20 years ago, along with friends and family, I was stood on a grassy bank in Northumberland waiting for the grey light to reveal the first day of the new century. Not all of us who were there then are still alive now, the children are all adults and the world has changed a great deal since then. I can remember using a friend’s top of the range Nokia to play a game called snake, we had just bought a computer which cost a month’s wages, if you wanted to listen to music you bought a radio or a CD. As usual 20 years ago seems simultaneously like yesterday or a lifetime away.
The scariest thing is if you take those 20 years and project them into the future. More of that group won’t be alive but some of them may have had children of their own. The evolution will take place slowly enough for us not to really notice its happening, Twitter and Facebook and WordPress seem to have been there forever but if you had told me in 2000 that I could use a handheld device to watch almost anything I wanted or listen to any music I wanted from almost anywhere in the world at anytime my mind would have been blown.
But what is the future for people like me who like to see music played by real people in real time? 20 years ago, there had been a final flourishing of rock. Thanks to Oasis showing us how easy it was to write and play a song, sales of acoustic guitars were on the increase. We were used to the ebb and flow of popular music. Commentators were making noises about the end of rock from the mid 70’s, following the purge of punk it came back even stronger but each time it changed the after effects were less cataclysmic, grunge and Britpop gave dance music a run for it’s money, but really hip hop came and conquered all and there was no comeback.
When I used to go to gigs in the late 70’s I was surrounded by people between the age of 16 and 26, anyone over the age of 30 would have been treated with extreme suspicion. Today I would be surrounded by people from 35 to 75 with the average age being around the 50’s. It’s a wider but broader demographic but it’s a hell of a lot older. At a grass roots level, a lot of local bands are playing to sparse audiences of older people, worse still those bands only survive by playing covers at best or being a tribute band at worst. When I started playing live an unlistenable post punk band could fill a pub on a Thursday night now there’s no appetite, young people don’t care and old people want to hear ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ just like the record (and to be in bed by 10:30).
But the most significant thing will be that very soon we will lose all our classic rock icons. I’ve been racking my brains to think of any band from the 60’s that could actually reform without the addition of session players or band members children. The only band from Britain I could think of who could do would be the Holies and that’s assuming bass player Bernie Calvert is still with us. Leading on from that the only really big 60’s act I could think of was CSN (&Y) who could still delight us with a new record or tour. Apart from that every band from the Beatles downwards has been decimated. On an individual level though think of a world where there is no Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Elton John,Springsteen, Mick Jagger or whoever matters to you most, it’s a bleak thought but it’s going to happen…soon.
When I was young learning a musical instrument served several functions, it was a chance to be creative and a bit different. In turn this created more opportunities to meet other people which for a lot of us meant girls. Also, let’s not underestimate how boring life in the 70’s could be, music was a godsend.
Compare that with the young person today, their dad probably used to be in a band and is dying for the fruit of their loins to pick up a guitar. But; there are so many more things to do that provide a more instant reward and getting to know people (at least at some level) is the easiest thing in the world, why would anyone want to learn to play an instrument just so they could waste their weekends playing to 6 old people in a pub.
Of course, this type of music will continue in some form. Just as trad jazz thrived between the 20’s and the 50’s. A bit of diligent searching and it’s still possible to find a trad jazz band today but it was a lot easier in the 70’s and 80’s when the guys who had been playing in the 50’s were still around. Its like that now with Rock Musicians but like with the Jazzers there are not enough young people coming through to sustain it. People will still listen to what might be loosely called rock music just like they have continued to listen to Jazz or even Classical, but it won’t be the same.
And that’s the point, rock music has become as much about nostalgia as anything, that’s why the back pages of the glossy rock magazines are advertising the Australian Pink Floyd or the Bootleg Beatles or, at the very least one of those performances of an entire ‘classic’ album Live and new artists are struggling to half fill a room above a pub.
And yes, there’s loads of great music around but there’s too much, its so diluted as to be almost invisible.
And even I don’t want to spend all of my life banging on about how great the 70’s were and like everything The future is past is going to have a limited lifespan it’s certainly not going to outlive Paul McCartney (imagine a world without sir Paul). This year were are going to introduce some sounds of the 70s looking at some great music including America which I have tended to shy away from and of course there will still be the usual navel gazing and half remembered anecdotes from that golden decade.
And then I’m taking up birdwatching!
Finally apologies for a low level of grammar this week. I usually write on a proper computer and edit in the WordPress app. This week the app has a life of its own and I the digital equivalent of Caxton’s printing press.