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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Smoke doesn't get in your eyes
Fats Waller, Thelonius Monk, Nat King Cole

By Sean Coughlan

With the smoking ban approaching fast, what's the atmosphere going to be like when music venues have to clean up and stub out the smoking?

Smoking and music go back a long way. Think of all those smouldering jazz album covers, smoke coiling around a black and white silhouette. Or think of teenage rebel rockers, cigarettes wedged between their fingers.

From Frank Sinatra to the Arctic Monkeys, smoking has been part of the iconography of popular music. The lonely singer-songwriter and the moody trumpeter always had a cigarette for company.

And if you went to see live music, it was invariably through a deep cloud of smoke. If you saw a club in daylight, the ceilings were the colour of Shane MacGowan's teeth.

It's such a cliche that when you think about jazz you think about smoking... when you think about smoking you think about getting cancer
Leo Green
Ronnie Scott club

But that's all going to change because while all the talk has been of a "pub smoking ban" in England, it's also going to mean music venues are going to be a smoke-free zone.

So when you hear a blues band playing Cigarettes and Coffee at three in the morning, it's going to be in a room smelling of air freshener.

Even before the ban begins, smoke-free music is already here.

Ronnie Scott's, the landmark jazz club in Soho, London, has already banned cigarettes and the Jazz Cafe in Camden has also stubbed out smoking ahead of the July deadline.

Unknown risks

Ronnie Scott's artistic director and celebrated sax player, Leo Green, says there should be no nostalgia about cleaning up the club.

"It's such a hackneyed old cliche that when you think about jazz you think about smoking. It's more likely that when you think about smoking you think about getting cancer."

"Back in the 1940s and 1950s musicians didn't know about the risks, but mind you, back then they used to think that if you took heroin you could play like Charlie Parker."

Louis Armstrong smokes
Some legends were also partial to a "jazz cigarette"

Mr Green, who has played with the likes of Van Morrison, Paul Weller and Robbie Williams, says that there will be no tears shed by musicians, even the smokers among them.

"Every musician said 'thank God', especially the singers and the blowers. There were some singers who wouldn't play the club because of the smoke."

But there might be those who see this as a death-blow to the bohemian atmosphere and the harbinger of the corporate and bland.

Absolutely not, says Mr Green. As the son of jazz legend Benny Green, he says he remembers the old smoke-clogged days. "It was horrible. What's really surprising was that no-one questioned it then."

The Musicians' Union also rejects any lingering sense of loss for the smoky evenings. Rather than rebellion and romance, smoking meant miserable breathing problems, says the union's safety officer, Pauline Dalby. It was more kids from phlegm than Kids from Fame.

"For gigging musicians in clubs and pubs, they're often right next to the audience, there's no ventilation and night after night they're facing an unbearable level of smoke."

Smoking graphic
On 1 July, smoking in enclosed public places will be banned across the UK
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales already have such a ban; England's ban starts 1 July
The Magazine will count down the weeks with a series of articles about the impact of the ban on life in Britain

Not everyone agrees. Joe Jackson, the pop singer who wrote Is She Really Going Out With Him?, is now a supporter of the smokers' rights group, Forest - and a pamphleteer in the cause of opposing the ban.

"The whole point of nightlife venues is that they are places to get away from work and not to be nagged like naughty children. The few people who are working should be there on that understanding," he says.

The smoking ban for clubs are "bringing nanny into nightlife, the last place she belongs".

Forest's Neil Rafferty says "if people like going to a smoky club and they like that ambience, then why shouldn't they be allowed? Pubs and clubs are for grown-ups".

More persuasively, he says, what do we want from rock and roll: Keith Richards or Justin Timberlake?

But what are the roots of the longstanding connection between music and smoking?

Brian Morton, Radio 3 broadcaster and author of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, says jazz was music from the clubs rather than the concert halls - and it was an atmosphere suffused with drinking and smoking.

Quitters' panel

And for the musicians, smoking cigarettes - and often cannabis - was part of their lifestyle. "There was the endless driving from town to town, with very little to do, with not much money, not much to eat," he says.

"It's also visual, the wisp of cigarette smoke in photographs," he says

But he says that some of the famously-cool pictures of jazz players in the 1940s were set ups - with musicians being given cigarettes to hold or the photographer blowing smoke across the frames.

"Cigarette smoking is a performance. Before it became unfashionable, it was a social ice-breaker. Musicians always had a lit cigarette resting on the piano and you didn't know whether it was there as a prop."

Apart from looking cool, smoking had "the fatal glamour" which appealed to the image of the "self-destructive artist", he says. "Now they have college degrees and MBAs and spend time in the gym."

Mr Morton himself admits to driving against the traffic - saying that he took up smoking at the age of 45, drawn by the "chemical completion" of cigars.

Even music's unhealthy past is facing a clampdown. When a poster of the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover was released in the US, the cigarette in Paul McCartney's hand was airbrushed out.

What next? Keith Richards selling rowing machines? Pete Doherty exercise videos?

But the smoking ban for England is on its way - and the brooding, smoky dives will be swept clean.

Below is a selection of your comments.

As a non-smoking musician working in a four piece band of non smokers it will be a relief to be able to breathe during our performance. Lets not start feeling sorry for smokers who have had their way for hundreds of years causing filth, nasty smells, and even serious fatal fires, and not caring to much about the people who have suffered with passive smoking. When they, the smokers are living with an oxygen tank next to their beds they might just see the light, no pun intended. cough! cough!
Rob Jackson, Boston Lincs

Jersey is now five months into its smoking ban and as a gigging musician I can tell you it is a vast improvement. However, you may be surprised, and not altogether delighted at the smells that will replace the nicotine in your clubs. Venues are not known for shelling out on new furniture and carpets, many of which are pretty rancid and smell awful. Also, there is no getting away from it, without the smoke you can really smell 'other people'. If this includes a couple of hundred beer swilling, curry eating blokes...well, you can imagine.
James, Jersey CI

The atmosphere will be no loss if we can hear the great players for an extra ten years because they live longer. It always saddens me when I think of Nat King Cole who died from cancer as did some of the old greats when smoking was fashionable.
Phil Whelan, Rotherham

I'm a non smoker, don't groan please, I'm also an asthma sufferer and a lover of jazz, I have been to Ronnie Scotts in the past,(pre-asthma) but couldn't even contemplate going there before the smoking ban. I love Jazz, but not so much that I'd risk putting myself in hospital because of the level of smoke! I applaude the management for banning smoking before the date, I believe more pubs, clubs and other public places should follow the example set. Well done!
Denise A, Stockton on Tees

Looks like there are going to be a few 'smokers only' clubs: the staff smoke, performers smoke and audience smokes.... I certainly won't be going to any of those.
Roger Brown, Vancouver, BC

As a light social smoker myself, I already feel a reluctant sence of nostalgia about the mildly smoky atmospherics of the music venues I frequent... I do however believe that as soon as less than 50% of the population smoked when they were out, smoking was, and should be, fair game. I wish it wasn't so bad for you and that there was some substitute that creates that feeling of 'letting go' for the night... but the fact is, more than half the population dont like it, so its over. I rather wish this had happened (the ban) before I was pub-going-age so that I hadn't got so used to the association of smoking with drinking/fun/socialising/music...
ajdf, Bristol

Why can't we have smoking venues and non-smoking venues so that customers and staff can make their own informed choice. The people who moan most about smoking, are the ones who go out once every six months. Why aren't non smokers forced to find an alternative environment to suit their fussy, interfering needs.
Adam, Preston, Lancashire

Having been to the Iridium Jazz Club in New York recently, and listened to some of the worlds finest musicians, whilst enjoying delicious food, I can not wait till I can get a bit closer to that in what is currently a smelly and smokey Jazz Club here in Manchester... Why should the health benefits of quality live music be lessened by cigarettes?
Paul Jones, Manchester

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