Well done to M&S for stopping piped music…

OTHER art forms don’t suffer the indignities heaped on music. You don’t see actors standing around mumbling in lifts as they perform background plays. Comedians don’t follow you round a shop whispering background punchlines. Authors don’t mutter chapters from background novels while you are trying on clothes.

So why is this inflicted on music? Heaven only knows, but well done to M&S for saying it plans to stop piping music through its stores, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Good thing too, I’d say – or I would if the report hadn’t mentioned that the music-free move is “thought to be designed to please Marks and Spencer’s ageing customer base”.

Oh, well – turn that music loud then and let me feign youthfulness for a little longer. I love those banging tunes when I am buying socks or peering at the labels on bottles of wine.

I have never liked music in shops, and this is because I love music when it’s not in shops. Sometimes I recognise the song being played and feel affronted. This happened in my local Morrison’s the other day when I realised the store was piping Melody Gardot: Mira, I think, from her fine album The Absence.

Gardot has had enough to put up with in life after a serious cycling accident in Philadelphia in 2003, when a driver jumped a red light and knocked her off her bicycle. So she doesn’t need to suffer her tunes being piped over the freezer cabinets and tins of baked beans.

Piped music in an insult to the music being piped, as well as being a general nuisance. Since when did someone decide we couldn’t shop or go up and down in a lift without listening to music?

Properly listening to music is one of life’s great pleasures, either on the CD player at home or when driving in the car, or when out for a run. Or when doing a fairly unaccustomed spot of painting.

The other day I painted a door lying flat on a workmate (the door was flat, not me; and the workmate wasn’t a colleague but a foldable table). As I ran the brush up and down, I was listening to music on my iPod: Forgotten Kingdom Jim Causley, one of the best new folk albums I’ve heard in years. The iPod, by the way, is nearly ten years old and still works, unless I’ve just gone and jinxed it.

M&S is reported to have responded to experts who say that elderly people with hearing problems and dementia can find background music disorientating. I guess this is because such music is more unnecessary noise in a world already full of aural distractions.

The store will save money with the move too, thanks to no longer having to pay performance rights on the music, although the company’s new chief executive, Steve Rowe, is said to have insisted that he is not pressing the mute button to reduce costs.

Rowe was on the BBC news last week as he announced plans to attract younger buyers into M&S – while at the same time appealing to the older woman who now found the store’s clothes too boring. I watched with half an eye and rather less brain, but even then I could sense that Rowe had succumbed to boss babble. This is the sound made when a boss can’t stop themselves talking rubbish and therefore end up spouting even more rubbish.

“Babble-babble, lovely outfit…” on and on he went, piping claptrap.

I wondered if the disgruntled middle-aged women shoppers had been listening to the words of the songs: “These boots are made for walking straight out of this store and never coming back again.”

But top marks for stopping the annoying background music.

Fairness footnote: My favourite jacket comes from M&S, a tweedy affair woven from Moon fabric. Thankfully, the piped music didn’t follow the jacket home.

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