Straight, No Chaser: Too old to rock and roll?


Earlier this year when the Roskilde Festival unveiled its program and Paul McCartney was named as headliner, there was a fair amount of critical tutting: he’s too old, past it, irrelevant to today’s young music lovers, watering down the brand of the Roskilde Festival etc, etc.

A sovereign experience
However, as the subsequent reviews by and large agree on, his concert turned out to be, if not a total triumph, at least very entertaining, with Sir Paul performing generous helpings of his extensive back catalogue with the Beatles and Wings along with his own solo albums.

Politiken’s reviewer wrote that “seldom have so many good songs been assembled on the Orange Stage.” Berlingske described the event as “a sovereign musical experience for young and old and everyone in between”.

Old wrinkly roll of honour
Now, McCartney was born in 1942, which makes him 73 years old. To all intents and purposes, this alone ought to rule him out as a force to be reckoned with in what might loosely be termed pop music. After all, this surely is a young man’s game … or is it?

Sir Paul is not the only old rocker who is still on the scene and going strong. Last July, Neil Young came over with his band Crazy Horse and played a long and intense concert at Forum. Young’s trademark distorted high-volume guitar playing was very much to the fore as well as his more mellow acoustic side. All in all, the concert lasted over two hours. Young was born in 1945, which makes him 69.

In May, 71-year-old guitar legend Jeff Beck released a new live album (‘Jeff Beck Live+’). Beck has also been touring fairly extensively. From the evidence of the album and downloaded concerts, Beck shows no signs of ‘metal’ fatigue or a lack of enthusiasm for playing.

The most obvious example of ‘granddad rock’ must be the Rolling Stones. The combined ages of the main members of the group add up to a staggering 285 years, with drummer Charlie Watts being the oldest member at 74. In 2012, the band celebrated their 50th anniversary. In 2013, they recorded and filmed a concert in Hyde Park that was surprisingly watchable. It could be argued that the Stones reached their peak in the early ‘70s, but they still put on a pretty good show.

So, not a passing fad!
Those of us who remember the 1960s and early 70s will probably also recall the interviews given by various members of the Stones, Beatles etc in papers such as Melody Maker and on TV. One question that came up frequently was along the lines of “What are you going to do when all this blows over?”

Most of the interviewers assumed that any success was transitory and totally dependent on the fickleness of the flippertigibbet teenage record-buying public. There was also an undertone of snobbery, as if this kind of music was not really to be taken seriously, and maybe also a degree of envy along the lines of “How come this working class lad gets all this money and success for just standing there making a horrible noise?”

At the end of the day, the elderly musicians still out there obviously do what they do because they still enjoy doing it. The voices may be a little thinner, along with their hair, but there is no mistaking the enthusiasm, drive and sheer love of performing. I for one am glad they’re still “rockin’ in the free world”.