The early 70s were pretty much the late 60s, by 69 the hippie dream had started to fall apart just couple of years after it had started. The early 70’s were superficially grim at least economically in the UK. There were strikes and industrial unrest all the time, both the far left and the far right seemed more prominent, there seemed relatively little interest in the ‘middle ground’. On the other hand the average working class person seemed ok financially, there was still plenty of work and even when there wasn’t there was the money for decent redundancies. So although we might have limited electricity and the rubbish might not be taken away for a while you could pretty much expect to have a job and somewhere to live.
Glam rock served as a distraction to get us through the darker days, it was a bit of a laugh and produced some great singles. The Beatles were gone but for a while The Stones or the Who and even the Kinks were showing flashes of inspiration. Musically in retrospect the early 70’s were great, there was classic rock, prog,rock singer songwriter, Krautrock, jazz rock, country rock and every other type of music anyone might wish for. Aside from the rather good pop singles from the likes of Bolan Bowie and Slade the album was king, let’s for moments pick out a few at random. ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Dark side of the Moon’, Led Zep 4., you want more what about ‘Tapestry’, ‘After the Gold rush’ and ‘Quadrophenia’. I could go on all night, classic slabs of fantastic music.
And yet it wasn’t enough.
In the 60’s pop music had moved into the realm of social commentary. After the pioneering work of the Beatles who were clever but still in touch enough with their roots to take us on a journey of self-discovery. From America a whole new movement was evolving, this was a generation who were going to challenge the system. We had, for a couple of years at least considered endless possibilities to our lives.
And so, perhaps it wasn’t that surprising that maybe we were not that grateful for our bounteous musical harvest.
To some extent music had been taken away from us, never again would music be such a profitable business, the era of the superstar had arrived, usually fairly ordinary working class lads, the Jagger’s, the Stewarts, the Johns were now in a position to make more money than they had ever dreamed they might see in a lifetime. This was increasingly leading to a huge divide between performer and consumer. Shows were becoming bigger and increasingly expensive, whether it was the Stones or Pink Floyd or Yes or Queen there was a sense that you paid your money sat down and behaved yourself. In reward you could see a slick show with a few figures on stage in the distance, you could buy an expensive warm beer or occasionally a burger and possibly a tee-shirt but you probably wouldn’t because money tended to be a bit tight.
This, of course sounds pretty familiar, these days it’s a lot of people’s idea of a great night out and if you are going to see Springsteen you might be right but the 70’s followed the 60s and we were still open to the possibility that music could be so much more.
The Stones, who rather inexplicably in my opinion, had been seen as the forefront of bad boy rock had now disappeared into an insulated bubble populated by major league drug dealers, minor royalties and generally the sorts of people you would be quite happy never to meet. Similarly with the Faces and Zeppelin even the Who had disappeared into a world of air conditioned hotel rooms. Drugs which had once been a tool for creativity where now used purely for hedonism and to keep the tour machinery going.
The other side of the professionalism of music was that musicians had become quite good at what they did for a living. I had already decided there was no point in me pursuing the guitar because quite simply I would never be as good as Jimmy Page let alone Steve Howe or Robert Fripp. This is how we believed things would be and we had reached the stage where it was assumed that a good musician was a technically good musician. We were genuinely interested in who was voted top guitarist or drummer in the polls of the influential music papers of the time. The polls would then be dissected in the letter pages for the next few weeks by readers outraged that Jeff Beck had slipped to position 8 while Chris Spedding had slipped in at number 5.
From America there were the laid back sounds of The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Radio loved this sort of stuff is was tuneful, well played and unchallenging.
So just for an example here are the Bellamy Brothers from that hot year. I’d rather listen to this than anything by Adele but here we have all the badness in one package, facial hair, receding hair, smiling, tunefulness and pointlessness.
Nothing against the brothers, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The summer of 1976 has passed into legend. It was actually warm and sunny. My memories of glam are almost entirely linked with the grey murk of the British winter, In fact until that year I can’t really remember that much sunshine at all.
But in 1976 the summer went on for, well all summer really. It was a strange experience, the heat produced a very un-British sense of unrest. As the lawns turned brown and the radio played yet another track by the Eagles there was a palpable sense of unease.
To be honest this might just be hindsight on my part. I had just finished my first year studying for A levels. My dad was set against this, he wanted me to get a job but I was lazy enough and clever enough to stay on at school but I had taken the easy option and was now beginning to get very bored. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I really hadn’t got a clue I just knew I didn’t want to do anything that was too hard.
But now things were changing, work might have been boring or unpleasant but it had always been there, rather to my horror because it made the possibility having to do a soul destroying job a real option. My friend Duncan had a brother a couple of years older. He wasn’t exactly a captain of industry but he had left school with 3 A levels which would usually entitle to some sort of middle class job. At the end of the summer holidays he was still unemployed which was newsworthy enough to merit a story in the local paper.
At the moment there are a lot of stories around commemorating 40 years of punk but 1976 was the phony war, the calm before the storm. It was hot, it was boring. Prog and Glam were past their best, In fact everything seemed past its best in the heat. The music was west coast easy listening along with the inevitable MOR and novelty songs which populated the ‘hit parade’ of the time. It was grim but something was about to change.
So for the rest of this year I am going to look at the build up to punk which finally burst forth by the end of the year.
I was there!