Wednesday 30 November 2011, 15:18
Boxes for foreign commentators at the 1960 Eurovision Song Contest which was televised by the BBC
from the Royal Festival Hall, London.
I know I'm in for a difficult and embarrassing evening when the compÃ¨re of a show kicks off the proceedings by asking the audience if they're enjoying themselves.
As those around me respond by whooping with apparent delight and then proceed to whoop even louder when the compÃ¨re complains about their relative lack of enthusiasm, I am mentally composing a brief letter to the management in which I point out that being asked to pronounce on the state of my enjoyment before the proceedings have even commenced is not dissimilar to being asked for a gastronomic verdict on a meal before the soup has arrived.
But there's often worse to come. I've been to several concerts in recent years at which the artist has no sooner appeared than they're asking members of the audience to act as unpaid assistants. "Put your hands together", they demand as they begin their first number.
I've always regarded this an appalling injunction.
For a start it means that the performer is about to embark upon a song without any rhythmic sophistication whatsoever. As I've observed on many occasions any slight rhythmic shift precipitates a sudden crisis of confidence in the clappers who no longer know whether they're supposed to be still putting their hands together or sitting quietly and relishing the performer's artistry.
It might just about be tolerable if the mindless clappers kept their hands to themselves.
At the theatre it's perfectly possible at the end of the performance to keep one's hands unobtrusively by one's side while others around are politely applauding.
But at a popular music concert it's almost de rigueur to clap with one's hands above one's head. This not only obscures the stage for extended periods but also draws the attention of everyone else in the row to the one immobile figure in their midst, me.
Although it's highly distressing to spend a long evening next to someone who regards whooping joyfully and clapping loudly as perfectly acceptable public behaviour, it's even more disconcerting to find that you are sitting within spitting distance of a yelper.
Yelpers are distinguished from whoopers by virtue of their solitariness.
Whereas whoopers all whoop together when asked if they're enjoying themselves or if they'd like to hear one more number, yelpers are individualists. They typically emit their solitary yelps during a solemn part of the artists' introduction. "This song", says the singer, "has a particular importance to me because it concerns a man who has always been my musical inspiration" (Yelp).
Some artists ignore these incongruous yelps but I've been unfortunate enough to attend concerts where the performer has actually compounded the absurdity of the situation by actually yelping back.
It's not, you understand, that I'm against expressions of delight. Indeed, I tended to laugh more loudly than most when Ronnie Scott used to put down a silent audience at his jazz club by commending its members on the success they were having in restraining their enthusiasm.
What I dislike I suspect, is anything resembling fandom: anything which encourages the suspension of critical judgement: anything which gives too much weight to emotion and too little to technique and artistry.
All of which means that I'd experience nothing but deep embarrassment if I ever found myself amongst the opera fans of Buenos Aires whose passionate devotion to the art form is brilliantly documented in a new book called The Opera Fanatic: Ethnography of an Obsession.
You can hear me talking to the author of that study at four o'clock today or after the midnight news on Sunday or on our podcast.
Also on the programme: Did grammar schools aid social mobility? A new study suggests not.
Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed