News | 18 May 2015

Enjoying Sydney’s live music

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Newly launched Gig Buddies is helping adults with learning disabilities and autism attend live music in venues across Sydney.

A new service is pairing people with learning disabilities and autism with other music lovers to attend live music gigs and events together – and become friends.

Gig Buddies launched at Sydney’s Round House in February. It was inspired by Stay Up Late, a similar service in the UK.

Gig Buddies Social Media Co-ordinator Matthew Collins said many people with learning disabilities he’d met couldn’t lead the full and active social lives they wanted because their support workers finished at 10pm – when a good gig is just beginning.

And because supporter workers are from across different age groups, they’re not always into the same music as the people they support.

“Gig Buddies was started because we believe that people with learning disabilities have the right to stay up late and have some fun,” he said.

“Music, as a broad universal language, appeals to the vast majority of people, unlike sporting events or chess, for example – although that’s not to say we would discourage a gig buddy from wanting to watch a football match.

“Music doesn’t always need words to convey its message and for some people with a disability this is a great form of expression which can lead to further enhancing their social life.”

So how does it work?

Gig Buddies volunteers and participants meet with Gig Buddies and answer a range of questions that help pair up buddies and future friends with the same kind of interests.

Buddies are encouraged to meet up once a month and look through gig listings together. Gig Buddies is also on Facebook and Twitter and have a gig guide on their website for inspiration.

Buddies can also call ahead to venues to see if they can use their Companion Card to cut costs.

In just a few months Gig Buddies has signed up 20 active Gig Buddies participants, with another 15 waiting to be involved. More than 200 volunteers have also been in contact.

“While people with intellectual disabilities and autism are our main focus, we remain open to accepting – and have  – gig buddies with varying disabilities,” Matthew said.

Gig Buddies Sydney is only operating in Sydney because that’s where Matthew and other founders live and work but they’re more than happy to help anyone who wants to set a similar service up in other states or cities. Just give them a call!

Find out how to be involved in Gig Buddies at

And while we’re on live music, check out this video made by Alex Taylor in the UK about his experiences of attending gigs in a wheelchair.


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Alex Taylor:

“We all love gigs. But gig access goes beyond just the ticket to the show for people who are disabled.

My name is Alex and I’m a freelance journalist.

As a wheelchair user myself it’s for long been an issue I felt strong about. The amount of access and independence at a gig, can really impact on the level of enjoyment. It’s important that when you go there you feel as if you are part of it.

Some of the best gigs I’ve been they have allowed me the opportunity to be part of the action, like the time Alice Glass crowd surfed around me and felt into my lap.

However, at the other end of the scale, many of the venues have no access at all, and when they do they can be big issues. For example: there was a time I was forced behind a plastic screen to watch Bombay Bicycle club.” (laughing) “Well, I didn’t feel as if I was part of the event at all, and really I could have just watched it at home on-line. But I still have to pay my own money. When I have instances which are like that I feel like left out and excluded, almost as if I’m second class.

Burying in mind all of this, it’s obvious there’s an issue at hand here. But rather than sit down and mourn, we just decided to have a look at the issue as a whole, speaking to the people trying to make a difference, from charities to bands and industry figures.”

Suzanne Bull MBE (Attitude is everything). “In 1990 I went to a major UK festival and there wasn’t any access there. And I went to front of the main the stage and I got my neck caught on the front barrier. And the crowd were pushing behind me but obviously they couldn’t see me. And as I was slightly suffocating. I was thinking,(laughing a bit), if I get out of this alive there is a way of doing this better.

And, obviously I did get out alive and it was all fine…”

Alex Taylor (with slight sarcasm): “That’s good…”

Suzanne Bull: “But then I started to talk to other disabled fans at festivals, there was just this small regular group we were discovering across the country about what they wanted.

But then at the same time I went to the music industry and said to them “why are you not responding about the disability discrimination act, maybe as positively as the other art sectors are?.” And they’d simply say, “To be honest, we want to but we don’t understand the legislation”.

Blaine Harrison, Mystery Jets & Attitude Is Everything patron: “It was around the time of…, I think we were touring our first Jets record. I had a foot injury and I had to do a club tour, a really small tour, and I became, very, very, acutely aware of what an inconvenience it is to tour in a wheelchair. Because a lot of these venues weren’t step free, and getting on the stage and loading in involved, constantly asking people to help me, you know?, if there’s anything I needed it was “Oh, can you go me and get me this?…”, people just start to think that you are lazy, you know?…”

It slowly dawned on me that for me this was just a passing thing, I use crutches to walk the majority of the time. It was being in a wheelchair that short of really open my eyes a bit to the difficulties that disabled audiences and also disabled performers face. And it’s not something that people talk about a lot, whether it’s a taboo or it’s just something that it has not the publicity it deserves. And it made me think, it made me realise that it’s something I could get behind, and encourage me to increase my work in that sort of field.”

Jameela Jamil, Why not people?: “I was deaf until I was 12, so I went to a school which was specifically for kids with disabilities, and there I met my best friend, Charlie, who had cerebral palsy…”

Alex Taylor: “I’ve got that too. We’ve got the same.”

Jameela Jamil: “Yeah?…we grew up alongside each other for twenty two years, and my social experience was so totally different to his one, and I’ve found that’s because specially when we were growing up, there was just no awareness around disability and people treated him so differently, and there were so many places where he couldn’t go and so many restaurants and venues, I mean, you still must have that problem now, I mean, access in this country is disgusting.

And so, I’ve watched our experiences me and Charlie of growing up being so completely different, by the fact that we’re the same age, grew on the same things…

Then when I was 17 I got hit by a car, and that meant that I started to live with a severe physical disability for two years. And during that time I couldn’t go out anywhere, only to places that didn’t have stairs, I couldn’t go out with my friends, because that would mean they couldn’t go to the places they wanted to go. And so I end up pretty much spending two years completely alone. So I decided after that that I would spend the rest of my life after I got better fighting for disability.”

(Crowd cheering in a concerts venue)

Alex Taylor: “So, what have we learnt. Well, it’s obvious that disable people want to go to gigs. But there are challenges there. Now, that was obvious at the start but having met people like Suzzane Bull I’m aware I’m not alone in wanting to enjoy live music. Her charity did hold a gig tonight in order to raise awareness and demonstrate what can be done for the visually impaired as well as the disable and deaf. It can’t be argued any more that changes can’t be made.”

Blaine Harrison: “Making records and listening to music it’s something that anyone can enjoy regardless of whatever your mobility situation is. And that’s wonderful and that’s the joy of music. It’s a universal language that’s amazing. Where that doesn’t apply it’s actually leaving your house, and going to a concert and feeling like you’re welcome to go and see that concert.

Quite early on actually in the days of the band, I started to become involved with a charity called “Attitude Is Everything”, and it was, I remember quite vividly, I was watching Radiohead play the “Hail to the thief” tour, and I was watching from the disabled platform, and Suzzane who runs Attitude is everything came over and she just gave me a flyer saying: “You should come to one of our shows that they are in these step free venues and everyone’s welcome.”. And I thought “Great, fantastic”.
And that was right about when the band was starting off.

And I wrote to her saying: “Well. I’ve got a band and will we be up to play in one of these gigs. And she said “Yeah, we are doing this show, you know?”. I can’t remember the name now, it shut down, it was a venue in Spitalfields. And we turned up and there was a hearing loop for the hard of hearing; there was someone doing signing during the gig so I had to give him the lyrics and he actually turned all the lyrics into sign language.

And it just absolutely blew my mind. And it was such a diverse audience there. It wan’t just disable people, there was all types of people. I just found it so inspiring, and my relationship with Attitude is Everything developed, and subsequently Suzanne asked me to be a patron.

Since then it’s just been really inspiring to see the awareness of Attitude Is Everything’s work right on the public’s eye.”

Suzanne Bull: “The charter of best practise is a practical way of giving guidance to what needs to be improved. And it’s not only just on premises, or sites or venues. It’s also about the attitude of the staff an management involved. I mean we do sort of offer training around that as well. And also the policies that people may want to implement or should implement. So, for example the personal assistant ticket for someone who is disable.”

Alex Taylor: “That’s really helpful. I thought about that a lot. It’s a great help, you know…I couldn’t afford it just to start with, because you know how much it costs.”.

Suzanne Bull: “There are currently 100 venues signed to the charity’s code of practise. They work towards the bronze level, then silver level, and then gold level. But to get the gold level you would have to show consistency of improving access over five years.

Alex Taylor: “Over the time, ok…”

Suzanne Bull: “Yes it’s not just audience facing, as well. It’s about backstage areas too. Because I think that is really important. Obviously, is not always possible because of old buildings, but that doesn’t mean that the journey is over, by any means because what we can do, we can still support them through sort of access advice and consultancy. And say “Well OK, if the building is not physically accessible what policies you might be able to put in place. Try and remind them to give really good clear information so the people can be given an informed choice. To think about disable people who aren’t wheelchair uses, who haven’t got mobility impairment either. And think about access that could be implemented for other disabled people too.

I think it’s important that there’s access for everyone.

Because disabled people are all people. And disable people are part of our communities. And disabled people want to go to gigs or be artists and that’s why, access ids really, really important because I think what we need to do whenever we have events or whenever we have a live music industry, it’s to properly reflect the people that live in this country.”.

Jameela Jamil: “There’s a huge proportion 11.8 million of our society who are being ignored. And who aren’t able to go out, and spend their money and just like shake off the week, just like everyone else. So I said: “You know what?, I’m not going to start a charity. I’m going to start a company. A proper company that’s a business to inspire other businesses to realise that big artists will come and play the venues; that people with disabilities will come out and spend that money. I want to make sure that people who have disabilities, will come out and spend that money. I want to make sure that people who have physical disabilities this time they are going to be in the front. They are not going to be in the side. Or with just a carer separated from their friends and families.

So we are always looking or venues that comply with that. And then at the back or on a higher platform we have people with hearing and visual disabilities.
And those people are able to wear rucksacks that we have that are called “Subpacs”. Now these vibrate along with the music. They are unbelievable. These are used by top dj’s in the world. And it’s only recently that we realised that they’d be amazing for people who can hear and people who can see so they’ll be able to at least feel the music.

So that means that everyone gets included. And of course people with learning disabilities are also welcome to our gigs.
It’s a members club. So it means you can only buy tickets if you are a member. And then you can buy tickets for up to three of you friends and family. And you can only become a member if you have a disability.

The calibre of artists that I’ve had performing like Coldplay and Mark Robson, and Sam Smith, and James Blake, Tinie Tempah, Ed Sheeran.

So with all of those people it feels like I worry that lots of people who don’t have disabilities they are just going to run and snap at those tickets immediately. So the way of us preventing from that happening it’s to have a membership.

But also, we therefore have a data base of everyone who’s coming so we can make sure that we are going to meet all of their needs.

Alex Taylor: “Talking to Jameela it was eye opening to hear that its actually more the awareness now which it’s holding everyone back. As all of us know, some of the best moments are at gigs, which I don’t have examples, it just happens, and I know that it’s a memory. And is there and it’s yours and you couldn’t care about anybody else. It’s not in an album, it’s not in a store, it’s not on i-tunes, on youtube, it’s real and its in your face.”
(Smiling) “I can’t walk but you can a venue to have access; you can change a building you don’t have access. So that’s not impossible. There’s nothing impossible. It’s all about the mindset.
But access it isn’t everything. Attitude is.”

Thank you Alex Taylor.

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