You've got to feel really sorry for all the young turks out there trying to get the public, and subsequently the industry, to take an interest in their music. Not only are the punters drawn to other forms of entertainment, but the lack of grass roots music venues and the struggle the venue operators have to endure in putting on a bill that will draw in paying customers (as opposed to the ones who smuggle drinks in and ask for tap water all night) means it's really, really tough.
Now I hear you old lags out there saying 'ahh, it was forever thus' but that's simply not true, it's a hundred times harder now. In the 1960s, 70s, 80s and even some of the 90s there were a lot more music venues simply because there were a lot more pubs. Moreover, there were a lot fewer bands giving it a serious go.
That's not to say that young people weren't drawn to giving it a go back in the day. In fact, I bet you if you assembled all of the staff at an ASDA superstore, any ASDA superstore anywhere in the country, and asked all the members of staff over 40 who had ever been in a band in their youth and dabbled with the music business to put their hand in the air, you would get at least a 20% return. No, the difference then was that by and large it was seen as a young man or woman's game.
There used to be a music industry dictum that some wag came up with to describe an artist's lifespan in the business. It went something like this:
- 'Who is George Michael?'
- 'Get me George Michael'
- 'Get me two George Michaels'
- 'Get me a young George Michael'
- 'Who is George Michael?'
In fact when I was working with A and R in the 1980s I was regularly told by record companies that an artist was too old - that's an artist in their mid to late 20s. Also, the perceptions of most young people back then was that old artists (by that I mean 25 and upwards) made music for old people and only young artists could make music that young people would enjoy and get excited about. It feels really strange to write this piece whilst listening to the truly excellent BBC 6 Music, particularly as the presenter just played 6 records in a row by artists who were either considerably older than 25 or dead.
You see times have changed. When I hung up my sax at the relatively tender age of 29 I did so because I felt that I was getting too old for this malarkey. It was only jazzers, folkies and long hairs (classical musicians) who were perceived as having something genuinely worthwhile and exciting to offer as they got older. Pop and rock musicians who hadn't reached super stardom status were expected to go and get a proper job. Even the ones who had achieved super stardom were considered by the youth of the day to be 'over the hill', 'past it' and boring.
I've written before about the concerns of the big Metal promoters in respect of their ability to fill stadiums when the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Slipknot and Anthrax etc. shrug off their mortal coil. But just look at the big stadium acts in mainstream rock, The Stones, U2, Chilli Peppers, Muse, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Iron Maiden - the list goes on. And take a good look, none of them are what you would call young shavers.
At this year's SXSW in Austin, Texas, there was a myriad of young talented bands showcasing to mostly enthusiastic audiences. That said, two of the most talked about gigs were Loretta Lynn and Iggy Pop! These artists and many, many more acts and bands from yesteryear aren't just playing one-off gigs, they're touring and releasing new albums!
Now, before you all start beating up your keyboards with emails and tweets accusing me of being ageist, I'm not. I like these bands and I'm really chuffed to be able to see and enjoy the likes of The Zombies, Roxy Music, ELO, UB40, PiL, Go West and all the rest of them second, third or fourth time round. I'm particularly pleased, thanks in no small part to the BBC, that these bands are so enthusiastically accepted and enjoyed by young music fans. In fact it would be particularly hypocritical of me to start moaning about the seemingly perpetual shelf-life of these bands and others from yesteryear when my own relatively humble outfit from the 1970s has also capitalised on this wave of nostalgia or whatever it is.
The point I'm trying to make is that when the band I was in was gathering interest from the music industry in the mid 1970s, we weren't having to compete with Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Hollies, The Tremolos, the Four Pennies, Heinz, Wayne Fontana, Amen Corner and all those other great bands from the 1960s, because they had either moved on to other careers or had jumped to the cabaret circuit. It's all different now.
Let's celebrate, old is cool. But spare a thought for the young developing bands and artists trying to make some noise in what is a very, very overcrowded market. It's tougher than it ever was.
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