THE BLOG

Rock of Ages

07/07/2014 17:35 BST | Updated 06/09/2014 10:59 BST

Nick Lowe has been on tour this summer - popping up at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent, England, last weekend - captivating audiences with his acoustic solo shows, doing jaw-dropping versions of old hits such as Cruel to Be Kind and I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass.

Nothing strange in that, you may say. Lowe is a renowned singer/songwriter, former member of Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, and producer of Elvis Costello, the Damned and Dr Feelgood, having created, or helped create, some of the finest songs of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.

What was strange was the reaction of those when I mentioned I was thinking of going to see him play.

'Nick Lowe? He must be 70. What's he still doing on tour? Why do you want to see him?'

Lowe is, in fact, 65, having reached the old retirement age in March. It got me thinking. Would the same question ever be asked of a painter? Or, more pointedly, of a blues singer?

It's something the brilliant avant garde artist, musician and cultural engineer Genesis P-Orridge recognised years ago. His friend Deborah Harry was being attacked in the press when some unflattering pictures were published of her after she'd put on some weight. 'It wouldn't happen if she were a black blues singer,' he snapped. 'She'd be revered for her body of work, not for her body.'

Blues predates pop and rock by some 50 plus years and there is a tradition of the musicians touring until their last days, often propped up or sitting, al la BB King, throughout the show. Usually, the reverence of the audience increases with the artist's age.

But with pop/rock we're still coming to terms with an artform that really only started in the Sixties. Thus, as the Rolling Stones celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first album, we're entering a new era where these stars - stripped of their original plastic edifice and/or good looks as youngsters - are only slowly gaining recognition for their art, as opposed to their original personas, which is standing the test of time.

As for painters, like blues singers, they seem to thrive in old age, revelling in the freedom of their later years, while being praised by all. Think of Picasso's daring neo-expressionist work leading up to his death at 91, or Matisse's stunning colourful creations right up until his sudden death while designing stain glass windows for the Rockefellers in New York at 84. Lucian Freud was still working, and chasing after women, well into his Eighties before finally putting down his brush for all time in 2011, at the ripe old age of 88.

Meanwhile, evergreen UK pop artist Sir Peter Blake, 81, has just produced a critically lauded interpretation of the characters from Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood and has celebrated the 75th anniversary of The Beano comic with a series of prints, and the venerable colourist Howard Hodgkin's first solo show in Paris at the Gagosian opened last month. Also 81, he says he's never been busier and more creative.

And Bridget Riley, the grand dame of British art, is currently showing at the David Zwirner Gallery, London, until July 25, with the focus on her striped, abstract colourful works, which, at 83, she is still producing at a rate of seven a year.

With pop and rock slowly catching up, I look forward to hearing Nick Lowe's latest critically-acclaimed release in 2030, when he also, God willing, will be 81.