It is a funny thing but when you are young, you expect things to be short- lived and to fade almost as quickly as they become popular, like the crazes of deely boppers, leg warmers and clackers, which at the time, were must-haves. It was the same with musicthe teenage idols in the '70s were The Bay City Rollers, Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, The Who and Queen. At the time, each craze enjoys a brief passion unless, like some of us, you always preferred jazz; but inevitably, life, loves and responsibilities take over and you put these things to one side in corners of the mind, cherished and valued but considered indulgent, nostalgic and part of your youth. Then somehow you're the grown up. Everything changes in life, including music, and this, really, is as it should be.
Yet, lurking in those quiet corners of the mind are memories, bits of music still unexplored. You find yourself in the enviable position of being able, at last, to go to gigs with no qualms about who is relying on you, what time you have to get home or whether the household will fall apart if your taxi service is not there to collect. Your responsibilities have diminished and briefly there is a bit of money in your pocket because you are still earning and the house is paid for, just. Out come the boxeswhatever happened to.....? You check; yes, they still play the odd gig in a pub. You go, along with friends, the crowd gets bigger at each gig and suddenly, favorite bands are making a comeback. Or you find they never stopped playing.
We live in a world of speed. Everything works quickly, information travels at speeds unthinkable in the past. Food, cars, travel; everything moves at the speed of light. Careers take precedence over family life, the youth are tuned in, hip, street savvy, online, texting, downloading, listening to all kinds of strange music. What they don't know is that they are not the only ones. Their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are also rediscovering bands, giving them a new lease of life and our stages, surprisingly enough, are filled with musicians and bands of, shall we say, a certain age.
In these times, when youth appears to be all, it is an odd phenomenon that many singers and musicians from the '70s and '80smany of whom are in their 60s, 70s or 80s themselvescan still fill the largest arenas and theatres. The stalwarts have never gone away and continued to have hits. Status Quo, Elton John, U2, Cliff Richards, Macca, Paul McCartney, Sonny Rollins and endless other sexa, septa and even octagenarians still thrill fans and fill the largest stadiums. Others have been quiet for years and recently made wondrous comebacks. These include Adam Ant, Take That and many more.
Compare men and women of a similar agesay 65+and many of us envisage people we know with white hair, a bit heavier than when they were 40 or so , talking about the 'youths of today,' seemingly unable to use the Internet and enjoying their bus passes. The thought of them charging across a stage, singing ribald lyrics and gyrating to thrill an audience of people from 19-70 years of age is laughable and yet, these are the same people, give or take a few hits, several thousand pounds and a different lifestyle, we watch, pay to see and enjoy. Paul McCartney is 70, Mick Jagger, 68, Elton John, 64 and David Bowie, 65. The Smiths, Jimmy Cliff (63), Adam Ant (57)...the list goes on and reads like a set-list from the '80s.
A browse through my Sunday papers saw mentions of The Who's Pete Townsend with a new project, David Cassidy (61) was on The One Show (a UK magazine show) recently and a positively youthful Donny Osmond (55) recently completed a successful UK tour. These are only a few of the string of stars from the '70s and '80s now appearing again. It is, at times, like a strange kind of time warp. A festival date in Bedford last summer saw Toots and The Maytals (Toots is at least 65) playing the main stage (brilliantly) and the year before they were at Glastonbury.
Quite why we hold these stars of the past in such affection is unclear until you realize that they are "us," or the "us" we might become. There is a great truism in the fact that, while the body gets older, the person within is formed during their teenage years and early twenties. Inside every middle aged man (and woman) is that sneering, devil-may-care, scruffy, rebel of their youth. We still harbor that ambition to get up onstage, make good music, dance and be who we were in our youth. We want a sense of those carefree, pre-kids and responsibility days and, happily for us, we can afford to pay for men and women of our age to help us rekindle them and show us we are far from past it.
The exception are many jazz musicians. Most of them have continued to play at a similar level throughout their long careers. Peter Brötzmann has played big and small venues, Sonny Rollins filled and still fills large venues and Courtney Pine has changed over the years and matured with his fans, adapting his style as he gets older.
Recently, after seeing one particular band from the '70sall aged between 59 and 69perform I found myself wondering whether it was right for a band of men in their 60s to be still doing what they did in their 30s. Looking at the audience gave me the answer: yes it is. For it was not their own generation but the youngsters, brought willingly by their parents, who were benefitting from learning what Mum and Dad did before they were born. When I was younger, seeing bands like this was akin to seeing your dad on stage, albeit a gifted and ribald version, but it definitely gave a new insight to older people. Personally, many players whose music I fell in love with during the '80s are, happily still with us and still blowing their horns in their dotage. My favorite player is in his 80s.
For me, the bands and players of jazz , particularly some of the improvising and free form players, rekindle a time when London was full of angry young men. No matter that one of my recent gigs saw the band (its members now well into middle age, dads and grandpas) comparing arthritis with fans post-gig. For an hour-and-a-half of performance the audience is young again.
John Lydon is probably the best example of a rebellious young man feeling the call of the stage again. Perhaps the ultimate pop rebel though there are in fact many more in the world of jazz John sang with The Sex Pistols, those manufactured "rebels" of the mid-to-late '70s. He disappeared to become a property developer (apparently) after the 70s (and to make the occasional butter advert recently) . However, he came back to do I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Hereand proved he still has that rebellious streak, walking out of the show part way through. He is also playing with his band Public Image Limited and they are just as rebellious as they ever were, in spite of John looking 66 in the eye.
Festivals used to be for youth but now families go. Latitude a UK festivalsaw Seasick Steve (a relatively 'new' phenomenon, discovered a few years back and now 71), John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin (65) , Adam Ant, Tom Jones (71), Toots and The Maytals and Morissey of The Smiths; they all headline at festivals, playing again to thousands of people of mixed ages.
Many of the stars themselves seem bemused at their own rekindled success. Just when they thought the pipe and slippers of older middle age were calling, they get a call from their agent"What, you want me to do Latitude?" They find themselves awake and going out at a far later hour than men and women of their age really shouldand it is great. It actually what many of us have been doing for what seems like ever outside the world of pop music.
It is hard to envisage what will happen in 10 or 20 years time when these stars of the '70s and '80s stop playing (or maybe not). Can we really see the likes of Jay Zee, N Dubs, Beyonce, C-Lo-Green, Eminem and others being dragged out to play in late middle age? It is concerning that there do not appear to be any young, long-term pop legends in the making out there. Who will our kids bring back? Maybe Robbie Williams or Take That? Perhaps The Black-Eyed Peas? Or maybe the sons and daughters of the previous generation will take over. Baxter Dury, Ziggy Marley, Zowie Bowiemaybe they will find it in themselves to continue their parents' work for another generation.
Will we ever admit we are old? Or, will we still be dancing, singing punk, blowing crazed improvised tunes out the sky and growing old truly disgracefully? I sincerely hope so!
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