Music and alcohol: a potent mix in Glasgow nightlife

01 April 2015

Music and alcohol: a potent mix in Glasgow nightlife

GCU interviewed a range of entertainers

Few live performance venues are not licensed to sell alcohol, and few performers have ever played to a completely sober audience. This is the experience of many live artists according to a new study by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), which found the relationship between live entertainment and drinking to be deeply embedded in the Glasgow nightlife scene.

Even if the strictest regulations to prevent overt alcohol marketing were to be introduced, researchers say the link between live entertainment and alcohol is likely to persist and to be exploited to promote bar sales.

In a project funded by Alcohol Research UK, Jemma Lennox and Dr Alasdair Forsyth, Senior Research Fellow at GCU’s Institute for Society and Social Justice Research, interviewed a range of entertainers including DJs, comedians and band members about their roles in drinks marketing and crowd control.

Interviewees felt sober audiences were often unresponsive and they described a ‘golden point’ of moderate intoxication, which brought out the best in them and the crowd. However, playing to drunken crowds was often risky and sometimes involved forms of crowd control for which entertainers were not adequately prepared.

The report states that, as overt forms of alcohol marketing such as discount pricing and ‘happy hours’  come under greater scrutiny, live entertainment provision is likely to become increasingly important to pubs seeking to attract and retain customers. 

Entertainment attracts customers and boosts bar takings (whether in terms of volume of sales, or by encouraging more expensive purchases).  Entertainers are often asked to promote drinks offers from the stage, to build breaks into their sets to encourage drinks-purchasing, and to use music style and tempo to influence drinking rates. While industry-sponsored events provide much-needed opportunities for working performers, some feel compromised when performing on behalf of commercial interests.

Most participants felt that without licensed premises it would be hard to secure gigs and that many pubs and bars would cease trading if they could not offer live entertainment. However, some were concerned about the negative effects of always working in such environments, which sometimes led to increased personal consumption and exposure to personal danger. Some also felt uncomfortable at the degree to which alcohol promotion was embedded in their work.

The research suggests that more ‘dry’ venues might allow entertainers to enjoy greater artistic freedom, as well as making live entertainment more accessible to non-drinkers and under-18s. However, it also highlights the close relationship between licensed venues and live performance and suggests performing arts courses include better training on dealing with alcohol issues for students intending to work in the sector.

Dr Forsyth said: “Our findings suggest that alcohol and live entertainment are deeply embedded, with an expectancy that drinks will be consumed by an audience before fully engaging with a show, for example before they start dancing to music. Most of the venues available to performers are likely to be alcohol licensed premises and, even in unlicensed settings, it would be unusual to perform to an entirely sober audience. From the perspective of gigging entertainers, another hazard is working in one of the few occupations where drinking on the job is often accepted, even encouraged.”

Dr James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development, Alcohol Research UK, said: “This report highlights the close relationship between live entertainment and the licensed trade. As audience members, many of us will associate live music and comedy with pubs, clubs, bars and other drinking places. The perspective of the entertainers is less well understood, however. For many performers, alcohol is part of the working environment and this report provides a fascinating insight into some of the tensions and risks this can create.”

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