Excessive sound levels at folk dance ceilidhs - experiences at folk festivals and local events.

Most of the hearing loss and other ear damage suffered by attendees at loud music venues can be traced to a simple inadequacy in the law governing these events: whilst workers are protected (or should be protected) against damaging noise levels under Health and Safety at Work guidelines there is little or no protection for mere attendees - people who may be less aware than stagehands and band members of the risks involved. Therefore, the law as it stands protects a knowledgeable minority whilst failing to protect a less knowledgeable and therefore more vulnerable majority!

Music loud enough to produce permanent damage was rarely a problem at public venues until very high power amplifiers became so readily available. Like most electronic equipment, the real price (corrected for inflation) has reduced markedly over the last two decades.

So why doesn't the law protect attendees at music events?

(quote from the BBC article cited on this webpage)

David Baguley, consultant clinical scientist at Cambridge University Hospitals and vice chairman of the British Tinnitus Association, urges care around loud music.

"Intense sound can cause changes to the hearing system and can then lead to tinnitus. Loud music is fun but we must be careful too."

The ear is an extremely sensitive organ which has to deal with a massive range of sound levels - from a whisper at 30 decibels to a busy bar at 80-90 dB and a noisy club at 100 dB or more.

This sort of noise level is thought to be "safe" for fewer than 30 minutes.

Pop festival crowds are risking deafness (Article in Daily Telegraph, 5 September 2008)

By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent

FOUR out of five people who attend music festivals have experienced signs of hearing damage, a study shows.

Yet fewer than 20 per cent of the music fans take precautions to protect their cars, claims the study by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People.

The charity questioned 2,700 people at music festivals across the country this summer, including Glastonbury and the Reading and Leeds festivals.

They found that more than 80 per cent of those questioned had already experienced ringing in the cars or dullness of hearing after listening to loud music. Half admitted that they had suffered pain in their cars from the music.

The charity warns that the symptoms are an early sign that long-term hearing damage will he caused unless people take action. Emma Harrison, from the charity, said: "Volume levels at festivals can reach levels over 110 decibels - the same as a jet plane taking off.

"Repeated listening at this volume will cause premature hearing loss." The charity urges music fans to take regular breaks from the loudest areas.

Tickled Pink (Letter in Winter 2010 edition of EDS - the magazine of the English Folk Dance and Song Society).

(note: Simon Care plays in a folk ceilidh band called Tickled Pink. It is notorious for its high sound levels).

I have the greatest respect for Simon Care as a dance band and Morris musician, and agree with what he says (EDS, Autumn 2010) about keeping things fresh and interesting, but I must take issue with him on two points. Having on occasion left an event and found myself partially deaf (temporarily), I maintain that 'too loud' does not mean 'too old', It means 'this volume is physically uncomfortable and is literally damaging'. If I were to go to a Spinal Tap concert, where the amplifier is always turned up to eleven, so be it, but I do not see why I should expect collateral hearing damage at a ceilidh or dance. I sometimes wonder if a band has ever experienced three hours in front of their own speakers.

We have all met Simon's 'dancer from hell', but if he is not controlling the dance, neither are the band. They are paid to be there to play for the dancers, as specified by the caller. I well remember a Bromyard Folk Festival where the headline ceilidh band was then the hottest ticket in town. They were all that Simon wishes: brilliant, innovative, great tunes, good to dance to (and not too loud!), until they introduced riffs for solo instruments, at which point both the rhythm and phrasing of the dance vanished. Some dancers carried on to the music in their heads, more simply gave up, the caller couldn't rescue it, sets fell apart and the dance ground to a halt. In a concert, the musical invention would have been great, but playing for dancers, it was unforgivably self-indulgent.

Joe Oldaker, Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

Comments by the SeeRed author on an internet forum, March 2011

I attend so many dance events that I get to hear a wide range of comments about Sidmouth (mainly how LUCKY I am to live here!) and these often influence my own views.

For what it is worth, IVFDF was mentioned somewhere recently on this thread - it was indeed well worth attending. The ceilidh with The Molecatchers and Tony Slinger calling (both were new to me) was simply fabulous. Lots of young women to dance with (most of them superb dancers too), adequate space in which to dance, wonderful music (and not at all too loud, just perfect) and excellent calling. I made a point to go up to the band and caller and tell how fantastic I thought they had been - so I do give out praise when it is due!

I thought on the long drive home - if only Sidmouth FolkWeek could host ceilidhs like that!! The Survivors' ceilidh at IVFDF was almost as good - great music, not too loud, good dancers, enough space, mainly good calling.

I avoided the Tickled Pink event completely - they are always too loud. Mind you, they were in Exeter recently and the first half was really very good - and bearable without earplugs. But the second half was true TP - so bloody loud that you wanted to get away from the speakers even with ear plugs in. I asked some youngsters afterwards - do you like it so loud? Oh yes they said, it was GREAT but "my ears are ringing".

So there you are - possible permanent hearing damage and all because ego-inflated nonentities are in charge of the sound desk. IS ANYONE LISTENING ABOUT THE SOUND LEVELS AT SIDMOUTH OR ARE YOU ALL DEAF??

A very interesting thread, so thank you to whoever started it.

My detailed comments about dance at Sidmouth are all on my website - for when you have an hour or two to spare.

Response by Joan Crump (artistic director of Sidmouth FolkWeek)

"Whether any band is aesthetically "good" or "bad" is a subjective matter. But whether or not a band is loud enough to damage the hearing of the audience (and of the musicians) is an objective question. To answer it there are measuring instruments, and health and safety guidelines."

This is absolutely true. There is also the issue of venue licencing, which the festival takes extremely seriously. We have strict sound limits imposed by the council and we DO NOT exceed them. Our Technical Director can be found most nights in or around the Bulverton with a sound meter, or sitting in his car at various locations nearby, checking sound levels. We have neighbours who are very sensitive to noise infringements, which is another reason for the vigilance. The local authority is extremely careful about excessive noise, and we would not want to jeopardise our currently excellent relationship with either them or the local community by flouting the sound limits. In fact, Silent Disco as an event was first staged in 2009 in order to help us work within the strict local noise restrictions on Sunday nights.

I hope this is helpful.

Joan Crump

Joan Crump's comments do not address the principal issue: the key sound level measurements for the purposes of assessing the risk of personal injury are NOT those taken outside the venues or in a nearby car or street - relevant as these may be for legal or Environmental Health Officer (EHO) purposes. The most logical place to measure sound levels to assess the chance of hearing damage (and thus any possible legal liability towards attendees) is near to the speakers - where dancers may need to go and where innocent (and/or dim-witted) parents may take their children. Indeed, not to warn all persons of a risk to their health (risk of hearing loss) before they enter a venue in which the organisers know or should reasonably have been expected to know that such risks were present could and indeed should render them liable for damages. Also, silent discos have long been a feature of the London scene and with several companies providing the relevant services. The only special limitation on Sunday nights as far as I am aware is that amplified music is not allowed after midnight. Introduction of this topic into a discussion of sound levels (intensities) during a week-long festival therefore appears to be irrelevant.

It is interesting to compare the responses of the zealots in local council social services departments to trivial injuries sustained occasionally by children to the potentially far more damaging effects of loud music. In the former case (as has been highlighted for some years by the Sunday Telegraph's Christopher Booker) children can be removed from their parents and forcibly adopted on either flimsy or non-existent evidence. In the latter case, since loud music seems to be politically correct, no action is ever contemplated. (provide links here)

There is increasing awareness of the risks from loud music and especially from young people using ipod and similar products. An article was published on the BBC website on 13 March 2011 outlining the risks from over exposure to loud music - damage to the human ear does not self-repair and people can therefore be left with permanent and distressing symptoms. Further information is provided by www.deafnessresearch.org.uk.

A summary of some of the more stupid comments from a few people associated with Sidmouth FolkWeek and posted on an internet discussion forum will be re-published later. A letter in STS was published in March 2012.

next page

back to top of section

back to home page