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Michael Stuart on keeping pop music relevant (or not)

Let me be frank. Generally-speaking, when it comes to the issue of ‘mature’ pop musicians continuing to make music and seeking to put it out in public, I’m a sceptic. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m denying neither the right of anyone to attempt to do whatever they want, irrespective of their stage of their life, nor that some talented artistes continue to make great music way beyond the first flush of youth. It’s just that they’re the rare exceptions to what I regard as a pretty good rule of thumb.

You won’t catch me going to the recently-announced Kate Bush tour (her first since 1979) or indeed buying the brand new album that Fleetwood Mac – including the departed Christine Perfect who has returned to the fold for the purpose – is apparently recording.

For me, pop music is, and should remain the preserve, of the young.

One of the worst manifestations of what I’m referring to is the raft of packaged UK tours that go out every year featuring bands from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s – whether these be still together, reunited strictly for the purpose, or effectively just a band-name that someone has trademarked and which features none of the original members.

The biggest motivating factor, of course, is money.

Up to a point on this, I have no objection. Legend has it that The Who only went into the financial black after they’d finished their original career and indeed have made more money since 1990 than they did in the first quarter of a century of their existence. And who would deny artistes such as Billy J. Kramer and The Swinging Blue Jeans, or even T’Pau and Nik Kershaw, the opportunity to cash in and make a bob or two … and when I say ‘a bob or two’ I mean quite possibly more than they made in their heyday, when their management and recording companies might have had them tied to pretty draconian deals.

Nevertheless – I repeat – in terms of mass appeal, pop music is, and should remain, for the young.

In the 1960s, the point at which your parents began to offer the opinion that some of the Beatles’ music was actually quite good was also the point at which you switched immediate allegiance to the Rolling Stones – a long-haired, uncouth, group that your parents couldn’t possibly appreciate.

The very thought of a load of fat, unfit, comfortably middle-aged-looking, geriatric rockers touring the world, living on past glories, turns my stomach. To all intents and purposes, the concept flies in the face of everything that true, rebellious, rock & roll is supposed to stand for.

There are, inevitably, exceptions to the rule.

manfredsIn this regard, I would commend to you particularly The Manfreds – featuring musicians from the various incarnations of Manfred Mann, plus occasional pals such as Gallagher & Lyle, Alan Price, Chris Farlowe and P.P. Arnold – who offer a thumping live version of a vintage hits juke-box and still ‘cut the mustard’.

They set an example that today’s teenagers would do well to go along and see.

In fact I’d go so far to suggest that it’s a tragedy that The Manfreds have mostly to play to people of their own age, who merely applaud each song as if it’s the end of a classical recital, and then – as the concert ends – rise from their seats to return straight to their £1.5 million houses in the suburbs the moment the lights go up.

If The Manfreds were forty years younger than they are, the energy and excitement they generate would surely cause their audiences to want to rip up their seats and riot. It certainly does me.

Separately, there exist a few genuine one-off artistes to whom age is but a number. They play and compose music because that’s the essence of their being. You sense they’d be doing it, irrespective of whether they were getting paid for it.

In this category, I’d place Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan – amongst several others that my readers might care to nominate. Individually, these guys may or may not ‘float your boat’, but they are genuinely worthy of respect from us all.

dylan4Below is a link to a report in The Independent today about a new album being made by a number of famous musicians, based upon lyrics written by Bob Dylan that he never actually turned into songs in 1967.

This was the famous Basement Tapes era, when Dylan wrote over 100 songs for his music publisher – and recorded demos of some of them with The Band that were never intended to be made public – whilst he recuperated from a broken neck suffered in a motorbike accident the year before.

As with the Beatles Anthology CDs issued in the 1990s – which were a revelation in demonstrating just how intensively creative and hard-working the Beatles were in their heyday, in contrast to my image of them mostly lying around stoned out of their minds – the issue of the official Basement Tapes album in 1975, this in reaction to various unofficial bootlegs of the recordings coming to light, impressed upon me just how prolific a talent Bob Dylan was.

Even more prolific that I thought, it seems – see here – BOB DYLAN LYRICS ALBUM


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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts