked seating) to the apron of the stage. He thumped the stage violently with his fist shouting angrily “YOU’RE MAD! YOU’RE ALL F—ING MAD!” And then rushed wildly out of the side door.

Gavin Bryars