Sunday, 21 February 2016

Welcome to the future. Here's some 60s soul.

You're making music now. It'll be around when you're not. 

                     Flickr - Rosemary Voegtll
How do you think today's music will feel in forty years time? Will it still be relevant? Will it be stupidly old? A curio? A discovery to glorify the newgen person who ostentatiously 'curated' it?

Everything's online. That's wonderful for the curious listener, but not for today's creators, who are bullied into putting up their music for free for 'exposure'. Once online, that music makes money... just not for the people who created it. Cute.

The upside is you can find things. You want classics from way back when? There you go. It's a win-win for the record companies, who once could only recoup four and five-fold from issues and reissues in different formats, the poor things. Now, the web is a permanent way to extend sales potential.

And they just love it when the old boys keel over. Just look at the sales on Bowie and the Eagles.

When I got older...

It's been a gruesome year so far for boomer musos. January brought bad news pretty much everyday. It's hardly surprising that those rockers who enthusiastically flooded their bodies with exotic toxins on a daily basis should now be dropping off their perches as they hit their seventies. Not to mention the ones who left early - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison. But it still brings you up short. The icons of my adolescence, the people who soundtracked my teenage years, are mortal after all.

At the Grammys, in between the ongoing Swift/West shenanigans, the surviving Eagles paid tribute to Glen Frey, and Gaga did the same for Bowie. And so it goes. Those artists may now be gone, but their music rattles on forever, now held online for all to explore. 

Here's the thing. The associations that first drive people to the music they hear get diluted, frayed and blurred, and ultimately severed as time passes. Younger audiences forge new associations to that old music, sometimes in very odd ways. This is where it starts to get really interesting. The awful logic of age is one thing; the constant turnover of pop talent is quite another.

Many years from now.

There's been a massive 21st century shift. We have the web - or rather, the web has us. The megastars of yesteryear are fast disappearing in our rear-view mirrors, blurring in a cloud of dust as we surge forward and on. As the last few drops are squeezed out of their original potential, those rockers are supplanted by a much more systematic and calculated array of pop stars. The new kids look good. They give great tabloid fodder. Their songs are immaculately crafted and engineered. They are groomed, plucked, dusted off and hyped in a way that the Beatles and the Stones could never have imagined.

The obvious question we can't answer is: will today's production line popstrels retain an impact half a century away? 
I'm too old and too close to that stuff to make any kind of prediction, and in any case society and media is constantly evolving, so who the hell knows? I have clear ideas on the music of my youth, we all do. But now that music, once mine all mine, is picked up and deployed in new ways by people younger than the songs they deal with.

Of course, that's pretty normal. After all, I rather like people like Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, who soundtracked my parent's youth.

Send me an email, text me a line, stating point of view 

So thinking about all this, with my head full of Paul Murphy's great songs, I headed for the Brum Radio launch party after Paul's Birmingham funeral.

I was down for a DJ shift - I am DJ Urassic - in between Vix and her MsChiefs and Terry and Gerry. I was there to bridge two good-time bands, both largely if not completely acoustic, both with their roots in the 80s and 90s. The night was a bit of a barn-stormer. We had a pretty cross-generational crowd, from student volunteer helpers through to some of the ahem, older followers of Terry and Gerry. And I was, quite possibly, the oldest person in the room.

So what to play? If I followed my gut instincts, I'd have dropped right into my comfort zone of deep 60s and 70s old-school grooves, and let things ripple out from there. But all that stuff is forty and more years old now, and most of the bands I really loved from that era never sold that well anyway, bless 'em. 

Contemporary indie didn't seem to fit the bill. I wanted good-time stuff for a mixed audience.

So I went further out. Good-time 70s Western Swing Boogie from Asleep at the Wheel (who?), a nearly as obscure Stones instrumental, with a funky and uncredited Hammond solo. And then Brother Ray nailed it all the way from 1959 with Rock House: a wonderful groove, perfectly set up for stage announcements and the arrival of our headliners. From there I would have segued into new stuff from our funkier local heroes – the vibe seemed about right - but it was show time, and Terry and Gerry were ready.

But it worked. Ray went down ever so well. Always was a class act.

Will you still listen, will you still bother, when they're 64? 

Just goes to show: 60s and 70s music is such a long way away, but some of the very best has survived in unlikely ways, finding its way into our affections. I doubt that anyone expected it to become so universal; they certainly didn't think that way back in the day. Other ancient treasures have been diligently researched and uncovered by new-generation hipsters, for whom I have great admiration. Still others have reached back in time and dragged gruesomely awful stuff back into the light as a painfully ironic statement of cool. Not got a lot of time for that.

So let's look forward again. I wonder how the musicians of my town – the ones I know, the ones I respect more than words can say – would, or will, feel when, forty years from now, some of their work their work is inexplicably trotted out to new audiences, quite possibly treated, sampled and remixed as a statement of cool or a building block for someone's new vision.

I'd love to be around to see that, but that's very unlikely. By then, quite possibly today's hot young blades will have keeled over as well. Not their music, though.

More music business posts on Radio To Go


Tue 23, 3pm: Big Wheels: Dave Travis
Wed 24, 11pm: Live and Local: Acoustic Night at the Jam House
Repeated Sat 27, 11am
Fri 26, 3 pm: Muso Takeover: Bob and Toby Wilson of Arc Studios

After airing, these can be found on Brum Radio's Mixcloud page.

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