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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

Everyone's a critic. Where do they get off? I trained for years to do this, never mind the money my parents spent putting me through critic school. Surely music criticism should be left to the professionals just as gas engineering is left to the Corgi registered. But opinions are like arseholes; we’ve all got one but if you get them out in public people start shouting.

Friends in bands tell me that some of their worst critics are fans. And a poorly timed tirade from a former supporter can really ruin an evening. This is an extract from a genuine email a rising folk duo received immediately after a gig:

“Sorely disappointed tonight. I'm a huge fan and have enjoyed your performances many times. Found the backing singers and musicians just an unnecessary intrusion.”

Why couldn’t that have waited till forever? It’s hard to understand what the huge fan hoped would happen next. Here’s another, sent to a singer about their latest album: “If this was the direction that you were advised to take then, in my opinion, I think you have been badly advised. I will be stocking up on the rest of your back catalogue and keeping a wary eye on future recordings.” Cheers for that. At least they got some sales out of it.

One might suggest these cranky communiques are best laughed at or ignored. But they niggle away at a musician’s thoughts. Instinctively we pay more attention to negativity because it might prove useful to our survival (the words “You can’t throw a spear for toffee!” saved many a caveman from starvation.) A boo is always louder than a cheer. But while you can choose not to read published reviews (and you probably shouldn’t), when advice arrives in your inbox it’s inescapable.

A band who’ve appeared in these pages began to get presumptuous post-show pointers tweeted at them by a man calling himself “a fellow pro”. On another occasion a woman used Twitter to tell them, “Lovely gig… but please cut the bad language.” There’s only one answer to that.

Another musician I spoke to has a theory: “Maybe now more than ever some people think they have a right to feel involved in the creative process, but in reality they are not part of it.”

I wonder if fandom can become socially unbalancing. To spend so much time idolising someone only for them to disturb your utopia with a disagreeable change of direction must be distressing. What else can you do but tell them? Surely they’ll listen to you, their fan? You’re the reason they exist. Except no artist alters their work to please the weird guy who hangs around the merch table too long. Or as the previous performer put it: “You can't be a product of someone else's imagination.”

If I’m asked for my opinion about music I’ll give it; it’s literally my job (suck on that Mr Smurthwaite of Lytchett Minster Upper School). And this is a pre-agreed exchange; the terms are understood. But is it a fan’s place to uninvitedly tell an artist where they think they’re going wrong? It’s not helpful or constructive, it’s sociopathic. Like those people who boast about always speaking their mind, as if that’s a positive character trait rather than the cause of several wars.

Tim Chipping


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