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 music – the teenage idols in the 70s were The Bay City Rollers, Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, The Who and Queen. At the time, you love each craze and star with a 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 hit middle age!
Suddenly, things have turned full circle. Your responsibilities have been paid off or flown the nest, you are still earning, still feel young, you have money in your pocket now it is not being eaten up with fees, food and bills and the mortgage is paid (nearly). Out come the boxes – whatever 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, your favorite band is 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, on-line, texting, downloading, listening to all kinds of strange music. However, many of 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 80s – many of whom are in their 60s can 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, 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 come backs. These include Paul Simon , Adam Ant, Take That and many more.
Compare men and women of a similar age – say 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 is 64 and David Bowie is 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 this week saw mentions of The Who’s Pete Townsend with a new project, David Cassidy (61) was on the One Show and a positively youthful in comparism Donny Osmond (54) has 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 sees Toots and The Maytels (Toots is 65- at least!) playing the main stage and last year they were at Glastonbury!
Quite why we hold these stars of the past in such affection is unclear until you realise that they are ‘us’.
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 harbour that ambition to get up onstage, make good music, dance and be who we were in our youth. We want a sense of those care-free, pre-kids and responsibility days and, happily for us, we can afford to pay for men and women of our age to help us re-kindle them and show us we are far from past it. Some of us have performed ( or still do,) but most will happily watch their peers or older performing.
Those in their 40s, 50s and 60s are lucky. Our generation is the largest , and most able to spend. They are tail-end baby boomers and happily enjoyed student grants you did not have to pay back, good rates of interest on our savings before the banks spent all the money. They could buy a house and live to see the mortgage paid and now find themselves as the only generation with money to spend.
This is maybe why singers and bands from the 70s and 80s are once again filling stadiums, venues and festival stages, after spending years in the wilderness (while we spent our money elsewhere).
The cynic in me says that the money men have cottoned on to the fact there is a generation of people out there with money to spend and it is unlikely the youth, the very old or those just starting out have anything like the money they have, so it pays to wheel out the bands and singers from their youth to help part them from some of that money. The other side of me says it is the power of this generation that can demand to be entertained, can wave hard earned money in the faces of promoters and, best of all, can support the careers of musicians that in another, less credit worthy generation, would have had a short lived career at the top of the charts, followed by years of treading the boards in smaller venues, trying to re-kindle their hey-day. People in middle age can now choose who they put back on the stage and we are in charge.
Recently, after seeing one particular band from the 70s all aged between 59-67 perform 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 only my own generation but the youngsters, brought willingly by their parents, who were benefiting from learning what Mum and Dad did before they were born. When I was younger, seeing bands like this was a bit like seeing your dad on stage, behaving badly ,swearing and playing really loud music., Now, these youngsters were getting the same experience and I thanked the band for giving it to them (and for being excellent as ever!). 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 re-kindle a time when London was full of angry young men. No matter one of my recent gigs saw the band (who are now well into middle age and dads and grandpas) comparing arthritis with fans post-gig. For an hour and a half of performance the audience are young again.
John Lydon ( alias Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols) is probably the best example of a rebellious young man being called back in middle age. Perhaps the ultimate pop rebel- thought there are in fact many more in the world of jazz- John sang with The Sex Pistols, those manufactured ‘rebels’ of the late 70s. He disappeared to become a property developer 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 Here’ – and 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. Can it really be he is 65?
nFestivals used to be for youth – our youth- but now we take (and pay for) the family. Latitude saw Seasick Steve – a relatively new phenomenon, discovered a few years back and now 70, John Paul Jones from Led Zepellin (65) , Adam Ant, Tom Jones, (71) Toots and The Maytels 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 re-kindled 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 should – and 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 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 Bowie – maybe they will find it in themselves to continue their parents’ work for another generation.
Will we finally have to admit we are old? Or, will we still be dancing, singing punk, blowing crazed tunes out the sky and growing old truly disgracefully? I sincerely hope so!