“U2 tickets on sale 9am, March 20”: seven words that hit me this week like a mescaline flashback. I had visions of Somme-like trenches being dug around the Wembley box office, of half-dead survivors of a fortnight sleeping rough on the causeways of Brent tapping in their PIN numbers with the few remaining fingers they haven’t lost to frostbite.

For I, dragged to Greenwich before dawn as a pundit for the BBC’s Breakfast Show, was an eye-witness to the scene of Conradian horror that was the Michael Jackson ticket queue. This shanty town of shivering wretches, some of whom had been camped outside the O2 for two full days, reminded me of old Blitz-era news footage of starving Londoners queueing for the last scrapings of powdered egg. Only with more chatter about why dangling a baby off a balcony is “character-building”.

What is this, Guantánamo? What time is it, the Dark Ages? What are we, animals? As the queue inevitably collapsed into a bloodthirsty stampede to the front an hour before the box office shutters went up, I was appalled that this – in the days of Bluetooth, Virgin Galactic and Oatibix – was the barbaric face of modern big gig ticket purchase.

Sure, I remember I used to go out of my way to queue for tickets for major gigs on the morning of release over a decade ago, but even then I considered camping overnight to be a form of masochistic vagrancy conducted only by the lobotomised, dangerous or deranged.

However, surely the ‘refresh’ button and the press-five-for-repeated-redial command have long since killed off the camp-out? Not so. “We don’t trust the internet sites,” the Jacko disciples told me, “they crash”. And they only had to look around them to see why.

The queue looked more like a conference for the Cooperative Union of National Touting Scumbags; camped right next door were gangs of shady lads equipped with professional street-camping set-ups – portable generators running TVs, heaters, microwaves, Xboxes. These weren’t die-hard fans putting in pavement time as part of their one-gig-a-decade experience, these were well-drilled ticket-grabbers, apparently filling the chill night air with all manner of well-worn Jackson libels.

Most campers were there to ensure they wouldn’t have to pay internet resale prices of up to £2,500 a ticket, and to do so they had to compete against these career touts playing every trick in the book. I heard the promoter of the gigs claiming that, of the 2 million pre-sales registrations logged that week, 1 million had been from touting companies’ ‘bots’; it’s these programs designed to snap up the big show tickets the instant they go on sale that crash the websites and keep you bashing away at the ‘refresh’ button like the proverbial wanking gibbon. And keep desperate fans risking an early death from hypothermia to get a whiff of a face-value ticket.

A few years ago the average tout on the Clapham Omnibus was bemoaning the threat to their ‘layvleyood’ from honest punters selling their spares on eBay. Now they’ve net-savvy’d up and, as the Jacko fiasco illustrated, they’ve got a technological stranglehold on the arena ticket industry.

The market sets the price, they’ll tell you with a smug shrug, but this is one internet innovation that steers us away from civilisation. If you want to see U2 at Wembley for anything like the official asking price, the true cost might well be a night sleeping rough in NW10. And possibly piles.

What I've Been Listening To:
Frustratingly, Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band’s new album is stretched to over an hour as Oberst lets The Other Blokes sing. Which is a bit like winning a shag from Johnny Depp and him insisting Johnny Vegas joins in.

Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band - Outer South
Doves – Kingdom Of Rust
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It's Blitz!

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