Image Description: A view from the front wheelchair access platform at Camden Electric Ballroom, London. The stage (illuminated by blue lights) is visible with a drum kit and amplifiers on it. The words "Holding Absence" are just about visible on a backdrop behind the drum kit.
Finally back with another venue access review. This time Holding Absence at Camden Electric Ballroom back in November. You’ll remember that my last blog post was a review of O2 Institute 2 in Birmingham (also for Holding Absence), and in that post I said that wasn’t my last show. Well here (extremely belatedly) the access review for my Holding Absence tour round 2!
(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)
The ticket buying process for this one was a little different than usual. Some lovely soul on Solo Armada (an online group for solo gig goers that I’m part of) posted that they were giving away a general admission ticket to the show. I enquired as to whether there would be any way to convert it to an accessible ticket so I could go. This ANGEL refunded their original ticket and purchased an access one instead just so I could go! So, with ticket sorted, I had just 2 days to book travel and a hotel.
Travel was also pretty simple. I traveled with West Midlands Trains on the way there and Avanti on the return and both trains were a direct trip from Birmingham New Street to London Euston. I booked tickets through Trainline and then the assistance through the relatively new Passenger Assistance app. I turned up to New Street around 20 minutes before my train as suggested and was then escorted to the train by staff. Once I arrived in London it was about a 15 minute walk to my hotel.
Experience & Seating
I SAY hotel, it was technically a hostel. Specifically Generator London hostel near Euston. I try not to use hostels but with the last minute nature of the trip I was low on accessible option. So I rang around a few places and Generator said I could just book a room the standard way and then send them a message to get the booking moved to an accessible dorm, so that’s what I did. When I arrived I noticed that I’d have to go down a cobbled street to get to the entrance, which is always fun for the wheelchair user spine. I then had to wheel all the way around the car park section to the entrance as there was no drop kerb to allow me to cut across to the entrance side of the pavement. Once I made it to the entrance section, I was greeted by a large staircase, LUCKILY I saw a sign for an accessible entrance which I followed around and then pressed the intercom to be buzzed in.
Once inside, I was greeted by a stairlift to take me down a few steps, the old and slow kind of stairlift that I see in my nightmares. The nightmares were accurate, because I was told the stairlift was being dodgy, only to board it and find it out was faulty and wouldn’t actually work!
Faulty stairlift escaped, staff took me on a short walk around to the “alternative” accessible entrance. This was behind a gate which meant I’d have to be buzzed in every time I entered, I then wheeled through another car park/delivery point and then through some double doors into the laundry storage room, before going along a corridor and up in the lift to check in. This made me wonder why the “alternative” accessible entrance wasn’t just the outright accessible entrance. I know some people feel a bit odd about entering via car parks and everything, but this entrance was way more accessible than the dodgy stairlift one.
All checked in, I was shown down to my room (a standard dorm room with me in a low bunk but in the basement level below the check in level which meant no lift to contend with). The accessible bathroom was also pointed out to me and was just a few doors down from my room.
However, when i’d dropped my bags in the room and went to use the bathroom, i discovered that the toilet wasn’t in the accessible bathroom/shower room that had been pointed out to me (the pipe work was there, the toilet just…wasn’t) It took 3 staff members to figure out that the toilet had been moved to a separate, poorly signposted segment. And to add to the issue, I got into the toilet to find there was no soap dispenser in the holder (great news in the current COVID situation). Luckily, thanks to being ambulatory and using bed frames as a mobility aid, I was able to access the sink in the dorm room, something staff didn’t think would be accessible to me. So, bags dropped off, I headed for the venue.
It was about a 30 minute walk from hostel to venue (I did attempt to catch a bus but the driver just ignored me because…London, and I wasn’t about to hang about in the rain and wait on that happening again, so 30 minute roll it was). I probably sound a bit blasé about being ignored by the bus driver, because obviously it’s a shit thing have happen. But frankly, as a wheelchair user, being ignored by bus drivers happens so often in London that my reaction just becomes: “oh this again? Right, onto plan B”. Plan B being a 30 minute wheel in the rain.
When I arrived at the venue, I pulled up to the side of the main entrance doors and made myself known to staff. After a little while, they came to check our COVID passes and tickets and then a staff member led us on a fairly significant walk to the accessible back entrance. Once there it was through a large gate, across a little car park, up a ramp and into the venue. Since I’d entered the venue straight onto a platform with stairs down to the main standing area, I assumed we were just dropping off some other attendees who were heading down to the standing area and then we’d out again to somewhere else for my seat.
Nope, turns out this platform with stairs down and the only exit being out of the venue WAS my seat. No independent access to merch or bar but I DID get a personal dance floor, silver linings to everything eh? Seriously though, this lack of independent access to anything felt really quite isolating (obviously security could get me water or whatever)
The isolating platform situation meant I was even more grateful when fellow attendees from Solo Armada decided to pop up between bands and say hello, but even that was somewhat soured. I must preface this by explaining that there was a member of security basically stood with me on the platform all night, which didn’t feel entirely necessary (I’m pretty physically incapable of causing trouble at a gig and a tiny human, and also sassy and gobby enough to talk anyone who’s giving ME trouble into shutting up and leaving me alone, but maybe there is some security rule I don’t understand). Anyway, my friends came up to say hello and security almost immediately said “you’re not supposed to be up here”. This itself felt a little unnecessary as we weren’t doing anything other than chatting and my friends would have headed back to the main floor before the next band anyway. Needless to say (and sadly) this interaction with security meant my friends immediately headed back to the main floor to avoid getting themselves in any trouble. Once the gig was finished, I had to wait for the security (who by this point, annoyingly enough, had left my personal platform) to help me with the exit doors because trying to open both doors of a double fire door and drive a wheelchair requires about 6 hands, and I am a human, not an octopus. Venue exited. I made my way back through the big gate and out onto the street to begin the 30 minute walk back to the hostel.
Before I leave you, just a quick word on the actual show, and on Holding Absence in particular. There are few bands/artists where I would consider doing multiple dates on a tour. Even fewer that I’d organise a trip to London on 2 days notice to see. But the energy at their gigs is something else. This was only my second time seeing them live (the first being the other access review I mentioned) but I could live off the energy of gigs like that forever. Gigs like that fuel my soul. Go see them live I beg you, you’ll probably see me there. Should I just do the whole tour next time? I think I’ll do the whole tour next time.
I hope this access review of Generator London and Camden Electric Ballroom was insightful.
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)